H.L. Mencken once observed that “complex problems have simple, easy to understand, wrong answers.” In the aftermath of the 2012 elections, both political parties seem poised to implement a simple, easy to understand, and disastrous solution to our nation’s complex immigration problem.
There is no disputing that immigration reform is urgently needed. The problem is that the framework for reform, long offered by the Democratic Party and now belatedly embraced by the leadership of the Republican Party in the aftermath of an electoral defeat, is essentially our existing policy on steroids. If we are ever going to have an immigration policy that enjoys broad public support, we must start by making it work for the broader public interest. True reform must result in a policy that is rational, affordable, and manageable.
Making Immigration Rational
A rational immigration policy would select immigrants based on their likelihood to succeed in a post-industrial 21st century economy. We must, therefore, end our current policy of chain migration that results in the admission of millions of people whose skills do not meet the needs of our economy. The system must be redesigned to admit more limited numbers of people who bring unique skills, talents, and education that will expand the productive potential of the American economy.
A rational immigration policy must include a “stress test” that assesses the impact of immigration on American workers and makes adjustments accordingly. Certainly, during times of sustained high unemployment, U.S. immigration policies must have a mechanism for reducing the influx. The impact of perhaps tens of millions more people competing for jobs in the manufacturing, construction, and service sectors would signal the death knell of the blue collar middle class.
Making Immigration Affordable
A more rational immigration policy would also be a more affordable one – an important consideration for a nation with a $16 trillion accumulated debt that grows by upwards of $1 trillion annually. U.S. households headed by immigrants are 50 percent more likely to rely on some form of government assistance than those headed by a native born resident.
Any tax revenues generated by immigrants who arrive here poorly educated and poorly skilled lag far behind the costs required for their education, health care, and housing. When the costs associated with means-tested benefits for their U.S. born children are factored in, the price tag for maintaining the current system is unsustainable. Alternatively, immigrants who are selected based on their skills are far more likely to be self-sufficient and net tax contributors.
Making Immigration Manageable
Future flows of immigration must also be manageable. The sheer volume of today’s immigration flow – more than 1 million legal admissions each year and hundreds of thousands of guest workers – make the system virtually impossible to manage effectively. Only by reducing the influx, establishing clear criteria for admission, closing loopholes or frivolous avenues for backdoor admissions, and streamlining the adjudication process can we once again reassert control over immigration.
Manageability also requires having systems in place that minimize the possibility that people who break the rules can succeed. Most importantly, we must eliminate the strongest magnet to illegal immigration – the availability of jobs to illegal aliens. To accomplish this, all U.S. employers must be required to check the work eligibility of the people they hire using the E-Verify system
Finally, it must be moral. Americans must be confident that all laws will be enforced consistently, and not be held hostage to the political agenda of whatever administration holds office. As we have witnessed in the past several years, the integrity of our immigration policy can be undermined by a president who simply decides he will not enforce laws that do not serve his political aims.
Unfortunately, the deal now being discussed in Washington is neither rational, affordable, manageable nor moral. Its centerpiece is a massive, expensive, and chaotic amnesty plan to be followed by the expansion of family chain migration to satisfy Democratic special interests, while piling on some additional skilled worker visas to appease business interests.
True "reform" means solving today's problems in a manner that prevents any recurrence down the line. Is anyone willing to provide this kind of leadership? After years of fruitless effort to truly reform our nation’s immigration policies, it seems the two parties may find agreement on one idea– a concept that is simple, easy to understand, and wrong.