March 3, 2020 - Daniel Morales, the George A. Butler Research Professor at the University of Houston Law Center, shared select ideas from a work in progress he is writing that explores the intersection of immigration and democracy.
“This is a set of issues presented in this paper that I’ve been thinking about for about 10 years since I started writing in this area,” he said.
Morales focuses on not only who should develop immigration legislation, but what it means for certain people to create these laws as opposed to others.
“So much scholarship presumes that democracy means one thing and presumes without any questioning that the citizens’ right to make immigration law is unproblematically democratic,” he said. “Part of the idea here with this paper is let’s tease out if we think citizens should be authoring immigration law.”
The paper also includes a discussion of immigration misconceptions, such as immigrants taking jobs away from American-born citizens, and cites economic studies and an expert panel created by the National Academy of Sciences to counter such myths.
“What do we do with that phenomenon? In other words,” he said, “that the empirics of immigration have a poor relationship to what citizens think about immigration.”
Usually, answers to such questions are provided by administrative entities and through deference to the Department of Homeland Security, but Morales believes this is an “anti-democratic, technocratic way” of finding solutions.
Additionally, he sees the administrative agency retaining so much control in this area over time as a problem, since it produces a large centralization of power that is now highly apparent under the Trump administration.
“Everyone woke up post-Trump and they’re like, ‘Wow - immigration law is super bad,’” he said. “If you talk to immigration scholars, we’ve been writing and gnawing and gnashing our teeth and saying, ‘This is the worst area of law! There’s no remedies. The agency has so much discretion. Immigration courts are terrible.’”
Morales offered statistics to show how embedded immigrants are in American society and noted similarities between them and US-born individuals: paying taxes, playing sports and supporting their families.
“We have 11 million undocumented people and they’ve been here, on average, for 20 years,” he said. “These populations are large and longstanding.”