“Comprehensive” Immigration Reform
There is general agreement that the current US immigration laws and enforcement systems need to be changed. However, the debate is very clouded by a combination of extreme positions (though honestly believed and stated) and disingenuous positions. For example:
- Extreme position of opposing immigration in general. This is extreme in light of both history and the realities of the modern world.
- Disingenuous statement of proposing “comprehensive” reform while actually meaning total amnesty for all who have (or will in some cases) enter the country contrary to law.
- Extreme position of the Obama administration of choosing to selectively not enforce current law. This generates a lack of trust that any new laws will have all their provisions enforced rather than just the ones which the administration favors (i.e. amnesty).
- Extreme position that everyone (no matter how long ago) who has entered contrary to law should be deported. The sheer numbers make this impractical, and the integration into the US of many such migrants makes it inhumane.
In my experience perhaps the worst aspect of current law and enforcement is the practical experience that people who attempt to immigrate honestly, according to law are treated harshly by the bureaucracy and experience harsh interpretations of requirements and unresponsive offices. However, those entering contrary to law are treated with respect and ever increasing benefits of legal residency.
Current law has many absurdities. For example, under current law, for a US employer to gain a resident visa for someone to meet a critical skill shortfall, under the law, they must claim that they have not been able to find a person anywhere in the US to meet the need. Thus companies are forced to lie. A more reasonable requirement would be to demonstrate that normal, reasonable, hiring efforts have failed.
The term “comprehensive immigration reform” usually means a set of changes to current law to:
- Satisfy the concern over open, unenforced borders.
- Allow more legal immigration where appropriate in order to meet US needs and encourage potential immigrants to seek legal immigration rather than illegal.
- Provide a humanitarian solution to the question of the status of a large number of people who immigrated illegally, but who have been here so long that deportation is neither practical nor humane.
- Find ways to encourage legal immigration rather than illegal.
Some Modest Proposals
I make some modest proposals. In general the Congress is not considering any of these because of the dominance of extreme and disingenuous positions. I do not claim that these proposals are perfect or that they do not have obvious, severe loopholes or unintended consequences. Sadly, the debate required to avoid such problems is not happening in Washington due to the dominance of extreme and disingenuous positions. Nonetheless, here are my modest proposals:
- Eliminate our century old quota system in favor of a points system in which a potential migrant must demonstrate points in social and economic areas. Social points come from criteria such as:
- English proficiency.
- Lack of criminal record.
- Stable family.
- Support structure (family or other connections in the US).
Economic points come from criteria such as:
- Critical skills.
- Pre-arranged employment (not as important as skills since a pre-arranged job can terminate at any time).
- Employment history.
- Financial assets.
- Expand/ease the rules for investment/skilled immigration. This means allowing more immigration of people who have the financial resources and skills to start businesses.
- Clarified requirements for citizenship so that English proficiency is ensured.
- Elimination of all non-English ballots in elections. This is based on the theory that a person who does not know English is unlikely to be an informed voter but rather is open to manipulation by others.
- Eliminate “anchor babies” – the policy that declares anyone born in the US as a citizen. The USA is unique among major nations which has such a policy. It encourages people to enter the US illegally to have children born here. The constitution says “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” The clause “subject to the jurisdiction thereof” was meant to exclude diplomats and tourists. People who enter contrary to law are clearly not being subject to US jurisdiction.
- To deal with people who have entered the US illegally, but in many cases correctly saw that enforcement was so lax as to question the sincerity of the law, do the following:
- All who have committed felonies are subject to immediate deportation.
- For those in the US less than a period of time (1 year?), allow a short window (3 months?) in which to register. Those who register are given another window (3 months?) in which to return to their countries. Those found who don’t register will be immediately and mercilessly deported.
- For those in the US in an intermediate period of time (1-3 years?), and who are deemed gainfully employed and integrating into the US, treat them as long term immigrants. For others, treat them as short term immigrants according to the prior section.
- For long term illegal immigrants (over 3 years?), provide a window (6 months?) in which to register. Those found after this period who have not registered are subject to immediate, merciless deportation. Those who register are granted a new category of residency in which they are like all other legal residents with one exception. They can never vote. They can go through citizenship requirements and gain a US passport, but cannot register to vote. It is up to states to check the federal database of naturalized citizens to verify eligibility. For most migrants, this is a very minor penalty for having entered illegally. Most came to make a better life and will be happy to gain a stable US residency status. This policy also disarms the argument that the only motive for “amnesty” is stacking voter rolls with Democratic Party voters rather than a humanitarian motive.
- Provide a framework for the State Department to forge agreements with countries of origin for defined deportation and reentry.
- Enhance border security. This is listed last because the hope is that the prior proposals will make it easier. I don’t have any new ideas for how to enhance the security.
Finally, in the debate over immigration, it is critical that everyone realize that no matter what new law and policy is made, there will be people who get what seems to be a very bad deal. The challenge is to minimize such cases, but it is impossible to eliminate cases where particular circumstances cause unfair hardship. The challenge is to focus debate on how new law and policy affects large numbers of people. Unfortunately, our media/superstar culture makes this difficult because it will focus on a very small number of “hard cases” rather than the very large number of normal cases.