A Sane Immigration Policy

There’s no doubt that something needs to be done regarding U.S. immigration policy, as well as in regard to the millions of people who are already living in the country illegally.  The question is and has been “what?” And it now seems that there may be no action taken until after this year’s elections. 

The Left’s answer to the ‘what to do question’ is usually fairly blunt: ‘open our borders and give amnesty to anyone who is here illegally.’ The answer from the Right varies depending on far right one wants to lean -- from ‘seal our borders and deport everyone who is here illegally’ to ‘strengthen our border security, revise our immigration policy, come up with a good guest worker policy, and see if we can come up with a fair and just way of resolving the problem of illegal aliens.’ 

Compounding the immigration policy/illegal alien problem are the political, socioeconomic, and moral implications of the various resolutions being bandied about.  Because so many people hold such strong ideological views today, there’s pretty much no way any solution is going to make everyone happy.  And as far as the Beltway is concerned, the wrong solution might result in a lost election and/or greatly diminished power for either party.  And that, unfortunately, is pretty much the key consideration in Washington.

In an essay in the February 14 AT, Robert Klein Engler’s solution to the illegal alien problem was of the ‘send them all home variety. ’Once this was done he wanted the U.S. and Mexican governments, along with the Catholic Church, to work together to solve the problem at its root, in Mexico. However, the round ‘em all up and send them home’ solution is just not viable.

Logistics notwithstanding, the cost of rounding up and deporting every ‘illegal’ in the country would be staggering, even assuming that it could be done. According to a recent article in the Economist, it costs $5,000 justto incarcerate an illegal alien for just one month pending deportation.  So the price tag just for detaining 11.7 million illegals would be about $58 Billion. And even if they could all be found and taken into custody, the number of beds available at ICE detention centers is only 34,000, so given the one month to process an illegal, the maximum number of illegals that can be processed in one year is around 408,000. Factor in trial costs, the cost of deportation transportation, the additional law enforcement manpower needed, and so on, and that $58 billion price tag could easily double.  So from both a logistical and cost standpoint, the round ‘em all up and send them home’ solution is one that is really not feasible.

But what if we disregard the politics, and the ancillary issues, and look at the problem first and foremost from a high level and a moral perspective?  Might such a more unbiased yet focused view suggest a solution to the problem?  According to the Catholic Church and the US Council of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), the answer is ‘yes.’

The Bishops first addressed the problem in 2003, in a pastoral letter entitled Strangers No Longer Together on the Journey of Hope, developed by the USCCB in conjunction with the Bishops in Mexico.  In this very lengthy letter, the bishops called on both the presidents of the U.S. and Mexico, and the legislatures of both countries, to work together to achieve a fair system of migration that is generous, just, and humane. 

The letter discusses the problem from variety of perspectives, but one moral point that was brought up – that is pretty hard to disagree with -- is that people do have a right to support themselves and their families.

When persons cannot find employment in their country of origin to support themselves and their families, they have a right to find work elsewhere in order to survive. Sovereign nations should provide ways to accommodate this right.

If there were no other options available, no parent in his right mind would sit and watch his family starve if he knew that he could find work just across the border, even it meant entering the country illegally.   Furthermore, it would be morally wrong for any sovereign nation or peoples to say to that person, ‘No, you can’t come in.  You and your family should just starve to death.”  Granted that this might be an extreme example, but it does provide a perspective that is easily overlooked. 

The Catholic Church’s Position on Immigration Reform, issued in 2013 by the USCCB’s Migration and Refugee Services/Office of Migration Policy and Public Affairs, the Bishops offer a basic six-point plan, based on Catholic Social Teaching and on Strangers No Longer, to address the problem. 

The plan includes both an earned legalization process for the “illegals,” and recognition of the fact that the U.S. has both the right and the duty to secure its borders and enforce the laws for the sake of the common good.

The plan also calls for a future worker plan that would allow foreign workers to enter the country safely and legally, while also providing them with workplace protections and a living wage level, but one which would also include safeguards against the displacement of U.S. workers; immigration reform that focuses on the family and reuniting family members; and the restoration of due process rights taken away by the 1996 Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (such as the three and ten year re-entry ban).

The USCCB plan also brings up one other rather important point:

. . . there are only 5,000 green cards available annually for low‐skilled workers to enter the United States lawfully to reside and work. The only alternative to this is a temporary work visa through the H‐2A (seasonal agricultural) or H2B (seasonal non‐agricultural) visa programs which provide temporary status to low‐skilled workers seeking to enter the country lawfully. While H‐2A visas are not numerically capped, the requirements are onerous. H‐2B visas are capped at 66,000 annually. Both only provide temporary status to work for a U.S. employer for one year. At their current numbers, these are woefully insufficient to provide legal means for the foreign‐born to enter the United States to live and work, and thereby meet our demand for foreign‐born labor.

Even if Congress is determined to hold off on addressing illegal immigration and complete immigration reform until after the elections, fixing the Green Card/H-2A/H-2B programs is  something that even the current cantankerous Congress should be able to do.  And even if they are not willing to do this, they might at least give a listen to what the USCCB has to say.

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