Tag Archives: path to citizenship

Mark Zuckerberg’s immigration reform group

Mark Zuckerberg, the principal founder of social networking service Facebook, has of late been interested in influencing US politics. Zuckerberg was one of 100 tech executives who signed a letter urging the US Congress and White House to pass significant immigration reforms. His ambitions in the political arena seem to be bigger, consonant with Facebook’s lofty motto of making the world more open and connected.

Evelyn Rusli reported in the Wall Street Journal in the article Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg Starting Political Group (March 26) that a planned political group by Zuckerberg would focus (initially) on comprehensive immigration reform. According to the WSJ:

The group, which so far doesn’t have a name, is aiming to raise roughly $50 million and has already secured commitments in the tens of millions of dollars from Mr. Zuckerberg and more than a dozen other tech executives including LinkedIn Corp. founder Reid Hoffman, said these people.


Mr. Zuckerberg has told confidantes that the new group will initially be focused on comprehensive immigration reform and making the pathway to U.S. citizenship less complicated for all immigrants, said people familiar with the CEO’s thinking. The group also plans to focus on issues including education reform and funding for scientific research.

The new group has also enlisted several consultants well versed in Beltway politics. Rob Jesmer, the former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee, is especially active on a day-to-day basis, said one person with knowledge of the matter.

Joe Lockhart, Facebook’s former vice president of global communications and a former press secretary under president Bill Clinton’s administration, and Jon Lerner, a Republican strategist are also involved, another person familiar with the matter said.

More recently, Politico claims to have obtained an internal prospectus (it’s multiple pages, so you may prefer reading the printable version) for the immigration reform group. The prospectus was drafted by Joe Green, a close friend of Zuckerberg’s who seems to be doing much of the legwork for the group. Here’s Politico describing and quoting the prospectus:

Under a section called “our tactical assets,” the prospectus lists three reasons why “people in tech” can be organized into “one of the most powerful political forces.”

“1: We control massive distribution channels, both as companies and individuals. We saw the tip of the iceberg with SOPA/PIPA.

“2: “Our voice carries a lot of weight because we are broadly popular with Americans.

“3. We have individuals with a lot of money. If deployed properly this can have huge influence in the current campaign finance environment.”

Joe Green has already backtracked from some of the assertions made in the prospectus. According to Politico:

“Several prominent leaders in the tech community, operating solely as individuals, continue to work on forming an issues advocacy organization that would seek to promote issues such as comprehensive immigration reform and education reform,” Green said. “However, some of the information contained in this email is outdated and not representative of the kind of work this organization will perform. Moreover, I regret some of the language in the email was poorly-chosen and could give a misimpression of the views and aspirations of this organization and those associated with it.”

The leaked prospectus confirms the bipartisan nature of the group highlighted in the WSJ article:

Signed on to be the Zuckerberg group’s campaign manager is Rob Jesmer, a former executive director of the National Republican Senatorial Committee.

Serving as political advisers are two Bush White House veterans: Dan Senor, who also served as Paul Ryan’s chief adviser during his vice presidential run, and Facebook executive Joel Kaplan.

The prospectus describes the group as a unique entity in the immigration fight. Listed among qualities that “we uniquely bring to this fight,” the prospectus says the Zuckerberg’s group is the “only well-funded bipartisan pro-reform group.”

“We have assembled the best people and most funding on this issue, and will win by focusing our activity in the districts of key members of Congress and senators,” the prospectus reads.

They also appear to intend to use standard political influence tactics of the same sort that restrictionists have successfully employed in the past:

Under a “tactics” section, the Zuckerberg group details plans for “grassroots and grasstops” organizing in targeted congressional districts, online advocacy campaigns, paid online and television advertising that will be “critical to creating the political infrastructure we need” and “earned media.”

“Given the status of our funders and quality of our team, we will drive national and local narratives to properly frame our agenda,” the prospectus states. The prospectus says the group’s support will provide cover for the “many congressmen and senators who want to vote for this but need the political space at home,”

The group’s listed “immediate” goal is to pass comprehensive immigration reform, which it calls “a unique opportunity to launch our organization. It is an issue that is critical to our community, that we can win, but where our help can be the difference maker.”

Elsewhere in the prospectus the group says its qualities include a “pragmatic focus on what moves votes, not talking about ourselves.”

On the apparent direction of the group

It’s too early to clearly say what direction the group will take, though “open borders” is probably not a phrase the group would associate itself with. I think it’s quite likely that it will be focused primarily on what is sometimes called “high-skilled immigration” and will advocate proposals similar to the startup visa. There is likely to be considerable overlap in goals and tactics with New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s group Partnership for a New American Economy and with the March for Innovation.

Zuckerberg’s group’s suggested focus (per the WSJ piece) on a path to citizenship suggests a somewhat different focus from that of hardcore open borders advocates, but more context would be needed for evaluation. From what I’ve gathered based on talking to some Silicon Valley people, most people in Silicon Valley are focused on free movement and the ability to work and found companies, and they do not place much value of the path to citizenship (though they are presumably not opposed to it). In this respect, Mark Zuckerberg’s focus on a path to citizenship (if the WSJ article is indeed correct about this) differs somewhat both from the focus of open borders advocates and that of Silicon Valley migration evangelists.

I doubt that tactics similar to those used to protest against SOPA and PIPA will be successful in a pro-immigration direction. In the case of SOPA and PIPA, the public was mostly indifferent, with no strong sentiment in either direction, and given that many people have probably violated copyright law intentionally or unintentionally, likely to be somewhat sympathetic to the anti-SOPA cause after hearing what it’s about. With the issue of immigration, a sizable minority of the population is deeply restrictionist, and a majority is moderately restrictionist. The use of tactics such as those used against SOPA and PIPA may well drive a nativist backlash similar to the backlash that accompanied Bush’s attempted version of immigration reform, and Obama’s original version of healthcare reform.

I’m not a political expert at all, so there may be many ways to pull off political activism of the sort that Green suggests without engendering a backlash — I just find it hard to think of them. It’s also possible that Green and the group at large may have already decided not to use SOPA-style tactics in their push for their version of immigration reform.

On the size and influence of the group

Given the importance of migration as an issue, it’s heartening to see a person as rich and influential as Zuckerberg devoting his attention to the matter.

$50 million sounds like a lot of money, but it’s not clear what fraction of it will be devoted to immigration advocacy, consider that the group also plans to focus on education and research issues. The timetable of how the money is to be spent is also unclear. It seems highly unlikely that a lot of money will be spent in the near future in order to bring about any significant change in policy direction. The bipartisan nature of the group suggests a potential for long-term influence.

Zuckerberg’s donation history

Zuckerberg, who turns 29 in a month, already has a fairly impressive donation history quantitatively speaking, but the cost-effectiveness and social importance of some of his past donations could be questioned. It’s not clear what impact his $100 million donation to the Newark public school system has had, and skeptics might question his $500 million donation to the Silicon Valley Community Foundation (which, amazingly, does not appear to have a Wikipedia page at the time of writing of this article). Hopefully, Zuckerberg has learned from previous giving experiences and his efforts to kickstart the immigration reform group signifies his switch towards giving opportunities with greater potential upside.

UPDATE: The group launched three days after the publication of the post under the name FWD.us. More information is available in this follow-up post.

Michael Clemens on the “path to citizenship”

Michael Clemens, who heads the migration-related initiatives at the Center for Global Development, recently wrote a blog post titled Care About Unauthorized Immigration? The ‘Path to Citizenship’ Is What Matters Least. Like my co-blogger Chris, Clemens is critical of overemphasis on the path to citizenship. Clemens:

I am not saying that the status of unauthorized immigrants isn’t important. I’m saying that the policy step of a path-to-citizenship is unlikely to be an important determinant of the unauthorized immigrant population, even in the short term.

This is clear from U.S. history. In 1986, President Ronald Reagan created a path to citizenship for most of the 3 million unauthorized immigrants then living in America when he signed the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. Watch what happened to the unauthorized immigrant population. By 1990, just four years later, you couldn’t even tell that anything had happened: [view graph at original link]

Later in the same post:

If you’re concerned about the phenomenon of unauthorized immigration or the plight of unauthorized immigrants, pay less attention to the path-to-citizenship. Keep one question foremost in your mind as you read the forthcoming details of the Senators’ and president’s proposals: What are they offering U.S. farmers to get the labor they need without going under? What are they offering U.S. parents to get the childcare they need without breaking the bank? These are the provisions that will shape unauthorized immigration for tomorrow’s America.

My thoughts:

  • From a pro-open borders perspective, the path to citizenship is the least important of all issues being discussed.
  • From the political externalities perspective, the path to citizenship is very very important.
  • I think that while Clemens is correct that citizenship or the lack of it is not much of an incentive to migrate, the data offered by Clemens don’t quite support that conclusion. The graph displayed by Clemens does suggest that a path to citizenship will not reduce future unauthorized immigration. I’m not exactly sure who argues this, though it does seem like the sort of thing that somebody who hasn’t thought clearly about the issue might say. But restrictionists usually argue the opposite — that a path to citizenship for past unauthorized immigrants will incentivize increases in future unauthorized immigration. This, I suspect, is true. Clemens’ graph doesn’t extend much before 1986, but it’s easy to see that the rate of increase must have been slower before 1986, because the total number of unauthorized immigrants couldn’t have been negative. So, it does seem like the 1986 immigration reform incentivized future unauthorized immigration. What’s not clear, though, is whether citizenship specifically had that effect over and above being granted legal status. So overall, the marginal effect of citizenship seems to be unclear.
  • Even if a path to citizenship is not important for migrants or for open borders advocates, it’s very important for political parties, who are after all negotiating with their political competitors about future voters — the people who’ll decide the parties’ future fate. I don’t see eye to eye with Peter Brimelow, but he’s right that granting citizenship to migrants is about electing a new people, and political parties have a self-interest in electing people who’ll elect them. This doesn’t mean they’d always follow that self-interest — there might be other pragmatic and ethical considerations — but the issue will weigh heavily in negotiations. BK pointed out in the comments that even pro-immigration Republicans don’t expect large numbers of newly minted immigrant citizens to vote for the Republicans, hence they are more likely to support guest worker programs. Democrats do seem to have an advantage with migrant votes, and hence support a path to citizenship, but supporting guest worker programs may cost them union support, which might make them reluctant to do so, as Alex Nowrasteh pointed out:

    So why doesn’t the proposed immigration reform include a comprehensive guest-worker program? Surprisingly, the main issue is not opposition from conservative Republicans. It is unions and their supporters who do not want it.

    In the 2007 immigration reform push, an amendment that would have ended the guest-worker program after five years destroyed Republican support.

    The then-leaders of the AFL-CIO, the Laborers’ International Union of North America, the United Food and Commercial Workers International Union, the International Brotherhood of Boilermakers, the Iron Ship Builders, Blacksmiths, Forgers and Helpers and the Teamsters all wrote letters opposing guest workers and supporting the amendment.

With Friends Like These

The New York Times last month ran a series of viewpoints on immigration. Now, as much as finding ways to argue against restrictionists can be enlightening (and maybe fun as well) today I’ve set out on a different task: pointing out bad arguments/strategies coming from a more pro-immigration (though not quite a pro-open borders) angle. To that end, Gary Segura’s article “Path to Citizenship Must be Included” is the target for today.

In this piece, Dr. Segura sets out four “must have” points for any immigration reform bill in the United States. I’ll take these from the least problematic to the most (a clever ruse to get you to read the whole post). To that end, we’ll start with demand number two:

Requirements and penalties for seeking legal immigration status should not be so onerous or punitive that they render the reform pointless. High fines or “touchback’’ rules that require immigrants to return to their home countries before applying would render status adjustment unattainable for many. Any reform that does not actually improve the lives of those affected is not acceptable.

This demand more or less works from my perspective, and to show why let me restate it: “immigration reform that is effectively not immigration reform is pointless.”

Now this isn’t to say that gradualism isn’t acceptable. On the contrary, gradualism may be the only way to actually eventually achieve any kind of open borders policy. But if a reform results in the vast majority of currently illegal immigrants staying in that condition then there is little progress achieved while potentially slowing the pace of future reform. A bad reform bill might still convince people that there does not need to be immediate action right afterwards. The real key is what constitutes restrictions so heavy that the bill is no longer worthwhile. Some level of fines, though perhaps not ideal, could still be better than nothing. The 1986 Immigration Reform Act required back taxes and some fines for legalizing many illegal immigrants and yet legalized three million immigrants. While making the fines and limitations as limited as possible will help more immigrants and create closer steps to open borders, a “no-limitations-or-no-deal” stance could derail even otherwise moderate reform. Personally I might like to see immigrants legalized with as few fines or limitations as possible, but that doesn’t mean that legalizing several million immigrants isn’t worthwhile. For this point, my main concern is just to avoid making the perfect the enemy of the good, a fault that seems to occur often in this piece.

Continue reading With Friends Like These

Guest worker programs and worker abuses

A while back, Daniel Costa of the progressive Economic Policy Institute, a think tank that advocates for the interests of poor Americans, did an interesting blog post titled On International Migrants Day, remember that guest worker programs aren’t the solution for immigration reform. This met with a lot of pushback on Twitter, and Costa followed up with a related blog post describing what he considered to be extensive abuses in guest worker programs in the United States (the H2 visa program). Among the stories that Costa linked to were Filipino teachers being conned by a recruiter, workers reporting exploitation by a seafood company in Louisiana that supplied to Walmart, and a negotiated settlement about people under J-1 visas being exploited at work. Based on these and other incidents, Costa is understandably very skeptical of proposals that go by the name of guest worker programs.

I will not commit the moral and strategic error of shrugging off the problems of current H2 visa programs in the US with “not as bad as” trivialization. I think that problems and abuses at guest worker programs, while not the worst thing in the world, are definitely worth putting in the balance when proposing the expansion of guest worker programs. However, I think that Costa’s prescriptions don’t necessarily follow from his observations.

Guest worker programs: tied to an employer?

Most open borders advocates view the keyhole solution of guest worker programs as a half-way compromise, not a desirable ideal (in the jargon of this blog post, they tend to have a (1) > (2) > (3) preference ordering: open borders preferable to expanded guest worker programs preferable to the status quo).

As the guest worker programs page on this site describes, there are many different parameters whose values can be fiddled and adjusted while still staying within the broad category of guest worker programs: the time duration of the program, flexibility in terms of jobs, extent of legal rights, eligibility for citizenship, deportation conditions, and eligibility for welfare benefits being the parameters listed on the page. Of these, the first three (time duration, flexibility in terms of jobs, and extent of legal rights) are the most relevant for considering the problem of worker abuse. The kinds of guest worker program solutions that open borders advocates typically propose are those with essentially unlimited (or periodically renewable) time duration, the ability to switch jobs at will (i.e., not tied to any particular employer), and full legal rights (however, some proponents of these programs oppose some labor regulations per se, like the minimum wage, for natives as well as foreigners). Further, as a general rule, people coming at guest worker programs from an open borders angle oppose quantity caps on the amount of guest worker labor that can be used.

I think that these key elements will lead to abuses of the kind that Costa sees in current guest worker programs becoming more rare. With the status quo in the US, guest worker programs are heavily time-limited and tied to specific jobs. There is also a pretty severe quantity restriction on these programs. This makes it extremely hard for workers to “shop” between employers, both at the time of applying for a visa, and once they are in the US. Their main element of discretion is in whether they choose to come the next year. Even in the status quo, reputational effects and the need for good worker morale check some worker abuses. But with fewer quantity caps, fewer time limits, and the ability to switch between jobs, worker abuses are likely to be lower as workers can “shop” better.

A quick analogy might help. Suppose a particular factory is the main employer in town, and it pays its workers very low wages and has demanding working conditions. Now, a competing factory wants to open up in the same town. Should the residents of that town fear the new factory, based on the rule that factories exploit their workers? Or should they welcome the new factory, in that the competition between the two factories may improve conditions for workers? While the details vary from case to case, I would suspect the latter.

Now, admittedly, the cases aren’t quite parallel, because in the analogy I gave, the population of the town was not changing. But if the creation of a new town just attracts more labor from outside the town, then the effect on wages in the original factory may be smaller (though probably still positive). Even here, though, unless you discount completely the welfare of people who move to the town, the net effect on wages is still expected to be positive.

It might be helpful to look at a blog post from Michael Clemens on migrant labor in the US agricultural sector. Here’s what Clemens says:

If you think these difficult jobs are bad for Mexicans, think about this: 85% of the NCGA’s Mexican seasonal employees last year were repeat employees. They came the previous season, and they chose to come back the following season. It is inappropriate and unfortunate that some labor advocates call H-2 visa jobs “close to slavery.”Slaves had no such choice, and would not have happily gone back to the plantation that owned them. Furthermore, the H-2 visa holders who work for the NCGA are not tied to a single farm: their visa allows them to work throughout the 700-farm network, so that there are opportunities to move if any given farm violates labor standards. Any shortcomings of the H-2 program are not the fault of migration itself; they can be fixed by fixing the program.

I don’t have independent corroboration of these statements, but it does seem to make sense that workers whose visa allows them to switch employment between a lot of farms in a huge network would be less susceptible to the problems of worker abuse. Repeat seasonal migration also creates incentives for employers to treat workers fairly and honestly.

Note: I read through the Red Card solution website, which offers a detailed guest worker program proposal for the US, and I was disappointed to see that the proposal did not address the issue of how this proposal would accommodate the possibility of workers changing employers — would they need to return to their home country to re-apply, or could they change their authorization while still in the US? Continue reading Guest worker programs and worker abuses