Interviewed by Andy Hirsch
LEWISBURG, Pa. — Assistant Professor of Sociology Elizabeth Durden focuses her research on immigration and related issues. Her recent work exploring anti-immigration legislation at the state level has just been accepted for publication by the journal Migration Studies. In this edition of Ask the Experts, Durden discusses the push for immigration reform in America, and why she believes the movement has a good chance of succeeding.
Question: What do you see as the main arguments supporting immigration reform in the United States?
Answer: Immigration reform is important, and it's important for two main reasons. First off, the United States' economic competitiveness largely relies on immigrant labor, both documented and undocumented. Immigration reform will allow us to bring these skilled and unskilled laborers more into our economy. The visa and legalization system needs to be modernized in this country, and that will benefit both the engineers as well as the service-sector workers, which will benefit our overall economy.
There's also a moral argument to be made for immigration reform. We have more than 11 million undocumented immigrants living in the shadows in the United States. They're the parents of American citizens, and they need to be made part of our social fabric.
Q: What's your general reaction to the "Gang of Eight" immigration reform bill?
A: In a nutshell, the proposal increases the number of visas for both high- and low-skilled workers, requires employers to verify their workers' legal status, increases border security and allows the 11 million undocumented persons within the United States to eventually become citizens.
While the proposal put forth by the "Gang of Eight" is not perfect, it's a solid proposal that has a real chance of passing. And the reason that it's got a real chance of passing is because of the tough compromises that it's making within the bill. So, for example, the pathway to citizenship is dependent on over a decade-long waiting period, there are a series of fines that have to be paid, English has to be demonstrated, a knowledge of English has to be demonstrated. These are compromises, these are requirements that many immigration advocates are not happy about. They're quite upset about these very stringent requirements. But it's because of these stringent requirements that may allow conservatives to get behind the proposal, and ultimately will allow it to be signed into law.
Q: Immigration reform has long been talked about by politicians. Why are we more likely to see some version of reform now?
A: I think there's a better chance for immigration reform now than any other political compromise or law to pass in Washington, D.C., and that is in direct response to the presidential election of last year, when the Republicans got overwhelmingly wiped out by the Hispanic vote. Some may say Republicans are pandering, but is it pandering to respond to demographic changes, or is that just smart? I think it's really smart to respond to the fastest growing ethnic group in the United States.
Q: What do you see as the biggest challenge(s) to immigration reform?
A: Even with the bipartisan support we're seeing, and the overwhelming public support for immigration reform, there are some real political roadblocks. Conservative sectors of the Republican party are in opposition and the support of the House is in real question. How this unfolds over the next few months is part of the continuing drama of immigration reform.
But while arguments are made against immigration reform, and immigrants themselves, it's just really hard for me to take them seriously. We are a nation of immigrants. That is our core identity, and they're also a part of our economic and social fabric. They're here and they're not going anywhere, so dealing with immigration reform is just dealing with the issues that are in front of us.