A Sane and Moral Approach to Immigration
The latest fad du jour in the media is to brand President Trump a liar for trying to blame Democrats for the unholy mess along the U.S.-Mexico border. In supposedly straight news stories, the Washington Post, NPR and others simply termed Trump’s claims “false.”
It’s certainly the case that Trump’s assertions and tweets were self-serving and incomplete, not to mention ungrammatical. There was a brazen quality to them, too, given that his Justice Department precipitated the recent crisis with its “zero tolerance” policy for Central Americans seeking refugee status in the U.S.
But the president’s broader point has merit: He considers separating children from their parents in detention facilities a small piece of a much larger problem, namely a broken immigration process that congressional Democrats have no interest in addressing. They like the current politics of the situation, Trump says, because it galvanizes Latino voters — and liberal whites — into supporting the Democratic Party and its candidates.
Trump is obviously right. Or rather, he’s half-right. He’s leaving out the other part of the equation, which is that Republicans haven’t been serious about a far-reaching fix, either. They claim to be, but what neither party acknowledges is that a comprehensive solution would require compromise. Those muscles have atrophied on Capitol Hill. Most members no longer bother to give lip-service to compromise.
But non-partisan observers can do that, so let’s take a stab at imagining what such a solution might look like:
Legal immigration: It’s a sign of Washington’s dysfunction that it took a political neophyte — albeit, he’s president — to point that stemming illegal immigration is linked to the legal immigration system, as the sad scenes from the Texas border showed.
In 2016, as Trump campaigned for the White House, 44 million naturalized American citizens or legal residents were foreign-born. That’s 13.5 percent of the U.S. population, and if you add their children, it doubles the percentage to 27 percent, which suggests that if Republicans are considered hostile to them, winning national elections becomes increasingly problematic. It also suggests that liberals who claim America is ungenerous or racially biased — or has forsaken its immigrant roots — are spouting nonsense.
In 2016 alone, 1.5 million people relocated to the U.S. legally, one-third of them from just three countries: India, China and Mexico. Is 1.5 million too many? Too few? Or just right? Are the criteria being used — family ties is the biggest factor — the right ones? It isn’t racist to ask these questions; it’s called governing. A Republican proposal in Congress last year would cut these numbers in half and prioritize skills and “merit-based” qualifications over family links. Cable news performers can’t discuss this topic without name-calling and crocodile tears, but our elected officials ought to be able to. A reasonable compromise between the two major political parties might keep some aspects of family unification intact and cut the number of legal pilgrims allowed in the country to perhaps 1 million a year.
Guest workers: With the U.S. approaching zero employment, trimming immigration could impact the job market. It likely would spur competition among employers, which would boost American workers’ wages. The risk, though, is that labor shortages would slow the economy’s impressive productivity growth.
This is where temporary workers come in. Five years ago, the Senate’s “Gang of Eight” forged a temporary worker compromise that satisfied the AFL-CIO and the Chamber of Commerce. If it’s good enough for organized labor and American business, you’d think it would be good enough for Republicans and Democrats. But, no. This reform was part of a sweeping bill that passed the Senate but was never even introduced in the House.
Enforcement: The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 signed into law by President Reagan made an estimated 3.2 million illegals eligible for citizenship. That part of the law worked. But it was also supposed to stem future migrations by punishing employers who hired illegal workers. This failed miserably. Today, technologies dubbed “E-Verify” could deal with this issue — if Congress would enact it.
Employers would be required, on penalty of fines or imprisonment, to hire only legal workers. The technology would also track entry-exit visas. At the White House Friday, the president hosted the families of Americans whose loved ones were murdered by illegal aliens. Liberals are dismissive of this issue, citing studies showing that immigrants commit fewer offenses than citizens. That’s scant solace to victims’ families, who are offended by “sanctuary cities” and who want the justice system to prioritize deporting lawbreakers.
Childhood dreams: It was a stroke of genius for liberals to dub those brought to the U.S. as children “Dreamers.” The official name for this program is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. Whatever they’re called, there is no excuse for what is happening to people like José Mares, a tire-shop salesman from Lancaster, California.
Mares, who was brought to the U.S. as a toddler, took his 20-year-old American-born daughter to a McDonald’s for breakfast earlier this year, dropped her off at her job at a retail store and then headed to work. There, he was handcuffed by ICE agents he didn’t even know were looking for him and deported to Tijuana, a city he’d never lived in. That seems capricious and cruel, but under the Obama and Trump administrations, it’s not unusual. This practice must end.
The other Dreamers: Even those who weren’t brought here as babies or minors have set down roots, raised families, worked jobs, started businesses and paid taxes — including Social Security.
The only practical reason for keeping them in the shadows is to deter future generations of undocumented wanderers. This is the same vexing issue Attorney General Jeff Sessions was trying to address by processing — which meant detaining — Central American families at the border. It’s not a trivial issue. So what’s the solution? First, regarding the 11 million undocumented people already here without legal papers: It is clearly in the national interest, no matter what Trump said on the 2016 campaign trail, to incorporate these people into American life, which is what was envisioned by the 2013 Senate legislation. Perhaps this doesn’t include full citizenship rights, but it would mean they’d no longer have to live in fear and could plan for a future in their chosen country. As part of this bargain, Americans would have to be assured that this is it: That the U.S. will control its borders and choose its citizens from now on.
As for the refugees: the government simply must adhere to U.S. law and international norms. If this means constructing huge intake centers along the border and staffing it with a massive force of trained customs agents and administrative law judges — and suitable facilities for kids — so be it. We might even want to build some of these facilities in Mexico, along that country’s southern border, which is where most of these people are coming from.
That “big beautiful” wall: This one is easy. Trump wants it, Mexico doesn’t. It’s on our property, though, so build it if you must, Mr. President. But quit insulting the Mexicans’ intelligence by insisting that they’re paying for it. That ain’t happening. And one more thing: when you talk about this topic — immigration — please try to keep a couple of things in mind. First, your current wife and your own mother both emigrated from Europe to this country. They, and tens of millions of others who’ve come here in the past century from all over the world didn’t think America needed to made “great again.” They thought it was pretty great already.