Linda Chavez

The immigration debate -- at least at the national level -- has simmered down since its boiling point last summer. Congress continues to abrogate its responsibility to come up with reasonable immigration reform, but it can't avoid doing so forever. States and local jurisdictions have already tried to fill the void, but with mixed -- you might say schizophrenic -- results. Arizona, for example, passed tough laws to punish employers who hire illegal immigrants, only to find itself in a labor crunch, with dire consequences for the state economy. Now Arizona, Colorado, and a handful of other states are exploring whether they can create their own "guest worker" programs to bring in more Mexican workers.

When Congress does get around to changing our immigration laws, it should consider ways of encouraging the assimilation of immigrants, as well deciding on whom and how many to admit. We should give priority to immigrants who already speak English, since this is a key factor in their successful integration into American society. That doesn't mean we take only people who hail from English-speaking countries; language is, after all, a skill that can be learned. But why not give incentives for those wanting to come here to learn English before they get their green card? And why not encourage employers who want to hire these workers by giving them tax incentives if they offer on-the-job English classes to improve immigrants' skills? We could also give priority admission to immigrants willing to serve in the U.S. military, provided they have the requisite English and educational skills necessary.

Successful assimilation should be the goal of U.S. immigration policy. Instead, it's usually given short shrift in drafting immigration laws. When Congress takes up the issue again, as it most assuredly must next year, we should look to improving our assimilation index across all measures: economic, cultural, and civic.

Linda Chavez

Linda Chavez is chairman of the Center for Equal Opportunity and author of Betrayal: How Union Bosses Shake Down Their Members and Corrupt American Politics .

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