Since the president’s State of the Union address is one week away, the annual debate on immigration reform will be in full swing. With the consistency of a broken record, ideologues on both sides will push for hard-line measures — to the absolute delight of the Washington establishment, which knows that doing so will kill any chance at a good bill.
Immigration reform hasn’t gone anywhere in decades, making one thing abundantly clear: Despite saying all the right things to appease their bases, neither party’s ruling class wants any part of it.
The Democrats benefit from illegal immigrants because many become aligned with that party, and yes, some even vote. More significant, labor unions — a de facto arm of the Democratic Party, misguided as it is — enjoy the current system because unchecked illegal immigration increases their ranks, swells their coffers, and generates more support to the party.
Republicans cower from reform for two reasons: First, they erroneously believe that pushing immigration issues hurts their standing with the Latino electorate. It doesn’t. Their lack of vision and inability to explain to Latinos how traditional Republican principles would make their lives better (lower taxes, energy independence, competitive schools, right to work) are what kills Hispanic support for the GOP. Second, too many influential big business constituencies lobby against reform since they benefit from cheap, under-the-table labor — pocketing the difference while consumers get the screws.
However, should the unthinkable occur — a chance at comprehensive reform — here are some ideas that should be on the table:
1) Leave the rhetoric behind and do not demonize illegal immigrants. It’s not their fault that the United States deliberately fails to enact strong measures to deter illegal immigration. Most are simply trying to make a better life for themselves and their families, often enduring unspeakable hardships, from terrifying border crossings to not seeing their loved ones for years. That said, we must not get caught up in emotional sob stories. There is a legal way to enter America; doing so illegally, and staying here, are crimes that must be dealt with fairly, but strictly. As President Reagan aptly stated, "A nation without borders is not a nation."
2) America is, by far, the most generous nation on Earth regarding legal immigration, annually allowing entry to over one million. But since legal immigrants are being slapped in the face every time someone enters illegally, perhaps we should halt admitting the former until we enforce laws controlling the latter.
3) Build the border wall — period. It is disgraceful that the wall is not yet completed, despite authorizations to do so. Costs could be controlled by employing non-violent prisoners and yes — illegal immigrants — to finish construction, with funding derived from drug seizures. Unquestionably, secure (and fully constructed) border walls substantially cut down the "supply" side of equation. Just ask Israel.
And it’s not just illegal immigrants crossing, but drug traffickers and terrorists. If nothing else, protecting our children and eliminating al-Qaida’s free pass with a suitcase nuclear weapon should be everyone’s top priorities. Or we could wait until Phoenix and New York get vaporized before stopping illegal border crossings, though that might be a tad late.
4) Institute self-deportation policies. Employing stringent law enforcement measures on businesses, levying taxes and eliminating lavish public benefits all level the playing field for legal workers, and would end much of the free ride enjoyed by illegal immigrants. Many will find it so onerous that they will return home on their own accord.
Those pushing mass deportation are simply insane. It would literally take an army to find and deport the 12 to 20 million illegal immigrants, and the price tag would be astronomical. Worst of all, it would turn the U.S. into a bigger police state than it already is.
5) Federally mandate that every business utilize the free E-Verify system, which quickly determines the legal status of a potential hire (currently, its use is at the discretion of each state). This front line tool ensures a legal workforce. Companies in noncompliance should face stiff penalties — from hefty fines to the loss of business licenses, and criminal prosecution should be employed where warranted. Hitting businesses where it hurts the most — the pocketbook — always proves effective.
6) Until the illegal immigration issue is settled, there should be no government (a.k.a. "taxpayer") assistance of any kind — local, state and federal. No drivers’ licenses, no community college, no benefits. No matter how compelling the arguments may be to lend assistance, illegal immigration is against the law. Government assistance to illegals is unequivocally aiding and abetting criminals. Change the law, but don’t ignore it whenever convenient. To do so leads to a total societal breakdown.
7) Illegal immigrants who have been convicted of crimes should serve their time and be deported immediately, yet they are routinely released back into our society — where they commit more crimes (statistics show that their recidivism rate is very high). Why aren’t they deported? Because their home countries don’t want them. Guess what? Tough. Pass the bill that was introduced five years ago that eliminates American aid to any country refusing its citizens. We’ll see how quickly they change their tune.
8) Most controversial of all, we need to address the illegals already here. We cannot deport them all; neither should we give them amnesty. A reasonable approach would be to a) document them and issue a long-term or lifetime work visa; b) permanently deny them American citizenship and the right to vote; c) require them to pass a criminal background check; d) have them begin paying taxes immediately; and e) levy a significant fine (deducted in installments directly from paychecks).
Some will call that amnesty, but it’s actually something else: Realistic. It penalizes lawbreakers, documents millions by bringing them out of the shadowy underworld, and makes them, and American citizens, considerably safer. It would increase tax revenue and, for the first time, make formerly illegal workers pay into the benefits programs. This system would also have the effect of making some return home, since they would quickly find that having to compete fair-and-square in the workforce is not easy, especially when there is a significant labor surplus and real unemployment near 15 percent.
There are no easy answers to illegal immigration, and neither side will ever be fully satisfied. But one thing is certain: if Congress fails to act soon, the situation will get exponentially worse for everyone.
In that case, Congress should receive no amnesty — and face immediate deportation from voters.
Chris Freind is an independent columnist and commentator. His column appears every Wednesday. He can be reached at [email protected]
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Chris Freind writes a weekly column for the Daily Times. Reach the author at [email protected] .
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