The time for immigration reform is now
While we are a nation of immigrants, our policies regarding immigration are dysfunctional. This is not just because we can't control our own borders and enforce our immigration laws, but also because even our system of legal immigration fails to reflect the needs of our country. A comprehensive immigration reform proposal must incorporate three essential elements: it must secure our borders and provide for the effective enforcement of our immigration laws; it must contribute to the economic growth of our country; and it must be compassionate in keeping families together.
First, we must secure our borders and enforce our laws. Ironically, my first overseas military assignment involved providing border security for another country while our own border remained unsecure. I've been down to our border with Mexico and I'm not convinced that simply throwing more money at border security will solve the problem. What is needed is leadership that reflects both the will to secure our borders and objective metrics, evaluated by experts outside of the executive branch, to make that determination. In addition, I don't think many Americans realize that 40 percent of illegal immigration is committed by those who first enter our country legally but then overstay their visas. Comprehensive immigration reform must not only provide for border security but also must help us enforce our immigration laws on those who enter our country on visas.
Removing the incentives for employers to hire people who are in this country illegally should be an essential element of any comprehensive proposal. To help enforce our laws, employers must have access and be required to use an electronic system, such as E-Verify, where they can quickly and accurately verify the legal status of each job applicant. Employers should be subject to stiff fines and criminal prosecution should they knowingly hire workers in this country illegally.
Comprehensive immigration reform must meet the economic needs of our country. No doubt, immigration policies should not be used as a tool to displace American labor but to complement it. Reform efforts should facilitate a more fluid and workable visa authorization system so that temporary workers for both low- and highly skilled positions can obtain and renew work permits. Seasonal temporary work, such as in agriculture, needs a robust system that allows the workers, without their families, to come into our country when they are needed and then go home after their seasonal work is done. For those on student visas in technical fields critical to our economy, we should allow them to stay and work in the United States after they graduate.
Lastly, comprehensive immigration reform must show compassion to the families that have been here regardless of their immigration status. Many have either children who were born here and are American citizens or children who grew up here, went to school here, and who know of no other country besides the United States. I believe that these young people should be afforded a pathway to citizenship. The adults who knowingly broke our immigration laws but who have otherwise not violated any criminal laws should be provided a temporary provisional residency. This would constitute a probationary status that would be rescinded if certain requirements — such as criminal background checks, paying taxes, and independence from public assistance — are not met.
From this status, they could apply to be permanent residents (green card), but not until all the border security and enforcement requirements, under a new immigration reform law, are certified to be effectively in place by experts outside of the executive branch.
There should be no special pathway to citizenship. After earning permanent resident status, they could apply for citizenship and should be treated like any other applicant, understanding that a critical part of comprehensive immigration reform must include the establishment of a much higher standard for both English proficiency and for demonstrating an understanding of the civic culture of our nation.
Our immigration system is badly broken, and every day that it is allowed to continue constitutes amnesty for those who have violated our laws. The time for comprehensive immigration reform is now.
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