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B. The Immigration Lobby | matthewsimmigration

B. The Immigration Lobby: Special and Public Interests

In addition to the democratic political power held by the citizen electorate on an individual level, other effectual sources of influence reside at the group or organizational level.  There are two broad sects of non-governmental organizational power in the United States: public interest groups and special interest groups.  The term "special interests" refers to groups whose interests are generally material and reserved for their particular constituents or members, such as those concerned with protecting certain domestic industries (e.g., agriculture and steel).  In contrast, the term "public interests" refers to groups whose interests are generally non-material and affect society as a whole, such as those concerned with human rights or the environment.

Special and public interests groups form a segment of the American political organism that maintains an influential hold on the direction of immigration policy reform.  These interests form because of the nature of immigration, which, as established through the economic analysis conducted supra, produces financial winners (which tend to be concentrated) and financial losers (which tend to be diffuse).  The concentration of benefits (i.e., those accruing to migrants, native employers in labor-intensive industries, businesses that profit from population growth - real estate, construction, etc. - and, to a lesser extent, the socio-political "class" of U.S. consumers) gives these winners of immigration greater incentives to organize than those who more diffusely bear its costs as economic losers (i.e., the socio-political "class" of low-skilled native workers).  One might argue that those who compete with migrants for jobs, housing, schools and government services do indeed have an enormous incentive to organize; however, this group often lacks the resources necessary to make their voices heard.  This would indicate that the interest group system which forms around immigration issues is dominated by the smaller organized public (i.e., the special and public interests) more favorable to immigration than the larger, less organized public less favorable to immigration (yet, as per the analysis of polling data, supra, not necessarily antagonistic towards it).

 

Special interests groups are likely to hire professional lobbyists to garner the attention of elected officials on their behalf in order to present their political viewpoint, advantage or "interest" for the sake of winning favorable legislation.  The lucrative world of federal lobbying has led many former members of Congress to K Street in Washington, D.C., a distinct geographical "economy of scale" in the lobbying industry.  Forty-three percent of the 198 members who have left Congress since 1998 and were eligible to lobby, have become registered lobbyists, including 50 percent of eligible departing Senators (18 of 36) and 42 percent of eligible departing House members (68 of 162).  Interestingly, partisan power appears to affect who becomes a lobbyist when they depart from Congress.  Since 2000, when President Bush was first elected, only 15 percent of Democrats (2 of 13) have become lobbyists as compared with 62 percent of Republicans (23 of 37). 143  From these numbers, it appears that there is a predominate presence of Republicans in the current lobbying industry.  However, former members of Congress are only one of the elements in the special interests lobby, which includes career lobbyists and public interest volunteers among its ranks.

 

One measure of the level of influence that particular interest groups or sets of groups, such as, broadly, the restrictionist set or the expansionist set, is to analyze the amount of funds spent annually on lobbying efforts.  The funds allocated to a particular issue within a particular timeframe, such as the period of time immediately preceding major legislation considerations in the Senate or House, are particularly telling.  This piece is written in mid-2006, at a time when several versions of major immigration reform bills are being considered in both chambers.  As established supra, 9/11 and an economic recession in 2001 have led to this recent cycle of immigration interest over the course of the last several years.  Therefore, an analysis of lobbyist spending levels on immigration-related issues between 2001 and 2005 can help establish the interests factor in the current debate.

 

Lobbying in the United States is a regulated activity controlled by the Foreign Agents Registration Act 144 and the Lobbying Disclosure Act of 1995 145 (a lobbying reform bill has also been introduced in the Senate but has not yet passed into law 146), which requires lobbyists to register with the Secretary of the Senate Office of Public Records.  The purpose of these laws is disclosure, and the disclosed records between 2001 and 2005 reveal a propensity towards expansionist ascendancy in terms of dollars spent on the issue of immigration reform.  Over this time period, entities that spent over $1 million on immigration lobbying efforts are overwhelmingly comprised of corporate special interests (i.e., those who gain from increased immigration) in the technology, biotechnology, electronics, agriculture, food processing, construction, entertainment, petroleum, financial services, hotel, manufacturing, communications and automobile industries, in addition to humanitarian public interests groups.  Thirty-two entities 147 make up this list of expansionist lobbies combining $340.3 million in total expenditures over the four-year period, with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce (the world’s largest business federation representing over three million business and organizations of every size) topping the list at $67.4 million.  The only identifiable expenditures reported on the restrictionist side came from the AFL-CIO (the umbrella organization representing 66 labor unions, including the United Farm Workers, and approximately 13 million native workers), with total expenditures of $8.2 million. 148

 

With such an enormous discrepancy in levels of expenditure (an approximate divergence of $332 million) one might face confusion as to why Congress is so split on the issue.  Two reasons will provide clarification.  First, while the expansionist numbers are high, these expenditures accrue to select members of Congress, generally those who have the greatest political pull over immigration.  Second, in contrast to most special interests groups, public interests groups largely influence members by relying on indirect methods of affecting legislation, particularly by influencing voter opinion through advocacy and educational campaigns as well as academic writings and other forums of discussion such as online "blogs."  In this sense, public interests groups are comprised not only of organizations but also influential individuals such as those scholars highlighted herein who manifest important social power in the literature.  While the academy produces both restrictionist and expansionist ideologues, it also produces a great deal of neutrality highly influential in directly or indirectly promoting positive and sensible policy reform.

 

The White House and Congress utilize the popular press to reach target audiences, the judiciary utilizes its own case precedent and powerful contemporary decisions to disseminate its own particular brand of political influence, the media slants news coverage in the direction of its sponsors and target audiences, and public interest groups, inclusive of the immigration bar and restrictionist groups such as the Federation for American Immigration Reform and the Center for Immigration Studies, make use of grassroots advocacy to sway public perceptions.  Finally, public interest groups also include organizations formed abroad, inclusive of foreign government officials such as those diplomats from 11 Latin American countries who gathered in Cartagena, Colombia in February of 2006 to protest and lobby against the bill passed in the House of Representatives in December of 2005 (covered infra).  This group played an important role in the debate by drawing international attention to the issue, thereby placing pressure upon the U.S. polity to steer reform options in a more moderate direction. 149

 

Applying a form of economic reasoning to the political economy of U.S. policy-makers, it is logical to assume that these individuals - elected officials in the bicameral Congress - are vote-maximizers.  In their own analysis of realities in the political economy, these vote-maximizers are more likely to respond to the organized pressure of groups favorable to immigration while largely ignoring the larger but more poorly articulated opposition of the general public.  This is largely due to the rationale that those who lack the incentive or motivation also lack the motivation to vote, and this line of reasoning is borne out through the empirics of voting which reveals that the percentage of Americans who vote in presidential, congressional and other elections is one of the lowest among industrialized nations.  In the 2000 presidential campaign, for example, less than 50 percent of eligible voters cast their ballots. 150  The typical mode of immigration politics, therefore, is that of "client politics," a form of bilateral interests groups influence in which small and well-organized groups intensely interested in a policy develop close working relationships with those officials responsible for it. 151  In the United States, as evidenced by the above treatment of special interests and, more importantly, their expenditures on the issue of immigration, client politics are strongly oriented toward expansive immigration policies.  However, the cyclical nature in the United States of popular immigration interest, as addressed supra, indicates that in the current debate, which is taking place in a Congressional election year, "majoritarian politics" are as potentially critical to the outcome of the policy reform debate as are the politics of interests.

 

Over the last several decades, the conflict between expansionists and restrictionists has etched itself into the debate at such an ingrained level that it is difficult to see through partisan smoke-and-mirrors.  Political consensus must therefore overrule historical acrimony surrounding immigration, which can be accomplished through a concerted educational campaign and backed by the ideological tenets of historical American democracy.  Namely, an appeal to the sentimentalism of the United States people in their promotion of America as, in the selective words of Langston Hughes in his famous poem about America, the "homeland of the free."  Negative sensationalism in today’s entertainment-based news media cannot be directly controlled, yet the political process can create spillover pressures on these commercial forums so that positive conceptualizations of immigration can begin working themselves into the public mind.  In this way, expansionist groups should engage in a systematic propagation of the "immigration doctrine," through which Americans are informed that what is at truly at stake in the immigration debate is not another terrorist attack or a clash of civilizations, but rather economic advantages.

 

Immigration must be seen as an economic good for all classes of American society in order to win the necessary political backing for equitable moderate reform.  Immigration cuts across partisan lines, creating strange bedfellows in its wake, and is therefore not a purely political issue in the terminological sense that American culture has grown accustomed to.  It is not an issue that typically divides Republicans and Democrats but an issue that affects the balance sheets and checkbooks of both parties and their varied constituents.  The benefits accruing to each group are not only economic but social in that the perceptual frameworks of Americans towards international migrants are modified immensely when their presence brings an increase of economic utility to natives.  Accordingly, in order to achieve social goodwill between natives and migrants, there must be a compromise between the groups, a politically feasible exchange of interests between the state, special and public interests groups, and the citizen electorate whereby each group benefits.

 

In sum, immigration politics in liberal democracies tend to exhibit an expansionary leaning based upon a particular romanticized reading of national immigration history, the open and tolerant characteristics of a liberal democratic polity, and economic realization.  Popular opinion is less expansionist than interests, yet it is also less organized.  Organized opinion, reflecting the distribution of the costs and benefits of immigration, is more favorable towards expansionary policy and has more impact on policy because vote-maximizing politicians find it in their electoral interests to cater to it.  This produces reactionary opposition by certain members of Congress, who seek their own political self-preservation by disseminating contrary information and thereby sparking restrictionist groups to invest in grassroots outreach.  The normal client politics of immigration tend to evolve into more open majoritarian politics within particular immigration cycles, such as that which the United States is currently experiencing.  Therefore, the summation of popular opinion (manifest as both unorganized independent voters, who may or may not exercise their rights to vote, and as organized public interest groups in both restrictionist and expansionist forms) and special interest immigration powers combine to produce political pressures on Congressional leadership, a fact which leads the present study into the beginnings of the mechanics of policy-making or what Freeman refers to as "the tortuous American legislative process." 152

 

The House and Senate Bills

 

Thus far in the 109th Congress, two "comprehensive" immigration bills have been passed.  The U.S. House of Representatives passed the Border Protection, Antiterrorism, and Illegal Immigration Control Act of 2005 (H.R. 4437), as amended, on December 16, 2005 (hereinafter, "the House bill").  The House bill primarily addresses immigration enforcement-related issues including border security, the role of state and local law enforcement agencies in immigration enforcement, unlawful presence, smuggling, detention, and the enforcement of prohibitions on employing unauthorized workers.  It greatly increases the penalties for immigration violations, contains no legalization provisions for currently undocumented workers, and offers no form of guest-worker program.  A number of provisions in the House bill were included in a predecessor bill (H.R. 4312), as reported by the House Homeland Security Committee.

 

The U.S. Senate passed the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006 (S. 2611), as amended, on May 25, 2006 (hereinafter, "the Senate bill").  The Senate began its action on immigration in March of 2006 in the Judiciary Committee, where Chairman Arlen Specter created a compromise bill containing provisions from the major Senate reform bills.  On April 7, 2006, after three failed attempts in the Senate to reach agreement on procedure and substance, a key group of Senators introduced the Senate bill, a compromise that represented wide bipartisan support.  After two weeks of debate, the Senate approved final passage of the bill by a 62-36 vote. 153  In addition to including provisions on immigration enforcement-related issues (e.g., border enforcement, interior enforcement, and the unlawful employment of aliens), the Senate bill would revise current law on temporary workers, expand legal permanent immigration, and enable certain unauthorized aliens in the United States to adjust their status and become legal permanent residents. 154  Negotiations to reconcile the House and Senate bills have been delayed so that House Republicans can conduct hearings on immigration throughout the country.  The indication is that conference committee negotiations on the immigration bills will not begin until fall of 2006, creating additional doubts that as to whether Congress will be able to pass immigration legislation this year.  Observers believe lawmakers may be reluctant to tackle a divisive issue such as immigration in the weeks leading up to the November elections.  Some also point to the fact that Congress has struggled in the past to complete legislation in the "lame duck" session following elections. 155  This mechanical stalemate provides an ideal political environment for the introduction of equitable moderation into the public discourse.

143 Public Citizen’s Congress Watch, "Congressional Revolving Doors: The Journey from Congress to K Street."

 

144 22 U.S.C. §611.

 

145 2 U.S.C. §1605.

 

146 The Legislative Transparency and Accountability Act of 2006 (S. 2349).

 

147 Accenture, LLP, American Electronics Association, American Farm Bureau Federation, Anheuser-Busch, Associated Builders and Contractors, AT&T, Biotechnology Industry Organization, BP America, Inc., Business Roundtable, U.S. Chamber of Commerce, Christian Coalition of America, Disney Worldwide Services, Electronic Data Systems Corporation, Delta Airlines, Exxon Mobil Corporation, Financial Services Roundtable, Honda North America, Intel Corporation, International Business Machines Corporation, Marriott International, Micron Technology, Microsoft Corporation, Motorola, National Association of Manufacturers, Oracle Corporation, Qualcomm, Seniors Coalition, Shell Oil Company, Texas Instruments, Toyota Motor North America, Inc., United Automobile Aerospace and Agricultural Implement Workers and United Technologies Corporation.  United States Senate Office of Public Records, "Lobby Filing Disclosure Program/Federal Lobbyist Online Registration."

 

148 United States Senate, "Lobby Filing Disclosure Program."

 

149 Sergio de Leon, "11 countries plan to lobby against U.S. immigration law."

 

150 U.S. Department of State, "Rights of the People: Individual Freedom and the Bill of Rights."

 

151 Freeman, "Modes of Immigration Politics."

 

152 Gary P. Freeman and Bob Birrell, "Divergent Paths of Immigration Politics in the United States and Australia," Population and Development Review 27, no. 3 (2001): 525-551.

 

153 Austin T. Fragomen, "A Summary of Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act of 2006."

 

154 Andorra Bruno, "Immigration Legislation and Issues in the 109th Congress."

 

155 Julia Gelatt and Malia Politzer, "Congressional Negotiations Stall while Bush Administration Pushes Enforcement, Integration."

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