Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants?

President Obama will apparently reveal publicly in May his plan for a comprehensive reform of our legislation on immigration to include de facto amnesty and a "pathway to citizenship" for the 15-20 million illegals living in this country. He brought the issue up again at a speech in Costa Mesa, California, on March 18th. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi seems to be strongly in favor of the expected plan. My guess is, therefore, that it will be difficult for opponents to stop the legislation, although it will probably be feasible to influence some of the specific provisions.

Some of my readers may remember that I posted a blog on the subject of Illegal Immigration way back on 9/22/07 and a related one titled U. S. Mexico Border Fence on 4/02/08 in which I gave many of my views on this general topic. While I think President Obama is doing a good job overall so far and I support him on most issues, I will most probably not agree with him on what one can expect to see in his plan, and I intend to pass on my views to his Administration.

I suspect the most sensitive and controversial part of his prospective plan will be the "path to citizenship" to be offered to most illegals, presumably those not convicted of any crime other than breaking the law by entering the country illegally or over overstaying their visas. Keep in mind that the majority of these 15-20 million illegals have broken one or more other laws such as driving a car or truck without a valid license, driving without insurance, lying on one or more employment applications, using fake Social Security numbers, and not filing income tax returns and paying amounts due. Depending on one's definition, virtually any "path to citizenship" is a de facto amnesty, even if the path requires payment of a fine, proper registration with federal, state, and local authorities, payment of income taxes owed, and if the applicants for citizenship have to go to the end of the line.

The history of amnesty legislation in recent times goes back to 1986 when President Reagan signed the Immigration and Reform Control Act which made hiring undocumented workers illegal and provided a blanket amnesty for 2.7 million illegal aliens. There have been six other pieces of legislation since 1986 that have provided amnesty for various groups of illegal aliens. The amnesties were well intended, as President Obama's no doubt will be, but they haven't worked in terms of stopping or even slowing down more illegal immigration, which in most cases was one of the objectives.

One of President Obama's main points in justifying the de facto amnesty plan is that "we can't deport them all." Unfortunately that's probably true. However, we know from our long experience that a big part of the problem has been a lack of proper enforcement of existing laws and regulations and inadequate border patrolling. We also know that the Mexican government has not done very much to help, such as government reforms and initiatives to provide better education and job opportunities for the illegals in Mexico, making it much less necessary and attractive for the illegals to risk their lives trying to cross the border into California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas.

As I mentioned in my earlier blogs, there are substantial costs and risks associated with the illegals, although there is no question that the great majority of them work very hard, especially in lower wage jobs in construction, picking crops in farming, garden maintenance, and the food service and hospitality industries. The majority of illegals do not own property and therefore do not pay property taxes. In addition, the majority do not pay income taxes, either because they don't earn enough or because they don't file returns in order to help evade detection and their tax liability. Yet their children go to public schools, their families use emergency medical services at our decreasing number of hospitals, and, like the rest of us, use most other municipal and state services, including, unfortunately, for many thousands a lot of time in our court system and space in our costly prisons.

So what should be done, then? Obama's plan to be revealed in May should include a requirement for immediate compliance for businesses in not hiring any illegals, with stiffer penalties for violations, and much more effective border controls. Those actions should not require new legislation, unless it proves necessary for new funding. Obama needs to follow up with Mexican President Calderon to seriously discuss joint efforts to stop illegal immigration as much as possible. I'm confident he will pursue that, though I frankly don't expect to be favorably impressed with the outcome.

In the plan to be presented to Congress there should be a provision to deport those who have come across the border in the recent past, say 12 months, those who have no job, reasonable prospects for a job, or other legal means to reasonably support themselves, and those who have committed any felonies. A "path to citizenship" should be reserved for those who have lived in the U. S. for at least five years, have learned to speak and write English at some elementary or better level, and have a track record of employment and acceptable "citizenship" in terms of obeying our laws and paying taxes. It should not be automatically made available to every illegal, just by paying a modest fine and agreeing to learn English. The third group, those who should not be deported and don't yet qualify for citizenship, should be considered for a guest worker program or an extended visa, depending upon individual qualifications and family issues.

I would support a plan along the above lines that sharply reduces illegal immigration from all countries, deports new illegals and the group mentioned above, is fair to the millions of illegals who have lived here for more than five years and are in good standing with their communities, and reasonably protects the unemployed millions of Americans who are seeking new jobs at this very moment. However, the plan must also be fair and reasonable to the legal American taxpayers and take account of our current very serious national, state and local economic circumstances. This point should not be sacrificed to serve the interests of those politicians who seek Hispanic votes at upcoming elections or those who insist we must demonstrate compassion by offering citizenship to everyone. As also mentioned in the earlier blogs, I still think that the 14th Amendment giving automatic citizenship to children of illegals born here should be repealed or reinterpreted by the courts to take away this benefit.

It's a difficult issue in several respects, but that doesn't justify no action or anything close to a blanket de facto amnesty. The new plan must differentiate between different categories of illegals in a pragmatic, reasonable and fair manner. Furthermore, we must not find ourselves in a similar position five or ten or more years down the road, facing what to do with many more millions of illegals.

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