The Breakfast Conversation: Alejandro Mayorkas - CityThink - Los Angeles magazine
 
 

The Breakfast Conversation: Alejandro Mayorkas

The Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) talked with editor Mary Melton about the value of immigrants to the U.S. culture and economy, the challenge of passing comprehensive immigration reform, and the effect Arizona’s SP 1070

Los Angeles hosted a “Breakfast Conversation” with Alejandro Mayorkas, the former Los Angeles federal prosecutor and current Director of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Over French toast, scrambled eggs, and oatmeal, guests like LA County Supervisor Zev Yaroslavsky, political doyenne Roz Wyman, inexhaustible journalist Patt Morrison, Jamie McCourt, and Michael Kelly from the Los Angeles Coalition (who cohosted the event) heard Mayorkas talk with editor Mary Melton about the value of immigrants to the U.S. culture and economy, the challenge of passing comprehensive immigration reform, and the effect Arizona’s SP 1070 could have on California law

Here are a few highlights from what Mayorkas had to say:

On the value of immigration and the immigration process:

“We are the country that accepts the most refugees of any nation in the world.”

“Despite what we read about and what we live, especially now with the shadow of the tragedy in Arizona, I think even with that, we take for granted our ability to express ourselves and our ability to make lives for our children that are better than those we ourselves enjoyed. I don’t think that the shine of this nation as a land of opportunity for people has been decreased.”

“There are times when the situation that one is confronted with and one’s inability to remedy it can be emotionally devastating. But the opportunity to confront these situations and at least give it everything you have is a tremendous treasure.”

“The value that an immigrant brings to this country is something that maybe we do and maybe we do not agree on. My mother probably wouldn’t have scored high on a point system in respect to being an outstanding academic or performer, but she brought immense value.”

On immigration reform:

“Comprehensive immigration reform is not really a failing of our agency, but it is certainly, I think, something that we as a nation have failed to achieve. The administration remains as committed if not more committed to it than ever before. The President spoke passionately about the Dream Act when that was unfortunately defeated but a few weeks ago. I think it’s going to be tough in the legislative environment, but strategies are being developed to have it succeed.”

“The point of greatest contention, I think, with respect to comprehensive immigration reform, was not who should we allow in, but rather what to do about the people that are here.”

“We have achieved certain results. I think that the shift was deliberate in terms of priorities. The concern was that those people who knowingly employee undocumented workers were not the focus of prior efforts and the workers were. The shift in focus is not only more effective but more just.”

“Never has the language or the emotions around the issue [of immigration] been as vitriolic and extreme as is currently the case. … I think a tough economy sometimes brings to the surface deep-seeded feelings and sometimes makes those feelings more extreme.”

“The effort to achieve comprehensive immigration reform that has transpired over the last eighteen months or so as not without an enforcement strategy. In fact, our Southwest border is now more secure than it ever was. … And so, a focus on enforcement has not been absent, and comprehensive immigration reform has not passed.”

Will a simple enforcement strategy implemented now pave the way for reform later?
“I don’t know. I don’t know. But I believe in reform now.”

On Arizona law SP1070:

“I’m not in favor of it. It will be very interesting to see. I think the Supreme Court should be issuing a decision in the next couple months on this.”

“I think if the provisions that were challenged are stricken by the court on Constitutional grounds, that will of course shape what other states do, and if those provisions are upheld then I anticipate a copycat legislation elsewhere.”

“I think California, just like Arizona and Texas, is one of the states that is on the front lines of the issue because of the sheer number of immigrants here in this state and because of the reported number of undocumented people in this country. I think that people live the issue [here] much more than in other cities and states.”

On U.S./Mexico relations on immigration issues:

“We collaborate very, very closely, the two governments. Actually, at an unprecedented level with respect to border security issues, with respect to issues of drug trafficking, citizenship education for the individuals who are here with undocumented status and don’t understand the path to citizenship and what it takes to be naturalized in this country.”

Photograph by Forest Casey

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