Over the next couple of weeks there will be much talk about immigration reform, but the prospects for achieving meaningful reform are muddled by the divergent wishes of the two parties. Democrats want amnesty and a path to citizenship for illegals, Republicans want a secure border and, most of them, no amnesty. There is a middle ground, perhaps, which would be fair to everyone involved in this awful situation, including the illegals themselves, the businesses which hire them, and the people who must foot the bills for them. It starts with the premise that any plan that fails to secure the border is a non-starter, as is any plan that grants citizenship to twenty million people who are here in violation of our laws.
With these things in mind I think the following two-stage proposal has the merit of being compassionate, just, and politically doable. I also think it would have a lot of support among the American people. It would look something like this:
The first stage would guarantee that a border fence be built and the border secured. This is the sine qua non of any serious immigration reform. There's no point in painting the house while the ceiling is still leaking. Once our borders are impervious to all but the most dauntless and determined, and once this has been duly certified by a trustworthy commission, then the situation of those already here could be addressed - but not until.
After the border is secured, a plan for those already in the country illegally could be crafted to avoid the worst consequences of amnesty and yet demonstrate compassion for people desperate to make a decent living. To that end, once we have taken control of our border, Congress should enact legislation that would allow illegals to stay in the country indefinitely as "guest workers" with no penalty if, and only if, the following provisos were also adopted and enforced:
1) Illegal aliens would be required to apply for a government identification card. After a reasonable grace period anyone found to be without proper ID would be subject to deportation. This would be a one-time opportunity so that aliens entering the country illegally in the future would be unable to legally acquire a card.
2) No one who had entered the country illegally would at any time be eligible for citizenship (unless they leave the country and reapply through proper channels). Nor would they be entitled to the benefits of citizens. They would not be eligible to vote, or to receive food stamps, unemployment compensation, subsidized housing, AFDC, earned income tax credits, social security, medicare, etc. They would have limited access to taxpayer largesse, although churches and other charitable organizations would be free to render whatever assistance they wish, particularly in providing for medical care. Whatever taxes the workers pay would be part of the price of living and working here.
3) Their children, born on our soil, would no longer be granted automatic citizenship (This would, unfortunately, require a constitutional amendment), though they could attend public schools. Moreover, these children would become eligible for citizenship at age eighteen provided they graduate from high school, earn a GED, or serve in the military.
4) There would be no "chain" immigration. Those who entered illegally would not be permitted to bring their families here. If they wish to see their loved ones they should return home.
5) Any criminal activity, past or future, would be sufficient cause for immediate deportation, as would any serious infraction of the motor vehicle code.
6) There would be no penalty for businesses which employ guest workers, and workers would be free to seek employment anywhere they can find it. Neither the workers nor their employers would have to live in fear of ICE. In other words, anyone with an ID card would no longer be in the country illegally and families would no longer have to fear being split up due to one member being deported.
This is just an outline, of course, and there are details the lawyers would have to work out, but it's both simpler and fairer than other proposals that have been floated by Congress. Those who've followed the rules for citizenship wouldn't be leap-frogged by those who didn't, and guest workers who have proper ID would benefit by being able to work without fear. The long-term cost to taxpayers of illegal immigration would be considerably reduced, trouble-makers among the immigrant population would be deported, and American businesses would not be responsible for background investigations of job applicants. It would also provide incentive for American youngsters to get an education and acquire skills so they don't have to compete for jobs with unskilled immigrants willing to work for lower wages. The one group that would "lose" would be those politicians who wish to pad their party's voter rolls. They'd be out of luck.
Of course, this proposal won't satisfy those who insist that we send all illegals packing, nor will it please those who think the requirements for letting them stay are too stringent, but it seems a more simple, practical, just, and humane solution to the problem than most other plans that have been suggested.
To be sure, it entails a kind of amnesty, but it doesn't reward illegals with the benefits of citizenship as have previous proposals. The "amnesty" is contingent upon first stopping the flow of illegals across the border and also upon immigrants keeping themselves out of trouble while they're here.
If, however, the conditions for being allowed to stay and work in this country sound too onerous, if illegal immigrants conclude they could do better elsewhere, they would, of course, be free to leave.RLC