Immigration Reform for the Minority Party

Jennifer Roback Morse
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Posted: Dec 11, 2006 12:00 AM
Immigration Reform for the Minority Party

The Democrats are already forming their strategy for reintroducing “Comprehensive Immigration Reform” when they take power next January. Reports from a meeting of Democrats Ted Kennedy and Luis Gutierrez, with Arizona Republicans John McCain and Jeff Flake indicate that the plan is to wait until the Democrats have “dealt with” Iraq (whatever that means) and raised the minimum wage. They’ll be ready to go with a new version of the Senate bill that failed last summer.

The next six weeks present an opportunity for the Republican Rule of Law Caucus.

Republicans should not wait for the Democrats. Instead, they should quietly introduce legislation that would increase the budget and manpower for the Citizenship and Immigration Services. CIS is the agency that processes applications for people who are trying to comply with U.S. immigration law. The Rule of Law Party should lead the way in helping those who want to obey the law and become U.S. citizens. We should commit ourselves to doing whatever it takes to clear out the backlog of applications, and to make the agency competent.

There is a political advantage to moving first on this modest proposal. We can make it a condition for any new guest worker programs, or any increases in flows of immigrants under existing programs. In other words, no new migrants, until we can process the people already in the pipeline.

Republicans should acknowledge that the U S government hasn’t exactly made it easy for people to comply with our immigration law. In the 2004 class-action lawsuit, Ngwanyia v. Ashcroft, 22,000 immigrants who were granted asylum in the United States, sued because their applications for permanent resident status had been delayed for years due to bureaucratic delays. The government's failure to adjust their status unnecessarily lengthened the time before which they could become US citizens, and improperly required many asylees to repeatedly obtain work permits.

Besides being a hardship for potentially legal immigrants and harmless refugees, lack of funding at the CIS can result in compromises of national security. Whistleblower Michael Maxwell claims that in 2005, over 600,000 immigration applications were not properly investigated for national security threats. The Washington Post recently reported the US Citizenship and Immigration Services lost track of 111,000 files, and processed 30,000 citizenship applications without the necessary files. Just as we don’t tolerate people breaking our laws by entering the country illegally, the Rule of Law Party should insist on accountability from immigration bureaucrats.

We conservatives quite properly insist that the government enforce immigration law. Cleaning house at Citizenship and Immigration Services is the other side of the Rule of Law coin. But unlike the enforcement side of the coin, we’ll actually become the immigrant-friendly party by applying the Rule of Law on the processing side. Let us be the party that finally gets grandma’s application approved.

Some conservatives might say government is inherently incompetent and that the bureaucratic bungling at CIS is just what we should expect. Perhaps so. But we spent the Reagan years making those arguments about the IRS and the Postal Service and the state DMV’s. And all of those agencies are now more accountable and user-friendly than they used to be. We should insist on improvements from our Immigration Service.

Immigration tore the Republican coalition apart in the last election cycle. Now that the Democrats have won, they may have as much trouble holding their coalition together as we did. Some Democrats ran “get-tough” on immigration campaigns.

We should move on a straight-forward, simple bill to streamline and improve the processing at the US Citizenship and Immigration Services. Republicans from across the spectrum, from country club conservatives to libertarians to social conservatives to fiscal conservatives, can get behind this reform. This a winning proposal since no one from either party is going to raise their hands and say, “I’m in favor of making legal immigrants wait years to hear from the Citizenship and Immigration Services.”

Face it: Republicans are now in the minority party. Let us make a virtue of necessity. Propose something simple and winnable. Then watch the Democrats thrash around.