Why Immigration Reform Doesn’t Need Amnesty

The Immigration bill seems to be moving forward but the central mechanism of the bill, creating a path to citizenship for those who entered the country illegally, is flawed.  Not because I adhere to the “no amnesty” principle, but simply because this is not the simplest or best approach.

The truth is we need immigrants to do many jobs.  We can all agree on that.  And we should also be able to agree that it is bad for us as a society to have a population in legal limbo who can’t get driver licenses or do so many other things legally, so they live an illegal unregulated existence.

Since the need for immigration is generally accepted to be work-based, we should create an immigration framework which will admit immigrants for the jobs that exist, including seasonal work and low-skill jobs, and make the visas dependent on actual employment.  In other words, some form of employer sponsorship, but with the flexibility to change jobs between employers.  This would ensure that immigrants are actually here to work.  It would also bring currently illegal employers within health, safety, and labor regulations.  There could be a minimum wage for these workers. This would largely resemble the existing H1-B program for highly skilled workers, but would be for low-skilled and non-skilled workers as well.

Obviously, anyone who is already here would have an advantage in securing a sponsor and getting a visa.  And that’s ok.  The system wouldn’t need to treat those already illegally present here in a special manner.  It would just need to not discriminate against them for already being here.  In other words, visa application and employment centers (where applicants look for work sponsors and also obtain visas) could be located both inside and outside our borders.

In this manner, workers no matter where they are would be able to apply for and obtain visas.  Of course, we would still want to exclude those who had serious criminal records, were proven drunk drivers, or had other flaws that made them undesirable as resident workers.  Those would be denied visas and deported as they were caught inside the country.

In this manner, the resident population of illegal immigrants would be sorted out, with most being made legal fairly quickly, while others were deported, with the goal of there being no illegals present in the country.  This would achieve two things: legalizing or deporting illegal immigrants while not encouraging further illegal immigration by allowing amnesty.

And how can we be assured that there would be sufficient resources to eliminate all illegals?  We can’t be assured of some arbitrary level of funding, a massive manhunt, etc.  But what we can do is make the standards match the resources.  In other words, if we identify a level of effort we are willing to expend, then we simply make the path to a visa sufficiently easy to legalize enough immigrants that we have the enforcement resources needed to deport the rest.  Right now, the problem is we have high standards for legal immigration, and a low amount of resources available to stop illegal immigration.

On the reasoning that it is much easier and cheaper to process and legalize an immigrant who comes forward and self-identifies than it is to deport one who hides from the law, we simply have to admit to ourselves how many immigrants we can afford to deport.  If our goal is to “eliminate” eleven million illegal immigrants, we simply must make most of them legal and allow them to stay.

As time goes by, we can analyze and adjust the parameters of the immigration program.  We may decide to increase enforcement budgets and decrease the number of legal visas we issue, or we may do the opposite.  What we cannot continue to do is allow almost no legalization of the massive illegal population, while also not providing sufficient enforcement.  That imbalance is what has lead to the eleven million we have now.

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  1. Pingback: Immigration Reform Thoughts | Jay Wilson's Blog

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