Published November 4, 2013
The Faith Angle Forum is a semi-annual conference which brings together a select group of 20 nationally respected journalists with 3-5 distinguished scholars on areas of religion, politics & public life.
“Welcoming the Stranger? Religion and the Politics of Immigration”
South Beach, Florida
Speakers: Dr. Peter Skerry, Professor of Political Science, Boston College, Nonresident Senior Fellow, Brookings Institution
Dr. John C. Green, Director, Ray C. Bliss Institute of Applied Politics, Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University of Akron
Moderator: Michael Cromartie, Vice-President, Ethics and Public Policy Center
Click here to listen to an audio recording of this event.
MICHAEL CROMARTIE: Today’s topic, as you know, could not be more timely, and we’re delighted about that because we want our topics to be timely, and this one certainly is. And we have two gentlemen who are political scientists who are experts on the subject. Their biographies are in your pamphlets. You both know them by reputation.
We’re going to first hear from Dr. Peter Skerry, Professor of Political Science at Boston College, giving us kind of an overview of history of immigration in American politics and life and why different people look at it different ways. And then we’re going to have Dr. John Green from the University of Akron, who many of us feel is the leading political demographer of religious voting behavior in America on almost any topic. And John is going to talk to us about the different way religious groups view immigration questions.
DR. PETER SKERRY: Thank you, Mike. It’s great to be here today. I appreciate the invitation and all the help from you and your staff to make this really a pleasant and, I think, a rewarding couple of days.
So what I’m going to do is I’m going to look at, for a few minutes, assumptions that I see informing the views of religious leaders across the board — we could talk about specific religious leaders later if you like — about immigration.
And it’s not as though these religious leaders’ views, I think, are so distinctive from other elites, but that is the topic on the table, so that’s what I’m going to focus on. And the real thrust of my remarks is that these assumptions typically don’t bear up under scrutiny, whether we’re looking at immigration in the past or in the present.
The three assumptions, just to lay them out quickly, are that immigrants are typically the poorest, and therefore the neediest, segments of the societies whence they come. We all know there are high-skilled immigrants, but the discourse is always focusing on immigrants who are the poorest and the neediest.
The second assumption is that, typically, no meaningful distinctions get drawn between immigrants and refugees, or the differences between immigrants and refugees get confounded and muddled all the time.
And the third assumption that gets made by religious as well as other leaders is that those arriving here intend to stay here and become Americans.
Now, not coincidentally, these assumptions are embedded in Emma Lazarus’ famous sonnet, “The New Colossus,” which I will now inflict upon you. Just to remind us:
Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she
With silent lips. “Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door
We’ve all heard these words. Yet they’re really misleading. This sonnet and these assumptions are now entwined with the image, of course, of the Statue of Liberty, where these words are found at the main entrance to the statue.
Now, we’re clearly in the realm of myths and symbols at this point, which understandably suffuse the topic of immigration, which is obviously integral to our self-understanding as a nation and a people. Symbols like the Statue of Liberty are particularly powerful, but they’re also changeable and protean, and that’s what I want to talk about for a few minutes.
After all, at its origins, as many of you may know, the statue had nothing to do with immigration. Rather, it was a gift conceived by embattled French republicans in the wake of France’s defeat in the Franco-Prussian War. During the 1870s, they were trying to appeal to their fellow and more successful republicans across the Atlantic. Liberty’s torch was intended not to light the way for immigrants to come into America, but to send out rays of hope to inspire republicans around the globe to foster free and liberal institutions where they lived.
But, of course, the statue’s dedication in 1886 coincided with a growing influx of immigrants arriving into New York Harbor who felt themselves literally greeted by Liberty’s torch, and it became part of immigrant lore and part of our national story.
Then, too, Emma Lazarus’ sonnet had an important role to play in this transformation of the statue’s image. It was originally written for an art exhibit that was undertaken to raise money for the statue’s pedestal, but then it contributed to the confusion — the sonnet did — up to this day, between immigrants and refugees, the second of those three assumptions that I highlighted at the beginning of my remarks.
What Emma Lazarus is talking about there is a refugee story, not an immigrant story: people who were forced out of where they live and who came to America for refuge. I’ll have more to say about this in a minute.
And this was no accident, that Lazarus was moved to write about this. She was responding to the plight of her fellow Jews — she being a particularly assimilated American Jew — but she was responding to the plight of her fellow Jews fleeing pogroms in Tsarist Russia at the time.
In any event, at the time of the statue’s 50th anniversary in 1936, Lazarus’ sonnet was displayed in a very obscure place inside the pediment on the second story beneath the statue, and the public was barely aware of it. In a ceremony at the statue in 1936, President Roosevelt did not even mention Lazarus’ sonnet, though he did mention immigration, rather tangentially, and mostly to say that it was a thing of the past. As he put it, “We have within our shores today the materials out of which we shall continue to build an even better home for liberty.” But the story was that the door had more or less shut.
It was not until a few years later, with the plight of Jews in Nazi-dominated Europe, that Lazarus’ work really began to receive serious attention, undoubtedly fueled in part by our less-than-generous response to those in need of refuge. And in this way, the statue came to be confounded as the symbol of welcome to immigrants seeking opportunity and advancement (which was the immigrants’ story coming into New York Harbor) but especially at the same time to refugees fleeing danger and persecution, especially during World War II.
So this brings us up to those three key assumptions underlying the understanding of immigrants, broadly construed, among our religious leaders — that first assumption, again, that those arriving here are typically the poorest of the poor. As Lazarus put it, “your tired, your poor.”
But as economic historians Timothy Hatton and Jeffrey Williamson, among lots of other scholars, have pointed out, in the 19th and early 20th centuries, the poorest of the poor were seldom the ones who migrated here. Rather, it was those one or two strata above the poorest, those with the wherewithal to be aware of opportunities to migrate, probably those who were literate, and who had the means to plan and save for passage to the United States.
Today, putting aside the obvious fact that many educated and skilled individuals seek to come here, at the other end of the spectrum it’s still not the poorest of the poor who migrate here, but those of modest means, nevertheless able to save and to afford the opportunity costs of not working while making the trek here and then to pay the substantial fees charged by a smuggler (or “coyote”) to gain entrance into the United States.
Now, maybe some fine-tuning is in order in this story. It’s gotten to be the case that in Mexico, at least, coming to the United States is part of a routine, sometimes almost a rite of passage in many villages in Central Mexico and in some cities. The costs and risks of the journey are hardly negligible, but they’re greatly relatively lower than when the migration first began many years ago.
The second assumption that gets made by our religious leaders is that immigrants are equivalent to refugees and that the circumstances that have driven and continue to drive immigrants here are not fundamentally different than those confronting refugees — the “your huddled masses yearning to breathe free, the wretched refuse of your teeming shore” in the sonnet.
So as I’ve suggested, Lazarus’ powerful imagery has contributed to this confusion, but so have the needs of politicians and advocates striving to build coalitions, who have minimized or ignored the differences between refugees confronted with few choices and economic migrants choosing to come here.
A salient example of this occurred in 1965 when President Johnson signed that year’s historic immigration reform bill, the Hart-Cellar Act, which abolished the much-criticized national origin quotas from the 1920s. He did so at the base of the Statute of Liberty, and unlike FDR 30 years before, cited Lazarus’ sonnet, and then used the occasion, after signing the major immigration reform bill of the century, to announce a large-scale program for the reception of refugees from Castro’s Cuba. There’s that confusion again.
It should, then, be no surprise, and perhaps pardonable, I would suggest, when a couple of years ago, Senator Marco Rubio claimed that his family was part of that refugee exodus out of Cuba when, in fact, his parents had arrived here as ordinary immigrants in the 1950s, before the Revolution.
Now, the third assumption, the notion that immigrants and refugees alike come here intending to become Americans and make this their new home. This assumption has generally been true of groups such as Russian Jews, Cubans fleeing Castro, perhaps the famine Irish in the middle of the 19th century, and Vietnamese boat people in the 20th century. But it should not be applied to many other strictly construed immigrants arriving here.
Indeed, at the turn of the 20th century, immigrants arriving were typically referred to as “birds of passage.” At that time these were typically southern and some eastern Europeans who came here intending to work hard, save money, and return home to their families.
And in the period leading up to World War I, the most noteworthy example of this pattern was among Italian immigrants. Two-thirds of all Italian males who arrived here in that period subsequently returned home, reflecting in part the speed and relatively low cost of steamship travel, as compared to earlier means of transatlantic voyages. But more fundamentally, for our purposes this highlights their basic motivations to come here, work hard, save money, and go home.
Similarly today, illegal immigrants — especially, but not exclusively, from Mexico and Central America — come here not intending to stay, but to work hard at two or more jobs, minimize their living expenses to save money, bunking in with as many as 10 or 12 other people, often young men, not always, and then returning home with enough to buy land, machinery, start a business, or build a house. Social scientists refer to these as “target earners.” They obviously take big risks and often get exploited by middlemen and, of course, employers. But in many respects, such individuals can be regarded as exploiting themselves. In order to reach their target earnings, they put themselves through all sorts of travail and often put themselves at risk or in danger. But in so doing, they also reap substantial gains, by augmenting their earning power many times over compared to what they would be earning back home.
But, of course, most of them — many of them — typically don’t return home, at least not permanently, and most end up remaining here, settling down, having children who are born here and are, therefore, citizens, and then raising their families. Yet their original intentions don’t evaporate, and their dreams of returning home linger and shape their lives and those of their children and of those around them as well. For example, in the case of undocumented Irish in New York City in the 1990s, not a group we focus a lot on in the current debate, one researcher, Linda Almeida, points out how such undocumented Irish got “trapped in their transience.” As she observes, employers weren’t always willing to invest training, time, and money in a worker if that person was likely to leave without notice or be deported as an illegal alien. So this is a somewhat different view of how employers treat undocumented workers. And I would submit that it’s a bit more ambiguous than the simple story about the exploitation of undocumented workers that we generally hear.
Another researcher, Mary Corcoran, reports on another aspect of the transience among undocumented Irish — on the social ties and relations in such immigrant communities. She quotes an undocumented Irishwoman: “You tend to not trust people here. You talk a lot of bullshit for a couple of hours, and then they want you in bed before you know it. At home, you had a lot of supports, family and friends. Here you don’t really trust anybody the same way.”
Alternatively — a different group, a different setting — labor activists who have tried to organize undocumented immigrant workers express similar frustrations. Jennifer Gordon, an activist lawyer who unsuccessfully attempted to organize a union among Central American day laborers in Central Long Island, concludes that such populations are, as she puts it, “settlers in fact, but sojourners in attitude.” And she continues, “Such immigrants may decide that their current wages and working conditions are good enough in the short term, which is the only term in which they imagine themselves living here.”
Even pithier are the comments of the organizer Bill Pastreich, a stalwart of efforts during the 1960s to organize welfare mothers, if any of you are old enough to remember that. Pastreich later went on to organize labor unions, and then Gordon hired him to assess her situation, her efforts among undocumented immigrants in Long Island. His advice to Gordon, quoted in Gordon’s fascinating account, Suburban Sweatshops, was, and I’m quoting here: “There are just too many workers, most of whom are incredibly transient, and too few jobs, and the whole scene is so fluid and uncontrollable. The employers are too small and too varied to make organizing them practical.” He concluded, “Give it up and go find an organizing campaign where you have a prayer of success.”
Among other things, this raises a whole lot of questions, which I won’t explore now, about the wisdom or perhaps the seriousness of unions like the Service Employees International Union (the SEIU) which have made a big point of their commitment to organizing undocumented workers.
One final piece of evidence about how the original intentions of such immigrants not to settle here have a lingering, but frequently overlooked, impact: Of the 2.7 million undocumented who obtained amnesty under the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, today, a quarter century later, only 40 percent of that cohort have gone on to secure the U.S. citizenship for which they are eligible. Fully 60 percent have settled for a green card.
To conclude, it is such motivations, mixed and complicated and often counterintuitive motivations and outcomes, that our religious leaders as well as other elites seem completely oblivious to, so wedded are they to the misleading rhetoric and imagery of our immigration lore, as embodied in Emma Lazarus’ sonnet and now enshrined by the Statue of Liberty.
One final point in this regard about a different, but related, assumption relied on by the leaders of my own faith tradition, the U.S. Catholic bishops, involves their readiness to address the presumed needs of migrants to change their circumstances. And in focusing on this, the bishops have grown reliant on the biblical imagery of “welcoming the stranger,” the title of one of their letters to the faithful in which they express skepticism about the sanctity of national borders and assert a right to migrate.
Yet it is worth noting that not all national conferences of Catholic bishops see things the same way. In Poland, for example, during the heyday of Solidarity’s battle against Soviet domination, the bishops there spoke out against those young Poles who took advantage of opportunities to leave their homeland and thereby deprived the movement of needed skills and leadership. So too have the bishops of Ireland at various times in recent years bemoaned and criticized the outmigration of young, educated youth to America and elsewhere. For such church leaders, liberal migration policies represent not a welcome to strangers, but a threat to the well-being of their own societies.
Such alternative perspectives highlight, once again, it seems to me, how our religious leaders here in America are reliant on assumptions that need much, much closer scrutiny. I’ll stop there. Thank you.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you, Professor Skerry. Thank you very much. We appreciate it. Thank you very much.
Dr. John Green is the Director of the Ray Bliss Institute of Applied Politics and a Distinguished Professor of Political Science, University of Akron. And many of you know John because many of you have quoted John because of John’s so excellent work on voting behavior and the data therein. John is going to show us some charts about all of this. Do you have handouts that we need to give to everyone, or are we just going to go with the…
DR. JOHN GREEN: We’re just going to go with the overhead.
MR. CROMARTIE: And if people want copies?
DR. GREEN: I’ll be more than happy to email the PowerPoint presentation to anybody who wants it.
Just let me know.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay. Thank you, John. You’re on.
DR. GREEN: Oh, well, thank you very much. It’s wonderful to be back at the Faith Angle Conference. Michael and I were debating last night whether I had been here four or three times, and I think the answer’s three, but it seems like four.
MR. CROMARTIE: Yes.
DR. GREEN: It was — but I’ve been here many times and really enjoyed it, and —
MR. CROMARTIE: It’s number four now.
DR. GREEN: Yeah, it’s number four now, so it’s really wonderful. I’d like to look a little bit at the attitudes of different religious groups in the mass public. We’ll start out by looking at some general attitudes towards immigration, then we’ll focus in on some of the policy questions.
I apologize that some of — I just realized when I got here that for people sitting in the back of the room who may have weak, old eyes like mine, some of these charts may be a little bit difficult to look at, but what really counts is the patterns, and that’s what I want to focus on is the patterns.
But a couple of general points. You might argue that immigration and immigration reform or laws regarding immigration is sort of the original cultural conflict in the United States. We talk a lot, and in recent times have talked a lot, about culture wars. Well, these were, in some sense, the original culture wars, but, of course, there’s an economic aspect to it.
And what you’ll see in some of the attitudes that we’ll look at — and even in some of the questions that my colleagues at the Pew Research Center ask in these surveys — you’ll see some of the assumptions that Peter was talking about. They don’t just inform the attitudes of religious elites; they inform the public and even pollsters.
Religion has played a very significant role in attitudes towards immigration, now in the present and in the past. It changes a lot with the circumstances, but religion has been an important factor. The key thing to know, though, is that the primary way that religion affects issues related to immigration is through religious affiliation — the groups that people belong to.
Now, in just a minute we’re going to look at some fairly crude descriptions of some major religious traditions in the United States, but even these crude measures show some really interesting differences. And many of my colleagues call this the politics of belonging, that identifying and belonging to a particular group determines the attitudes that people have on these issues.
So first we’re going to look at these religious traditions and attitudes towards immigration in general, then we’ll turn to the immigration policy issues that we’re debating in Washington right now. These data come from the Pew Research Center. The great bulk of the surveys were conducted in 2013, so this is very fresh data. This is the time where I have to issue my disclaimer: while I’m using Pew Research Center and I often work with them, these views are mine and mine alone and not the responsibility of the Pew Research Center.
We’ll spend a little bit of time on this first picture. All the other pictures will look a lot like this. There’s a standard question that’s been asked for many years in various forms. It’s a dichotomous question. It asks people which comes closer to their views and the part that’s in red reads, “The growing number of newcomers from other countries threatens traditional American values.” And the alternative is, “The growing number of newcomers from other countries strengthens American society.”
This question’s been asked for 30, 40 years, and it varies a lot — the results vary a lot with the circumstances, including what’s happening with immigration. Now, down the side of this chart are the religious groups that we’ll look at. At the very top are white evangelicals. Below that are white Catholics. Below that are white mainline Protestants. Then the unaffiliated — we called them the Nones yesterday; they’re actually better called the unaffiliated. And then some other groups. There’s a group called “Other Christians.” Those are all the other Christians that aren’t in one of the other categories, so it’s a polyglot group, but the sample size is so small that we can’t break out a lot of these. Then we have a category of “Other Faiths.” Those are basically non-Christians of one kind or another. Again, we don’t have a big enough sample size to break out the component groups. Then black Protestants, the historic black Protestant tradition, and then all Hispanic Christians, Protestants and Catholics put together. As many of you know, there are differences between Hispanic Protestants and Catholics on many political issues, but on immigration they look a whole lot the same.
So as you can see, if you just look at the patterns of the red and blue — by the way, the gaps between the red and blue are people who didn’t have an opinion; couldn’t answer the dichotomous question — you can see a really pretty clear pattern. White evangelicals these days are the most skeptical of new people coming into our country because they, in their view, threaten American values. We can see that white Catholics, white mainline Protestants, other white Protestant traditions — white Christian traditions — tend to share that kind of skepticism, but as we go farther down towards the group that contains the most immigrants these days, the Hispanic Christians, that skepticism declines. But notice that even among Hispanic Christians there’s roughly a quarter that have that view of newcomers.
Now, what’s interesting about this question is it doesn’t identify who the newcomers are; it’s just about the idea of immigrants, the idea of new people coming into the country. But as you can see, there are also large groups of Americans that think that newcomers strengthen American society. In fact, if you would look at this as a whole, not broken out by religious groups, a majority — 52 percent of Americans — think this year that the growing number of newcomers strengthens American society. This is a view of immigration from a cultural lens.
This next chart looks at an economic lens. The red part of the graph is “Immigrants today are a burden on our society because they take jobs, housing, and healthcare.” And that gets back to one of Peter’s points that many times immigrants are seen as the neediest people who not only take jobs, but they also take social services of one kind of another. It is basically the same picture, but a couple of interesting differences. You’ll notice the other Christian category, which is down sort of towards the middle of the chart. Other Christians include lots of people of different status — Mormons, Orthodox, Christians, black Catholics, any group that wouldn’t fit into one of the other categories. They’re much more sensitive on the economic issue than on the cultural issue. That’s also true of black Protestants. And, of course, this may have something to do with the economic circumstances of these groups.
Just to put this in context, let’s look at a contemporary culture war issue, which is support or opposition to same-sex marriage. Same religious groups: opposition or support. You can see a much, much sharper gradient if you look at the red bar from white evangelicals and move down towards the unaffiliated — just very, very sharp change, much sharper than on immigration. But then notice when we get sort of towards the bottom of the chart, the other Christians, black Protestants, and even Hispanic Catholics, have a large minority that are also opposed to same-sex marriage. So there is a difference between the cultural issues that are associated with immigration and those things that are associated with sexual conduct. So we have different kinds of culture conflicts, if you will.
One of the really interesting things is the impact of worship attendance. Now, many of you know that it’s not just the politics of belonging today. We also have the politics of believing and behaving. And this is just a very simple chart. What it does is it takes that newcomers are a threat and it plots across these religious groups the differences in attitudes between those who are frequent attenders and less frequent attenders. The red line are frequent attenders — people who say they go to worship once a week or more — and the dashed line are less frequent attenders.
What’s interesting about this picture is on this basic immigration question it’s the less frequent attenders who have the more conservative attitudes. The more frequent attenders actually have more liberal attitudes. Now, that might be the impact of religious elites talking about immigration reform, but it also may be that this isn’t about religiosity; it’s about group membership, and if one is threatened by members of other groups, it’s not the content of the religion, it’s the group that one belongs to.
And just to show how different this is, this is what the same measure of attendance looks like for same-sex marriage. Notice that across all of these religious groups, it’s the frequent attenders who are the most conservative, most opposed to same-sex marriage, and it’s the less frequent attenders who are less opposed.
So you can see how the cultural politics of immigration — different kind of politics than the politics of same-sex marriage or abortion, because when we talk about those sexual issues — the new culture war issues, if you will — we’re talking about the impact of believing and behaving in religious terms, not just belonging.
Here’s a really interesting diagram that’s worth looking at, and this really, I think, captures the cultural milieu of the moment. This question asks, “Compared to the immigrants of the early 1900s, today’s immigrants are less willing to adapt to the American way of life” and there are other options: “more willing” and “just as willing” to do that. And what I’ve plotted here is just the answer “less willing” than those immigrants from a previous era.
Now, there are relatively few people in this sample that actually remember the immigration of the early 1900s. Probably a few, but not very many. So this is really about symbolism. It’s about was the past better than the present when it comes to immigration?
And you’d see this really interesting gradient across the bars, moving from white evangelicals over — I guess would be on your right — over to Hispanic Christians. White Christian communities tend to see, maybe not surprisingly, their ancestors — people who migrated earlier — as being more willing to fit into American society than these other groups, who are characterized by more recent immigrants. It was really kind of interesting. You get a sense of the group impact of these religious traditions on basic attitudes towards immigration.
Let’s switch gears a little bit and let’s talk about contemporary immigration policy. One of the questions we asked this year at Pew was what’s the biggest problem with immigration? And we asked is it illegal immigrants, is it legal immigration? And as you can see with the big red lines that sort of pop out across, just about everybody thinks the big problem is illegal immigration. That’s the big issue. You can see with the little purple lines that there are some people that think that legal immigration has its problems too, but overwhelmingly, that’s what the debate is about; that’s what the public is interested in, the question of illegal immigration.
This next chart is a kind of interesting one. What it plots is the percentage of these different religious communities that would like to see restrictions in both legal and illegal immigration. The red line is illegal immigration and the dashed line is legal immigration, and it’s interesting. Many more people would like to see illegal immigration restricted — well, probably because it’s illegal — but notice that there is some sentiment at a lower level for reducing legal immigration as well.
And if you look at the first part of the chart, you’ll notice that the lines were almost parallel. When you look at the large white Christian traditions, they’re very, very similar. But when you get over to the newer traditions, to some of these combined groups, notice that it’s really legal immigration that’s the problem; it really pops up. And even when we go over to the far, far side to Hispanic Christians, there is a significant group of people that want both legal and illegal immigration restricted, and that shows that there’s some diversity within these religious communities.
I think this fits with some of the attitudes we just looked at, that there is a kind of skepticism on primarily cultural grounds, but also economic grounds, about immigration, whether it’s illegal or legal, but, of course, illegal immigration being much more serious.
Here’s a counterintuitive finding. This is a question that Pew has been asking for a couple of years now and it’s a dichotomous question. It asks, “Should illegal immigrants be allowed to stay in this country under certain conditions?” — that’s the blue bars — or “Should illegals not be allowed to stay?” Should people who are here illegally be made to leave or be deported? And I think what’s counterintuitive about this is notice the size of the blue bars. Every single one of these religious groups — a large majority believes that illegal immigrants should be allowed to stay under certain conditions. I’ll talk about the conditions in just a second.
Now, if you look at the red bars, which are much smaller, you can see the effects of those attitudes we were looking at in some of the previous slides. The white Christian tradition’s more skeptical of immigration, but everybody thinks that the people who are here should be allowed to stay under particular conditions. And there’s, of course, quite a debate about what those conditions would be.
Now, I think this is counterintuitive, because if you just looked at those attitudes that we looked at before, you might think that the groups towards the top of the chart — white evangelicals, white Catholics — would actually be more in favor of deportation, but they’re not. This may be one of those rare instances where the public actually learns something from the debate. As you know, the mass public is not very well informed on the details of debates. But in this same survey, we asked people if they thought it was practical to deport or have illegal immigrants leave the United States. An overwhelming majority of all these religious groups have said it’s simply not practical, can’t be done. So people might want to do it, right? They might have those sort of sentiments. They might be skeptical about the impact these people are having in the United States, but they think it’s impractical.
Now, before you think that the American public has now become enormously informed, the same survey showed that majorities of all these groups think that illegal immigration is growing by leaps and bounds. And as I’m sure you all know, it actually slowed down because of the recession. So, the public’s not completely informed, but this is one place where information actually seems to impact attitudes in a way that goes against some of the underlying values.
What are some of the conditions? One condition that was very popular was that the normalization of illegal status would involve being able to speak English. Actually, all the religious groups have majorities that think that’s a good idea. Much more controversial is the paying of fines. White evangelicals are actually interested in paying fines as a way for undocumented workers to stay here. Hispanic Christians think that’s a terrific idea; and maybe that goes to Peter’s point about the economic motivation of many immigrants in the United States. In some ways, the most controversial of these conditions in the survey was should there be a ten-year waiting period for people to have their status normalized? White evangelicals thought that was a great idea and as you go down the groups, down the chart, people became less and less interested in it, and Hispanic Christians are not interested in it at all. So there is some debate about the conditions.
But the fulcrum of the debate is really something else. We asked another question, which was, “If we had immigration reform, which of the following things comes closer to your view?” “We should secure the borders first” or “We should secure the borders at the same time that other requirements are being implemented.” That’s really — from the point of view of the mass public — that’s really where the debate is, and you can see that in this chart. If you look at white evangelicals at the top, a large majority thinks that the borders have to be secured first, and that reflects some of the skepticism that white evangelicals have about immigration, particularly in cultural terms, but perhaps also in economic terms. If you go down to the bottom of the chart, where you see Hispanic Christians, almost the reverse is the case. The larger group thinks that — the larger bar is that we should secure borders, but at the same time that other things are being implemented.
What’s interesting to me, though, besides this big dichotomy between these two large religious groups, is if you look at white Catholics and white mainline Protestants, the second and third steps down in the chart, they’re pretty evenly divided about whether it should be the border first or along with other types of changes.
Now, I think this is significant if you think about the politics of immigration, because many of the representatives, both in Congress and in the lobbying community that are pushing for the border security first, come from areas where white evangelicals are very common, very populous, but they also come from areas where the Hispanic population is large as well, so there’s a lot of tension in this sort of thing.
So in many ways, this is the fulcrum of the debate from the point of view of the politics of belonging. Now, it turns out that these things — the two groups worry about different things. Many of the people who agree with the “secure the borders while we’re making other arrangements” are very worried about economic issues. They’re worried about, on the one hand, that this normalization process will reduce jobs and use up social services, but at the same time, many of them see great benefits to the economy of normalizing the legal status of illegal immigrants.
On the other hand, for people who are worried about securing the border first, they’re concerned that if the borders aren’t secured first, that that will encourage more illegal immigration. They’re also concerned that there are certain types of social dysfunction — crime, so forth — that are associated with not having secure borders.
And it’s interesting because if you look at this chart you can easily imagine or easily see the popular foundation for the debate between Republicans and Democrats, but if you look deeper in the survey there are arguments among Democrats and among Republicans about exactly how these things could be implemented.
So in conclusion, I think there’s a couple of interesting things to know here. One is that in the mass public, religious affiliation is a significant factor when it comes towards immigration. If you subject these — the kind of data we’ve been looking at — to statistical controls, the impact of religious affiliation persists, so it suggests that the membership in these groups is important. The clear focus of the debate in the mass public is illegal immigration. Despite considerable skepticism about immigration in some religious communities, most religious groups support some mechanism to allow people who are here illegally to stay in this country, but the major division is about securing the border, which goes back to some of those images that Peter was talking about, about who immigrants are and what their role will be in American society. Thank you very much.
MR. CROMARTIE: Thank you. Okay. Paul Edwards is up, and then Mike Gerson and Karen, and I think Will — when Will starts smiling broadly, I think that’s — you’re raising your hand. Did you raise —
DR. SKERRY: He smiled the whole time I was talking.
MR. CROMARTIE: He smiled the whole time you were. Paul Edwards is first here, please.
PAUL EDWARDS, Deseret News: Thank you both for very informative presentations. Peter, I wanted to respond from — I’m looking at this from, of course, being at the Deseret News in Salt Lake City, Utah — from how the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints has looked at this. And I think it’s important that — I just want to clarify, from their perspective, looking over their statements about immigration, which became very focused — in the 2011 year in the State of Utah there was a lot of discussion about immigration reform, and there was initially the introduction of a bill very similar to what had been presented in Arizona and the efforts came underway to modify and create a slightly different dialogue in Utah.
But the way the Mormon Church talked about immigration in their official statements was in part from an ethical framework, but I think it’s interesting to note one of the statements begins with this. It says, “As a worldwide church dealing with many complex issues across the globe,” and then it goes on into its statement about some different principles.
And my experience is that as much as anything, some of these churches are seeing this just as an organizational issue at a very pragmatic level so that as they operate a worldwide operation and they have people that are, in fact, migrating in and out of different countries, that they just experience interesting things within a congregation. How do you deal with the issues of congregational life when you have parishioners who are undocumented and you’re trying to help them with housing and work and those kinds of things?
And so I think some of it may be, just at a very practical level, about how an organization that doesn’t see borders in its mission as a — although recognizing that it operates within those kinds of laws and constraints, just how they deal with some of the practical concerns.
And so you may be overstating the narrative of idealism and refugees and those kinds of things that come into play when churches are speaking out on certain kinds of immigration issues.
And just to put a slightly finer point on that, this has come up significantly with the way the Latter-Day Saints deal with missionary service, because as undocumented Mormons come of age to serve as missionaries, just the issue of where they are assigned becomes a very practical concern, because if they are assigned outside of the United States, they can’t get back in, and so it creates a real issue for their families. So I think just the practicalities may play a larger role than you gave credit for.
DR. SKERRY: Well, first of all, I want to acknowledge Paul, not only his question, but his help. I met him for the first time when I arrived here two days ago, but had interviewed him by telephone a year, year and a half ago when I came across an editorial in Deseret News that was talking about illegal immigration and that made this really interesting point about how Americans who were upset about illegal immigration were invoking a kind of civil law notion that was quite antithetical to our common-law traditions. And I don’t know about you, but I don’t see too many allusions to that kind of discourse in editorials and newspapers, much less in Utah, in the Deseret News, if I may say in my Eastern arrogance. So I sought this guy out. I didn’t even know who wrote it at first and I was — through intermediaries — led to Paul, who was extremely helpful, and it turned out that he had studied at law school with somebody whose work I knew well.
So Paul has taught me a lot about what was going on with the Mormon Church in Utah. So I can’t and won’t disagree with what you just put on the table, Paul, but I will say this — I don’t think my focus on the idealistic narrative contradicts at all what you just put out there. But if one wants to explore the pragmatic aspects of things, well, then the story gets a whole lot more complicated and perhaps verges — I’ll speak about the Catholic bishops — to a certain extent perhaps on hypocrisy. Certainly the Catholic Church has heavy investments in the prevailing immigration policies. The Church is in trouble and Hispanic immigrants are fresh recruits, albeit ones that are turning their back on the Church and becoming evangelical Protestants.
We’re here in Miami, and when I was here a few years ago, I learned talking to people in the archdiocese how dependent the Miami archdiocese in particular is on funding from the federal government for refugee services. A huge part of the Church’s budget, here and elsewhere, comes from providing services to immigrants.
Now, is that a criticism? No. I’m glad the Church is doing these things, but they don’t talk about that when they’re espousing this more idealistic set of principles. So I agree with you, but I think to me the interesting story is probably the interplay of these two things — self-interest and idealism.
MR. CROMARTIE: Mike Gerson, and then Karen. Tweet away, folks.
MICHAEL GERSON, The Washington Post: One of the most important, interesting things I found in your presentation was how culture war issues get differently treated in these communities. And you talked about same-sex marriage as religious attendance being an indicator of a more conservative position and religious attendance being an indicator of a less conservative position on immigration, right? I mean, I caught that correctly.
DR. GREEN: Yeah.
MR. GERSON: Okay.
DR. GREEN: Right.
MR. GERSON: I can understand that in the context of maybe the Catholic tradition, where you have teaching on this topic, where the people who regularly attend might be getting teaching on this topic. I think that’s probably a lot less likely in white evangelical settings. So is that distinction true in white evangelical settings as well? And can you explore just a little bit why that would be, what the explanation would be?
DR. GREEN: Well, I think it has to do with the different kinds of issues, and the sexual issues, the new — what we call the new culture war issues. Well, we tend to call them the culture war issues, but they’re relatively new in American politics — are closely connected. Attendance is a good measure, but it’s not just regular attendance; it’s also the beliefs that go along with regular attendance.
Across almost all religious traditions there is a more traditional view of marriage by people who tend to hold more traditional beliefs within that tradition. Now, that’s a little bit convoluted way to put it, but that’s because the impact of belonging doesn’t completely go away, right? A regular mass-attending Catholic is still a Catholic, right? And a regular church-attending evangelical is still an evangelical, but — and part of those traditional beliefs are connected to ideas about sexual behavior.
So when issues like abortion and same-sex marriage came onto the scene — now, some of this was politics, but some of this was just the way people thought about it, that very traditional views were closely connected to one side of the debate, whereas these other kinds of cultural issues, immigration being an example — there’s a few other ones as well — really don’t engage traditional beliefs as much. What they have to do with is the identity that people have by belonging to a particular group.
And so it’s interesting that in the case of these immigration data, that less frequent attending members of these religious traditions still have strong group identity, but they’re — it’s not their religiosity that’s engaged, but their group identity.
This is actually not a new phenomenon. If you were to go back and look at voting behavior in the — not at these issues, but at voting behavior in the 1950s and ’60s, you would find that worship attendance did not predict voting behavior at all, but group membership did. So, for instance, when John Kennedy was elected in 1960, Roman Catholics that attended mass weekly were no more or no less likely to vote for John Kennedy than Roman Catholics who had never darkened the door of a church in years, because it was — what was going on there was a group identification with a particular candidate that shared that identification.
So, I think there’s two different ways that people’s religion gets connected to these types of issues. One is group identity, and the other is religious beliefs and practices. Now, it could very well be that part of what’s going on here is politics, and in the case of the new culture war issues, of course, there were lots of prominent leaders in both the evangelical and the Catholic community, a bunch of other communities, that actually campaigned on these issues and tried to draw those connections, and not only on the right, of course, also on the more liberal side, more progressive side as well.
It could be that — particularly in the evangelical community, we’re seeing a little bit of that with the immigration issues, but it works the opposite way, where people may be hearing from their pastors or from other leaders about how there needs to be immigration reform, there needs to be greater acceptance. As some of you know, in the last couple of years, there’s been kind of a united evangelical front to push for immigration reform, which, given some of the data we looked at today, is a little bit surprising, because a lot of the people in the pews don’t necessarily have those views.
So it’s possible, Mike, that part of this is that those regular attenders, even in evangelical churches, are hearing some of this message of how we need to have some changes in the policy, except it’s moving against the prevailing opinion of the community. A long, convoluted answer to a very good question.
MR. CROMARTIE: Karen, while you’re pulling the mic over, John, where is the Tea Party in this chart? Are they up there anywhere, or —
DR. GREEN: Well, the Tea Party isn’t in that chart. The Tea Party’s a political group.
MR. CROMARTIE: No, I know it’s not, but I just wondered where would you —
DR. GREEN: Well, Tea Party advocates draw very heavily from a white Christian community, so a significant portion of Tea Party adherents are evangelicals, but also, they draw from mainline Protestants and from Catholics. So the Tea Party overlaps with these white Christian communities, but it doesn’t overlap completely. Now, there are lots of evangelicals and lots of Catholics that don’t regard themselves as part of the Tea Party, but —
MR. CROMARTIE: And a lot of Libertarians are Tea Party, right?
DR. GREEN: Some of you know more about this than I do, but you can think of the Tea Party as sort of a faction among Republicans, but there’s factions within the Tea Party, and there are social conservatives that are part of the Tea Party, but there’s also Libertarians, and they spend a lot of time not getting along with each other, as is the practice in American politics.
MR. CROMARTIE: Karen? Karen Tumulty.
KAREN TUMULTY, The Washington Post: Oh, well, thank you for all of this. It’s been great, and if anybody’s following this on Twitter, we’ve been having — Russell Moore and Ralph Reed have been weighing in on this conversation in absentia —
MR. CROMARTIE: Are you going to ask their questions?
MS. TUMULTY: Well, one of them —
MR. CROMARTIE: I give the floor now to Russell Moore.
MS. TUMULTY: Well, one of the questions that he wanted asked, although I’m really wondering now if — looking at your data, if it even applies — he was wondering if there was a kind of coalition building on this issue with evangelicals and other groups that might carry over to other issues, but looking at your data, it really looks like there’s going to be a real challenge for evangelical leaders to get the rank and file to sort of throw themselves into the immigration issue the way they have on other issues. Do you — either one of you — see them coming in as a big political force on the immigration issue, despite what we’re hearing from their leaders, again, the way they have on other issues?
DR. GREEN: I think it’ll be very difficult. It’s a real challenge to bring the people in the pews along with them. I think it’s possible, but that goes into the details of what policy reform would be. If it was perceived that there were strong border controls, I think it — there might be a larger number of evangelicals and other white Christians that might join in that kind of — so it really is a case where I think the details matter a lot, because even setting certain conditions for people who are in this country to be able to have their relationship, their legal status normalized, is going against the prevailing sentiment of many people in those communities; not everyone, of course, but to many people, so it has to be a good deal, if you will.
So I think it’s a real challenge, and this is not unusual in American politics for religious leaders to have a real challenge mobilizing their members behind something that they feel very strongly about. And even when you get something close to unanimity among leaders, it’s still a challenge often to bring the followers along.
MR. CROMARTIE: Yeah. I’ll let Peter comment on it too, but, Karen, was that question Ralph and Russell’s —
MS. TUMULTY: Well, Ralph is just tweeting that — sorry about bringing —
MR. CROMARTIE: That’s why we’re here.
MS. TUMULTY: Well, Ralph’s thesis on this is that evangelicals are just sort of so turned off by the law-breaking aspect of this that that’s one of the reasons that it’s hard to bring them along.
DR. GREEN: There may be a good bit of truth to that. One way to think — well, asking questions about these issues is very difficult because with many people, you get on the phone at dinnertime, the word “illegal” just jumps out, and it’s hard to — for them to get past that.
But I do think, particularly among evangelicals, but not exclusive with evangelicals, illegality seems like a threat.
MS. TUMULTY: Right. Yeah, his exact tweet is, “Mostly skeptical of amnesty/Washington undermining rule of law. Evangelicals very welcoming of legal immigrants.”
DR. GREEN: Yeah. The data we looked at shows that while there is even some skepticism of legal immigration among evangelicals, it’s much, much lower. The problem really is illegality. And I’m not sure that’s because evangelicals are, quote, unquote, “legalistic” in their religiosity. I just think it’s because, in this particular debate, order is important to them, and they see law-breaking as a source of disorder.
MR. CROMARTIE: Peter, any comments?
DR. SKERRY: I would just — a couple of things. Looking at John’s data, it seemed to me almost on every question, white evangelicals were followed pretty directly by white Catholics. So, not to deflect your question, but it’s — there’s a kind of similar dynamic going on.
And then just to throw out a perspective that doesn’t speak to the immediate political dynamics, but I’ve always been struck and have certainly argued — and this is part of what Paul Edwards and I have gone back and forth about — is that it’s rather curious to me, the way this dichotomy between legal and illegal has gotten defined. I think at some point, Republicans allowed themselves to buy into this in a way that’s — I suppose on the one hand, makes some sense for them — but puts them in somewhat of a box.
We never talk, of course, about if there’s 11 million illegal immigrants in this country, there’s at least 11 million employers who hired them illegally, and, in fact, it’s a crime to do so. It wasn’t always a crime in our history. It became one in 1986. And we never talk about such employers, and certainly Republicans don’t, but maybe they should. I can understand the politics of that, but I think there’s a lack of realism to this discussion.
On the other hand, I’m not at all convinced — and I can’t prove this; I can certainly argue it and adduce some evidence — but I’m not at all convinced that the public is actually that more anxious about illegal immigration than it is about legal immigration. Clearly, the numbers defy what I just said, but that’s the state of the debate.
These categories, I think, are very confounding. If you ask and talk to people or look at the evidence of people who have talked to people about what really eats at them about immigrants, generally — or illegal immigrants in particular — they’ll certainly cite illegal immigration right off the bat. Then they’ll go on with a litany of things — some of which are true, some of which aren’t — that illegal immigrants aren’t learning English, they’re not paying taxes, all these kind of things. Some — like I said — some of which are true, some of which aren’t.
But then if you ask them about legal immigrants, they won’t say they’re here illegally, but they’ll say the same things. They’ll list the same litany. And I think that speaks to the fact that there are more basic — John kept referring to cultural dynamics. That’s part of it. I would also — in my remarks, I was trying to suggest what social scientists would call structural dynamics; the fact that immigrants introduce certain levels of disorder in communities and pose challenges about maintaining normal community dynamics, and that’s true whether they’re here illegally or legally. I think illegals pose particular challenges, but they’re not all that different. So I just wanted to throw that out there, that this distinction that we all have come to rely on is an artifact of our politics, and I’m not sure how helpful it is.
MR. CROMARTIE: William Saletan? Pull the mic over, please. Either ask your question or what the tweeters are asking you to ask.
WILLIAM SALETAN, Slate: I haven’t been checking the Twitter feed, sorry. I’m trying to live in this world right now.
I wanted to reverse the question and ask a little bit about the attitudes of immigrants on some of these religious and moral issues. And we may not have any good data on it, but maybe we can extrapolate a little bit.
So this is in the political context, so obviously there are a lot of Republicans who are very afraid that new Hispanic citizens will be a reliable Democratic voting bloc. And the argument on the other side is that Republicans can somehow use cultural issues to tap into conservative cultural views among this group.
So looking at, John, your data on gay marriage, it looked like there’s some basis for this argument, although somewhat limited. It looked like the white evangelicals were about 70 percent on gay marriage and about 15 percent among the unaffiliated, and about 40 or 45 among the Hispanic group in Catholic, Protestant.
So there’s somewhat — there’s some basis for that, it looks like, but, of course, in the larger context, a lot of polls have been showing shifts to the left on these cultural issues, not just on gay marriage over time, but — which is moving very radically — recently we saw polls on legalization of marijuana, death penalty, and maybe there’s no correspondence, but it does look like there’s somewhat of a liberalization pattern.
So my question is can the two of you put your heads together on this? Peter, you have — first of all, what are the trend data on cultural issues within currently polled Hispanic and particularly recent Hispanic immigrants? Has that been established at all, or is it just sort of the Hispanic group? And Peter, what do your data tell us about any changes in the nature of the folks who are coming here and whether the data that we have on current Hispanic voters would resemble the future? Are there changes going on that make it so that we can’t extrapolate?
DR. GREEN: Well, the first thing to know about Hispanic immigrants is that, as many of you know, the term “Hispanic” is actually an American invention, and if you go talk to the Hispanic community, they don’t think of themselves as Hispanics; they think of themselves as Mexicans or Cubans or — really, it’s more their nation of origin. And it’s actually a very diverse stream of people.
A large group of Mexican immigrants are religiously traditional. They’re traditional Catholics, some of them traditional evangelicals. Some traditional Catholics that come to the United States become evangelicals; there’s an evangelism process and they tend to be quite culturally conservative. But not all Hispanic immigrants are of that nature. Many of them are younger, upwardly mobile people, come from cities, or if they came from rural areas they were anxious to get out of rural areas, just like my ancestors were anxious to get out of rural Oklahoma because they wanted to go to the big city where they could have more choices. So, you have that kind of group as well.
So if you look at the overall trend in Hispanics, just like in the entire country, there has been a liberalization on a number of these issues, and same-sex marriage being a very good example of that. But that tends to occur among younger, less religious, better-educated members of these immigrant groups, just like it’s those people among Catholics and evangelicals that are moving in that direction as well.
I think Republicans have some opportunities on cultural issues. My sense — with Hispanic immigrants — I think that the relative power of cultural issues, though, is diminished, partly because of the liberalizing attitudes in the United States. But there are other ways that Republicans could appeal to this group.
As Peter pointed out, many of these people come here for economic opportunity, and a lot of the Republican policies about small business and economic opportunity might very well appeal to some of those folks. In these — I didn’t put it in these data — but in these surveys that I was reporting on, a question was asked would it help the Republicans or hurt the Republicans if they supported immigration reform? And among the Hispanic Christians, Protestants, and Catholics, a large percentage said this would really help the Republicans.
Now, does that mean all those folks are going to go out and vote Republican? I don’t know that that would be the case, but it does suggest that the immigration issue may be a problem for some Republicans, at least, with Hispanic voters that might otherwise want to vote for them, be it for economic or for social issue reasons.
Let me just say one more thing. There are religious distinctions within the Hispanic community. The evangelical Hispanics are more Republican than Hispanic Catholics. In most elections, they still vote majority Democratic, but at a much lower rate than Hispanic Catholics. So part of the Republican outreach would be to go to evangelical Hispanics, rather than to Catholic Hispanics.
MR. CROMARTIE: A quick point on that, Peter?
DR. SKERRY: Yeah, quickly. I don’t have a whole lot to add, but I would just, I suppose, chime in and point out that there are lots of other ways Republicans can appeal to Hispanics on immigration-related issues that they haven’t done much about. Putting Mitt Romney to one side and his unfortunate formulation of the issue, there’s a whole raft of issues, such as promoting English language acquisition, around which lots of white Republicans could get behind, but certainly lots of Hispanics as well.
We all talk a lot about English acquisition. We don’t do much about it. If you’ve ever spent any time in ESL classes — my experience is that they tend to be inspiring failures that are greatly underfunded and under-theorized, as it were. There’s lots more we could do in much more imaginative ways if we put our minds to it and invested in it, and Hispanics would welcome that if it were done right.
We could also do more about naturalization. Now, I understand Republicans have concerns about that, but there’s ways of welcoming people here without necessarily opening our doors to ever more immigrants, which clearly is a problem for Republicans, and none of those kinds of opportunities seem to me like they’re being explored.
MR. CROMARTIE: David Rennie, you want to pull the mic up? And then Mollie. Mollie Hemingway, then Molly Ball, and then Michelle.
DAVID RENNIE, The Economist: (Inaudible) questions just on cause versus correlation for Dr. Green. White evangelicals and their sort of outlier opposition, do you think that that is something within the theology of the evangelical faith, or is it simply that very conservative people tend to edge towards that denomination?
And for Dr. Skerry, there’s a lot of news reports about how — the new kind of fashionable thing to write about in this debate is that evangelical church leaders are coming to Congress and lobbying in favor of comprehensive immigration reform. I’d just like to hear whether you think that’s hype or whether something’s going on and whether that represents a kind of broad trend or a sort of splintering within the evangelical movement.
DR. GREEN: Well, ordinary people don’t spend a lot of time thinking about theology. They probably should, but they don’t. But one of the reasons that evangelicals are conservative is because their religious beliefs, in our present context, lead them on balance to favor more conservative policies.
And the movement of evangelicals from the Democratic Party to the Republican Party, which happened over the last 40 years, had a lot to do with religious beliefs. Now, I’m not sure that that was particularly sophisticated, but I do think it had to do with beliefs. And the new cultural issues were the leading edge of that, but it wasn’t only that. There were lots of other things that — other policies where evangelicals slowly but surely found a Republican Party more congenial because it was a party that took more conservative positions. So I do think there is a religious influence in there.
Of course, if you try to track this in real time, the causality becomes very complicated, because if a particular campaign mobilizes a particular set of people, then for the next campaign, those people are different because they voted for a particular candidate. So, if you look over the grand sweep, I think there really is a connection between religious beliefs, perhaps in some ways unsophisticated versions of theological statements, but the actual causal mechanism is very complicated.
MR. CROMARTIE: Peter?
DR. SKERRY: Yes. Well, with regard to the recent evangelical initiatives, as I see this, this isn’t particularly novel. This has been going on for some time. Back in the ’90s, Ralph Reed worked with Grover Norquist and led similar efforts — successful efforts — in the immigration reform of 1996. Richard Land with the Southern Baptists led prominently and has argued up until very recently for liberalization. So has Richard Cizik with the National Association of Evangelicals. So I don’t — from where I sit, this is not recent. It’s ongoing, for some time now. I don’t know what the data look like — John could inform us all — how such leadership positions have impacted attitudes among evangelicals toward immigration. My sense is not much, but I don’t know.
And to me, this just reinforces what I was trying to suggest in my remarks, which is that there’s very much an elite versus non-elite phenomenon going on here; that immigration and trade are — again, I would defer to John — two issues where the spread between elites and non-elites, I think, are widest of any issues. And that speaks, I think, to a whole dimension of immigration politics that doesn’t always get talked about, which is that immigration doesn’t benefit everyone in American society equally.
And Washington elites — us, people sitting around tables such as this — tend to look upon immigrants as a bonus. We go to the restaurants where they’re waiters, we are at the hotels where they’re waiters, they provide services to us. But large numbers of Americans don’t see it that way. They don’t use their services, and they see them — usually mistakenly — as labor market competitors. But they also see them as competitors for resources or for community values or community stability, and it seems to me that the leaders of the evangelical churches are prone to this elite phenomenon. And that shouldn’t be a surprise, and I think that’s a great part of what we see playing out here.
MR. CROMARTIE: So a question here for John Green. You made the point that many of them feel that they take jobs, they take away opportunity, this — what does the data show about that? Not about attitudes of religious people, but do they add to the market, or do they take jobs from people? Do you have some data on that?
DR. GREEN: Well, like a lot of things, that’s complicated —
MR. CROMARTIE: Because that would help the political consultants in this room, if there are any, to give a real strong answer on that.
DR. GREEN: Again, it depends on the nature of the immigrants. I think that a lot of people think that low — a lot of scholars think that low-skilled immigrants, in these days, particularly from Mexico, do compete for lower-skilled jobs with Americans, but they also take jobs that Americans don’t want, so it’s kind of a wash when you put the sort of big picture together.
Higher-skilled workers tend to compete less. What they have is synergies with existing workers in the United States. And so some of you may be aware of the strong argument that Silicon Valley has made for expanding legal immigration for people with certain kinds of skills.
MR. CROMARTIE: What’s the argument?
DR. GREEN: The argument is that if you bring more programmers and engineers to the United States, you won’t displace the jobs of American programmers and engineers. What you’ll do is you’ll expand those industries because we’ll have more talent. And so there’s — you might argue that there’s competition there, but at that level, those kinds of workers, this is seen actually as a net positive, because it creates economic growth.
And if you sort of flip that on its head, the assumption is that with low wage jobs, you’re not adding much to economic growth, so there’s much more of a zero-sum game between the different competitors. So it really — Michael, it has a lot to do with the nature of the workers.
MR. CROMARTIE: Yeah. Peter, you comment on that. We need some real numbers on this before the next election, so if you gentlemen would hurry up and give us those numbers as soon as you can.
DR. GREEN: We’ll do our best, Mike.
DR. SKERRY: Well, I think, broadly speaking, the numbers are out there. There are a lot of economists — Giovanni Peri and George Borjas have done a lot of work on this — and while they disagree — and this kind of builds on what John just said, putting it maybe a little differently, which is that the net benefit to the economy of prevailing immigration policies up to now, which is mostly slanted toward unskilled immigrants of varying sorts — that may be changing. We’ll see. But it is not as large as we tend to think. There’s debates whether it’s 0.1 percent additional GDP. That’s not very much. That’s arguably negligible — towards something that might be 2, 3, 4, 5 times larger than that, which would make it a half of a point of GDP. That’s not a lot in the overall economy.
What the big impact tends to be is not the size of the pie, but how the pie gets divided up. Certain sectors of the economy benefit greatly from immigration. Certain sectors of the population benefit greatly, Silicon Valley being one of them. Upper-middle-class, educated people, again, coming back to the point I made before, tend to benefit from it and see themselves as benefiting from immigration.
So for these purposes, it is if you will, not one economy. It depends on where you are in the economy — how you perceive immigrants, I think, relates to those kinds of economic outcomes.
MR. CROMARTIE: Okay.
DR. SKERRY: Which doesn’t mean, by the way, that they always get perceived accurately. I would emphasize and reiterate that the kinds of ordinary Americans, Tea Party types, the people who showed up in John’s data, invariably exaggerate the economic competition that they see from unskilled immigrants. I would argue that there are other sources of competition and challenge from immigrants that, for a variety of reasons, people don’t articulate, but they put all their chips on the economic, the labor market competition, which I think is exaggerated.
MOLLIE HEMINGWAY, The Federalist: The religion and immigration story that I find most interesting is about Muslim immigration, and that’s a long story, a long part of American history, but it seems like we’re maybe in the second generation of significant Muslim immigration.
My sense is that there’s been a change from a few decades ago to now in how Muslims talk about American identity. Leaders might have said in the near past that what was most important for Muslims is that they have a Muslim identity and that America is sort of a hostile place or whatnot. Now my sense is that Muslim public leaders are speaking very differently about it, that they are talking about being more engaged in American politics, being more engaged in the community and whatnot.
Do you have anything on that, Dr. Skerry, on is this a change that’s happening, and what are some of the consequences of that, not only in terms of how maybe older —
MR. CROMARTIE: Dr. Skerry has a book coming out on this, so he does have something on that.
MS. HEMINGWAY: Yeah, the consequences not only of Muslims maybe changing their own views on this, but maybe pushback among other groups, or just anything on that topic.
MR. CROMARTIE: Are you — you’re writing a book on this, Peter.
DR. SKERRY: Yeah.
MR. CROMARTIE: Go ahead and tell the people.
DR. SKERRY: Well, yeah, Mollie’s, I think, pretty much on target. If we’re talking about Muslim immigrants, there has been a big shift. For much of their time here up to 9/11, certainly, they not only viewed America as hostile; many of them also viewed it as dangerously seductive and spent as much time urging their young people and each other to avoid assimilating, and not — and what’s interesting, I think, about Muslims is this — to avoid assimilation for the reasons that Hispanic immigrants or Mexican immigrants might avoid it, out of some sense of preserving their culture or their heritage. Rather, they viewed this as a question of saving their souls, that as Muslims, they shouldn’t even be here, properly understood, much less adapt to this society. That was what their leaders were telling them.
Certainly in the ’70s and ’80s and ’90s, it had begun to change, but 9/11 really turned that around, and it seems to have persuaded Muslim leaders and many of their followers, not all, that it was time to embrace America, if only because they had to protect themselves, and that’s what they’re busily doing now.
The irony of that story is that — to my mind — what went before, I think, is largely forgotten by Muslims, so that younger Muslims today aren’t very mindful, or even their elders aren’t very mindful, of how America was seen before 9/11, as this sort of dangerously seductive place. And while they’re fighting now and trying to claim their rights as Americans, they’re doing that in a context which and in a way that seems to deny large parts of their own cultural conservatism.
You don’t find Muslim leaders or even young people at universities, young Muslims, talking about their hostility or their anxiety about, well, homosexuality, which is difficult to deal with in Islam, or sexual relations outside of marriage, or any of the cultural issues that were very salient to them before 9/11. All that’s been sort of put to one side, with a focus on claiming their rights as American citizens. There’s a lot of reasons for that, but I think it’s an unnatural posture for Muslims that will sooner or later have to change. But that’s kind of the state of play.
MR. CROMARTIE: Molly Ball, you’re up next. Thank you.
MOLLY BALL, The Atlantic: (Inaudible) said what I was going to say, but responding to this idea that the legal versus illegal distinction is really important, John, it seemed to me that your first few charts rebutted that notion, that when people are saying immigrants threaten our way of life, immigrants are a burden on society, they’re not making that distinction, and they seem to see — I wonder how much of this you think is and also has been historically about a fear of the “other,” and particularly about white people, specifically, fearing the erosion of their majority status, since that seems to be an undercurrent of a lot of the data that you’ve presented.
DR. GREEN: I think you’re right. One of the reasons I liked those questions that I presented is because they’re general statements. And as you can imagine, those can get quite complicated when you don’t — when you ask a question that doesn’t have a word like “newcomer” or “immigrant,” but actually identifies a particular group, because some groups are perceived as much more threatening than other groups.
But it is interesting — this gets to Peter’s point, and I wish I had articulated it as well as he did, that the — we have this background suspicion skepticism of immigration, but the debate we’re having has drawn this distinction between legal and illegal. And I think that — and partly because of the questions pollsters ask, but partly because of the way elites present the debate — the public has picked up on that distinction, and that distinction has resonated with them.
But, as some of the other data suggested, there’s not as much skepticism or opposition to legal immigration as illegal immigration, but there still are significant numbers of these groups that are concerned about this.
You can describe this in a lot of different ways. I do think it is the fear of the “other.” If you identify with a particular group and you draw boundaries around your group and other groups do the same thing, then there’s a certain fear and tension.
Another way to look at it is that that’s the flipside of American pluralism. To pick up on one of Peter’s themes, many of us tend to celebrate American pluralism, right? The most diverse nation in the world, the nation made up of all nations. And that’s a very comforting narrative. But there’s another side to pluralism; it’s that groups don’t get along with each other, and that’s not a new phenomenon. The groups are a little different, but that goes back historically. And many of these groups of white Americans who now fear non-whites, their ancestors feared each other. So that — I think there is that dynamic, and that’s a lot of what has to do with the politics of belonging. Part of belonging is that you don’t belong to other groups and there’s tension with them.
MR. CROMARTIE: Do you want to comment on that, Peter? And then, Michelle, you’re going to take us into the break. So I want to tell the cameraman that Michelle is over here, and you’ll want to get pictures of her from over there. And our man with the mic, the next person up is here. Are you going to comment, Peter?
DR. SKERRY: If I could, please. Yeah, well, in some ways, I would echo what John just said. Maybe I’ll put it a bit more strongly. We’re going through enormous changes — obviously not just in America, but globally. And there are all sorts of examples about the way large numbers of Americans express their anxieties about these changes, and they often get put and articulated in ways that lend themselves to “othering” that kind of narrative.
But I do resist those kinds of interpretations because it seems to me they are conducive to — particularly to people who study and write about these things — “othering” Americans, as if their negative reactions are symptoms of a disease that they have. And such interpretations also fit too easily into a kind of racial prejudice kind of explanation that writers and analysts reach for too readily and too often. I just find too many alternative explanations for why many Americans react negatively to mass immigration — whether we’re talking about anxieties about cultural change, which I take to be real, or about the fiscal impacts of immigration on local and state budgets. If immigrants come here and have different ways of doing things that people feel threatened by, I want to look at those and see exactly what those reactions are all about and not simply categorize them as “racist” or “othering.”
Or, again, the kinds of more concrete challenges that immigrants pose — labor market competition, or if you live in a struggling, marginal, blue-collar neighborhood, and suddenly the house next door to you that used to have a nice, old couple is suddenly occupied by 12 Central American guys who work two jobs, have eight cars, and play lots of soccer on what used to be the lawn next door to you, well, is that “othering,” is that racism, or is that just good, old-fashioned “what’s happening to my neighborhood?”
I live in Newton, Massachusetts in an upper-middle-class community, where if you want to build a bike path down an old railroad bed, you suddenly find out that this is the opening wedge of the end of Western civilization. So I resist those kinds of racial interpretations and try to focus more on these more concrete manifestations of places where people feel pinched and squeezed and competed against.
MR. CROMARTIE: Very, very helpful. Michelle Cottle is next.
MICHELLE COTTLE, The Daily Beast: All right. Well, I have — just along the same lines as what Molly’s looking at, so I guess probably I’ll look at it more with a question about methodology. We all know people lie to pollsters, and we all know people lie to themselves because they know they’re not supposed to be either racist or culturally kind of nativist or whatever. What methods do we have for drilling down into things like what I do suspect is something of a false distinction between the illegal and legal complaints?
For instance, we used to know that if you wanted to find out what people really thought about having a black president or a woman president, you didn’t ask them if they were ready for it. You asked them if their neighbor was ready for it, and you get wildly different results. Kind of what can we do or what are we doing to kind of pick apart this sort of thing?
DR. GREEN: Well, it’s really very difficult, and I have to give my colleagues at the Pew Research Center and other polling organizations a lot of credit for being very aware of what you’re talking about, how difficult it is to measure these things. And that’s why there’s — the wording is sometimes a bit elliptical. They’re trying to get people to feel comfortable to answer honestly.
And there are indirect ways of measuring that and you just gave a really good example. Back in 2008, there was a lot of concern among pollsters that a lot of Americans were really not prepared to vote for an African-American presidential candidate for racial reasons, and so one of the questions that would be asked is what about the people in your community? Would people in your community be willing to do this?
Well, it turned out what those experiments showed — they weren’t true experiments, but those new kinds of questions showed was that while there was a lot of unrevealed prejudice, the unrevealed prejudice wasn’t quite as big as a lot of people thought. And, of course, Barack Obama was elected and he was elected with a lot of white votes from people that one might have suspected, based on past surveys, were maybe not being entirely honest.
But this is an extremely difficult thing to get at and the technical term for it is “social desirability effects.” Yesterday we were talking about the rise of the Nones, the increase in the unaffiliated population — and among scholars, there’s a sense that some of that increase might not be because there’s more unaffiliated people; it’s just people feel more comfortable saying they’re unaffiliated. And that, in fact, those same sorts of people 10, 15 years ago would have said, “Well, I’m kind of a Catholic,” but now they feel comfortable saying, “I’m really not anything.” So “social desirability effects” are really an important thing.
I think in the end, survey research can’t answer that question, and we have to move to other types of things, to focus groups, to in-depth interviews, to participant observation methodologies, because you can only do so much. See, a telephone survey, or if you do it on the Internet, it’s really a conversation between the interviewer and the interviewee.
MR. CROMARTIE: Not in my house, it’s not.
DR. GREEN: And, well, you’ve heard it right here, a Luddite person. But it’s a — there’s some limit to what you can do in that kind of conversation. You need to have other kinds of conversations to really get at the deeper attitudes that people have.
MR. CROMARTIE: Peter, respond to that quickly, and —
DR. SKERRY: Yeah, quickly, I —
MR. CROMARTIE: Do people lie to you when you take surveys?
DR. SKERRY: My wife does, but, sure. I don’t do surveys. I do interviews, and, sure, people lie. But what you do, to try to get behind that, is you also look at behavior. And it seems to me that if you — and this kind of reminds me of the conversation earlier yesterday about whether we’re forgetful or not as a people and how conscious we are of history — it seems to me — and I kind of suggested this in my question earlier yesterday — that we are rather forgetful, and sometimes that has its virtues. If you look at what happened to German immigrants around World War I, which I was talking to Mollie Hemingway about last evening, that was a pretty reprehensible episode in our history. Yet I think it has a more complicated story than we acknowledge.
But then, five, six years later, when we invoked rigid country quotas in our immigration law, we toted up the number of Germans in America and established a quota for them that was very high, like it was for other Western European countries, and all that sturm und drang around World War I was quickly forgotten. It may not have been entirely forgotten by the Germans, but the people who were giving them a hard time seemed to have forgotten about it.
And then if — bringing it up to today — if you look at the levels of intermarriage between Hispanics and non-Hispanics, which I think by the second, third generation, we’re talking about crowding 50 percent — I haven’t looked at the numbers recently — of marriages. That’s typically to non-Hispanic whites. To me, that suggests whatever kind of reaction we’re getting to immigrants, again, is not deep-seated hostility, animosity, racism toward the other. It’s these kinds of situational factors that can be negotiated and overcome. So I’ll stop there.
DR. JENNIFER WISEMAN, American Association for the Advancement of Science: This question just springs to mind as to whether — you’ve talked a lot about how different religious groups feel about maybe the kind of negative or the threat aspects of immigrants and so forth, or even for some, the positive aspects of adding more talent and skill and good things to the nation.
My question, though, is that for some religious groups, evangelism or service to others or such is supposed to be part of their calling, and many times they’ve had to travel to distant lands to do this kind of work, and all of a sudden people from the distant lands are coming here. Do any of these groups sort of see that as a great opportunity — welcoming these people from other lands so that they can fulfill this calling, whether it’s of service in terms of material needs or service in terms of sharing their faith with these people or this kind of thing? Does anybody sort of see it in that kind of light?
DR. GREEN: Oh, yeah, a lot of people do, and we talked a little bit about it earlier with Paul’s question about the views of the LDS Church, where there’s kind of institutional interest. But the present immigration debate has created some really interesting dynamics, for instance, in the evangelical community, where there’s a lot of interest in proselytizing. They would call it evangelizing, but the academic term is proselytizing — and have had a lot of success in immigrant communities, particularly Hispanic immigrants. And some of that’s the fruit of evangelizing efforts in Latin America in a previous period of time. So, some of the interest in immigration issues has to do with these opportunities. And there have been similar debates in different denominations about the service component. Here’s a real opportunity to share Christ’s love with people who are strangers, and they may be poor, and they may be discriminated against, but they’re certainly strangers. They’re new to this community.
So, I think there’s a lot of discussion and debate within religious communities about how does the church or the religious organization live out its mission? And that occurs side by side with a lot of these tensions with the new groups and some of the problems that occur in those communities. So, it’s a really interesting one. Where I noticed it most fully, I spoke at a conference of Hispanic evangelists. And it was interesting because they had this great complaint about their white colleagues, saying, “Why aren’t you with our community on this? We collaborate to save souls, but then on other areas we don’t collaborate, and we find this distressing,” which was just — it was really interesting to me.
And as often happens at those kinds of meetings, some of the white evangelists were appropriately sorrowful that they really needed to cooperate more. So I do think there’s a lot of tension within religious communities about how one deals with this issue.
And it’s like Peter was mentioning earlier, there are other issues that have similar problems. An example might be trade. Trade can help the communities flourish. There’s real opportunities for churches to be part of economic development. On the other hand, it does displace industries. It does create problems.
So, I do think that there’s not just the negative tensions, but there’s tensions between the negatives and the positives.
MR. CROMARTIE: Fred Barnes? Pull the mic.
FRED BARNES, The Weekly Standard: Let’s see if you all agree with this. Americans always seem to be — and maybe not a majority, but it seems like a majority always oppose immigrants who haven’t gotten here —
MR. CROMARTIE: Who haven’t what?
MR. BARNES: — who are just beginning to come, like the Irish, even before the Civil War, and so on, through Hispanics today. And yet once they get here, then Americans are congratulating themselves on our being a nation of immigrants, and yet we continue to cycle where there’s an awful lot of — for a nation of immigrants to oppose immigrants who are coming seems awfully odd to me. Did either of you have any thoughts about that?
MR. CROMARTIE: That’s Michael Barone’s argument, isn’t it, Fred, in his new book — Michael Barone’s argument in his new book about immigration?
MR. BARNES: Yeah.
MR. CROMARTIE: That these groups, we oppose them until they get here.
MR. BARNES: Yeah, right. Well, I think Mike’s right. And he knows a lot more about immigrants than I do.
DR. SKERRY: Well, I guess my response would be and has been, sure, that’s part of our history, but it’s the conclusions that one draws from that. Usually the conclusion is: what’s the big deal? Haven’t we gone through this before? And I guess I resist that formulation, because it seems to look past the travail that is at hand.
It’s also the case that the kinds of reactions that we got to immigrants — that Americans expressed in the past — aren’t necessarily the same, in their origins aren’t the same as we’re experiencing today. There’s some similarities: there’s intergroup ethnic tensions and conflicts. Okay, but generally that perspective, to me, is a way of changing the conversation. It seems to me that today we are in the middle of some big challenges that — in a period of greatly increasing inequality — lots of Americans feel squeezed. Are immigrants the cause of that? No, not in most cases, but are they connected to it? Yes. Have our leaders done a very good job of interpreting it to the mass of ordinary Americans? No, I don’t think so. I don’t think certainly that academics have done a very good job either.
But so, yes, but….It seems to me, Fred, that the perspective you’re highlighting is a way of assuming that this is all going to work out in the end. It’s kind of whiggish, you know? And I just resist that because I’m not convinced it’s all going to work out if we don’t attend to it more carefully. Also, that perspective assumes a kind of automatic righting of things, and I don’t think we can assume that at all.
DR. GREEN: Let me pick up on Peter’s point there. The flipside of these waves of immigration is the process of assimilation and we’ve talked here today about how we have sort of pleasant stories about how this takes place, but even a casual reading of history suggests that the assimilation process has often been very difficult and at different eras, the assimilation process has had different problems and different characteristics.
The assimilation of Catholics into American society, let alone American public life, was very, very hard to do. And partly that had to do because Catholics had to change, not just Catholic immigrants and their children, but the worldwide Roman Catholic Church had to change some of its perspectives. But, of course, the then Protestant majority in the United States had to adapt as well to kinds of adjustments.
So there is a process of assimilation. What makes it particularly tricky, to compare one era to another, is that the people who are assimilating keeps changing.
I remember talking to my grandmother, who passed away a number of years ago, but she was utterly amazed that non-Irish Catholics would celebrate St. Patrick’s Day. That just seemed to her like the oddest thing. She thought it was a very good thing, but it was a very odd thing, because when she was growing up, that was still a symbol of the separateness of Irish Catholics.
And so you can imagine if that story were to play out in the future, there would be a time in the future, there would be a time in which we all celebrate Cinco de Mayo because a society that eventually accepted St. Patrick’s Day as a sort of general holiday, is not the same society anymore. It’s a society that’s profoundly changed by assimilation.
I think assimilation’s very important and I think Peter’s right that those types of issues really have to be attended to. There isn’t — there are patterns, but they’re not always the same pattern.
MR. CROMARTIE: Erica. Over here.
ERICA GRIEDER, Texas Monthly: I was wondering if either of you could elaborate on this concept of legality. I’m trying to think through — when somebody raises that as a concern, that an unauthorized immigrant has broken the law and has to make redress for that, crossing the border, unauthorized entry is a civil crime, but beyond that, I don’t think we have any data showing that there’s a high rate of further illegal behavior. If anything, I think the opposite about migrants work, they don’t cause crimes at a higher rate than the population at large.
So what’s your understanding of when somebody says that’s their concern? What are they — are they not seeing that data, or are they —
DR. GREEN: Oh, they’re not looking at data. This is an impression. And a lot of people that we have interviewed, but also people that I’ve talked to, look at particularly the southwestern border as an area with a lot of disorder, and many people — and I think there’s probably some truth to that. But if you — and a lot of that’s laid at the feet of immigrants who — and some of them are legal immigrants or people who are here — maybe they’re not immigrants, but they’re here with visas, they’re crossing the border in a legal fashion. But the breaking of the law in terms of coming to reside in the country is often linked, probably inaccurately, with things like drug smuggling and weapons and the drug cartels and all kinds of other problems, including the very distressing stories about immigrants who are mistreated when they come into the country.
So I think to a lot of people, this just looks like a bunch of disorder, and the biggest piece of it, or the most salient piece to that, seems to be illegal immigrants. But there’s some pretty good evidence that many of the folks who have come to this country without documents are not particularly disorderly people and it may be that their presence causes some kind of disorder in terms of public services and so forth. And as Peter was pointing out, some of these people plan on going back. They may not actually ever make it back, but they plan to. So they have a different — have strong incentives to not want to get in trouble.
But anyway, I think that’s where the perception comes from because of the overlay of these different kinds of disorder.
MR. CROMARTIE: Peter?
DR. SKERRY: Well, this is something I’ve wrestled with. First thing I would say is with regard to crime rates among immigrants, generally, which is all we really have data for. You’re right in one sense. Immigrants have crime rates that are roughly equivalent to what the general population is, but I’m not sure that ends the discussion. I’ve often found that among immigration analysts, their response to such data tends to be — their conclusion is — “Well, so what’s the problem?” Well, it seems to me it’s an open question, whether we want immigrants, legal or illegal, to exhibit the same proclivity to crime that we Americans have. Maybe we should have higher standards for them. That doesn’t seem to me totally unreasonable. But I’ll leave it at that on that point.
With regard to the whole question about legality and illegality, I spent a lot of time with Border Patrol agents along the southwest border just before and after 9/11, and I was struck by what I found there. Every single Border Patrol agent I ever spent any time talking to — and I spent a lot of time talking to a lot of them — they all invariably would say two things. They would all assert very defensively — volunteer — that “We’re federal law enforcement agents, and we’re just as good as any other law enforcement agents that the federal government employs.” And they would emphasize, “We are armed,” which was not because they were trigger-happy, but because being armed signified status and pay in the federal bureaucracy. They routinely insisted, “We’re just as good as the FBI, and it’s important for you to know that.”
Then the second thing they would invariably volunteer, usually later into the evening after things had sort of died down, after the evening rush of illegal immigrants across the border, they would mention that, “You know, if I were in their shoes” (the illegals’ shoes, the undocumenteds’ shoes) “I’d be doing the same thing as them. I’d be finding a way to come here and better things for myself and my family.”
Well, that tells you a lot. These are people preoccupied with their low position on the federal law enforcement totem pole, telling you they’re as good as FBI agents, also telling you that they would — if necessary — be committing the crime that they’re supposed to be enforcing the law against.
You certainly don’t find ordinary cops saying, “If I was in that guy’s shoes, I’d be dealing drugs or robbing banks.” But you do find Border Patrol agents in that somewhat contradictory posture.
So we’re dealing with something really conflicted here. And the best I can do to try to directly answer your question is that — and this comes back to my conversations with Paul Edwards — the way to think about what is legal or not isn’t prudently thought of as simply something that gets enacted by a legislature or ruled by a court. That’s a very formalistic notion of what’s legal and illegal.
I think a more useful way to think about this is that law is embedded in social ties, in social relations, and that, for example, when the Supreme Court ruled in Brown versus Board of Education, it was mindful that while it was issuing a dictum, that decision had to work its way into the body politic, which is why the Court allowed lots of time — “all deliberate speed” — for that to happen. The Court understood that more than just promulgating a decision, the American people had over time to be persuaded.
And it seems to me that what’s going on with our tensions over illegal immigration: it’s not so much that these people broke the law, even though Americans articulate it this way all the time; it’s more that illegal immigration manifests itself to Americans on a routine or daily basis where they live and work, and that illegal immigrants tend to generate disorder, not because they’re inherently disorderly people but due to the circumstances under which they come here — to the fact that we’re typically talking about large numbers of young, unattached males congregating together. After all, whether they’re Hispanic laborers or Anglo college boys getting together, you’re going to encounter issues. This was true in mining camps at various times in our history, or at spring break in more recent times. In such situations, when you’ve got concentrated populations of individuals removed from their usual social context and relations, they are likely to act out in ways that pose challenges and threats to prevailing modes of behavior and the established social order.
This doesn’t explain all of illegal immigration, but it’s a big slice of it. And it’s why in my prepared remarks I kept alluding to ways in which people come here, how they don’t plan to stay, how they often pull their kids out of school and they go “home” for long holidays at Christmas, and how they crowd themselves into apartments in order to save money — either to send home or to return home themselves.
All these kinds of things speak to the various ways that the undocumented do things that strain the heretofore common understandings of the way things were getting done, and that’s, I think, what many Americans, even though they wouldn’t articulate it this way — feel what’s wrong with illegal immigrants. That’s what is “illegal” about them, that they’re doing things in a way that threaten the ordinary conduct of business.
MR. CROMARTIE: Andy Ferguson is next, right next to her.
ANDREW FERGUSON, The Weekly Standard: We touched on this a little bit before. John used a phrase that I hear in these debates all the time, which is “jobs that Americans won’t do.” Do we know what those jobs are? Is there evidence that people who are already here won’t do them? And on the other side, jobs that I assume Americans would want to do — for example, in Washington now, the building trades are completely Hispanic, mostly Central American, I gather. Now, surely those are great jobs, relatively speaking. How is it that those jobs, especially in the building trades, have become, in certain areas, monolithically Hispanic and then on the other side, there are jobs that just Americans refuse to do? I don’t know what that would be. Is it mowing lawns or —
DR. GREEN: Peter, do you want to take a crack at that?
MR. CROMARTIE: Go ahead.
DR. GREEN: You want to go — go ahead.
DR. SKERRY: You want me to take a crack at it? Well, I’m not sure I’ve got a well-thought-through scenario for this. It’s a good question. I think on the one hand, part of what we’re talking about is which “Americans.” Right? And when you mentioned Washington, D.C., the obvious group that one thinks about that seemingly didn’t get those jobs, apparently didn’t get those jobs, is African Americans. And that gets into tricky territory, but it seems to me that there’s a lot of evidence — and I mean research evidence, not just casual observations — that employers find immigrants, and in this case, Hispanic immigrant workers, easier to deal with than African Americans. And some of that is attitudinal in terms of what the expectations are on the part of African-American workers as to how they feel they ought to be dealt with on job sites.
MR. CROMARTIE: Despite the language barrier also?
DR. SKERRY: Well, it depends on the job. If you want somebody to do sales at a hardware store, if you can’t speak English, that’s a problem. But, if you need somebody to be a laborer on a work site, it’s not so much of a problem. But it also has to do with structural factors, that immigrants come here through networks, and if you hire one immigrant, you typically get plugged into a network where he will willingly produce his brother, or cousin, who will also be willing to work for you. And you, the employer, will have a means of exerting some influence over them, because if one guy screws up, then you’ve got some people to hold accountable.
Those networks don’t work the same way for African Americans. They’re not as strong. And I think this is a big problem. I don’t report this news gladly, because I think one of the — I noticed John’s data showed African American support for immigration at what I took to be higher levels than I would have thought. I haven’t looked at the numbers lately.
But I think one of the difficult aspects of our prevailing immigration policy is its impact on African Americans. I think they’ve been disproportionately negatively impacted. When we talk about unskilled people with less than a high school education, that’s disproportionately African Americans. It’s very hard to get their leaders to acknowledge or talk about this, because they generally see themselves as part of the pro-immigration coalition.
So that’s part of an answer. And I also think there are certain jobs that Americans — not just for economic, but for sociological reasons — just don’t see themselves doing; that — however high the unemployment rate has been in the last few years — large numbers of Americans haven’t been willing, at prevailing wage rates, to go out and pick strawberries. And I don’t think — I can’t prove this, and I’m sure if an economist were here, he would violently disagree with me, to the extent that economists ever get violent — that many unemployed workers would go out and pick strawberries even if the rates were greatly increased, because that’s hard, unpleasant work that most Americans just don’t see themselves doing. And after all, there are alternative ways of making money, like unemployment.
MR. CROMARTIE: John, do you have any comment?
DR. GREEN: The only thing I’d want to add is that —
MR. CROMARTIE: And then we have one more question.
DR. GREEN: You’re right. In the debate, it’s jobs that Americans don’t want. Well, a lot of that has to do with jobs that are unpopular, and maybe under other circumstances, people would want those jobs, but they’re seen as unpopular. Many of them are arduous; they’re dirty jobs of one kind or another. But then also, a lot of it has to do with the pay and in the Western part of the United States where there’s lots of migrant labor — and there’s been migrant labor there for decades and decades — it’s not a new thing. A lot of that farming is profitable, and sometimes very profitable because they can hire low-wage workers. And there may be a lot of American citizens who wouldn’t want to do that at that wage.
And one could imagine — I don’t know about picking strawberries; that might always be labor intensive — but at other points in our history, when labor became expensive, then capital was deployed in agriculture. Well, it may very well be that in some areas of agriculture right now, as long as there’s a cheap source of labor, capital won’t be deployed, and so there are lots of people who have other alternatives and wouldn’t want to take that job. So I think maybe a better way to say it is there’s unpopular jobs.
MR. CROMARTIE: We have actually two more questions, and Elizabeth, and then Mindy Belz, and then we’ll go for lunch, and we’ll end our conference. But Elizabeth.
ELIZABETH DIAS, TIME Magazine: I wanted to ask a bit more broadly about religion and immigration outside of the United States, even outside of the Western Hemisphere, and just — I’m hoping for, really, any insight or data you all can point to for these kinds of things, like I think of Christian, Orthodox, Catholic women in Ethiopia who are adopting Muslim practices to go get domestic labor jobs in Saudi Arabia, et cetera. Or I think of —
MR. CROMARTIE: This is a trend?
MS. DIAS: Well, it’s happening. I’ve heard about it. But — or how, say, different religious communities in India — what is the discussion in some of these other places about religious interaction and dialogue about immigration and how that works?
DR. GREEN: That’s a really good question and I don’t know the answer to it. I know it’s a problem in lots and lots of countries, but I don’t know how different religious communities are responding abroad.
MR. CROMARTIE: Peter, do you know?
DR. SKERRY: I’m afraid I’m not much more help. Sorry.
MR. CROMARTIE: Maybe you have the —
MS. DIAS: That’s okay. If you have any thoughts just on who might be resources for something like that.
MR. CROMARTIE: International immigration.
MS. DIAS: Yeah, international immigration religion questions.
DR. SKERRY: Nothing leaps to mind, but let me ponder it.
MS. DIAS: Thanks.
MR. CROMARTIE: Mindy, you get the last question of our time together, and so no pressure.
MINDY BELZ, World Magazine: In response to Jennifer’s question, the three largest refugee resettlement agencies are Catholic Relief Services, Lutheran Refugee Services, and I believe World Relief. Those are the three largest in this country. And so there is this robust effort, I think, to take care of strangers, if we want to call it that, among Christian groups. And you alluded to this earlier, this confusion that we have of dealing with refugees and dealing with immigrants. I hear this all the time because people will lump the problems of refugees in with the problems of immigration, and yet we know that refugees get here a very different way than immigrants do.
And so I guess all of that leading to a little bit of a frustration that I had looking at your categories, as helpful as they are, that white evangelicals becomes this very large — and I’m speaking as one, so I may be taking it personally — but white evangelicals become — and I don’t see myself up there, is what I would say – become this very large group, whereas I think if you broke that down, as we’ve been trying to do in our own reporting, we’ve realized that too often we are covering the debate on immigration instead of covering the immigrants and immigration per se. And if you break that white evangelical group down, you begin to see that white evangelicals living in border states are going to have different views than white evangelicals living in the middle part of the country and that suburban and urban evangelicals are going to have different views too, depending on their experiences — all of that to say is there data that breaks down what you presented, which I found so helpful, but I also find we’re not quite getting at where African Americans figure into this debate. I’m not sure we’re quite getting at where white evangelicals really are in this debate. I think that what we’ve seen in our reporting is a much more diversity of opinion than what I saw in that data. And I realize that’s the difference between data and reporting, but I’m just wondering if there is an attempt to do that, because there seemed to be a lot of misperceptions about what immigration actually is, and you’ve highlighted some of those today, and what immigrants actually do once they’re here, that kind of thing.
DR. GREEN: The religious categories we looked at in the data today are really very crude, really crude. And I say that as somebody who’s spent his entire career trying to measure religious communities very, very accurately. But some of that’s just the nature of the instrument we’re using. I think the virtue of those surveys was that we got kind of up-to-date, general opinion of the surveys that were conducted this year, so we have a sense of where people’s opinions are at the moment, but the cost of that is there’s not very much detail, and there — but there have been scholars that have either aggregated surveys or have done much more in-depth studies, and they do pick up on some of the nuances that you’re talking about. There’s a good bit more diversity within those communities.
The central tendencies that we see in these survey data are still there, but there’s a lot more nuance and a lot more detail. But it’s also important to remember that measures of public opinion, but within a religious community there, are all different — there’s public opinion, but then there’s clergy, and there’s activists, and there are volunteers, and there are different kinds of organizations. And this kind of data doesn’t deal with those sorts of things. But other data that does shows the kind of nuance that you’re talking about, that lots of congregations — evangelical congregations, Catholic congregations, are engaged in various kinds of relief efforts that you wouldn’t be able to measure in this kind of data.
But that gets to Peter’s point, and I really think Peter probably answered your question better. I do think, among people I’ve interviewed in congregations, there is this confusion between refugees and immigrants. And one place where those two things seem to overlap is the idea of relief, because many of those organizations also engage in disaster relief around the world, including in the United States. And so from their operational point of view — and I’m probably overstating this, but they tend to see people in need, and the distinctions are a little less important, sometimes, than the need that needs to be addressed. But what that means is there’s a certain degree of confusion as to what they’re about. Peter?
DR. SKERRY: Well, yeah, I would agree with what John just said, and maybe hit even a little even harder on the confusion and take the occasion to say again what I said in passing in my remarks — which is that this confusion is really to be traced back in great part to refugee advocates, whom I mentioned. When I have talked with them about this confusion, and when they’ve been straightforward, they acknowledge that even though opinion polls routinely demonstrate that Americans are more receptive to refugees than to immigrants, that’s an advantage they are prepared to put to one side. Indeed, they’re more than happy to throw in their lot with immigration reform advocates, because they feel that, however well-received refugee issues are among the American public, they’re not that popular. So, refugee advocates understandably conclude that they need allies. So that’s an advantage that they’re willing to take a pass on. In essence, then, refugee advocates are complicit in fostering this confusion. Now, I might do the same thing if I were them, but I’m not sure. In any event, they are prepared to cede this high ground.
And then, this is another opportunity for me to say, again, that your question underscores why I tend to resist attitudinal or ideological interpretations of reactions to immigrants, because they are invariably very context-specific. It’s not even just immigrants; it’s a question of which immigrants — high-skilled, low-skilled, or with some other specific profile or characteristics. We’ve been talking here a lot about Hispanic immigrants. That’s a topic worthy of a bit of attention. For all the talk about diversity in America today, our preoccupation with diversity, the fact is that our current influx of immigrants is probably less diverse — arguably less diverse — than it’s ever been. And it’s because we have this huge preponderance, this one agglomerated group that we call — and they now call themselves — Hispanics. That one, overwhelmingly large group is something we haven’t quite dealt with before.
But putting this factor to one side, reactions to Asian immigrants, I think, are much more positive; not uniformly, but much more positive for a lot of different reasons. And it matters whether we’re talking about Central Maine versus the border area in Texas or the Central Valley of California.
So it just is a reminder to me that all these contextual factors really need to be looked at very carefully, and it sounds to me that’s the kind of reporting you’re doing, which sounds good. But such an approach does lend itself to a very different perspective than what we generally hear when overall immigration patterns and national policy are being debated.
MR. CROMARTIE: Well, ladies and gentlemen, the success of this program is because we get such quality speakers like Professor Skerry and Professor Green. And it’s also a success because of you and your contributions to this, and we’re very grateful for your participation. We’re always grateful when we write you and you say, “Yes, I’m coming.” We’re also grateful when you say, “Yes,” and you stay there and say “Yes” and end up showing up. Sometimes that doesn’t happen, for various reasons, so we’re delighted that you could be here, and thank you so much, and we’ll look forward to seeing you in the spring, hopefully. Thank you.