Immigration Reform Without Amnesty – a Bipartisan Proposal

My readers are restive over the Amnesty pieces (Pieces: 1, 2 & 3).  I sense that use of the word amnesty tends to stifle the debate rather than open it.

What is not the problem?

Border security and immigration quotas are not the problem.  The need for improving border-security is understood by everyone; opposing positions on border security are used primarily as make-weight arguments in support of opposing positions on the more controversial points.   Nearly everyone also understands that we need to alter the objectives of our immigration-quotas, which are irrational and unfortunate products of an age in which the reasons for the quotas were quite different from the reasons why we need quotas today.

What is the problem?

The problem is the false perception of a conflict between these two objectives:

1.  Attracting non-citizens who are willing to perform the low-wage jobs in which our twelve million unemployed are not interested (the “Labor Objective”); and

2.  Treating those non-citizens in a humane and sympathetic manner when they come here to work – for example, they and their families should not have to live in fear of arrest and deportation (the “Fairness Objective”).

Conflicting Priorities

The Fairness Objective has been the Left’s priority – which it believes we are not now achieving; the Right, which has been needlessly coy on the subject, wants the Labor Objective – which we are achieving, though not very efficiently.  The tragedy is that both the Left and the Right now view this conflict between priorities as intractable, even though it is, in reality, a false dilemma.

The central point of the Amnesty pieces was that it is possible – indeed, no big deal – to achieve both the Fairness Objective and the Labor Objective at the same time, and without resorting to grants of amnesty.  “Amnesty” has become code (especially on the Right) for giving non-citizens who perform labor in the US, and the families of those performers, a path to US citizenship that is significantly faster and easier than would be possible under current US immigration law and regulations.

The Left has succeeded in framing the issue;  it has largely persuaded the public (both Left and Right) that amnesty is the only  way to treat non-citizen workers and their families that is humane and reasonable and sympathetic, and it has warned that it will oppose enhanced border-security, enhanced enforcement of legal actions against illegal aliens, revision of quotas, and any other aspect of immigration reform,  except as part of a package that includes amnesty.  The Right has taken the bait, saying, no deal; amnesty (the Left’s version of the Fairness Objective)  is too big a price to pay for achieving the Labor Objective.

Neither side appears willing to recognize that amnesty is not the only way to achieve the humane and reasonable and sympathetic treatment of non-citizen workers and their families.

An achievable solution

In Sen. Rubio’s plan (as in mine), non-citizen workers and their families would be granted essentially permanent legal residence in the US, including access to a vast array of citizen-like benefits, without our also making them citizens.  (And of course, their offspring born in the US would still automatically become citizens.)

The Rubio plan, which might well receive widespread bi-partisan support from everyone but the politicians, is a far more humane, reasonable and sympathetic arrangement for these workers and their families than what they have right now, and what they have right now is, obviously, already quite attractive  – there is no amnesty, and yet millions are here!

Why must we do more than remove the legal risks and social taint of their being here illegally?  When vast numbers of talented and highly-qualified workers from the rest of the world are routinely denied citizenship because of our strict quotas, why should we be gratuitously granting fast-track citizenship to relatively un-skilled people from one particular area of the world in order to address what is, in essence, merely a need for outsourceable labor?

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