Ray Suarez's December 10 interview with Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano for PBS' Newshour began with a terrific question about comprehensive immigration reform but quickly went downhill from there.
"Any plan has to be assessed for its plausibility," Suarez stated. "Is this going to work?" Great question! Congress has passed 7 amnesties since 1986 and all of them failed to reduce illegal immigration and illegal employment. They failed so miserably that today 7 million non-farm jobs are being worked illegally while more than 23 million citizens and legal immigrant workers can't find full-time employment. So, what would make a 2013 amnesty work where the others have failed?
- Immigration and Reform Control Act (IRCA), 1986 also known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act: A blanket amnesty for some 2.7 million illegal aliens
- Immigration and Nationality Act, Section 245(i) Amnesty, 1994: A temporary rolling amnesty for 578,000 illegal aliens
- Section 245(i) Extension Amnesty, 1997: An extension of the rolling amnesty created in 1994
- Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) Amnesty, 1997: An amnesty for close to one million illegal aliens from Central America
- Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act Amnesty (HRIFA), 1998: An amnesty for 125,000 illegal aliens from Haiti
- Late Amnesty, 2000: An amnesty for some illegal aliens who claim they should have been amnestied under the 1986 IRCA amnesty, an estimated 400,000 illegal aliens
- LIFE ACT Amnesty, 2000: A reinstatement of the rolling Section 245(i) amnesty, anestimated 900,000 illegal aliens
Napolitano never answered the question and Suarez never followed up. Instead, Suarez asked a straw-man question about border security which Napolitano answered should be done "simultaneously" with legalization -- as if that was something none of the previous amnesties promised to do. Suarez and Napolitano didn't touch on the 40-50 percent of illegal immigration that occurs when people enter the country legally but overstay their visas (The AP reports one such person went on to commit a sex crime and work for a pro-amnesty Senator).
The interview reached its low point with this leading question: "Right now, we're coming out of a jobs trough, at a time where there's been slack demand for labor in the United States. Is this something that has to get fixed before the job engine revs up again, before there's a hunger and a new demand for labor? Does the United States have to have a better answer than we have had in the past?"
The Bureau of Labor Statistics just reported that 540,000 Americans gave up looking for jobs last month and the broad measure of unemployed stands at 13.9 percent. According to Heidi Shierholz of the Economic Policy Institute, the economy would need to create an average of 282,000 jobs every month for the next five years just to get back to to pre-recession employment. The last time the economy averaged at least that many new jobs per month for even one year? 1994.
How can Suarez or any reporter ask about "a hunger and a new demand for labor" with a straight face? The mismatch between supply and demand in the labor market is certainly no joke for 23 million jobless Americans, 9.5 million of whom are 30 years old or younger, according to Shierholz.
Suarez/Napolitano won't go down as the next Frost/Nixon, but other reporters would do well to follow Suarez's lead by asking how a new version of amnesty will work where others have failed.
Update: PBS says Suarez will report on the status of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) later this week. This is the program that ICE agents are suing Napolitano over, alleging that they are being ordered to NOT place certain illegal aliens into removal proceedings when the law tells them they SHALL do so. Suarez didn't ask Napolitano about the lawsuit but maybe he'll address it in the upcoming segment. I'll also be watching to see if he addresses DACA's impact on the "Lost Generation" of young people who will be competing directly with DACA recipients for jobs.
JEREMY BECK is the Director of the Media Standards Project for NumbersUSA
Updated: Thu, Dec 13th 2012 @ 12:54pm EST