Immigration Reform That Works
The last time the United States had a fundamental revision to our immigration laws was in 1965 when Sen. Ted Kennedy decided it was time to consign our existing immigration laws ( enacted forty years earlier ) to the ash heap of history.
The Kennedy legislation replaced national origin quotas that focused on attracting skilled immigrants from Europe to a much more diverse policy that emphasized family unification ( i.e., “chain migration” ) instead of skills. It also shifted the demographic formula from the Old World to the Third World.
In 1986, the results of the Kennedy immigration law had created such a flood of illegal immigration that President Reagan was persuaded to grant a massive amnesty to 5 million illegal immigrants. At the time, Reagan believed he would get real border security in exchange for the amnesty. He was misled, it never happened.
Since 1986, the number of illegal immigrants in the country has increased more than four-fold to over 22 million, possibly as high as 30 million ( 10% of the U.S. population! ) costing taxpayers $135 billion per year, more than what was spent to run the entire federal government when John F. Kennedy was in the White House! These are just the “hard” costs, in terms of federal, state and local health, education and welfare spending. It does not include the incalculable costs of lost lives and shattered families due to drugs smuggled into the country or to homicides and rapes committed by illegal aliens. If this is not a crisis, what is?
The politicians in Washington have failed time after time over the last several decades to address this crisis. Multiple attempts at so-called “comprehensive immigration reform” have crashed and burned.
Most of these past efforts have failed because of the special interests and political agendas involved. Democrats have demanded additional amnesties and paths to “legalization” that would ensure ample numbers of new Democrat Party voters. Grassroots Republicans have insisted on ironclad border security and rejected amnesty for lawbreakers. Corporate Republicans eager for cheap labor have tended to side with the Democrats in wanting to take a softer approach to the issue.
We now face a bare knuckles battle over President Trump’s Border Wall, a weeks-long government shutdown, and thousands of migrants marching in caravans to invade our country’s southern border. Could there be a better time or a more ideal opportunity to declare a “time out” on the war of words and political posturing and consider a real immigration reform that is just plain common sense?
There are three critical components of sound immigration reform that prioritizes the interests of the American people.
The first and foremost is obviously border security. The security of our southern border must be assured before moving on to the second component, the status of the 22 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S. The third component is who do we want in our country and why.
Who are the best people to determine what is needed to secure the border? Chuck Schumer? Nancy Pelosi? President Trump?
Certainly, the men and women on the front lines are the best positioned to make this determination: the Border Patrol. We should let the Border Patrol decide the best course to seal the border to crime, gangs, and drugs. If that means a wall or physical barrier in those areas where topography and terrain permit, then it should be built. If it means drones, sensors, and other new technologies, so be it. If it means more boots on the ground, let’s give the Border Patrol what it needs. If it requires using assets of the U.S. military, let’s do it. Let’s give the folks who face this crisis each and every day the opportunity to craft a master plan for border security and fund that plan in full.
After the border is secured to the greatest extent possible (recognizing that no plan would be 100% effective) and only after should we move on to discussing the status of the 22 million-plus illegal immigrants already in the country. Here is a possible solution:
The 22 million illegal immigrants can be given six months to register in a national registry to apply for jobs that employers need filled but where there is a shortage of American workers because of the booming economy, low unemployment, etc. This would prevent the competition for jobs and wage suppression among low and unskilled American workers that unrestricted immigration normally causes. If they do not register within six months or there are no jobs for them, they must voluntarily return to their home country within one year or be deported. They would NOT be eligible for any taxpayer-paid benefits during that one-year period.
In similar fashion, employers would be required to sign in to a national job registry indicating the jobs they need filled and the reasons they cannot find enough American workers to fill them. This registry would be matched to the first one, creating a database of foreign workers to fill the U.S. jobs that cannot be staffed by sufficient numbers of qualified American workers.
After five years of working in the U.S. in jobs where there is a verified shortage of American workers, paying taxes, and having a clean criminal record, the illegal immigrants can apply to be legal residents (not citizens) via green card.
After obtaining green cards (paying taxes, maintaining a clean criminal record, learning English, etc.), they may eventually apply for citizenship, but they must go to the back of the line and apply through the normal process behind everyone else who has already applied legally and is awaiting acceptance of their applications.
Such an approach would accomplish what America really needs right now: immigrants to fill jobs that genuinely need to be filled by employers ( as in the agriculture industry ), not immigrants taking the jobs of American citizens or legal immigrants or exerting downward pressure on wages. If such a job to immigrant match cannot be made and verified as genuine, the illegal alien must return to his nation of origin.
Under this plan, there would be no amnesties of any kind. No “paths” to citizenship, other than a possible opportunity to eventually apply in the normal manner as legal immigrants are mandated to do.
The third component has to address legal immigration and define who we, as a sovereign nation, want in our country and why. Every year, the United States accepts more than one million legal immigrants to our shores. We must come to a consensus as a country whether this number is too high, whether it discourages rapid assimilation, and whether it unfairly victimizes American workers. We should consider significantly reducing levels of legal immigration to permit faster assimilation, restrict such immigration to skilled workers who will contribute to our economy (rather than simply seek government assistance) and only where a genuine shortage of labor actually warrants it.
Obviously, there are other issues related to immigration that must be discussed, such as “birth tourism” under the Fourteenth Amendment ( something that would have shocked and stunned the authors of that Amendment ), the atrocity of “sanctuary cities” which shield hardened criminals and gang leaders from the law and victimize innocent populations, both native and immigrant, and the welfare state magnets that draw foreign nationals to our borders. Many of these issues are Constitutional in origin, would ignite long drawn-out battles in the federal courts, or require a total reexamination of the role of the federal government in health, education, and welfare since the 1960s. They need to be addressed at some point, but it won’t happen quickly or painlessly.
My proposals offer some basic, but essential, common-sense solutions that the American people and their representatives in Congress can and should rally around, for the sake of national security and personal safety for our citizens and economic security for our American workers and their families.
Dr. James Veltmeyer is a prominent La Jolla physician voted “Top Doctor” in San Diego County in 2012, 2014, 2016 and 2017. Dr. Veltmeyer can be reached at email@example.com
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