Cecilia Muñoz discusses the current state of immigration reform as well as proposed reforms in Congress. October, 2013.
>> Hello everybody and good afternoon. I'm Susan Collins, the Joan and Sanford Weill Dean here at the Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy, and it's great to see a number of familiar faces in the audience. For those of you who are new to our Policy Talks at the Ford School Lecture Series, welcome. We're delighted to have you here. As you may know, the Policy Talk series is intended to link up students and the broader community too, of course, with some of the top policy leaders in the country and throughout the world, and to engage in discussions on timely and critical issues of public policy. And in that regard I am particularly honored to welcome our guest today, the Director of the White House Domestic Policy Council, Cecilia Munoz. We are thrilled to have you with us. Not only one of our nation's top policy leaders, she is an alumna and a friend of the University of Michigan, who was born right nearby in Detroit. And like many of us on this campus Cecilia is a first generation American. And I should have mentioned we're delighted to have some of her family joining us here today. Welcome -- a special welcome to you as well. Well, while she was a student here pursuing a degree in English and Latin American Studies she tutored Hispanic inmates at the nearby Jackson State Prison, and that was a early step on what has been a truly very impactful career advocating for immigration and civil rights, both in the trenches, and at the highest levels of the non-profit sector and of government. And much of her career was spent working at the National Council of La Raza, which if you don't know, is a very prominent non-profit group that supports millions of Hispanic Americans throughout the United States. For many years she headed La Raza's Office for Research, Advocacy, and Legislation. And since the beginning of the Obama Administration, she has served -- she first served as the White House Director of Intergovernmental Affairs and then in January 2012 she was appointed Director of the Domestic Policy Council, the position, of course, which she holds today. But throughout that time she has led the Administration's work to fix our broken immigration system. And indeed, she's been called the quarterback for President Obama's immigration efforts, and she's also known as a quarterback who is tough but also gracious. I was really struck by that characterization for a number of reasons but in particular because President Ford was also known as both tough and gracious, and because in the aftermath of the government shutdown those qualities seem particularly relevant for really moving things forward and getting things done in Washington. Cecelia's commitment to improving the lives of others through policy and action has earned her many honors, including the prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 2000. We are especially proud that in 2007 she was here as a Towsley Policymaker in Residence and in 2008 she delivered the commencement address for the Ford School. She was also featured prominently in 2012 in the 12-part documentary How Democracy Works Now. Cecilia before we begin I wanted to give a special thank you to you for being so generous with your time. I know you've met with students and with faculty and they have really benefited from those conversations. Before we begin I wanted to remind our audience that if you have questions please write them on the cards that were distributed or on paper. Some of our staff will be coming down the aisle starting in about 20 minutes or so to collect those cards. And if you're watching us online you can send in questions through Twitter using the hashtag #policytalks. So, with that it is my honor and pleasure to welcome the Director of the Domestic Policy Council to the podium. Cecilia Munoz.
[ Applause ]
>> Thank you very much Dean Collins. It was a very warm introduction and I'm really so grateful to be here. This is home a little bit for me. As you heard, because I'm a grad, because I'm the daughter of and granddaughter of Michigan grads, and most importantly because come May I will the mother of one, which is the most important part, and so this is a little bit like home for me. And as you heard I was here at the Ford School in 2007 and was just so impressed by what you do here, and so excited by the training that goes on for graduate students as well as undergraduate students in public policy. And having shifted from working at an NGO to now working in government I have a deeper appreciation for what it takes and how the skill levels that we need among people who serve in government, and this is an incredibly important training ground. I'm proud of it as a Michigan grad and very, very excited and honored to be here. So thank you so much for having me back.
As you heard, I'm now the Director of the Domestic Policy Council which means that I help drive the decision-making process on a range of policy issues towards the President. So, we work on things like education policy, energy, healthcare, urban affairs and economic mobility, rural affairs, Native American affairs, justice and regulatory issues, including things like criminal justice, immigration reform, civil rights. There's a whole array of things the Domestic Policy Council team works on and I have the privilege of working with the President's Cabinet on those issues. And our goal is to really, make -- obviously, make good policy drive, the decisions that the President needs to make and make sure that we are hitting our marks and implementing them all across the Administration. So any of those issues is fair game if you want to ask about them but I'm here to describe the immigration policy debate, which is my particular area of expertise that happens to be pretty great timing to be talking about it because we are at a critical moment in that debate where the House of Representatives is determining, you know, whether or not it's going to move this issue forward under tremendous, tremendous pressure from all kinds of constituencies to get this done. So I want to talk a little bit about why this debate is relevant to the other work that the Administration is engaged in. I'm going to talk a little bit about what the immigration debate means with respect to our future, our economic future, why we're engaged in this work. I'm going to talk a little bit about where we are in the process. But it's worth orienting the debate in terms of the larger work that President Obama is seeking to carry out with his Administration in his time in office. If you've been paying attention to his speeches really over the years that he's been in office you'll find that he talks a lot about the middle class, and he talks a lot about the pressures on the middle class over the last decades. And how really inequality is growing and the pressures on the middle class over really many decades have been enormous and ultimately this is the middle class that's losing ground. And if there is any one theme that cuts across all of the work that we do across the Administration, that's it. That the goal here really should be driving the middle class forward because this is what has been the engine of our economic growth. It is part of -- it has been what makes this country strong. It's been what makes this country what it is. And that is at risk. And I should say that I take that very seriously as a member of the President's team. I take that very seriously, you know, as the daughter of an immigrant family. That's my dad sitting right there. Hi Papa [laughter]. He is -- my parents are immigrants from Bolivia. My dad is a Michigan grad, and the American dream was real for my parents when they came to Detroit in 1950. And that's the reason that I can be standing here. Right? They put a roof over our heads, they were able to educate their children, their daughters as well as their sons. That's my sister right there, another Michigan grad. And my dad is living a comfortable retirement. All of these things which are products of the American dream that was -- this was real for my parents. And I walk in to that building where I work everyday understanding that my job and our job, our collective job, is to make sure that that continues to be true and that we make it true for everybody else. And I say that knowing that we're living in a time when that is at risk and that is at the heart of what this president is fighting for. So, everything that we're working on, every piece of the body of work that the Domestic Policy Council -- we call it DPC -- is engaged in, is connected to that. So this notion of growing the middle class and making sure we create ladders of opportunity for folks who are still struggling, to get to the middle class, is central to what we do. The work that we started doing really during the transition before the President even assumed office, in constructing the Recovery Act -- you will remember that we were in an economic free-fall at the time, the economy was shedding 700,000 jobs a month -- all of that worked to help us get back to the place where we have since then created more than seven million jobs. The economy is growing again. The housing market is growing again. All of that has been, again, focused on making sure that we rebuild a strong middle class. Our work on energy policy, which is both about production, it's about trade, it's about building a clean energy economy and about manufacturing. All of that has been focused both on our economic future because of both the threat of climate change, but also the need to make sure that we are producing energy in a smart way and that we are, as the President likes to say, inventing the best stuff, building the best stuff, and making the best stuff available to the rest of the world. That's at the heart of the President's energy policy agenda. It's the heart of the work that we're doing on manufacturing. It's at the heart of the work that we're doing on education. This Administration has put forward an array of reforms in the K through 12 educational system. We are pressing forward on a very ambitious proposal to try to make Pre-K available for every four-year-old in the United States. And here at the University of Michigan in 2012, the President announced his first steps in what is a very ambitious agenda that he expanded on last August in New York on making sure that college remains affordable and that we in fact drive the cost of a college education down to make sure an education -- a higher education -- remains accessible to families in the middle class. This is essential to our economic future. It's essential to producing a workforce which is going to be up to the economic challenges of the 21st century. That and much in the news today, the work that we're doing to implement the Affordable Care Act, which is about driving down the cost of healthcare and making healthcare available for the first time to 30 million people who lack it. All of these share this thread. They're about strengthening the middle class. They're about strengthening our economy and about positioning ourselves for this economic future that we are catapulting into. Immigration reform is squarely part of that agenda. So I'm going to describe a little bit what's in the immigration proposal and I'm going to describe a little bit why it's connected to this reform agenda. And I say this at a time knowing that when I was here in 2007, I gave a lecture in this very room, on this very subject and was pretty much talking about the same piece of legislation. And in fact, as Professor Lin reminded me, I was here in 2001 working with classes that were working on immigration related issues and for that matter we were working this same bill back then. So I am hopeful -- and I knock on wood as I say this -- that that 2007 speech will have found us at the halfway mark because this is the year that we get this done. So we'll see if that turns out to be true. But the immigration reform legislation that we're talking about, that Congress is sort of halfway through with dealing with, really consists of four policy buckets. Now the President spelled out three of those buckets in remarks that he gave in January in Nevada to outline his principles for the immigration reform debate. I'm going to describe those three and then there's a fourth that's been added by the Congress. The first is enforcement, right? It's important to a successful immigration policy debate that we -- you know, that we end it with a situation where we know that the border is secure, that we know that we're conducting enforcement activities appropriately in the interior, that we do this wisely and well and that we do it in a way that marshals our resources effectively. Right? No immigration debate is complete without a debate on enforcement. That is one piece that we have to make sure that we do well. So that's one sort of policy bucket if you will. Second major policy bucket has to do with the 11 million people who are living and working in the United States without immigration papers -- the undocumented population. We know that it's roughly 11 million people. They are integrated into our workforce and into our communities. This is not some isolated group that lives somewhere else, but is very much all across the country with family members who are American citizens very often, but very much integrated into communities and to the workforce. And the policy proposal is to create a mechanism for these folks to get on the right side of the law. That means, in the proposal which ultimately worked its way through the Senate, allows people to come forward, get a provisional status, which allows them to stay and work in the United States. And then, they get to the back of the line behind everybody who's been waiting under our legal immigration system, under the theory that it's not fair to put them in line in front of folks who've been trying to follow the law. So they get to the back of the line and then there's a whole series of obligations and commitments. They have to pay taxes, they have to learn English. There's a penalty that needs to be paid. And then when we've cleared out the legal immigration backlog, which would take about 10 years under the Senate bill, those folks get to the front of the line, they can become legal permanent residents which gets them a Green Card, and like other Green Card holders they would be eligible for citizenship after a period of a number of years. So, it's not a quick process. It asks a lot of people, but ultimately it's a fair process. And as the President said it is important that it be clear from the outset that citizenship is available at the
end of this road. And that's ultimately what the President put forward, it's what the Senate passed in June. So the second policy bucket has to do with this pathway to earn citizenship for the undocumented.
The third policy bucket is the legal immigration system, right? Also broken, also badly backlogged. Also not necessarily helping us meet either of our commitments to family members of people who are here in the United States or to businesses and to our economy. So there are really two sides to this coin, to the legal immigration system. The first is the family immigration system under which U.S. citizens and legal permanent residents petition for their closest family members. This system is sufficiently backlogged, that some -- is that it takes years and sometimes even decades, for Visas to work their way through the system. Hasn't been updated since 1991. It's time to update the family immigration system. The other side of this coin if you will has to do with employment sponsored immigration. So, corporations who have facilities in multiple countries transfer employees into the United States. That requires a Visa. They may seek to hire individuals from countries from outside of the United States. That requires a Visa. That system has also not been updated since 1991, badly needs updating. And for the first time -- and this is sort of a new entry into the debate -- the legal immigration system under the proposal that passed the Senate, would create a new Visa category for people with advanced degrees in STEM fields -- the Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. And that is based on this notion -- the President talks about this all the time when he speaks publicly about immigration -- that we train the best and the brightest from all across the world at our fabulous institutions of higher learning like this one, especially in areas like Science, Technology, Engineering, where we have great needs for workers with talented personnel. And then we don't make Visas available for them to stay, and start businesses or work for our companies and corporations around the country. So as a result they end up having being forced to leave the country and end up, frankly, working for our competition. Which economically makes no sense. So for the first time the immigration reform is proposing to create a special Visa category for these folks on the theory that we know we need them, we're training them, and if they want to be able to stay they should be able to do that. Now, this is an illustration of why you have to do sort of the employment-based side of legal immigration and the family-based side at the same time. Because too often in this debate they get framed in opposition to each other under the theory that well, there's only so many Visa's that we can put in the system, and we kind of do family immigration because we're sentimental, and employment-based immigration because we're smart. Right? Well, when you think about it, if you're trying to attract a recent PhD graduate from the University of Michigan who's tops in their field, somebody that we very much want working in the United States and we're competing against a company somewhere else, that person's going to take into account whether or not there are Visa's available for her family. You know? This highly talented, recent graduate might have the audacity to have a spouse, maybe children. And you need an immigration system which provides for that, as well. Right? Otherwise, if our offer to them is you can come and maybe your spouse can come, maybe it'll take a few years. Maybe he'll be able to work, maybe not. And our competition is saying bring the whole family and you're all set. Obviously we're in a less competitive position unless we have a family-based immigration system which is responsive to our needs. So you have to do both. So the third policy bucket is reforming the legal immigration system.
The fourth bucket was really added by the Senate. And the reason that the President didn't address it when he laid out his principles early this year is because there were active negotiations happening between the labor movement and the business community and we wanted to let those proceed without putting his thumb on the scale as it were. So this is an area which has to do with what happens to the immigration stream, the labor stream, after we've completed immigration reform. Particularly on the so-called low skill sector. So hopefully we'll get immigration reform done right, we'll do our enforcement work wisely and well. The legal immigration system will work. Chances are there will still be some demand for labor of the kinds of folks who cross our border illegally now. And we can do one of two things. We can either kind of know it's going to happen but not do anything about it and then let the population build up and in 20 years there'll be an undocumented population again and we'll have this debate again, or we can choose to acknowledge that this is going to happen and regulate it. So this fourth policy bucket contains a temporary worker proposal which is aimed at providing some kind of line that people can actually get in if they want to come to the United States and work, and it's aimed at the kind of people who right now are making that choice and, you know, walking across the Arizona desert to do it. Right? So the challenge here is to come up with a process that protects the rights of workers in these sectors in the United States from competition from lower cost workers and also protects those -- the immigrant workers themselves from being exploited -- gives them the opportunity also to earn their way to citizenship. And then you have to figure out well, how many of these people do we actually need? What's the right level and what are the right metrics to help us determine whether we should be dialing this number up or down? And the goal here is to -- I think of it as trying to influence the conversation that happens at the dinner table in, you know, Mexico or a Central American country, in the countries where the bulk of these people currently come from -- when they're making the decision to frankly risk their lives. And in the case of Central Americans sit, you know, on the top of a train that goes all the way through Mexico before they get to the United States. Or to walk across the border, which is what so many people do -- and I should say, that there is a death rate associated with that of an average of more than one a day, right? It is an incredibly perilous thing to do. What the -- one of the goals of the temporary worker program is to create a system that is sufficient to influence that dinner table conversation when families are making the wrenching decision to cross the border. And their decision right now is don't do it or do it and risk your life. That's, you know, option one and option two. We're hoping to create an option three which basically says there is a line you can get in so that you can make this crossing. You might have to wait but it's available and you can make that decision and you can do it safely. You will be protected while you work and if you choose to remain in the United States there is a way to earn your way to permanent status over time. That has been a very, very hard fought provision of law. There is a prototype, a pilot version, a new version in the Senate bill and one of the big questions is, you know, what will happen to that program. There is a separate temporary worker program for agriculture as well that was negotiated by the Farm Workers Unions and the growers, again, to recognize that we have labor needs but that the workers in this sector also have needs and to try to balance those things. So that's the fourth policy bucket.
So this is what the debate is about, and it is pretty clear that none of these individual pieces is going to move by itself. The conversation has been about a comprehensive bill because it's the whole immigration system which has been broken and if you fix parts of it you end up potentially doing damage to other parts and making them sort of more broken. So you really have to, and I think we've reached the point where largely it's accepted that you really have to do this in a broader and a comprehensive way. So let me describe just quickly the economic impacts that we're talking about why this issue fits in so well with this middle class agenda, economic growth agenda that I described at the beginning. In theory, we know in general, right, that economists generally agree that immigrants and their descendents are good for this country -- good for the economy. And so that debate has been going on for a long time, but it's mostly a consensus. But we now also know that we have a bill the effects of which we can measure. Right? The Senate passed a thing that you can look at and come up with estimates as to what the impact would be on the economy because you know how many workers we're talking about. You know more or less what kinds of sectors that they're working in. So the congressional budget office did some estimates of the impact of the Senate bill when it was being considered and the results are pretty extraordinary. So we know that were this bill to become law it would increase GDP by 3.3% in 2023, and 5.4% in 2033. That is somewhere in the neighborhood of four trillion dollars of economic growth for our country. We know that it would have positive effects on innovation and job creation. There's some measurements on the increase in productivity and the impact on wages. So it's roughly an increase of about $250 annually for the average worker, for the median household. We know that this bill contains protections for U.S. workers. We know that it reduces the deficit by $850 billion -- with a B -- over 20 years. The U.S. debt falls by three percentage points by 2023 at the share of the economy. It extends the solvency of the social security system by two years. It helps strengthen the housing recovery. It strengthens the tourism and hospitality industry. It strengthens agricultural outputs. This bill, economically, is an absolute winner, and we can now measure it. We know this now in empirical terms. So, as the President said -- he gave remarks about this last week -- this is a bill that we know is good for the country, good for the economy, it helps us reduce the deficit, we know that it has strong bipartisan support -- the Senate proved that for us. We know it's supported by business, and labor, and faith-based groups, and law enforcement and, you know, leaders from across the country from both sides of the aisle. All of that -- and in spite of all of that -- there are no guarantees that it's necessarily going to go successfully through the Congress of the United States. And obviously, you know, the events of the last month or so demonstrate that the Congress had some pretty significant challenges in doing its work. But we know that this is a bill that generates bipartisan support. There was a very strong bipartisan vote in the Senate. We also know that the debt and the breadth of the coalition, which is supporting this bill, is unlike anything certainly that I've seen before. So in addition to folks in the labor movement and the business community who have sort of traditionally supported immigration reform over many years, since I was here in 2007 we've also added to that a much broader swathe of the business community. So we have the tech sector. We have the National Association of Manufacturers. We have businesses large and small. All of whom agree that this is good for the economy. This is good for them. This is something that we need to do. We also have a much broader array of folks in faith communities. Right? So, the sort of mainline denominations of Catholic churches have traditionally supported immigration reform. We also have not just evangelical support but aggressive support from evangelicals, including folks like the National Association of Evangelicals and the Southern Baptist Convention, who are not just for immigration reform. They are working it. And they're working it in Washington, they're working it in individual member's districts. They're working it in the pews and they're working it in their own congregations. It is this extraordinary, extraordinary effort from constituencies which are largely aligned with Republicans. This is true in the law enforcement community. We have sort of sheriffs from all across the country saying, "We need this because we don't want to be in the business of trying to chase down these folks. We need Congress to do its job so that we can do ours." So all of this demonstrates that for the House Republican who is sort of everybody's target audience right now, who wants to stand up and say, "I'm going to vote for this immigration reform bill." He or she will have all the cover that they need. Right? They will be able to do an event where they have local pastors from their districts, local law enforcement officials, local businesses. This debate has been localized district by district by the broadest coalition I've ever seen working on this issue. So all that is to that good, right? And we also know that the Republicans with party establishment recognizes both that this is in the interest of, you know, country and constituency but it's also in the interest of the party overall at large. And the impact of the last election, one of its many impacts, was to really demonstrate that the Republican party to a certain extent needs to get this issue behind them in order to be able to have any kind of constructive conversation with the Latino community. And so there's a sort of a political imperative here as well. But too often this issue gets reduced to that political imperative when in fact the coalition in support of immigration reform is incredibly broad. And when you think about it, if you were to try to identify institutional actors who are not for this bill, who are actively opposing it, they have one organizing principle in that these are anti-immigrant organizations. Like that's who the opposition is. So, the likely -- I mean, the prospects in the house -- not withstanding all of this, like we have a lot going for us -- are challenging, and they're challenging for the same reason that the last month has been challenging in that, there is a block of House members who are unlikely ever to be for this despite the fact that they have constituents who are. Who recognize that the challenge here for folks who are trying to get an immigration bill done is to get legislation through the House, so that it can be reconciled with the Senate bill in a conference committee. There are five bills teed up already that have been through House committees. They're ready for the floor. They could be brought up tomorrow, they're ready to go, but the issue is not is there legislation ready that parallels much of, if not all of, the Senate bill. And the issue is not even does the House have the votes to pass an immigration reform because it is abundantly clear that the votes are there for something that more or less resembles a Senate bill. There are something in the neighborhood of 60 House members who have publicly said that they support some kind of legalization, some kind of path to citizenship, or something related to the Dream Act. So, this isn't about can we get to 218 votes. At the moment this is about is there a path that the Speaker feels comfortable with for bringing up legislation that doesn't divide his party and his caucus. And that's kind of where the issue sits right now. So the challenge for the constituencies that are in support of immigration reform, the challenge for the President and the Administration is to create this space which demonstrates that there's -- that frankly the Republican leadership has all the political space it needs in order to get this done, to move this forward and to have a constructive bipartisan debate which produces a result for the American people. And I wish I could stand here and tell you that I knew exactly when that was going to happen or if it was going to happen. I remain optimistic because it is so clear that people across the country want to get this done and it's so clear that there is political support on both sides of the aisle to get this done. But we have to help create this path in a way that leads to a bipartisan result. Never easy and it certainly not easy with this House of Representatives.
So, I want to say one more word about immigration enforcement. It's come up a lot today in the classes that I've spoken to. It's a big issue and it's one of the most challenging issues that we deal with, especially for some of the institutional actors that are trying to move a bill forward. This Administration has a vigorous enforcement record. We remove about 400,000 people a year. This is what -- essentially what Congress asks of us. They appropriate the funds to remove people every year. Each year that level of funding goes up and the number of people that we remove goes up along with it. The thing that this Administration has done has been to establish a set of priorities for how that's going to happen. The old way of doing this was there are 11 million people who under the law are removable and DHS went after as many of them as they could find and that was the enforcement strategy. This Administration has put forward a series of priorities based on sound law enforcement principles, which basically says our priority for removal will be people convicted of serious crimes as well as, people who are recent arrivals or people who were previously deported and reentered, which under immigration law is a felony. If you're deported and you come back in, that's a felony, a serious crime. So while the number, the aggregate number of removals is in fact high and that would be true under any Administration, the composition of who is in that pool of removals has changed a lot under this Administration in that the proportion of folks who are convicted of serious crimes or who meet the other criteria is up dramatically. And the proportion of folks who we remove who do not is down. Having said that, there are 11 million undocumented immigrants living and working in the United States and there is no enforcement regime or set of priorities that does not result in heartbreaking things happening, like parents being separated from their children, spouses being separated from each other. That is a symptom, one of many symptoms of what's broken about our immigration system. And while this Administration has taken important steps to set priorities and to kind of name who's at the top of our priority list for removal and who is at the bottom, and the people who benefit from deferred action, right? The young people, people who were brought to this country very young and have grown up here and have lived in the country for a certain period of time and were under 30. They qualify for deferred action, right? Which is -- allow them to come forward and stay at least temporarily in the United States and work in two year increments. So we've defined who's at the bottom of our priority list and there is a conversation going on around the country of could we expand that? Could we -- if an immigration reform bill doesn't happen can this President just say that a lot more folks are at the bottom of our priority list and lift the burden of deportation from a larger number of people? Because these are the people that in fact he's advocating for, who would benefit from the immigration law that the President is trying to enact. The answer to that is that there are -- we just don't have enough administrative tools in the toolbox to deal with what is, you know, this incredible challenge of the number of people who get deported and the negative impacts when that happens on communities and families. That this, in fact, we have what we are already doing is really quite ambitious and has been challenged in the courts, and has been challenged politically. And so part of our job is to preserve the use of prosecutorial discretion that this Administration has put forward. So the answer to the question of is there some kind of administrative way to fix what's broken about our immigration system, especially about enforcement, if Congress doesn't do the job? The answer is fundamentally no. We don't have that many administrative tools. Congress has the authority under our Constitution to regulate immigration and the path to fixing this, including the burden of enforcement on communities and families, goes straight through the Congress of the United States. And so, one -- this is one of many reasons that we've got to get this done.
So let me just conclude and get to questions by saying it should be clear, I hope, that this is an issue which fits squarely in the President's economic agenda. But it is also true that it says something about who we are as a country. And our immigration debates have always kind of reflected where we were at the time and, you know, we have some previous immigration laws in our country's history that we are not particularly proud of in this day and age. There was a Chinese Exclusion Act that made it impossible for people of Asian descent to become citizens. There was a National Origins Quota System which tried to engineer who came, not just on the basis of sort of Europe versus the rest of the world, but on the basis of which parts of Europe were considered to be desirable compared to other parts of Europe. Right? That wasn't undone until 1965. Which, you know, is pretty recent. And one of the results of the 1965 Act, which is the family-based and employment-based immigration system, one of the very important results is now the increased presence of Asian Americans in the United States. This is the first time that migration from Asian countries under the family immigration system happened in a very serious way. And think about how that has shaped who we are as a country. Those are what -- that's kind of what these decisions mean. It is a reflection of us as a nation of immigrants. It's also a reflection and a statement about who we intend to be, it's a statement about our future. This is -- these are laws which have made us who we are, which is something that we should be proud of. But as we, as the President likes to say, work to become a more perfect union there is always more work to do to make sure that we're doing this in a way that's fair and make sure that we're investing in the future in a way in which is clear-eyed and understands the commitment that we're making to our children and our grandchildren as we pass these laws. This law, if it passes, will shape who we are just as much as failing to pass it will shape who we are in the future. So with that let me thank you for your attention and especially thank you for the questions that I'm about to answer. I hope we can have a good conversation. Thank you all.
[ Applause ]
All right. What have you got?
>> [Inaudible]. The first question is actually from Twitter and it is, is the opposition to immigration reform purely political or [inaudible]?
>> So, you know, the President said something about this in his remarks last week. And what he said was "If there is a good reason to keep this bill from moving forward I haven't heard it yet." So, in general, they're concerns get raised about what's the impact of this on the American workforce? That is a legitimate question. I also think it's a question that's been answered, empirically, in that the impacts are positive in terms of job creation, in terms of wages, in terms of economic growth and innovation. So those are legitimate questions and even the discomfort about, all right, what is this saying about who we're going to be, that's a legitimate question. We're a nation of immigrants, we have never been without that question. But in terms of the organized opposition, these are folks who -- those are institutions which are organized around the principle that immigrants are bad for the United States and they don't want more of them. And that's fundamentally who the opposition is.
>> Good afternoon.
>> Good afternoon my name is Brian McMillan. I'm a first year student, graduate student here at the Ford School. Our next question is what [inaudible] from neighboring countries besides work protection should make this immigration reform work?
>> So, the immigration bill itself doesn't have direct implications for our neighboring countries in that it doesn't sort of compel anything. But the work of the Department of Homeland Security very much focuses on us as a hemisphere. And ideally the work that we do on economic development should be tied to our immigration policy. Now I know it isn't tied legislatively, but it is tied semantically in terms of what the State Department does, what the Department of Homeland Security does in advancing both our security interests as well as our economic interests. And among the most important factors kind of driving the pressure for immigration, or the lack of it, is economic development in Mexico. Right? So Mexico has been transforming in the last decades. And net migration from Mexico, according to all kinds of sort of external sources, right now, is at zero. Right. So some people come but others also go back, and so the net is actually at zero or actually below it, in terms of migration from Mexico. The place where there is some pressure right now in the United States is actually from Central America, for people who are coming from further and coming to our southern border, because of economic conditions as well as because of violence. And so it is -- look, it would have been in our interest to deal with that with our partners in Latin America irrespective of the immigration question, but it's not irrelevant to the immigration question. And among concerns that we have is that the number of unaccompanied minors, by which I mean children who come by themselves, has more than tripled in the last several years. And those children are not Mexican, they're Central American. Think of what that journey means and what it might take for a parent to have their child undertake such a journey. So we do have some work to do to deal with the conditions that inspire that kind of incredible risk.
>> The next question we have is how [inaudible] deportation under the Obama Administration be justified as a permanent immigrant [inaudible]?
>> So, look, this is a pro-immigrant Administration, because we're trying to pass an immigration law that's pro-immigrant. But at the same time the executive branch has an obligation to enforce the law such as it is. It's a broken law. That's our responsibility. Congress both has made 11 million people removable, and frankly gives the executive branch a lot of resources to remove these folks. And so the reason that the number creeps up every year, that corresponds to the resources that creep up every year by Congressional appropriations for us to remove large numbers of folks. So the composition of who gets removed has changed but the aggregate number would be what it is under any Administration which was doing an incredible job of meeting its obligations under the law. It is true that families get separated and no matter how perfectly this administration were to implement our enforcement priorities, that would be true. And there is enormous frustration in immigrant communities around the country because it's a terrible thing for parents to be separated from their children, for people to be torn out of communities. That's why we need to pass a law and the challenge is to stay focused on passing a law rather than on assuming that this is something that the President can do -- as some have said -- with the stroke of a pen, because it isn't.
>> You said in the previous answer about enforcement, and our next question speaks to that. What does enforcement look like and what will the states play in enforcement?
>> So do you mean under the immigration bill, do you think? Or under...
>> Just generally, what does enforcement look like under the immigration bill [inaudible].
>> So, it has multiple pieces but the quickest way to break them down is what happens at the border and what happens in the interior of the United States. Border enforcement is important for all kinds of reasons, for security reasons, not just people who cross illegally into the United States. It's also arms, it's also drugs. For the first time we are inspecting and interdicting flows of arms and drugs from North going South. That is new under this Administration. So there's a lot of security considerations around border enforcement that have to do with people but which also have to do with other things. The challenge is to do that work effectively, humanely in a way which demonstrates also good stewardship of our resources. Right? Like what's going to be the most cost-effective way to create an effective deterrent at the border, not just with respect to people but with respect to arms, with respect to drugs, with respect to violence. This Administration has advanced that ball considerably and frankly Congress, the Senate, put together an extremely ambitious border enforcement proposal which would take what we've got in terms of personnel at the border, which is at its highest point ever, at about 20,000 guards, and double it. Which is a considerable expenditure of resources. So that's what the Senate had to say about enforcement and we'll see what the House has to say about enforcement at the border.
In the interior this is another really challenging area. The states, many states, have taken it upon themselves to pass legislation that engages this question of immigration enforcement because there is a vacuum at the federal level, because Congress hasn't acted. So you get very different policies like the quite, very famous law that passed in Arizona which mostly did not survive scrutiny in the courts, but parts of it did, and are being implemented. And contrast that to a series of laws that Governor Brown just passed in California, also a border state, which is much more focused on helping immigrants integrate into the life of the state. So in some ways that's a great example of two very different approaches by states very near each other, both of which are border states. And that kind of demonstrates that you really can't have an effective immigration policy if each state is doing it its own way. Right? You need, again, Congress to step up and do this at the federal level so that the states are not wrestling with these questions of what to do with sizable undocumented populations. And interior enforcement has to do both with what the federal government chooses to do as well as what the states are doing.
>> And the last question is from Twitter and it says assuming the law is passed how long will the wait be for the worker program and will the [inaudible] be efficient enough to truly attract immigrants [inaudible]?
>> So this sounds like a question about the temporary worker program, and it's impossible to say, in advance, how long the wait will be because that's completely dependent on the number of people who come forward for those visas. And, we don't know because we've never dealt -- we haven't done this before. So, when I say, like, that magic is to come up with a number which is going to, more or less, meet demands, so that there is a line to get into that's a reasonable line, is based on a little bit of guess-work, to be honest, on what we know about what the demand looks like now, and how responsive it is to economic changes, and what the workforce demand looks like. But, this is an experiment, to be honest. So, we don't know, well, I can't give you an empirical answer to that question because it will depend on, once the implementation starts, who comes forward.
>> We've got a lot of questions in regards to the formula for who's allowed into the country, and [inaudible] citizenship. How do you ensure a new bill doesn't create immigration disparities and how the [inaudible] benefit, and all that?
>> Well, so there's -- that really affects both the legalization program for the end document, as well as the legal immigration system. So, that really, the goal with respect to legalizing folks is to maximize the number of people who are living and working in the United States illegally, the folks who are -- who aren't going anywhere, to make sure that we maximize the number of them who get on the right side of the law. Otherwise, I think it's hard to argue. If we do an immigration reform and we still have a large undocumented population at the end of it, it's going to be hard to argue that we were successful in dealing with what's broken about the system. So, you need a law that works, and that maximizes who gets through. On the legal immigration side, what the Senate chose to do I mentioned, create a visa category for STEM fields, expand to a certain degree the number of visas that employers can use to petition for specific workers from abroad, and also revise and update the family immigration system by doing two things. One is by facilitating the number of visas and the structure under which visas are granted for, say, the spouses of legal permanent residents, the sons and daughters of U.S. citizens, so that those folks can get in more swiftly. And, the eliminated a category, and this is the category which is the most severely backlogged. And, that's the category for brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens. That backlog is millions long, and for some countries, for like Mexico and the Philippines, it takes 25 to 30 years to get a visa. And so, the theory of the case there is that, that's kind of stopped being a real visa category because the line is so long that people get in it without knowing whether or not they'd ever avail themselves of a visa because they will have lived a big chunk of their lives by the time it becomes available. So, this is the tradeoff that the Senate made, and we'll see. So far, it's held up in the congressional process, and we'll see what happens if the House takes this up.
>> In going along with what you said, all policy is not perfect, who would you say are some of the losers of the immigration reforms, or some of the tradeoffs, like you just mentioned?
>> Well, so if you -- the way the Senate constructed this particular change, is if you are already waiting in line for a visa, that your U.S. citizen sibling petitioned for you, you're in that backlog, and there are provisions for visas for people in that backlog. And, we estimate it would take about 10 years for all those folks to get through. But after that, there would not be -- you would have to find -- get a visa through some other means. There wouldn't be a specific category for siblings of U.S. citizens. This is an issue that particularly the Asian Pacific Islander community cares about a lot and was not happy about. So, that's, I think, one example. You know, the border enforcement provisions that the Senate did are, I'd describe them as really ambitious. They took what we're doing and they doubled it. And, what we're doing is sort of the highest level, the most boots on the ground at the border ever in our history. So, it's not clear that doubling it, there was no, like, empirical basis to say, "Well, we need this many. We need twice as many." And so, there are folks in border communities who were very concerned about what the implications of this are for their communities, and so that's been also part of the immigration conversation. But, at some level, all of this involves tradeoffs. The enforcement provisions, the legalization provisions, I mean, not everybody is excited about having 10 or 11 million people get on a path to citizenship, and they wonder about what that means in political terms, in social terms. If all of these people are required, as they will be under this proposal, to learn English, there are going to be infrastructure challenges to make sure that that can happen so that everybody qualifies. The House is for some members are reportedly considering maybe a mechanism to help legalize people, but legalize them without a path to citizenship. Right? So that they could stay and work, but never become U.S. citizens. What are the implications for that, for them, and for the rest of us. I mean, think these are some of the tradeoffs that are in the air now. The President has made it very clear that it should be clear from the outset that citizenship is available. That he is not interested in creating a class of permanent Americans who can never access citizenship. But, this is in the ether in this debate and we may well be grappling with this question on the floor of the House, if the House brings it up.
>> Another discussion around this immigration being is the roll of private prisons, and just the overall rise in incarceration in our country, and the costs of incarcerating these people while they're waiting for various decisions to come through. What additional steps do you intend to take to address some of these deficits in private prisons and just, overall, the intention of the commissions.
>> Yeah. So, this is another area that folks don't -- aren't aware that this is a place where Congress is also very prescriptive. So, there's this little dance that goes on every year. Every year, Congress - so, Congress, right now requires detention of 34,000 people in immigration detention facilities; that's a lot of people. And so, as you heard referenced in the question, DHS contracts with private prison operators in order to meet these obligations under the law. Every year of the last several years, the administration, in its budget proposal, has proposed to reduce that number, the number of detentions, because we don't think it's particularly cost-effective. And, every year Congress restores its original proposal, or sometimes goes beyond it. So, the administration has been advancing things like alternatives to detention. So, instead of, for example, really expensive housing of people in these private prison facilities, you can release people with, you know, ankle bracelets, so that you can still monitor their whereabouts and they can't necessarily, you know, dodge the authorities. But, that's -- it allows them to be back in their communities while they're awaiting their removal hearings, and at frankly, at a much lower cost. This has been a struggle, a political struggle to a certain extent. We're engaged in a debate with the Congress about whether this is the right way to proceed. And again, we would argue the responsible thing to do here, is to comply with our obligations, make sure that we're enforcing the law effectively, but do it also in the most cost-effective way. And, I think from my personal view, is that we are -- we could be doing better than we are. This is a -- the levels of detention are a very expensive proposition.
>> And, since you have had experience with NGOs, as well as the government, could you speak a little on what you have seen done to educate the general public about immigration issues? So, that includes like immigration as well as [inaudible], and especially for those who consider themselves anti-immigrants.
>> So, this is a challenging question. And, in some ways I think for a variety of reasons, we're in a better position in that there is just much clearer -- I don't want to call it consensus, because there's never 100% agreement on anything. But, the vast majority of the country supports an immigration reform along the lines of what's been proposed. And, that's been clear and true for years now. So, that doesn't mean everybody agrees, or that the folks that disagree aren't really quite vocal. But, by and large, this is not a debate about, you know, immigrants, should there be more of them or less of them. This is a debate about our immigration system is broken. Do we fix it or not? And, even folks who are ambivalent about immigrants, themselves, recognize that the status quo is unacceptable, and that what's on the table allows us to bring some rationality and some order to the system and makes legality the norm, if you will. So, if there is a consensus on anything, it's that the current system is broken. And, the question is, do we fix it? And if so, how? And, these policy proposals that I outlined have been litigated a lot in the Congress, right? They've passed the Senate in some form or another a couple times in the last seven years. And, the question is, you know, where is the House? Will they take this up? Again, they have bills teed up, ready to go. They have addressed border enforcement, interior enforcement, visas for people in technology fields, the use of a verification system so that employers can verify that the workers that they hire are here legally. The House has taken up all of this through the various committees. All of those issued are teed up for the floor. What we don't have is, yet, the pathway to get them to be considered.
>> Earlier, you were talking about potential inequities in immigration, and you also mentioned a temporary worker program in your remarks. What is the Obama administration considering that needs to be done to avoid creating an underclass of workers in this country, as is the case in some other countries?
>> Well, so this is why, one of the reasons the pathway to citizenship is really important, right? Because, if you level the playing field, right? People have the same - if they have the same protections under the law, you have a much better shot at not ending up with an underclass. But, it's also true that immigration by itself, for all of its economic benefits, isn't by itself the solution to our questions of income inequality in this country. It actually helps. And, as we've been able to demonstrate that it helps. But, by itself, it's not the answer to income inequality any more than other one proposal is. You have to be addressing that aggressively in a variety of policy areas, which is why I started my presentation with the work that we're doing on things like K-12 education, and pre-K, and, you know, workforce development, and the other things that this administration is advancing. If I've learned anything in my time in government, it's that you have to be deliberate about doing it and focusing on it in every policy area. And, that if the goal here is strengthening -- both strengthening the middleclass and creating ladders of opportunity for people who were working to get there, you have to build that into everything that you do, which is, again, why immigration policy is kind of located in this broader set of policies that are about growing our economy, growing jobs, and making sure that workers are prepared for the jobs that are being created in this new economy. All of these pieces fit together, but you need to get all of it done, if we're going to be dealing with questions like income and equality.
>> [Inaudible] to more of a board idea, given that the problems with health care reform [inaudible]?
>> So, there are really two layers to this question, which is, what should we try to get done at the end? And, the answer to that, very clearly for us, is a comprehensive approach, because if you fix pieces of the immigration system, you end up breaking other parts worse. So, you have to -- all the four policy buckets that I mentioned, have to get addressed if we're going to be successful in fixing what's broken. And again, the political support is there to do all of those things. Now, that is a separate question from procedurally, what are the options available to the House of Representatives? Right now, for whatever reason, there is not a lot of appetite to just take the Senate bill wholesale and bring it up on the floor of the House. I wish there were because that would be a lot, a much easier path to getting to an outcome. But, the House leadership, at the moment, if they take this up, again, has teed up separate pieces of legislation, and what they're saying is, "We want to take these things up one at a time." Now, that may not be my preferred approach, but it is an approach, and it gets us to a place where we can have this debate between the House and the Senate and try to produce a result that works for everybody. The President has been very clear. We know we need to do this in a bipartisan way. That's how immigration reform has been done, at least in every act since the 1965 Act, which is as far back as I've gone to look. We know this is going to be done in a bipartisan way. So, if the House -- if the comfortable mechanism for the House to bring it up is to do it in pieces, they've done that on other bodies of legislation, where they took up pieces of legislation and then bundled them together. As long as the result which gets to the President's desk is a comprehensive approach, deals with these -- again, these four areas of policy challenge, then it matters less to me what the legislative path was. But, the result does need to address these various pieces or we won't have succeeded in fixing what's broken.
>> We've had many questions this evening about African and other communities...
>> ...and this question asked is it a [inaudible] visa program being cut? And, how will this affect [inaudible] communities?
>> Depends on which proposals. In the Senate bill, it is not. So, the diversity visa program was created in 1991 in the Immigration Reform. And, what it does is provide 55,000 visas to folks in countries that are not well-represented in our immigrant pool in the United States. So, it's turned out to be a vehicle, an important one, particularly for immigrants from Africa, who don't have, say, family members here in the United States who are petitioning for people. So, the Senate bill preserves this program, the House STEM bill, right? The one that creates the same number of visas, 55,000 visas, for people in STEM fields, takes those visas from the diversity visa program. So, then are view of that -- the administration's view on that is there's no reason this needs to be a zero-sum game. There's no reason that in order to create room for people in STEM fields, that you have to take that away from some other category of people, right? There is room for both. Congress gets to set the level of immigration. There's no -- nothing that says it has to be here, and therefore, you know, if you're creating an increase here, it's got to come out of somebody else's hide. So, the Senate bill does that. It preserves the diversity of visa lottery, as well as expanding visa opportunities for people in STEM fields. There's no reason that the end-result can't do the same thing.
>> In looking at the [inaudible] why would you say that the administration has not expanded with that idea to go on with [inaudible]?
>> So, this DACA is deferred action for childhood arrivals, right? This is this population which we have determined, the administration has determined, is at the bottom of our priority list for removals. It refers to people who were brought to the United States as children, who have lived here pretty continuously, are under the age of 30, who have not run afoul of the law in other ways. Right. This is an exercise of enforcement authority, which allows people to come forward for two-year increments and get work authorization, which can be renewed every two years; a very, very important development, which DHS put forward because there were just way too many DREAMers ending up in the immigration enforcement pipeline, and despite all of the moves that DHS had taken to try to shape the deportation pipeline to be focused on our higher priorities, there -- each of those steps wasn't successful enough and so DHS proposed, and ultimately moved forward on deferred action. So, the question is, why -- if we did that for DREAMers, why can't we do it for more people? And, the answer to that is that you can't say that the whole removable population is at the bottom of the priority list. And, the law which allows us to use prosecutorial discretion is about using our enforcement authority to pick and choose what our priorities are, and therefore, what are not our priorities, and what people are hoping that the President and DHS will do is basically say that a big, big, big chunk of the undocumented population is at the bottom of our priority list, for legitimate reasons. Again, these are people with children in the United States, people who, I think we all recognize are not going anywhere unless they get removed by the government. But, that it goes further, in terms of what the administrate -- in terms of the discretion that the administration has to use enforcement authority to fix this problem. If we're going to -- it is clearly an issue. The way to fix it is to get a bill through.
>> [Inaudible] could explain the reasoning behind the English language requirement and how it might affect the [inaudible]?
>> So, this is sort of an axiom in immigration law and policy really going back for a very long time. There was a requirement. Last time we legalized people after the 1986 law, there was an English language requirement. Right? There was concern in the Congress at making sure that these folks would integrate into American life and English is essential for doing that. So, that has become kind of a standard in immigration policy, which makes sense. We want folks to be successful. It's important, and immigrants ultimately want to integrate. Language acquisition in immigrant communities is actually very high. But, it's important to make sure that it happens and important to make sure that we provide the facilities to make it happen. The challenge with English language acquisition is not that people don't want to do it, it's that there actually aren't enough classes to meet demand. So, that is a challenge that we would face one way or another with immigrant communities, whether or not we do a legalization program. But, it is also true that if we create the legalization architecture that I described from the Senate bill, we're going to have a lot of people, you know, needing English classes, and we're going to need to be able to supply them. That's going to require, I think, a lot of creativity and support in the NGO world because that's going to be really a pretty significant demand.
>> And, to achieve [inaudible], how would you say that you're aware now the White House is different from what you did when you were [inaudible]? And then, how would you say that that's [inaudible] influential now the immigration reform?
>> So, I mean, in some ways the work is the same. [Inaudible] I'm an immigration policy expert, and that's why the President asked me to come, and that's, you know, that's a big piece of what I do. Working in government is also very different in that the, you know, the wheels of government turn kind of slowly, as I have learned. And, there are very important and fairly elaborate processes that you need to implement in order to get to a good decision. So, to give you an example from the college costs decision that the President made, the announcement that he made, both last year and then, again, the second one that he made in August. We were very engaged in the policy-making processing, which resulted in what the President announced. That required some very deliberate work sitting down with the Department of Education, the Department of Treasury, other departments of the federal government, to make sure that we understood what our administrative tools are, and figured out what the best use of those tools is, to actually have the impact that we want, which is to drive the cost of college down without sacrificing quality.
And so, that involved a lot of very intensive work across agencies of the federal government, a decision-making process that filters the difficult decisions up the chain so that they ultimately get on the desk of the cabinet members, who are the members of the Domestic Policy Council, and then ultimately to the President himself. So, I didn't, frankly, know a whole lot about those processes when I worked outside of government, and I've learned an awful lot about them now that I'm managing this process. So, that's been, I think, part of my just education as somebody who has spent my life trying to advance public policy for our common good. I think the other thing that I've learned, and I shared this with some of the students that I met with earlier, is that when you're an advocate, you have the luxury of seeing the world just from the vantage point of the issue that you're trying to advance. And, when you work in government, you have that vantage point, but you also have everybody else's vantage point. Right? You are responsible for the whole, for all of the issues which are the President's priorities and for being aware of where the whole country is on all of these things. So, the strategy which might make sense, and the actions that might make sense for the President, if immigration were the only issue you were working on, might not be the same as the strategy that makes sense, given the range of things that are on the President's plate. And, one of the challenges that I've learned from having worked in the advocacy world, and now working in government, is to be able to have that conversation constructively, so that people who think, "Well, look, it would be so perfect if he just did X," which may or may not be possible because of a range of things going on that they don't know about or need to know about because it's not what they work on. Having a good conversation about those dynamics in a way which keeps the circle together and everybody moving forward together, it's challenging. And, I say that as someone who comes from that world and, you know, in these meetings I'm having these with people who are like old friends, and who are like family to me. But, I play a different role. I'd like to think of it as with all the constituencies that we work with; on health care, on education, on energy, on immigration, that look, this is a team focused on the public good. But, we play different positions on that team. And, we are most successful when you recognize that, you know, folks playing position X have, you know, are doing what's theirs to do, while folks, you know, at the other end of the field are doing what's theirs to do. If you can stick together as a team, understanding that you have different roles, it's easier to be successful. But, I will say that that is incredibly hard work and requires a lot of nurturing, a lot of time, and a lot of energy.
>> [Inaudible] University of Michigan and so there have been challenges of the city [inaudible] and staff. What are the administration's strategies to support Detroit and other cities [inaudible] rate [inaudible] immigration policy involves evolves in just more broadly [inaudible]?
>> So, this question, I will confess, would be better asked of my colleague, Gene Sperling, who's an Ann Arbor native, who leads the National Economic Council, who is leading the charge for the administration, particularly on our strategy with respect to Detroit. So, I will try to do justice to the work that he's leading, but you should know that it's Gene who's leading this work. The -- there are the various agencies of the federal government, right, are led by folks in the Cabinet, who are good, dedicated people who are as worried about Detroit as, you know, the folks in this room. Congress is unlikely to get to the place where there is, you know, where there is some major infusion focused on Detroit. It just, legislatively, it doesn't feel like that's in the cards. But, administratively, it's not like the federal government wasn't already in relationship with Detroit, and that there weren't partnerships with the Department of Transportation involving funding, or HUD involving funding, that's about community development and about, frankly, demolition of neighborhoods because that's an issue in Detroit, as well. So, what Gene has been doing has been linking the federal agencies with leadership from around Detroit. I had the privilege of being part of a meeting that he convened that included leaders of industry, leaders from labor unions, the city leaders, who are all focused on the same thing, which is making sure, again, that people working together and rowing in the same direction with the support and help of the federal government. There are ways that we can make sure, commitments that we've already made are delivered expeditiously. And, there are ways that we can make sure that the federal government is there, engaged with the city, offering technical assistance and support as Detroit gets to, you know, the next level. In fact, we have a program that's been in place, which was developed by the Domestic Policy Council under my predecessor, Melody Barnes, called the Strong City, Strong Communities Program, where staff from the federal government actually embedded on the teams of mayors in six cities around the country; Detroit is one of them. And, that has the effect, both of adding to the mayor's team with some serious federal expertise, breaking down, kind of, the barriers that come up between local government and the federal government. But, also helping break down the barriers across different agencies of the federal government, so that when you have someone, in this case, the leader of the team was from the Department of Justice. So, to fully engage with the city in helping the city deal with its challenges, noticing jams up in the transportation processes, or obstacles in where and how HUD funding was getting to the city, was able to help the city overcome those obstacles by being part of the mayor's team. So, that's what I mean when I say part of the challenge here is making sure that we're kind of in the weeds with our sleeves rolled up, providing technical expertise, in addition to the, you know, to the funding support that's available to the city under the programs that we have.
>> The next question has to do [inaudible] trajectory, just your experiences, as many of us in this room definitely look up to you. Would you say you have any advice [inaudible] immigration policy?
>> Yeah. And, I have to say, and it -- just in addition to being with all of being with you, one of the funnest parts of my day was having a couple meetings with students, which is -- I don't know if it was inspiring to the students, but it was certainly inspiring to me. It does me -- it does my heart no end of good to see, you know, young people interested in going into public service because I, having worked in government now for almost five years, have just have tremendous appreciation for what it takes and the skills that people bring to it, and the just sheer brilliance of the people that I work with, which is really, you would be inspired to know the folks who are working on your behalf and certainly in Washington, and certainly on my team. That I think the challenge for a student, at least the way I understood the challenge for myself -- and I didn't go to policy school, sorry. But, I think it's a really good thing to do. I was sure -- I started my career being absolutely certain that I was destined for a career at a NGO doing direct service, right? An agency that had clients coming in that I was going to be helping. And, I started my career doing that, and discovered that that actually wasn't the work that I was best at. And, the people who are good at it, I have enormous respect for. And, I wasn't really one of them. But, in the course of the work that I was doing, I ended up running a legalization program for the Archdiocese of Chicago -- last time we legalized people, that's how old I am. There were a lot of advocacy needs associated with that work because we were legalizing people before the government had promulgated regulations, and there was a great need to give voice to what our clients were experiencing in the interest of affecting the policies that were ultimately going to affect their lives. And, there was a series of advocacy coalitions developing around the country, and advocacy institutions in Washington working on this very thing. And, I discovered from doing that work that the thing which got me up in the morning was being an advocate. And, I learned that that's who I am and that's where my voice was strongest. And, that's what I've been doing ever since. So, I think the key is figuring out, kind of, where you belong in policymaking and there -- I can name people who were equally brilliant as community organizers, and as litigators, and as like, up to their eyebrows, green eyeshade, wonks [phonetic] at the Office of Management and Budget, and we need great people in all of those places. And, the key is to figure out which of those places you belong in, in a way that will, you know, get you leaping out of bed in the morning because you can't wait to get at it because it matters in people's lives. And, I have learned, so deeply, how much, you know, policymaking can be a force for good in this country, and help us meet our deepest aspiration for ourselves and for each other and for the whole. And, doing it well is hard. And, doing it with integrity is hard. It requires the skillsets that you're developing here, and a lot more, including stuff from your heart. And, so it's worth both honing your skills, but figuring out where your heart is because that has a pretty big impact on how you'll be successful.
>> So, there's time for one final question and it is, what's the best part of working in the White House? What's the most challenging thing about working in the White House? And, [inaudible] President Obama?
>> That's a dangerous question [laughter]. So, I'll give you an anecdote, it's not a funny anecdote about the President, sorry. But, to give you sense of some of the stuff that you don't see that I am so proud of. One of -- when I did my litany of issues that I work on, one of them was Native-American affairs, about which I came in knowing nothing, zero, never worked on it before. The President made a commitment during the campaign that there would be a staff member of the Domestic Policy Council dedicated to Native-American affairs. And, because I came in as the Director of Intergovernmental Affairs, it turns out I was responsible for managing the nation to nation relationship between the United States of America and 568 tribes. So, I had some learning to do. And, I hired a Native-American woman on the Intergovernmental Affairs staff, and the Domestic Policy Council staff hired another Native-American woman. And, first of all, I have learned a tremendous amount from these really dedicated, wonderful people, but it's also true, and this is -- it doesn't get covered outside of like ^ITIndian Country Today^normal, which is a publication that's actually quite important. This administration's track record with respect to Native-Americans and Indian Country is unparalleled. We've gotten a lot of stuff done that has been on the docket for a really long time. When we passed the Affordable Care Act, we also reauthorized the Indian Health Service permanently. That was something that had been on the table for many, many, many years. This -- the Department of Justice has settled long-standing lawsuits which corrected great injustices and which had been languishing for many, many, many years. One of my most cherished memories is the signing of a land use bill, early on in the first term. A land use bill. What did I know about land use issues? Except that we invited to the signing ceremony a former -- a Navajo code talker, right? Who -- a veteran from World War II who had used his native language, the Navajo language, in support of the United States because it was a code that the Japanese couldn't break. So, he was an older gentleman, and he came for this bill signing. And, he thought -- he got a little confused and he thought he was coming to continue to fight for water rights, because he had been fighting his whole life for water rights. And, we explained to him when he got here, that no, no, no, this law was going to give him running water for the first time. And, you know, he got recognized by the President at the signing ceremony. He wore his uniform. He stood up and he had his, you know, moment for the rest of us to applaud his presence and this particular gain. And, it didn't make the newspapers, and except for ^ITIndian Country Today^normal. But, it is one of a litany of things. It was the Tribal Law and Order Act that we passed because Native-American women have a one in three chance of getting raped in their lifetimes, which has something to do with jurisdictional issues of law enforcement issues on tribal lands and off of tribal lands. It's the kind of thing you can fix when you're in government, and you should. So, I intend to be proudest of the things that nobody else notices, but which matter because that's what government is for. That's what we're there to do. And, because this is the President who is, you know, unwilling to let anybody be forgotten in the course of our work. So, that's among the very coolest parts about working at the White House.
Thank you all, very much. It's been a real joy to be here [inaudible].
[ Applause ]
>> Thank you, so much, Cecilia. We really appreciate your time and your thoughtful comments. I'd also like to thank our audience. Thank you, very much, for joining us this afternoon and for all of your questions. We really had quite a lot of question time, and had quite a wide conversation. I'd like to invite you to join us to continue the conversation. We have a reception out in our Great Hall, and we hope to see you at other policy talks at the Ford School. Please join me in just a final thank you to the Director of the Domestic Policy Council, Cecilia Munoz. Thank you, again.
[ Applause ]