Immigration reform is returning to the front burner. Professor Tom Wong of the University of California, San Diego has created a model to predict how the U.S. House of Representatives will vote on immigration reform this fall. Today, I’d like to share an email interview with Professor Wong conducted by LIRS Media Relations Specialist Clarissa Perkins.
Clarissa Perkins (CP): You just finished a study that predicts how the House of Representatives will vote on a comprehensive immigration reform bill and what the bill will consist of. What personal reasons motivated you to research this topic?
Tom Wong (TW): My own experience as an undocumented immigrant informs my passion when it comes to researching immigration politics and policy.
CP: Can you tell us a little about how you did your research and what you focused on?
TW: In terms of modeling how members of Congress are likely to vote on immigration policy, I first collect data on all immigration-related votes since 2005 when the House took up H.R. 4437. This gives me tens of thousands of votes to work with for the House and Senate. I then identify the combination of factors that explain as many of the yes and no votes that legislators cast as possible. This is an iterative process. Once I’m confident in my model, I then use the results to simulate how current members of Congress are likely to vote. These simulations provide probabilities with confidence intervals, which is just to say that I can use the results to create different categories of likelihood for each legislator – this helps to identify those on the fence.
CP: What were the conclusions? Have you been proven correct thus far?
TW: In March, months before the Senate voted on S.744, I came up with a moderate estimate of 67 votes. After the introduction of the Corker-Hoeven border amendment, I updated my analysis, which came up with an estimate of 69 votes. Given the actual vote number of yes votes was 68, I can say that I pegged the Senate vote at +/- 1 vote. For the House, I was asked to simulate a vote on an amendment to the Department of Homeland Security appropriations bill. The amendment was to defund the 287g program. I predicted the final vote within 97% of the actual total. This was a hard vote to model, since it was not a party line vote.
CP: Have any developments on immigration reform caught you by surprise?
TW: Immigration politics is also full of surprises. Nothing jumps out at me right now.
CP: What do you think would sway Members of Congress to vote in support of comprehensive immigration reform?
TW: When demographic change collides with a legislator’s electoral prospects, this is when we will see the most movement on immigration.