In 2012, the current administration made it clear that certain unaccompanied illegal minors would not be deported if caught. This helped create an atmosphere of tolerance that would be conducive to the current rash of illegal dumping of thousands of children from south of the border into the United States. Now we have a humanitarian crisis that appears to have been manufactured for political reasons.
One would not have to be incredibly bright to predict that families in South and Central America, as well as in Mexico, would recognize a veiled invitation to get their children into the United States with little chance of deportation. Of course, the media are asking opponents of the administration for solutions to this crisis. Almost anything these opponents suggest will be either harsh, making them appear cruel and callous, or weak, making them appear to be amnesty supporters. Either way, they will take a political hit.
Meanwhile, the administration can stay above the fray and receive the political benefit of gratitude from many legal and illegal immigrants. It’s a clever and effective ploy with the added benefit of redistributing even more American wealth. It remains to be seen how many people will be hoodwinked.
We all have heard it said many times that America is a land of immigrants, some voluntary and some involuntary. We have plenty of space in our country, but insufficient jobs and 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 intent. The real question is: What are we going to do about it?
The combination of immigration reform being a tough issue and a political football has led to governmental stalemates and no useful solutions for decades. To begin to solve this problem, we must 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. The benefits of an American domicile are so great that they currently outweigh issues of legality.
Immigrating is relatively easy for those in proximity to the United States — we have porous borders, and it is easy for illegals to hide and obtain fraudulent identification after they have penetrated the border. Although there is some fear of deportation, unenthusiastic and inconsistent enforcement of immigration laws is the expectation. 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. These and other inducements produce an osmotic effect that attracts ever more people to our land.
Any discussion of immigration reform should include bipartisan solutions to these inducements. If these issues are not addressed, solutions will fall short. On the other hand, if all of these issues are addressed firmly and consistently, the osmotic effect will be reversed. Just as people found a way to get here, they would find a way to leave on their own, and others would be less tempted to attempt illegal entry.
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, meaning they would have to leave first. They should in no way be rewarded for having broken our laws, but if they are wise, they would 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.
It is essential that employers 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 could 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.
Dr. Ben S. Carson is professor emeritus of neurosurgery at Johns Hopkins University.