This weekend I had the pleasure of attending the California Conference of the American Immigration Association, held in Hollywood, California. There were sessions for three days, commencing on Thursday evening. I attended two; try driving from San Diego to Hollywood without budgeting yourself most of a day and you will be sitting on the 101 and not in a hotel meeting room on a Thursday evening.
There were so many bright, dedicated, and passionate people presenting on their subjects that the conference was informative and humbling. The attendees being non-government attorneys who earn a living representing immigrants, the entire conference was, obviously, pro-immigrant. What we heard and what we learned was pro-immigrant. To an outsider, some of it would have been somewhat shocking.
On the deportation-defense side of immigration law, there were lots of sessions on the technicalities of avoiding deportation for aliens without immigration status or having violated criminal or immigration laws. This is not shocking to lawyers whose lives revolve around working for their clients by using the law (technicalities) to help them. However, it might be shocking to some that those feeling exuberance over a success in some cases would be only other immigration lawyers and NAMBLA.
On the business side, at the conference there was plenty of mocking of the “Buy American, Hire American” presidential executive order, specifically the portion, “In order to create higher wages and employment rates for workers in the United States, and to protect their economic interests, it shall be the policy of the executive branch to rigorously enforce and administer the laws governing entry into the United States of workers from abroad….” Consternation exists because its source is a moron and because in practice the executive order appears to be adding requirements to employment-based immigration laws that are not in the statutes. Agencies cannot add requirements to the awarding of visas or permission to work that are not authorized by law. The legal battles over DACA and DAPA were over a President’s not applying the law to certain classes of people as a matter of executive discretion, not a President’s imposing new elements to requirements for a statutorily mandated benefit.
While the source of the executive order is a valid basis for skepticism – no one sentient and honest believes President Trump really cares about the economic interests American workers – scorn for its literal intent is less valid. The sentiment, “creating higher wages and employment rates for workers in the United States and protecting their economic interests” is something one would hear from Bernie Sanders. While it is now the policy goal of a semi-literate, nativist xenophobe, it is also the policy of America’s premiere and most loved progressive.
It is not like the AILA leadership is not aware of tension between its scorn for what they call BAHA (presumably, from bahaha, a hip and/or malevolent laugh) and concern for the well-being of the American working class, which everyone seems to acknowledge has been clobbered over the past thirty years. AILA explains that immigration is not the cause of the economic woes of the middle class (and the poor class), rather immigration is a salvation for it. They stress the roles of foreign entrepreneurs who have contributed greatly to America like the founders of Google and Ebay, and even Steve Jobs whose biological father was a Syrian graduate student. The irony is that the surge in homelessness in California, making its urban streets after dark look like Calcutta is in part attributed to the tech workers from the actual Calcutta bidding down wages and bidding up housing costs. (Once, not that long ago, arriving at the Santa Ana government complex before dawn for some meeting, having left home crazy-early because of the traffic I referred to above, I was horrified at the spectacle of despair all over the area; not tens or hundreds, but thousands of miserable people camped out throughout the complex.)
Homelessness and the decline of the well-being of the working class is not attributable chiefly to immigration, but it is hard to believe that no American workers have been displaced by foreign ones or that wages in at least some sectors have been suppressed by immigration. One cannot help but notice more than a whiff of the same logic that advocates for tax cuts for the wealthy make, that tax cuts for the wealthy will stimulate the economy and result in more and better-paying jobs.
Outside of those who are not political, but rather strictly entrepreneurial, there is a liberal bent to immigration lawyers no matter the category of immigration law they practice. Those that represent the deportable, even criminals, are sensitive to the impacts of deportation on long-term residents and their families. They also take a liberal view of the redemptive potential in people, and are forgiving of the fact that young men make stupid mistakes. Those that represent businesses and their employees and immigrating families take a liberal’s view of the benefits foreigners bring to the country and flexibility as to what American culture is. They are not offended or fearful of foreign workers and families coming to America. Rather they are but gladdened by their presence and optimistic about the impact of their presence. It is classic conservatives fear change and liberals embrace it.
Yet the marriage of liberal sentiments with support for “millionaires and billionaires” bringing in foreign workers to make more millions and billions is destined to lead to tensions. The common thread uniting immigration lawyers, representing the foreign born, may not continue to be strong enough to hold together the natural conflicts between the billionaire class and their imported high tech employees as well as other workers coming to the United States to work for smaller companies and American workers and smaller businessmen. When AILA seeks contributions from millionaires and billionaires to fund a pro-immigration public image campaign, one does not expect these millionaires and billionaires to act against their self-interests or that these interests dovetail with the American common man’s. After all, who even remembers anymore when Google’s motto, “Do no harm,” could be said without irony?
This is the exact conflict one sees in the Democratic Party. There is the Bernie Sanders wing excoriating the millionaires and billionaires for screwing the working class and buying control of the democratic process, and as it turns out, the Democratic process. On the other side is the wing that maintains that big business can be a trusted ally as the benefactor to the party and its candidates while advancing liberal values. It is the conflict between those that believe the worst thing about the leaks of DNC and Podesta emails during the last presidential election was the abuses the leaks exposed, showing the DNC putting its thumb and giant boulders on the scale to favor Hillary Clinton, and those that believe that the worst thing about the leaking was the leaking itself.
The marriage of big money and liberal politics was the hallmark of the Clintons and has been part of Democratic politics for a long time. What distinguishes the Clintons is their shamelessness. To paraphrase from the Book of Samuel, “Obama raised his millions, but Hillary raised her tens of millions.”The shamelessness caused people to find the big-money connection unacceptable. Another reason why what was once acceptable is not any longer is that the middle class is increasingly suffering, perhaps approaching a breaking point, while the wealthiest have never had it better. Goldman Sachs in government was not perceived as a problem when President Clinton appointed Robert Rubin as treasury secretary or President Obama surrounded himself with beneficiaries of its largesse, but it became unacceptable by the time Hillary collected her speaker-fees but would not disclose the topics of her speaking.
Finally, let’s never forget that President Clinton’s triangulations, making common cause with big money, brought us the super-predator-incarcerating crime bill, a punitive welfare reform, and the devastating IIRAIRA, a statute with a boundless harshness that has spread misery for more than twenty years and which reveals new ways to oppress every year. Both the Democratic party and immigration lawyers believe they can harmonize support for big money with support for the little guy. It remains to be seen how long either can manage this alchemy. Posted November 12, 2017.