in the education, health and productivity of these
immigrants and their children. By paying Social Security and Medicare taxes and providing services, these
immigrants will make possible the pleasant retirement for which the Boomers have worked. 18
Fifth, a viable approach to national immigration
policy must be balanced and pragmatic. It should foster regularization of the volume and composition of
immigrant flows so that they mesh more closely with
labor-market requirements, family unification and
other goals. Policymakers must recognize immigration
as a phenomenon that ultimately responds mainly to
family and market considerations,
and thus cannot be simply turned
on or off by government policy at
any level, much less by mere rhetoric or symbols.
the country’s largest,
should take a major
interest in forging
The future of California’s society, economy and politics will be
significantly shaped by how the
issues of immigration and the
integration of immigrants are
handled in the years to come.
With the failure of the U.S.
Senate’s efforts in 2007 to adopt
reform, Californians should exercise national leadership on an issue for which the
state’s long experience and unique perspectives are
highly relevant. California’s congressional delegation,
the country’s largest, should take a major interest in
forging and helping to pass new legislation.
Achieving and promoting a unified California perspective on immigration that could facilitate and energize a leadership role for the state’s
congressional delegation will be difficult, but it is
worth attempting. It could pay very large dividends.
Californians should try to play a leadership role in
shifting the terms of the often strident and destructive national debate on immigration and moving it
toward more pragmatic responses, including more
consistent and positive efforts to integrate those
immigrants who are here to stay.
A first step in this direction might be to convene a
non-governmental, bipartisan and multisectoral commission to make recommendations for consideration
by the governor, the California Senate and Assembly,
municipalities, California’s congressional delegation,
and the citizens, firms, labor unions, and other non-governmental organizations of the state.
Properly staffed and supported, such a commission could assess the costs and benefits of current and
projected immigration flows and of the persistence of
It could address the diverse concerns and priorities
of California’s citizens regarding immigration, try to reconcile these and examine possible
compromises. Finally, it could
recommend new approaches
and policies—on the national,
international, state, and local levels—to improve the net impact
on California of international
immigration and especially to
enhance the integration of recent,
current and future immigrants
into California’s workforce, electorate and community life.
It would understandably be
challenging to develop consensual recommendations from a
genuine cross section of Califor-
nia’s highly diverse civic leaders. But the very exercise
of shared analysis and collective deliberation could be
immensely productive, and it might well lead to concrete and constructive results.
California should try to exercise a leadership role
nationally on this vital issue. It is well positioned
to move past the toxic politics of immigration by
focusing on the state’s positive experience and on
its medium and longer- term interests.
It could show the way nationally on this issue,
as it has on climate change, and could thus help
build bridges, not fences, toward our neighbors to
the south. That would be an enormous and badly-needed contribution.