The Case for Comprehensive Immigration Reform

Let’s get something straight:  The singular policy of locking down our borders will NOT solve our immigration problems.  Nor will the lone act of granting “amnesty” to the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants currently in the country solve all of our problems.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is either lying, ignorant, or both.

Immigration reform is a complex issue.  But there are too many people who think it’s a one-size-fits-all problem with a one-size-fits-all solution.  The “NO IMMIGRATION, EVER, AT ALL!” crowd seems to have their panties in a wad because more sensible people comprehend that the current system is broken in complete shambles and needs to be fixed.  But what I’d really like to know—and what I haven’t seen from these folks—is just how exactly their “NO IMMIGRATION, EVER, AT ALL!” proposals will make our situation any better?  How, exactly, will it fix the problem?  And just how do they propose to round-up the 10.8 million people the Department of Homeland Security estimates are in this country illegally and deport them?

The inconvenient truth is that we can’t.  But let’s not let a little thing like reality get in the way of your fear-mongering rhetoric.  No amount of border security is going to entirely eliminate the flow of illegal immigrants through Mexico into this country.  Rather, it’s likely to have the effect of making it worse and more violent by forcing them even further underground and mandating their dependence on human traffickers and the drug and gun runners who place little value on human life.  Indentured servitude will become the rule rather than the exception, making the conditions these people will have to endure even more horrid.  But they’ll do it.  They’ll still come.  And the streets will become even bloodier because of it.

Let’s also be clear that the “amnesty only” approach won’t work, either.  The immigration bill signed by Ronald Reagan in 1986 didn’t have its intended effect for a number of reasons:  Fraud in the application process was not adequately ferreted out, and often completely ignored; the heavy sanctions against employers who knowingly hired illegals were never properly enforced; we lacked the technology to prevent and detect forged documents and to efficiently and effectively enforce border security; the agricultural worker program never functioned the way it was supposed to….and the list goes on.

The 1986 legislation also did nothing to fix the legal immigration process:  The system is still horribly backlogged and inefficient, resulting in decades long waiting lists in some cases.  More than 10 years!  On what planet is that reasonable?

There’s a proposal currently working its way through the U.S. Senate that aims to take up all aspects of immigration reform.  Recently, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-NV), along with Senators Chuck Schumer (D-NY) and Robert Menendez (D-NJ) released the framework for immigration reform that they will be working to present sometime in the near future.  (It should also be noted that Senator Lindsey Graham (R-SC) played a significant role in crafting this framework, but withdrew his official support because of his objections to the timing of the legislation.)  This proposed framework seeks to fix our immigration crisis by:

  • Securing our borders through increased manpower and the use of modern technological resources, such as ground sensors that detect border crossings in more rural areas and send messages to Border Patrol agents stationed nearby.  It also calls for the use of unmanned aerial surveillance drones similar to the Predator drones used by the military to patrol more isolated border areas.  These resources were not available 20 years ago, and will make the job of securing the borders easier.
  • Better equipping the agents and agencies tasked with enforcement, including more and better vehicles, computers, and communications equipment.  It demands a more cooperative and integrated effort among the Border Patrol, ICE, DEA, and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives to better track and hunt down the drug and gun runners and human traffickers.
  • Reforming the current legal immigration system to make it more streamlined and efficient.  The current system is horribly backlogged and inefficient, and has resulted in many cases in a decades long wait in order to legally come to this country. 
  • Providing an avenue for those currently in the country illegally to obtain “Lawful Prospective Immigrant” status.  In order to qualify for LPI status, individuals will be required to register with Homeland Security, undergo extensive background and security checks, supply basic biometric information (i.e. fingerprints, just like at the DMV), and pay fines and taxes.  Those who do not qualify for LPI status will be deported.
  • After eight years, those who have been granted LPI status can then apply for “Lawful Permanent Resident” status by meeting certain criteria:  Basic citizenship skills, English language skills, having maintained continuous residence in the U.S., updated security and criminal history checks, and they must register for the Selective Service.
  • Creating a temporary worker program so that seasonal workers can return home once the seasonal work is done.  Many of the migrant workers currently here don’t leave because they can’t; they won’t be able to return to the U.S. for the next round of seasonal work if they do.
  • Stepping up enforcement on employers who knowingly hire illegal immigrants.

But perhaps the most important thing the proposal does—with regards to workers, at least—is to provide biometric Social Security cards that can be electronically scanned and contain basic identification information, including fingerprint info, that positively identifies the card holder.  These cards will be issued to permanent and temporary workers alike, and allow authorities to keep track of who’s here, who’s here that’s not supposed to be here, and ensure that they pay taxes just like every U.S. citizen.  This will also make it easy for employers to quickly and accurately determine if a prospective hire is legally allowed to work in the U.S., and will prevent employers from undercutting wages by going directly for the undocumented workers.  The advanced technologies to be used in these cards make them virtually impossible to forge.

Look, the current system doesn’t work.  At all.  And the right-wing “Enforcement, enforcement, enforcement!” approach is only going to make things worse.  It’s a lot like the “Drill, baby, drill!” mantra.  Lasering in on one approach won’t do anything to address the root causes of illegal immigration any more than drilling for more oil reduces our dependence on oil.  An all-of-the-above approach strives to eliminate the need for people to cross our borders and stay here illegally, while simultaneously helping to weed out the bad seeds.  It also allows American businesses access to a vital workforce.

It’s impossible and impractical to identify, round-up, and deport nearly 11 million people.  It just can’t happen.  It’s even dumber to make that the cornerstone of any (anti) immigration policy.  No, the proposed framework isn’t perfect.  Guess what?  It’s a proposal with stated, achievable goals.  There’s a lot of work yet to be done to fine tune it and fill in the details.  It’s a pretty good start, though, and it addresses our immigration debacle in a way that actually makes sense.

We’ll never be able to solve our most complex problems until we learn to walk and chew gum at the same time.  But it certainly doesn’t help when one faction continuously insists that we’re too simple-minded and not capable of doing so.


New Mexico Governor Bill Richardson with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell talking about the border security and immigration reform:

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