The Financial Crisis Hits the Immigration Debate
by David L. Wilson
Part of the right wing routinely blames undocumented immigrants for just about everything. On September 24, nine days after the financial meltdown started in earnest, the National Review Web site carried an article by columnist and blogger Michelle Malkin blaming “illegals” for the crisis and the subsequent bailout of the banks. “The Mother of All Bailouts has many fathers,” she wrote. “But there’s one giant paternal elephant in the room that has slipped notice: how illegal immigration, crime-enabling banks, and open-borders Bush policies fueled the mortgage crisis.”
Malkin’s pieces often read like parodies of conservative punditry, and there’s something distinctly comical about the idea that a few undocumented homeowners caused a multi-trillion dollar financial crisis. Less than a month after Malkin’s article was posted, the Wall Street Journal showed that in fact mortgages bought by out-of-status immigrants have performed rather well. But the Malkin diatribe is a useful indication of how the immigration debate is likely to change over the next months.
Until this September, informed opinion was that whichever party won the November elections, Congress and the new president would move in 2009 to revive the “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” (CIR) package that was voted down in the summer of 2007. CIR (which started as the “McCain-Kennedy Bill” in 2005) would combine stepped-up enforcement, a limited program for legalization, and a greatly expanded guest worker program like the notorious “bracero” operation of 1942-1964.
It is no longer clear whether Congress will proceed with CIR; the politicians may put immigration on the back burner as they try to deal with more pressing economic issues. The crisis has taken much of the urgency away from “immigration reform.” Undocumented immigration had already begun to decline as the U.S. economy slowed in 2007, and the employer associations that pushed CIR for the sake of the guest worker provision may be losing interest: there will be less desire to import easily exploited workers from abroad as the crisis creates a pool of jobless workers here at home.
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