Wednesday, May 31, 2006

Doubling Immigration

Robert Samuelson wonders why the media did not cover how the Senate immigration bill would double the numbers of legal immigration and make that a focus of debate of the Senate bill.
The Senate passed legislation last week that Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-Mass.) hailed as "the most far-reaching immigration reform in our history." You might think that the first question anyone would ask is how much it would actually increase or decrease legal immigration. But no. After the Senate approved the bill by 62 to 36, you could not find the answer in the news columns of The Post, the New York Times or the Wall Street Journal. Yet the estimates do exist and are fairly startling. By rough projections, the Senate bill would double the legal immigration that would occur during the next two decades from about 20 million (under present law) to about 40 million.
As Samuelson writes, this is a major change, but it was not a question that advocates of the Senate bill have had to answer when they appear on media shows.
Democracy doesn't work well without good information. Here is a classic case. It is interesting to contrast these immigration projections with a recent survey done by the Pew Research Center. The poll asked whether the present level of legal immigration should be changed. The response: 40 percent favored a decrease, 37 percent would hold it steady and 17 percent wanted an increase. There seems to be scant support for a doubling. If the large immigration projections had been in the news, would the Senate have done what it did? Possibly, though I doubt it.

But if it had, senators would have had to defend what they were doing as sound public policy. That's the real point. They would have had to debate whether such high levels of immigration are good or bad for the country rather than adopting a measure whose largest consequences are unintended or not understood. What arguments would they have used?
Perhaps, we'll see those voting for the bill now defending that number, but Samuelson is right. The media needs to be reading the bill and making sure that the public hears what is in it so that the public can get a full picture of what is being considered. Most poll questions have been about broad plans: tighter border security, guest worker program, or earned citizenship. How about media reports and polls that cover one-by-one the various provisions in both the House and Senate bills so that the full public, not just those reading blogs, know what is in both bills.