A Modest Proposal For Immigration Reformby Doug Mataconis
Via Twitter, I came up this 2007 Examiner article by Dan Riehl of Riehl World View that offers what seems like the beginning of a way out of what has been little more than three year long shouting match over the subject of immigration, illegal immigrants, and immigration reform:
As with current and past generations, future generations will comprise peoples from all over the globe. But there must be a traditional America to which they can emigrate, or we risk becoming more a reflection of various other nations, than one nation indivisible with liberty and justice for all.
Shoring up our borders, along with our institutions, is a good start, as is the enforcing of current immigration law as written. But then we should also allow for some compromise on decent, hard-working individuals who, while perhaps entering illegally, have honestly contributed to America in the best of ways.
As Americans, we’ve significantly benefited from their labors, whether we like to admit it, or not. And having secured said benefits through lower costs in goods and services, it would be hypocritical to turn our backs on them now.
That looks like a reasonable compromise from here.
And from here, too.
There are really too two different issues at play in the immigration debate, but they’ve become tangled together so much that it’s become impossible to have a reasonable discussion about the issue.
On the one hand, we’ve got the issue of border security. Even before September 11th, the idea that our southern and northern borders, along with the ports and the airports, should be secure was something that should have been self-evident. After 9/11, it’s a matter of national security. The idea that someone could walk across the border virtually undetected is something that everyone should be concerned about.
The other issue, though, is the fact that America has always been a nation of immigrants, and that immigration has, despite the social disruption it often causes when first-generation immigrants struggle, been a net-plus for our country socially and economically. Yes, there have always been those who have wanted to shut the door to immigrants, but the truth of the matter is that most of the things being said about immigrants from the south today were being said in the past about immigrants from Eastern Europe, Italy, Germany, and Ireland. Like those earlier immigrants, though, most of the people who come here do so to make a better life for themselves and their families, and that’s something we should welcome, not condemn.
Brad Warbiany, one of the co-bloggers at The Liberty Papers, summed it up quite well more than four years ago:
In all situations, the rationale is the same. We got ours, and now we’ll stop you from getting yours. I can’t live with that. By most accounts, I’m pretty privileged. I’m not the son of rich parents by American standards, but by world standards, I grew up in luxury. I was lucky enough to be born in America, and even luckier to be born to educated parents and live in a highly-regarded school district. But does that give me any more right to the American Dream than Francisco Patino? Does it give a Warbiany any more right to the American Dream than a Hernandez? Of course not.
Last, we do still have the security issue. But liberal immigration policies and secure borders are not mutually exclusive. We can secure the borders and still find to keep tabs on who is coming into this country and how. Perhaps that’s a guest worker program, perhaps that’s a new take on our INS and its goals. That may include a combination of things, with a guest worker program combined with restricted social services for a worker’s family. Either way, the nuts and bolts aren’t insurmountable. If we focused half the energy we spend screwing around with the tax code for special interests on developing coherent immigration and security policies, we could get it done and still have secure borders.
Immigration is a thorny issue. But when we stand around and say “we don’t want you here”, I have to break ranks. When they say “these immigrants are damaging our economy”, I have to break ranks. I don’t have all the answers as to how to fix the problem, but I know that I refuse to close our country to people who want to live the American Dream. We have to enforce our laws, but when our laws are contrary to the very fabric of America, those laws need to change.
So where does that leave us ?
Well, let me suggest these starting points:
- Secure the borders — From a national security perspective, this seems essential. We don’t need to put an Army on the border, and we sure as heck don’t need to build the Rio Grande Wall. But, there’s no reason we can’t develop a system of monitoring stations and drones to make sure that people aren’t slipping across the border, no matter what the reason.
- Commit a serious crime, get deported — Whether you’re here legally or illegally, if you break the law in such a way that you’re a threat to the rest of us, you’ve just lost permission to stay. You’ll serve your sentence in one of our comfortable prisons, but once it’s over, you’re going home. By “serious crime,” I mean any crime of violence; I don’t think we need to be deporting people who run a red light, or pass a bad check or two.
- Forget about deporting the peaceful “illegal” immigrants — Call it “amnesty” if you want, but the fact of the matter is that we’re never going to be able to deport everyone who’s here illegally. For one thing, some of them are married to, or parents of, people who are here legally, and breaking up families is not something Americans do. For another, if someone is here working an honest living then they need to be encouraged to come out of the underground economy, not scared into thinking that ICE could be knocking on their door at any moment.
- Make it easier to come here legally — Current American immigration law places absurdly low limits on the number of people who can come here legally, and places even more absurd quotas on how many people can come from specific countries. Additionally, the law makes it harder for someone who to come here and start a business to immigrate than it does for someone who just happens to be related to someone who’s already here legally. We should liberalize immigration procedures generally and, more specifically, make it easier for people from Mexico and Central America to come here as temporary workers. That alone would have a significant impact on illegal immigration.
Anyway, that’s just off the top of my head. It requires compromise on both sides.
Which, of course, means that it’s a non-starter in modern America.