She pointed to resort communities in Michigan that struggled to find workers this summer even though they were just a couple of counties away from Detroit, which has been devastated by layoffs.
“Laid-off autoworkers in Detroit don’t want to travel across the state, let alone across the country, to pick pears, pick apples,” she said.
“In 1986, the last time we tried immigration reform, Congress told itself that American employers could be weaned from their need for workers. That was just unrealistic because Americans do not want to work in meat-processing plants, they do not want to clean rooms in hotels, they do not want to work as dishwashers.”
The 1986 amnesty legalized millions of illegal immigrants but did not stop more from coming.
In 2006, at President Bush’s urging, the Senate passed a bill to legalize most illegal immigrants and to boost security. That bill stalled when the House insisted on an enforcement-only approach.
In 2007, with Democrats in control of Congress, the Senate tried again — but the bill failed after a public outcry shut down the Senate phone system and a bipartisan majority of senators joined a filibuster. Lawmakers said voters didn’t think the government would follow through on enforcement.
The unemployment rate averaged 4.6 percent in 2006 and 2007, or less than half of the current 10 percent rate.
President Obama has said he wants Congress to act next year on immigration, and has tapped Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to begin organizing the administration’s effort.
Ms. Napolitano, in a speech last month, said enough progress has been made on border security, and that she’s trying to refocus interior enforcement on dangerous illegal immigrants and unscrupulous employers rather than workers. Part of that refocused effort involves audits of I-9 forms, the work authorization documents all workers must file when they take a job.
But Ms. Napolitano has taken fire from both sides. Those who want a crackdown say she’s letting illegal immigrant workers off the hook by not deporting them when they’re caught, while immigrant-rights advocates say the I-9 audit focuses on the wrong employers.
Mr. Medina, in a call with reporters Monday, said employers who fill out I-9 forms are at least employing workers on the books and paying taxes on their income. He said Ms. Napolitano instead should go after businesses that ignore the I-9 requirements and hire workers off the books, which he said makes those workers more open to exploitation.
“They are trying to look tough in enforcing the law. But this is not about looking tough; this is about solving problems,” he said.
Stephen Dinan can be reached at email@example.com.
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