10 immigration questions for the Democratic debate, Part I

Getty Images

Democratic Party candidates for the 2016 presidential election will hold their first debate this week on CNN. It will be moderated by Anderson Cooper and additional questions will be posed by Dana Bash, Don Lemon and Juan Carlos Lopez. This two-part op-ed offers 10 questions on immigration in total that will help make for an informative debate. The questions are designed to get the candidates’ thoughts on the impact of immigration policy and to also drill down into the philosophical arguments behind their positions on key issues like sanctuary cities, refugee resettlement and executive action.

It is well understood that the candidates largely support legalizing illegal immigrants, so spending too much time on that question is unwarranted when their opinions on the topics below remain unclear.

1. This month marks the 50th anniversary of the signing of the 1965 Immigration and Nationality Act. At the time, the late Sen. Ted Kennedy (D-Mass.) argued that “our cities will not be flooded with a million immigrants annually” and that the bill “will not upset the ethnic mix of our society. It will not relax the standards of admission. It will not cause American workers to lose their jobs.” In fact, the U.S. grants permanent residency to approximately 1 million immigrants annually. NPR’s Tom Gjelten recently wrote that “the law definitively altered the complexion of the U.S. population.” Some Americans are, in fact, losing their jobs to immigrants, such as those arriving on H-1B visas. My question to you is this: How could Sen. Kennedy be so wrong and what does it tell us about promises made by politicians calling for comprehensive immigration bills in the future?

{mosads}2. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), in an interview with, you called the concept of open borders a “right-wing proposal” noting that endless immigration of cheap labor “would make everybody in America poorer.” If you are against open borders, what annual cap do you propose for legal immigration? Should the current high levels of permanent legal immigration at 1 million a year be curtailed, despite the demands for more immigration from the Chamber of Commerce and others? According to a recent Gallup survey, 60 percent of Americans say they are dissatisfied with the current level of immigration and only 7 percent of those who are dissatisfied say they want more immigration.

3. Over the past year, a number of companies have been in hot water for hiring foreign workers to replace American workers in tech positions. For example, The New York Times reports that Disney employees were forced to train their replacements, who were brought in by an outsourcing firm based in India through the H-1B visa program. The workers were blindsided and called it “humiliating.” Similar replacements were reported at Toys “R” Us, Southern California Edison, Pfizer and other companies. Professor Ron Hira of Howard University said the H-1B program “has created a highly lucrative business model of bringing in cheaper H-1B workers to substitute for Americans.”

Nevertheless, some GOP presidential candidates want to increase the number of H-1B visas issued each year: Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) wants to triple the number of H-1B visas issued each year while Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) wants to quintuple the number. What say you — should the U.S. end the program or grow it?

4. According to the Department of Homeland Security, there are about 340 jurisdictions in the country that operate as sanctuaries for illegal immigrants. This has resulted in local authorities releasing approximately 1,000 criminal aliens per month last year. An alarming number of offenders — 2,320 — were arrested for new crimes after they were released.

When it came before the Senate, [former] Secretary [of State] Hillary Clinton, Sen. Sanders and [former Virginia] Sen. Webb, you all voted against an amendment that would block federal funds from going to sanctuary cities. Last year, as governor of Maryland, Martin O’Malley, you announced that the Baltimore city jail would stop honoring requests from federal authorities to hold illegal aliens until they could be deported. Just recently, the Clinton campaign came out against a bill in North Carolina that would bar sanctuary cities.

Do each of you think that sanctuary cities are not a threat to public safety and do you agree with the sentiment of one of your fellow Democrats, Rep. Luis Gutierrez (Ill.), who said that the killing of Kate Steinle in San Francisco was just “a little thing“? As president, would you allow cities to shield illegal immigrants with a felony on their record?

5. The American people have repeatedly rejected comprehensive reform through their representatives in Congress, prompting President Obama to go it alone and create his Deferred Action program that grants work permits, Social Security accounts and other benefits to illegal aliens. Previously, he had said that the Constitution prevented him from acting unilaterally. Secretary Clinton, you recently said you would “go even further” and “want to do more.” In your opinion, is there any limit to what a president can do on immigration, and if so, where is that line drawn? Does a president have legal authority to admit into the country anyone he or she wants,without congressional authority?

The Associated Press is also reporting that the Obama administration has “deported fewer immigrants over the past 12 months than at any time since 2006” and that “total deportations dropped 42 percent since 2012.” Nevertheless, in an interview with Telemundo last week, Secretary Clinton, you said you would be “less harsh and aggressive” than Obama in enforcing immigration laws. Last year, John Sandweg, the former acting director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) under the Obama administration, told the Los Angeles Times that “If you are a run-of-the-mill immigrant here illegally, your odds of getting deported are close to zero — it’s just highly unlikely to happen.” So what’s left of our immigration laws if Hillary Clinton becomes president?

Mr. Webb, you told MSNBC that you would not commit to continuing President Obama’s controversial Deferred Action program, saying that you worried about “the abuse of executive orders.” Is this a key difference between you and Secretary Clinton?

Questions No. 6 through 10 are available here.

Feere is the legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies.

Tags 2016 Democratic primary 2016 presidential campaign Bernie Sanders DACA Deferred Action for Child Arrivals Democratic debate H-1B visa Hillary Clinton Immigration Jim Webb Luis Gutierrez Marco Rubio Martin O'Malley Sanctuary city Ted Cruz
See all Hill.TV See all Video

Most Popular

Load more


See all Video