It is hard to think of a major political issue that has been more obscured by polemics, than the topic of US immigration policy and, in particular, our policy toward immigration by Hispanics and Latinos. The predominant theme of the Democratic Party is that Republicans are incorrigible racists who view Hispanics and Latinos as an endless source of cheap, exploitable labor, to be given no more legal or social status than pre-Civil War slaves. Equally cartoonish is the Republican theme that Democrats view Hispanic and Latino migrants as a vast army of potential voters who should be given immediate citizenship so as to hasten their collective enrollment as registered Democrats. Lost in this grotesque exchange is any kind of attention to what should be the fundamental objectives of a rational immigration-policy: national security, and satisfaction of the nation’s needs for skilled and unskilled labor.
Here is a suggestion for a non-partisan solution to the vexing problem of illegal immigration into the United States. While each individual element would probably offend at least one large interest-group, the package as a whole is intended to satisfy the overall requirements of virtually everyone other than those politicians who see the immigration issue as a vehicle for pandering to the least-enlightened elements of their respective constituencies (or enlarging the ranks of such constituencies). Here is the proposal:
- Secure the borders. Reduce illegal immigration to the irreducible minimum, both to enhance national security and to deliver a message that we will no longer engage in selective non-enforcement of federal immigration laws already on the books.
- Create an easy path to temporary or permanent migrant-worker status. Require ID, registration, and ongoing maintenance of a clean criminal-record, but eliminate all legal and administrative roadblocks to swift fulfillment of US needs for migrant labor. (This one step, alone, would make it way simpler to secure the borders against the truly bad guys.)
- Make no change in existing law regarding paths to citizenship for immigrants. Immigrants’ children born in the US would still become US citizens automatically. Hispanics and Latinos here illegally could remain here indefinitely, provided they registered as migrant workers (or as the spouse of a migrant worker) and maintained updated registration (and after reaching a retirement age), but there would be no amnesty, regardless of duration of stay in the US or other sympathetic factors. The legal path to US citizenship would not be changed.
- Completely revise our quota laws regarding legal migration: all prospective immigrants who meet rigorous, specified national requirements for high levels of skills, specialized education, and/or experience, should be eligible for immediate admission and fast-track naturalization. Successful or promising doctors, scientists, engineers, technology specialists, graduate students, etc., should be welcomed and admitted without numerical limits and without regard to country of origin. For other applicants, individual-country quotas should remain as they are – and should be strictly enforced.
As a matter of policy, the US should not be biased for or against human beings of any particular race, religion, gender, national origin, or culture, but when it comes to citizenship, we should be most definitely and explicitly biased in favor of people who can make a positive contribution to our national culture and economy. The US should do whatever is necessary to permit migrant workers to come here as and when needed to fulfill our needs for skilled or unskilled labor, but so long as it is clear that we do not have to dangle future citizenship as an enticement to get them here to perform that work, we should not do so.
The solution to this problem is easy; people are making it hard because of cynical, hidden agendas that have little to do with economics or compassion. Both political parties are manipulating their constituencies on the illegal-immigration problem, rather than working in good faith to solve it.