Congress Needs to Move the Ball on Immigration Reform

Peter Roff

4/23/2014 11:00:00 AM - Peter Roff

It would be hard to find a person willing to stand up and defend the current U.S. immigration system. It’s broken, almost beyond repair, and desperately needs replacing. Unfortunately the policymakers in Washington cannot agree on what a replacement should look like meaning – de facto – the status quo (and all that is wrong with it) remains in place for the foreseeable future.

There are some who have chosen to politicize the stalemate, President Barack Obama foremost among them. His insistence that Congress enact a comprehensive package of reforms obscures, even chokes off any meaningful debate about what it is America actually needs. He would prefer the debate be framed around the idea of dealing with those people who are already here, legally as well as illegally, instead of dealing with the critical questions concerning who we want to come to America, who we need to come to America, why people want to come here, and what to do about the people we’d all just as soon stay where they currently are.

Who comes to America, why, and whether or not they leave are just as much questions about national security as they are about economics and citizenship. It may or may not be benign to have people enter the country illegally for the purposes of finding work; it is clear, however, that this is not the only reason people cross both the northern and southern borders without going through proper channels. These include potential terrorists, gun runners, drug kingpins, and sex traffickers accompanied by the men and women with whom they ply their trade. Even though the United States has the capability to develop, implement, and deploy technologies that will catch them, or at least slow them down and reduce the numbers who actually get into the country, policymakers in Washington have chosen not to take the appropriate action that ensures this gets done.

It’s not only neglectful, it places American lives at and economic at risk. We presently don’t have much in place to tell us even when some who come to the United States through legal means do so for the purposes of disappearing into the vast spaces of the country undetected or to even identify bad actors who are plotting dangerous schemes.

The dangers present continue because policy-makers haven’t implemented strategies that could dramatically limit their activities. Not only may they be up to no good, they may be involved in the transit of illegal and illicit goods – illegal drugs, weapons, counterfeit pharmaceuticals, pirated DVDs & CDs, apparel knock offs, and the like they may bring with them or be part of a larger network designed to distribute there wears to unwitting purchasers in the American marketplace.

Without a comprehensive plan to deal with all or part of the border-related issues it will be impossible to establish a workable program allowing for the entry and exit of temporary workers vital to the American construction and agricultural industries. Without secure borders America does not and cannot know who is coming in and who is leaving – which would be a significant additional step forward toward addressing the problems the comprehensive immigration proposal has been unable to resolve.

Where work is concerned, the current system is simply nonsensical. It permits students from other countries to come here, receive quality educations in math, the hard sciences, computer programming, engineering, medicine – and then forces them to return to their country of origin once they’ve received their degrees. By doing so, and forcing them to wait for permission to return to the U.S. gives other countries a competitive advantage against us using highly skilled labor we’ve trained. Doesn’t it make more sense to allow them to remain in the U.S., or at least make it easier for them to do so, where they can add value to our economy instead of China’s or India’s?

Right now American business currently has to wait too long and pay too high a price to attract skilled workers – doctors, engineers, computer programmers, software designers and the like – from overseas markets. The process for bringing these workers into the United States needs to be streamlined and the numbers need to be increased. Their presence in the U.S. adds tens of millions to U.S. annual GDP. They are a net benefit to the country and need to be recognized as such.

The problem of what to do with those who are already in the United States illegally is not an easy one to solve. Nor can it be overlooked. Laws were broken and justice, tempered with humanity, requires that a solution to that problem be developed at the same time steps are taken to streamline the entire process. It is imperative we make sure better track can be kept of both temporary and permanent visa holders while preserving the United States as the country of choice for those who are oppressed in their home countries for reasons of race, religion, ethnicity, gender, or concepts that otherwise violate the vital freedoms we all hold so dear. That said it is not unreasonable to ask Congress to embark on an effort now to address the border and work issues that are currently entwined in the immigration discussion, where the answers are clear and already identified, while engaging in a robust national debate to find the final, missing piece.