June 9, 2007
Now Fix ImmigrationBy James Lewis
Well, it looks like an aroused citizenry is shooting down a terrifyingly bad piece of legislation in the Senate. The country may be dodging a bullet. That's good.
Now, what about getting the politicians to work like responsible adults to rectify illegal immigration? Without name-calling, without demagogy, and without made-up facts and figures?
The US Senate has shown itself to be an incompetent gaggle of grandstanders. On the conservative side, the policy initiative should therefore revert to our best and most thoughtful people, those who share our mainstream American values. The United States used to have immigration policies that worked reasonably well. It must be possible to make that happen again.
We need a clear and focused public policy debate, and we need to start with the easy stuff instead of trying to do everything at once. And we need to start with those changes that have a quick and big payoff, and lay the groundwork for further progress. If some law or regulation doesn't work, drop it and try something else. Be practical and consistent.
Here are some ideas that may work - and if they don't, we should find better ones.
1. Build a fence and enforce border security. If we cannot believe that laws will be enforced, passing more laws is useless. The US Government needs to prove its seriousness to the voters; if the USG doesn't, voters should prove their seriousness to the political class and the government.
2. Outsource immigrant tracking and database management to companies that have a proven track-record. It's just nonsense that the Bank of America can track credit ratings for illegals, but the United States Government can't even figure out who they are. Right now the BofA may know more facts about illegals than the Immigration and Naturalization Service. That is bizarre and dysfunctional. Tracking illegals is crucial, to shut out criminals and potential terrorists, and to shut down massive industrial espionage from foreign countries. We must be able to tell the difference between legal and illegal immigrants and other legal visitors. None of this requires a national identity card for citizens; that's a separate question.
3. Consider letting legal visitor levels float upward, to take the pressure off the illegal flow. Tourist visas must be enforced; legal guest workers can take pressure off the illegal work market; non-citizen resident permits can be issued as an incentive, given proof of economic viability, health insurance, English competence, and good behavior; legal immigration levels can float upward within clear numerical limits and targets, so that the immigrant flow will not overwhelm America's distinctive values and culture. That means giving weight to English fluency, education, and compatibility with American values, like understanding tolerance and democratic governance. Those skills also help immigrants to advance in their own lives. Traditionally, night classes were required to teach immigrants basic English, skills and values. We can insist on schooling again.
4. If government bureaucracies like the INS can't do the job, outsource it to private corporations that can and will.
5. Go back to the sponsor system. Before 1965 every legal immigrant had an American sponsor, a US citizen who took legal responsibility for the support of the immigrant if he or she were to go broke. It was part of a system that worked.
6. Market forces are more powerful than centralized control efforts. Over a specified time, reduce incentives for illegals and increase them for legal immigrants, up to comfortable limits. But the results must be monitored to ensure they work. Require employers to pay all employment taxes, and enforce the tax law. If necessary, outsource enforcement of the tax laws to credit card companies. We can't and won't round up and deport 12 million people. But we can systematically reduce the number of illegals without unnecessary cruelty or pain to the taxpayers.
7. Insist that foreign countries help the United States to enforce its immigration laws. Mexico has systematically sabotaged American immigration policies, and our politicians have gone along. No longer. Politically active citizens will not tolerate it any more. We have enormous leverage with Mexico, if we only bothered used it. Mexican citizens who commit crimes in the United States should be deported, with the clear expectation of equivalent but humane punishments in Mexico.
8. Require state and local police to register non-English speaking individuals who are stopped for traffic violations and other minor offenses. Nobody can drive a car in this country without being stopped every so often. Officers could easily make individualized voice recordings of non-English speakers on the spot. This is not racial profiling.
If these eight ideas were enforced, we would know who we were dealing with - a first step. Adequate non-fraudulent records of immigrants and visitors, legal and illegal must be constructed. Many American companies have deep expertise in building and managing such huge data bases.
At that point some illegals may be considered for residency permits; some may become migrant workers with explicit employment visas; some may be deported as poor risks; and some might pay back taxes and apply for citizenship after the standard five years. An established credit rating is one indication of successful assimilation, but that should include paying for government services like hospital emergency rooms. Basic good behavior should be an absolute requirement for any of these favorable treatments.
That leaves the problem of anchor babies. There may be no constitutional basis for refusing citizenship for babies born in this country to non-citizens, but a well-functioning immigration system could tolerate some flaws. It might be constitutional to criminalize illegal immigration with the intention to fraudulently obtain American citizenship. This is a tricky constitutional question. But once the easier problems are fixed, the hard ones can be studied and addressed.
I don't know if these are the best ideas, and how well they would work. I do think we can follow models from the private sector, where banks and credit card companies can seem to figure out how to establish credit ratings for otherwise "invisible" folks. We can also learn from other countries: All developed countries are facing similar problems, and we can learn from both good and bad results elsewhere in the world.
Above all, we must pinpoint and vote out the saboteurs, who have no interest in a workable immigration process. Ted Kennedy should retire some time soon, after decades of systematically working to undermine the country. Conservatives must constantly expose any other efforts to harm the country by perverse and destructive immigration policies, or failure to enforce the law. We are a nation of good and productive, legal immigrants. Let us remain so.
James Lewis blogs at http://www.dangeroustimes.wordpress.com/