Common Sense Immigration Policy

The decibel level in the immigration debate is on the rise again, with Rudy Giuliani and Mitt Romney trading barbs about the "sanctuary" policies of many U.S. cities, including NYC under Giuliani. Donald Douglas has an interesting post on this subject.

Somewhat related is the recent deportation of Elvira Arellano, the woman who had been hiding from authorities in a Chicago church for the last year. She ventured out on a trip to Los Angeles and was arrested and sent back to Mexico. Much is made of the resulting separation of Ms. Arellano from her young son - who is a U.S. citizen - but that is her choice. She is free to take him with her to Mexico. It appears to me that this woman is allowing herself to be used for political purposes by pro-immigration groups.

I've said before that positions on both sides of this issue are so hardened that any kind of compromise is very unlikely. On one extreme are the "open borders" advocates who would essentially allow anyone to enter the U.S. and stay as long as they wish. At the other end are those who want to lock down the border and take action against illegal aliens who are already in the U.S.

While there are elements of wisdom on both sides of the argument, no one seems to advocate what, to me, seems like a very common sense approach: secure the borders and allow a reasonable amount of legal immigration. Here is my suggestion.

First, we have to get control of the borders. The current situation, with thousands of people willy-nilly entering the country with little to stop them, can't be tolerated. Changing it will involve both tighter security on the border itself, and harsh penalties on those who employ illegal immigrants. National security has to be the first priority.

Second, once we have established zero tolerance of illegal immigration, the government should be generous in allowing people of good will to enter the U.S. and work here legally. Our economy obviously needs the labor that immigrants provide. Everyone will be better served if we open the door to those who want to work and are otherwise law-abiding good neighbors. Of course there have to be limits; but if the limits are calculated to match the amount and types of labor needed in the U.S., then a reasonable balance should be possible.

This leaves open the question of what to do with the millions of illegal immigrants who are already here. They will need to either leave or be legalized in some way. Serious workplace enforcement would go a long way to solving this problem. Those who really want to stay here and work will go through whatever process is imposed, while the rest will be motivated be the increased enforcement to leave the U.S.

The reason no one is suggesting such a policy is that both sides distrust the other. Border security groups do not trust the Bush Administration to actually do anything to enforce current laws, much less any new ones. Open-borders advocates think the other side has racist motives and wants to punish those who wish only to earn a living for their families. Attempts at compromise, such as the immigration bill that died earlier this year, have been so riddled with loopholes on both sides that in the end no one could accept them.

It would be nice if we had some kind of national grandpa that everyone trusted to do the right thing. Since we don't, it is hard to imagine any kind of sensible solution emerging from the political process. Where that leaves us, I'm not so sure. It won't be good.

No comments: