Thursday, September 18, 2008

Immigration Policy

The difference between enforcement and economic immigration reform is the same as the difference between symbolic and substantive issues. The symbolic enforcement represents tens of billions of dollars being used with little concern for its efficacy (“Controlling Unauthorized Immigration”, IPC) in order to express tough, popular rhetoric. It isn’t about resources, it’s about linking politicians with the virtues of protection and security. Substantive, economic-centered immigration reform recognizes that immigrant workers are a key resource of our economy. Evidence of this relationship is demonstrated with the decline of illegal immigrants due to our declining job market, (“Homeward Bound”, Center for Immigration Studies).

“No national leader reaches the American public in as many ways as the president,” (Gerston 53). But this connection to the public has been largely misused for the symbolic issues. As Robert Samuelson put it, they “do what sounds good and pleases partisans.” It is poor use of power and a difficult thing to overcome as the agencies that could offer substantive ideas often lack muscle to make changes (Gerston 55).

The seeming inevitability of the public’s attention being used for symbolic issues is the reason why the garbage can model (Kingdon 84) is a more realistic representation of governing than the rational-comprehensive model (Kingdon 78). Setting clear goals and indicators of success is hellaciously difficult without a top-down substantive dialogue. So instead of following a logical process of (1) goal setting, (2) options analysis, (3) decision making, (4) implementation, and (5) evaluation for policy formation the public is forced to endure a system with politics weighted more than administration.

Bold action could break through the stuttering pace and direction of immigration reform. Again, the president could use the public as positive leverage, (Gerston 53). A surprising enough move could serve as a focusing event, (Kingdon 94). For example, the president could stay along the US-Mexican border until a reform bill is ready to be signed. True, such an action sacrifices incrementalism (Kingdon 79) but it is necessary in order to maintain public attention and to combat nondecision (Dye 38).

The news desires drama. Feeding this need could draw out the three effects of the media: “(1) identifying issues and setting the agenda for policymakers, (2) influencing attitudes and values toward policy issues, and (3) changing the behavior of voters and decision makers,” (Dye 40). More importantly dramatic action could also be an opportunity for a leader to communicate substantive issues to the public. Rather than direction and vague goals being discussed, perhaps specific policies and indicators could be introduced.

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