Illegal immigration is a flashpoint, but one that defies the normal political divide. A new book by Pulitzer Prize winning reporter Jerry Kammer, called "Losing Control," illustrates why and reveals it has a lot to do with money.
Sharyl: Just by way of background, where do you come from politically?
Jerry Kammer: I have always identified as a moderate liberal. That was from the time when the leading opponents of large scale illegal immigration were Democrats, concerned about the effects on the working class. And many of them have been terribly disadvantaged by our inability to control, especially illegal immigration. And so while the Democrats have moved toward the open borders position, I have felt that I can no longer identify with that.
Sharyl: In very simple terms, if you can, for people who don't follow this issue carefully, what is our illegal immigration policy in writing and in practice?
Kammer: Well in writing, it is that those who seek employment in the United States must demonstrate that they are authorized to work in the United States. We have not enforced that. We have made the system easy to circumvent, to cheat with the fraudulent documents that are readily available in any city in the country. And so, unless you commit to what you have promised to do, unless you commit to enforcing the limits that were in the law, you're going to have a chaotic situation, increasing public frustration, and a fragmentation politically where the left is increasingly saying that we cannot deport anyone who gets across the border, that that is an offense against human rights, and we have the right to say that we cannot reward illegal immigration because we have proven that when you do, you only get more of it.
Sharyl: But it's a little more complicated than that because isn't some of the right totally on board with the idea of allowing illegal immigration?
Kammer: Absolutely. You have the libertarian pro-business, that can't get enough of hardworking people who are willing to work for a far less, and who are afraid to complain about working conditions because they're fearful of being deported. And of course this puts authorized workers, native born, as well as legal immigrants at a terrible competitive disadvantage. Many of them have lost jobs. And when you combine that with the globalization and automation that has destroyed jobs over the past couple of decades, along with outsourcing, especially to China and also to Mexico, you have had a real hollowing out of the blue collar middle class in our country.
Sharyl: You go through how our immigration policies, the result of hundreds of business and academic lobbying groups that have spent hundreds of millions of dollars since 2001, contributing to politicians and trying to influence policy. What are some of the groups and their motivations?
Kammer: Well, the most prominent group is probably the National Chamber of Commerce, but there are many, many business groups, corporate groups. Mark Zuckerberg, and his group out there in Silicon Valley are very interested in the H-1B, the skilled worker visas. But you also have contractors, roofers, landscaping, businesses, restaurant associations, they're all eager to have a loose labor market. That has always been what employers and with what capital wants. A loose labor market to keep downward pressure on wages.
Sharyl: Polls have consistently shown that most Americans want our immigration policy reformed. The trick is when it comes down to what that means, because probably half the people think it should be tightened and half the people think it should be loosened?
Kammer: Well, the polls show that most Americans want there to be limits and want the limits to be enforced. And that's where they've clashed against the far better organized and better funded lobby on the other side. The lobbyists who wanted to increase immigration are a very established presence in Washington. And thanks to the Sunlight Foundation, a watchdog group, we know how many hundreds of millions of dollars, even more than a billion dollars, they have spent to lobby for loose immigration policies. Meanwhile, as former Labor Secretary Robert Reich said, "there is no lobby for the working American poor." No one to represent their interests, which have been harmed by the influx of competitive workers from many countries around the world.
Sharyl (on camera): A 1986 law was supposed to control illegal immigration, but Congress undermined it by giving amnesty to millions, which Kammer says triggered the backlash ultimately putting Trump in office.