We have all heard it said many times that America is a land of immigrants, some voluntary and some involuntary, but immigrants nevertheless. We have plenty of space in our country, but insufficient resources to support everyone who wants to come here. When we see innocent children used as political pawns, it still tugs at our heartstrings, which is the desired intent. The real question is: What are we going to do about it? Immigration reform has been a very tough issue, as well as a political football, and it has produced governmental stalemates and no useful solutions for decades.
President Obama’s decision to act unilaterally outside of Congress is not the answer. Instead, Congress must use its lawmaking powers to fix a system that is so broken that only a legislative solution can fix it. The lack of policy progress has been incredibly frustrating, and the humanitarian border crisis this summer only highlighted how badly we need a system that deals efficiently and effectively with both illegal and legal immigration.
It is time for Congress to act and to do so in a bipartisan fashion that engenders the confidence of the American people. There are many common-sense prescriptions within reach of our government. It is time to seize them.
To begin to solve this problem, we must first have some understanding of why it exists. Despite all of its problems, America is still the place of dreams. As such, it is small wonder that so many from other nations would like to live here.
Right now, we have very porous borders and unenthusiastic and inconsistent enforcement of immigration laws. Further incentives for illegal immigration are easy enrollment in public schools, easy employment for those willing to take jobs others don’t want, easy access to health care and easy acquisition of public support through welfare programs. Yet this population cannot participate in the formal workforce, which means they cannot contribute fully to their local economies.
Any discussion of immigration reform should include bipartisan solutions that both address the undocumented population here today and discourage illegal immigration going forward. If these issues are not addressed, solutions will fall short. On the other hand, if all of these issues are addressed firmly and consistently, we can uphold the rule of law and discourage further illegal immigration. Detractors will say that if it were that simple, it already would have been done and we wouldn’t be having this discussion.
What they fail to account for is the fact that the issues have not been addressed.
A national guest-worker program makes sense and seems to work well in Canada. Noncitizens would have to apply for a guest-worker permit and have a guaranteed job awaiting them. Taxes would be paid at a rate commensurate with other U.S. workers, and special visas would allow for easy entry and egress across borders. Guest-worker status would be granted to individuals and not to groups.
People already here illegally could apply for guest-worker status from outside of the country. This means they would have to leave first. They should in no way be rewarded for having broken our laws, but if they are wise, they will arrange with their employer before they leave to immediately offer them a legal job as soon as their application is received. When they return, they still would not be U.S. citizens, but they would be legal, and they would be paying taxes. Only jobs that are vacant as a result of a lack of interest by American citizens should be eligible for the guest-worker program.
In return for greater certainty on immigration, employers must bear some responsibility for making sure that no illegal immigrants are hired. Employers who break the rules should receive swift, severe and consistent punishment that constitutes a real deterrent and not a mere inconvenience. A second infraction should be a criminal offense and treated as such.
All of this is irrelevant unless we have secure borders. There is much that can be learned from security personnel in prisons and other secured facilities, and there is a great deal of smart technology that can be employed to achieve secure borders. It is a matter of will rather than ability.
As long as we reward people who break laws, they will continue to break laws. We do need a continual flow of immigrants, but choosers need not be beggars. We make decisions based on our needs. People who refuse to comply with the rules must forfeit chances of legalization in the future. Anyone caught involved in voter fraud should be immediately deported and have his citizenship revoked. The point is this: We must create a system that disincentivizes illegal immigration and upholds the rule of law while providing us with a steady stream of immigrants from other nations who will strengthen our society. Let’s solve the problem and stop playing political football.
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Photo credit: By U.S. Navy photo by Steelworker 1st Class Matthew Tyson [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons
Dr. Ben S. Carson is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University and author of the new book, One Nation: What We Can All Do to Save America’s Future.