Friday, July 2, 2010

Immigration Reform Revisited

On July 1st President Obama gave a speech on immigration reform at American University's School of International Service in Washington, D. C., basically repeating most of what he's said before on the subject about the need for a comprehensive bill to fix a "broken immigration system." While I admire the president and support him on a number of political issues, I have concerns with his stand on this one, as I outlined in my blog post back in April last year, "Amnesty for Illegal Immigrants?"

He said in his speech that we should not hesitate to make the illegals take responsibility for their illegal actions, but all he is recommending we do is get them to acknowledge that they broke the law, require them to register, pay their taxes, pay a fine, learn English, and get in back of the line to earn their citizenship. He also wants to punish employers who knowingly hire illegals, something I fully agree with, though I think it's important that the punishment be material. A $500 fine for a large business, for example, is not going to change their hiring practices. A $10,000 fine for the business for each illegal hired, plus a $5,000 personal fine to the CEO, would be more appropriate and effective.

It's interesting that Obama's fix is very similar to the one recommended by his predecessor, President George Bush, except that, as I recall, Bush also wanted a formal guest worker program, which I think makes sense, as long as it's set up and managed properly.

Here are my main concerns with President Obama's approach:

1. From his recommended system fix I get the impression that he thinks most, if not all, the illegals' primary objective in coming here is to become U. S. citizens, when I believe their overwhelming aim is only to earn much better wages than is possible for them in Mexico, so they can send money back to support their families. That's why I think a strong guest worker program should be part of a new program.
2. What he is recommending is really pretty close to a blanket amnesty opportunity for all the 11-15 million illegals, except those who are convicted felons. That is basically what was done back in 1986, when President Reagan signed the Immigration and Reform Control Act, when there were less than 3 million illegals. Now there are at least 8 million more illegals. His recommendations, if approved by Congress, will likely induce many more millions to try to come across the border in the hope and even expectation of still another amnesty.
3. As I understand Obama's recommendations, he does not distinguish between those who just came illegally across the border to seek work, and those who did that and also broke other laws, like not paying taxes, driving without insurance or a valid license, and using falsified identification documentation. That doesn't make sense!
4. One of my other concerns is that the fine involved in his recommendations will be relatively nominal and will perhaps not vary, regardless of the laws that have been broken. When one considers the very large differences in wages for unskilled workers in Mexico and the U. S., a fine of $500 or less, for example, will not serve as much of a disincentive to cross the border illegally. $500 should be the absolute minimum, it seems to me, and $1,000 is more appropriate, with a greater amount applying if several laws have been violated.
5. Acknowledging that they have broken the law, registering with the immigration authorities, paying back taxes, waiting at the end of the line, and having to learn English don't add up to very much of either a disincentive to come here illegally, or as very meaningful in terms of illegals taking adequate responsibility for their actions. Keep in mind that deporting all the illegals is within our rights and would be done in a number of other countries. I'd agree, however, that a significant fine can alter the equation to a certain degree.
6. An issue that hasn't come up very much in the discussions I've heard about so far is whether or not an illegal who successfully gains citizenship through a reform program automatically gets to have family members join him in this country. If he or she does, what family members would that cover? How would they support themselves? Given our financial problems and already high levels of population growth, that's an issue of concern.

Other thoughts on a reform program I'd support? As the majority of Americans probably would agree, convicted felons among the illegals should be deported if at all possible. I also think serious consideration for deportation should apply to illegals who are among the leaders in gangs involved in criminal activities, whether or not they have been convicted as felons. Illegals who have come here recently, say in the past 3-5 years, who have no employment or other legal means to support themselves, should perhaps also be considered for possible deportation. Priority for remaining in this country and gaining an early "path to citizenship" should definitely go to those illegals who: a) have not broken other laws, have paid any income taxes due, have a good track record of employment and can support themselves, who already have their immediate families living with them here, and also have lived and worked here for a long time, say five years or more. As indicated in my earlier post, I think we must also collaborate closely with the Mexican government, and the governments of other countries the illegals come from, to try to initiate measures to provide improved employment opportunities in these countries to help limit incentives to try crossing our border to seek work here.

Meaningful incentives and disincentives for both illegals and employers are vital for success. It's also vital that any reform program takes into account the need for limited bureaucracy and costs in implementation, monitoring and enforcement.

My guess is that liberals for the most part will consider my views as unreasonably tough and that most conservatives, especially on the far right, will think I'm too lenient in supporting a path to citizenship for many of the illegals. However, moderates on both sides of the aisle, I believe, would think my thoughts on this issue are pragmatic, balanced and reasonable, with good prospects for obtaining congressional approval for a reform bill along these lines.

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