Think Again

Think Again: Immigration

After Republicans' election-year drubbing, the United States has an historic opportunity to fix its broken immigration system. And the arguments against reform simply don't hold up anymore.

"Mexicans Will Keep Flooding the United States If Allowed."

Not likely. Starting in 2005, the number of migrants coming from Mexico -- who comprise one-third of the U.S. foreign born population -- began declining. The deceleration then picked up pace with the 2008 world financial crisis, so much so that a 2012 Pew Hispanic report noted that for the first time in decades, the number of Mexicans entering the country was the same as those leaving -- leading to a "net zero" in terms of flows.

Though the U.S. recession played a role, perhaps the most important -- and permanent -- factor behind this shift is demographic. In the 1970s, even as mortality rates declined, Mexican women on average had seven children. Today, that number is much closer to two -- much like the United States. This means that the "extra" Mexican youth who came of age in the 1990s and early 2000s have dissipated, and are unlikely to return again. These fewer siblings are staying in school longer -- most now through high school and many into college -- further reducing the pool of young men and women searching for opportunities to the north.

Economic prospects at home have also improved. The booms and busts of the 1980s and 1990s, which pushed so many Mexicans across the border, seem to have ended. Instead, Mexico's new economic story is one of a growing middle class -- now some 60 million strong -- made up of lawyers, accountants, small and medium size business owners, higher-skilled factory workers, and taxi drivers, among many other professions. These economic shifts also have encouraged Mexicans to stay home.

This is not to say that immigration from Mexico will dry up completely. The combination of better pay and rising U.S. demand for labor will continue to draw many from Mexico -- as well as from around the world -- to America's workplaces. For instance, immigration from Central America -- though much lower in terms of sheer numbers -- continues unabated. And immigration reform, which is now on the table after the Republican Party's record-low showing with Hispanic voters, could make it easier for many to stay, and for more to come. 

Still, even if new legislation opens the door to citizenship, history suggests that all of these immigrants wouldn't rush in. In the 26 years since Congress passed the Immigration Reform and Control Act, which created a pathway for legalization, fewer than a third of the 2.7 million Mexicans eligible under the law decided to naturalize.

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"The U.S. Economy Already Has All the Workers It Needs."

Not for long. The United States is going through a demographic shift of its own, as the nearly 80 million baby boomers get ready to retire. In January 2011, the first members of this generation celebrated their 65th birthdays, and 10,000 more will reach this milestone every day until 2030. The succeeding "Generation X" is more than 10 million individuals smaller, making it unable to fill the vacated spots alone.

Already, business leaders, politicians, and columnists are touting the need for more engineers, doctors, and technology geniuses -- hoping to ensure that the next Google, Ebay, or Intel (all founded by immigrants or children of immigrants) begins in the United States rather than elsewhere. Today, the 65,000 H-1B visas are snapped up in just days, attesting to overwhelming pent-up demand. Some propose doubling these numbers; others argue that the United States should be "stapling a green card to the diploma of any foreign student who earns an advanced degree at any U.S. university" to ensure the innovation happens here.

But the United States will also need those without fancy degrees or patents in hand, willing to clean buildings, to watch children, to maintain landscapes, or to care for the elderly and infirm. The United States is producing fewer and fewer (willing) candidates. Not only are the rising generations from smaller families, but they are also better educated, as the number of Americans without a college degree has declined over the past 30 years. It is doubtful that those working hard to invest in higher education will settle for these positions, which will likely number in the tens of millions.

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"Immigration Hurts U.S. Workers and Local Economies."

Most studies suggest the opposite. Nearly all economists agree that immigration helps the U.S. economy overall. Where the debates begin is how these benefits are distributed -- who wins and who loses. The most careful studies show that women, those with college degrees, and those with any advanced education (degree or not) come out ahead, even if they live in areas with high levels of immigration. U.S.-born men with a high school degree or less fare worse, though the average effect amounts to only a few dollars a week (some 1 percent of total wages). Those hit hardest are other immigrants, who directly compete with newcomers. In economic parlance, U.S.-born workers of almost all stripes tend to "complement" rather than "substitute" for immigrants.

Studies also find that restrictive immigration laws -- such as those passed in Arizona, Alabama, Georgia, and South Carolina -- hurt local workers and local economies. By scaring away immigrants, not only do farms and factories suffer, but so do main street businesses and public tax rolls, as restaurants, grocery stores, malls, and laundromats sit empty. A study out of the University of Alabama estimates the state's annual GDP may shrink by up to $11 billion or 6 percent in the wake of its reforms. Others find similar economic effects when conducting state-level estimates of deporting unauthorized immigrants in Arizona and California. More broadly, reports by the Americas Society/Council of the Americas and Brookings Institution find that restrictive immigration laws actually reduce the number of jobs in local economies by shrinking both production and the local consumer base.

Other studies show that it is the illegal aspect -- not immigration per se -- that hits lower-skilled U.S. born workers the hardest. The vulnerable nature of these immigrants allows unprincipled employers to underpay and underprotect their employees. If these immigrants were legalized, wages for all workers on the lower skilled rungs would rise.

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"We Can't Pass Immigration Reform Until We Secure the Border."

It doesn't and can't work that way. Over the last 12, years the number of border-patrol agents has doubled -- making the Customs and Border Patrol one of the largest police forces in the United States. The federal budget for border enforcement has also grown to more than $18 billion dollars a year. The added money has gone to fund the more boots on the ground, some 700 miles of physical fencing, sophisticated border technology, and a growing number of detention centers. Prosecutions for illegal entry are at an all-time high -- now representing half of all federal crimes.

With all these resources and manpower, the border has arguably become the securest it has ever been. Apprehensions have declined from a high of some 1.7 million in 2000 to now just a fifth of those levels. Crime rates are also down. Despite sharing a border with Ciudad Juárez, one of the deadliest cities in the world over the past few years, El Paso reported only 16 homicides during 2011. The numbers for less-reported crimes, such as kidnapping, have also fallen. The much-discussed threat of spillover violence has not only failed to materialize in El Paso, but also in other border linked cities -- including San Antonio, San Diego, and Austin -- all of which boast safer records than similar-size cities far from the Rio Grande.

In the end, American politicians must recognize that the border can't be sealed; it can only be managed. And with more than a billion dollars' worth of legal goods, 400,000 people, 13,000 trucks, and 1,000 railroad cars crossing each day, the costs of more enforcement go beyond Homeland Security budgets, as billions in revenue and an estimated 6 million American jobs depend on U.S.-Mexico trade. 

The obsession with securing the border also ignores the changing realities of illegal immigration. At least 40 percent of the unauthorized population in the United States came in legally, and then overstayed their visas. Higher fences and more border policing will do nothing to staunch these flows.

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"Deportation Is the Answer."

False. While many undocumented immigrants come to the United States thinking only about work, over time their ties extend much deeper. Millions are now forever linked to America, as parents to an estimated 4.5 million U.S. citizens. These family bonds won't be voluntarily sundered, no matter how far these individuals are pushed into the shadows. Tougher policies affect not only those here without papers but also their American kids and relatives, afraid of engaging fully in their schools or communities for fear of exposing and losing their loved ones.

Recent stepped-up deportations show this can't be the solution either. During Obama's first term, his administration forcibly sent home a record 1.4 million immigrants. This caused great hardship for many Americans, including parents, spouses, and children, and broke up families and communities. It also illuminated the economic costs of such efforts, and their irreplicability on a large scale. A study by the Center for American Progress estimates that the cost of deporting the 11 million unauthorized individuals in the United States today at nearly $60 billion a year for five years -- roughly the entire budget of the Department of Homeland Security. And these calculations leave out the toll to local businesses dependent on these individuals.

Finally, a side effect of the hardening border is to keep people here longer, many permanently. Once, many Mexican migrants spent part of the year working in the United States and part in Mexico with family, a pattern scholars dub "circular migration," which kept migrants rooted in their hometowns. Now, with the higher costs and dangers of crossing the border, this back and forth has plummeted, with few voluntarily returning each year.

So if deportation isn't the answer, what is? Already, President Barack Obama has taken up the call for reform, as have a bipartisan group of senators that includes Republicans John McCain and Marco Rubio and Democrats Charles Schumer and Dick Durban. They champion a comprehensive reform that includes the possibility of citizenship for those already here, an overhaul of visa and guest worker programs for both high- and low-skilled workers, and better employment verification systems to strengthen workplace policing. As Obama said in his Tuesday statement, the solution is "smarter enforcement; a pathway to earned citizenship; improvements in the legal immigration system so that we continue to be a magnet for the best and the brightest all around the world. It's pretty straightforward."

The opportunity for change is more promising than at any moment since 2007, when the previous bill came within a few votes of passing. The U.S. economy is recovering, albeit slowly. Mexican migration has slowed, dampening some of the sensationalism of the past. And perhaps most importantly, the political calculations are shifting. The Latino community's overwhelming support for Obama, and their important role in pushing the swing states of Colorado, Florida, and Nevada to blue, bring political heft to this demographic. This group's electoral power will only grow, as each month some 50,000 Latinos turn 18. Republicans are taking note.

The immigration debates will still be vitriolic, especially in the House of Representatives. To make reform happen, the White House must to lead the charge with the Senate. Civic groups -- businesses, labor unions, religious leaders, police officers, and grassroots advocacy groups -- will need to come forward as well, offsetting those adamantly opposed.

But for those doubting a successful path forward, some historical perspective is in order. Immigration debates raged for years before major reforms occurred in the 1920s, 1960s, or in 1986, the last major overhaul of the system. While the details may differ, today's politicians, like their political forbearers, may too rise to meet the challenge this time around. And if they succeed, America will benefit again, as it has in the past, by boosting its economy, reinforcing its the rule of law, and returning to its roots as a country of immigrants propelled by their dynamism.

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Think Again

Think Again: The Muslim Brotherhood

How did so many Western analysts get Egypt's Islamist movement so wrong?

"They're democrats."

Don't kid yourself. Long before the Jan. 25 revolution that ousted Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, many academics and policymakers argued that his main adversary -- the Muslim Brotherhood -- had made its peace with democracy. This was based on the assumption that, since the Muslim Brotherhood participated in virtually every election under Mubarak, it was committed to the rule of the people as a matter of principle.

It was also based on what typically sympathetic Western researchers heard from Muslim Brotherhood leaders, and what I heard as well. "Democracy is shura," Brotherhood Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat al-Shater told me during a March 2011 interview, referring to the Islamic jurisprudential tool of "consultation." The implication was that the Brotherhood accepted a political system that encouraged open debate.

Yet since the Muslim Brotherhood's candidate, Mohamed Morsy, was elected president in June, the exact opposite has been true. The Brotherhood's only real "consultation" has been with the Egyptian military, which the Brotherhood persuaded to leave power by ceding substantial autonomy to it under the new constitution. Among other undemocratic provisions, this backroom deal yielded constitutional protection for the military's separate court system, under which civilians can be prosecuted for the vague crime of "damaging the armed forces."

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood has embraced many of the Mubarak regime's autocratic excesses: Editors who are critical of the Brotherhood have lost their jobs, and more journalists have been prosecuted for insulting the president during Morsy's six months in office than during Mubarak's 30-year reign. And much as Mubarak's ruling party once did, the Brotherhood is using its newfound access to state resources as a political tool: It reportedly received below-market food commodities from the Ministry of Supply and Social Affairs, which it is redistributing to drum up votes in the forthcoming parliamentary elections.

The Brotherhood's most blatantly undemocratic act, however, was Morsy's Nov. 22 "constitutional declaration," through which he placed his presidential edicts above judicial scrutiny and asserted the far-reaching power to "take the necessary actions and measures to protect the country and the goals of the revolution." When this power grab catalyzed mass protests, Morsy responded by ramming a new constitution through the Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly, and the Brotherhood later mobilized its cadres to attack the anti-Morsy protesters, and subsequently extract confessions from their captured fellow citizens. So much for promises of "consultation."

As the Brotherhood's first year in power has demonstrated, elections do not, by themselves, yield a democracy. Democratic values of inclusion are also vital. And the Muslim Brotherhood -- which has deployed violence against protesters, prosecuted its critics, and leveraged state resources for its own political gain -- clearly lacks these values.


"They're Egypt's evangelicals."

False. While it is certainly true that Muslim Brothers, like America's Christian evangelicals, are religious people, the Brotherhood's religiosity isn't its most salient feature. Whereas Christian evangelicals (as well as devout Catholics, orthodox Jews, committed Hindus, and so on) are primarily defined by their piety, the Muslim Brotherhood is first and foremost a political organization -- a power-seeking entity that uses religion as a mobilizing tool. As a result, the political diversity within the evangelical community, including its quietist trend, cannot exist within the Muslim Brotherhood, which strives for political uniformity among its hundreds of thousands of members.

The Brotherhood achieves this internal uniformity by subjecting its members to a rigorous five- to eight-year process of internal promotion, during which time a rising Muslim Brother ascends through four membership ranks before finally becoming a full-fledged "active brother." At each level, Brothers are tested on their completion of a standardized Brotherhood curriculum, which emphasizes rote memorization of the Quran as well as the teachings of Brotherhood founder Hassan al-Banna and radical Brotherhood theorist Sayyid Qutb. Rising Muslim Brothers are also vetted for their willingness to follow the leadership's orders, and Muslim Brothers ultimately take an oath to "listen and obey" to the organization's edicts.

The Brotherhood's 20-member executive Guidance Office, meanwhile, deploys its well-indoctrinated foot soldiers for maximum political effect. The movement's pyramid-shaped hierarchy quickly disseminates directives down to thousands of five- to 20-member "families" -- local Brotherhood cells spread throughout Egypt. These "families" execute the top leaders' orders, which may include providing local social services, organizing mass demonstrations, mobilizing voters for political campaigns, or more grimly, coordinating violent assaults on anti-Brotherhood protesters.

By channeling deeply committed members through an institutionalized chain of command, the Brotherhood has discovered the key ingredients for winning elections in a country where practically everyone else is deeply divided. For this reason, it is extremely protective of its internal unity: Its current leaders have largely dodged ideological questions -- such as explaining what "instituting the sharia [Islamic law]" means in practice -- to prevent fissures from emerging.

The Brotherhood has further maintained internal unity by banishing anyone who disagrees with its strategy. It excommunicated a former top official, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, when he declared his presidential candidacy in mid-2011 despite the Brotherhood's policy at the time against nominating a presidential candidate -- and even after the Brotherhood reversed its own decision, Aboul Fotouh remained persona non grata. It similarly ousted top Brotherhood youths who opposed the establishment of a single Brotherhood party and called on the Brotherhood to remain politically neutral.

To be sure, the Brotherhood's long-term vision is religious: It calls for "instituting God's sharia and developing the Islamic nation's renaissance on the basis of Islam." But the Brotherhood views itself the key vehicle for achieving this vision, which is why it places such a priority on protecting its organizational strength and internal unity. Indeed, far from approximating a devout religious group akin to evangelical Christians, the Muslim Brotherhood's disciplined pursuit of power -- which includes indoctrinating members and using force against detractors -- makes it most similar to Russia's Bolsheviks.

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"They're essentially free-market capitalists."

Not really. In the aftermath of the Muslim Brotherhood's rapid emergence as Egypt's new ruling party, the existence of wealthy businessmen within the organization's top ranks was taken as a sign that it was a capitalist organization that would put Egypt's economic interests first and thus steer a moderate course. The Brotherhood's supposed capitalism was also taken as a sign that it would seek cooperation with the West as it pursued foreign direct investment.

But just as electoral participation doesn't necessarily make an organization democratic, being led by wealthy businessmen doesn't make the Brotherhood capitalist.

Not that the Muslim Brotherhood claims to be capitalist anyway. "It is not," Ashraf Serry, a member of the Brotherhood's economic policy-focused "Renaissance Project" team, told me during a June 2012 interview. The Brotherhood, he explained, believed in striking a balance between "the right to capture ... treasure" and "the ethics and values that secure the society" -- whatever that means.

The text of the "Renaissance Project" is similarly ambivalent. On one hand, the platform emphasizes capitalist ideas such as ending monopolistic practices, encouraging foreign trade, reducing Egypt's deficit, and cutting many of the bureaucratic regulations that inhibit the emergence of new businesses. Yet it also envisions a large role for the state in managing Egypt's economy, including price controls for commodities, "strict oversight" of markets, "reconsideration" of the Mubarak-era privatizations of state-owned enterprises, and governmental support for farmers. And of course, there's a substantial Islamist component to the Brotherhood's economic agenda, which calls for establishing governmental Islamic financial institutions and using zakat (religiously mandated charity) and waqf (Islamic endowments) as tools for combating poverty.

What this hodgepodge of economic ideas means in practice remains unclear, because the Brotherhood has been rather skittish about making economic decisions since assuming power. While the Brotherhood has seemingly overcome its initial objections to accepting an interest-bearing loan from the International Monetary Fund (interest is forbidden in many interpretations of Islam), it has nonetheless postponed signing off on the loan repeatedly. And while Morsy has tried to implement certain policies for cutting government spending and raising revenue -- such as instituting a 10 p.m. curfew for restaurants and shops and increasing taxes on certain goods -- he has immediately backtracked on each occasion under pressure from his own Brotherhood colleagues.

If anything, the Brotherhood's economic policy is ultimately characterized by indecision -- both because of its contradictory economic ideas and the political challenges it faces. As Egypt enters a fiscal tailspin, with cash reserves falling from $36 billion in February 2011 to approximately $15 billion today, that isn't going to be good enough.


"They accept the treaty with Israel."

They never will. U.S. President Barack Obama's administration took comfort from Morsy's handling of the November Gaza war: From Washington's viewpoint, the Egyptian president resisted using the conflict as a pretext to break relations with Israel, and instead authorized negotiations with the Jewish state to achieve a relatively speedy ceasefire.

From the Muslim Brotherhood's perspective, however, Morsy preserved the movement's anti-Israel agenda. He stood by his refusal to meet with Israelis by outsourcing those negotiations to Egyptian intelligence officials; the ceasefire strengthened Hamas, the Palestinian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood; and the Egyptian government accepted no new responsibilities to stem the flow of weapons into Gaza. Far from yielding to the reality of Egyptian-Israeli relations, Morsy simply deferred their reassessment so that he could focus on his more immediate goal -- consolidating the Muslim Brotherhood's control at home. Indeed, one day after the Gaza ceasefire, Morsy issued his power-grabbing constitutional declaration, and rammed through a new Islamist constitution shortly thereafter.

This is, in fact, the very order of events that the Muslim Brotherhood envisions in its long-term program. As Shater explained during his April 2011 unveiling of the Brotherhood's "Renaissance Project," building an "Islamic government" at home must precede the establishment of a "global Islamic state," which is the final stage in achieving "the empowerment of God's religion." To be sure, consolidating power at home could take years, and the fact that the Brotherhood doesn't totally control Egypt's foreign-policy apparatus will also prevent it from scrapping the Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty -- for now.

But the Muslim Brotherhood does aim to scrap the treaty, which simply cannot be reconciled with the anti-Israel and anti-Semitic hatred in which every Muslim Brother is thoroughly indoctrinated. This vitriol was perhaps most apparent in Morsy's now-infamous 2010 remarks, in which he called Jews "the descendants of apes and pigs." Even as president, Morsy's blatant bigotry remains irrepressible: In a meeting with a U.S. Senate delegation in Cairo, Morsy implied that the U.S. media was controlled by the Jews.

And while the Brotherhood's apologists claim that these are idle words on which the movement won't act, its leaders have repeatedly signaled the opposite. In recent months, the Brotherhood's political party drafted legislation to unilaterally amend the treaty, a Brotherhood foreign policy official told a private salon that Morsy was working to "gradually" end normalization with Israel, and Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie has twice called for Muslims to wage a "holy jihad" to retake Jerusalem.

Washington should stop deluding itself: It will not be able to change the Brotherhood's ideology on Israel. Instead, it should focus squarely on constraining the Brotherhood's behavior in order to prevent it from acting on its beliefs anytime soon. As the Brotherhood makes quite clear on its Arabic media platforms, it has no intention of reconciling itself to the reality of either the peace treaty or the very existence of Israel.


"They can't lose."

Expect the unexpected. In the immediate aftermath of Mubarak's ouster, many Egypt analysts took the Brotherhood at its word when it promised not to run for a majority of Egypt's first post-revolutionary Parliament, and many predicted that the Brotherhood would only win 20 to 30 percent of the seats. The Brotherhood's impressive succession of electoral victories and quick assumption of executive authority, however, has led to the rise of a new conventional wisdom: When it comes to the ballot box, the Muslim Brotherhood cannot lose.

Yet the lesson of the Arab Spring is that what appears to be stable at one moment can be toppled at another -- especially if people are frustrated enough with the status quo. The conditions that sparked Egypt's 2011 uprising have only worsened in the past two years: The country's declining economy has intensified popular frustrations, and the constant labor strikes and street-closing protests indicate that the Brotherhood's rule is far less stable than it might appear on the surface. Meanwhile, Morsy's dictatorial maneuvers have forced an anti-Brotherhood opposition to form much more quickly than previously imagined.

Most importantly, a close look at voting data suggests non-Islamists are making critical gains among the Egyptian public. 57 percent of Egyptians voted for non-Islamist candidates during the first round of the 2012 presidential elections, and non-Islamist candidate Ahmed Shafiq won more than 48 percent in the second round -- despite being very unattractive to many Egyptians for having served as Mubarak's last prime minister. Moreover, though the Brotherhood successfully campaigned for the December constitutional referendum and won nearly 64 percent of the vote, turnout was only 33 percent -- meaning that the movement was only able to mobilize, at most, about 21 percent of the voting public.

To be sure, the Brotherhood is exceedingly likely to win the forthcoming parliamentary elections, and it may rule Egypt for some time. It is, after all, uniquely well organized, while its opponents are deeply divided: To the Brotherhood's theocratic right, the Salafists are split among a handful of competing organizations and, to its left, the field is even more fragmented among communists, socialists, Nasserists, old ruling party members, and a smattering of liberals. Perhaps most dangerously, the Brotherhood's quick ascent has empowered it to shape Egypt's new political institutions, and it will likely tailor these institutions to perpetuate its reign.

But the Brotherhood's support isn't strong enough to preclude the emergence of a challenger. For that reason, the United States must ensure that it avoids the impression that it is putting all of its eggs in the Brotherhood's basket. Already, non-Islamists are asking why the United States has been loath to squeeze a new ruling party that is neither democratic nor, in the long run, likely to cooperate in promoting U.S. interests. Whether or not these non-Islamists can effectively challenge the Brotherhood right now -- and I am dubious -- they are right in challenging the Washington conventional wisdom that fails to see the Brotherhood for what it is: a deeply undemocratic movement concerned above all else with enhancing and perpetuating its own power.

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