Franke: Immigration II

August 28, 2023

by Mark Franke

Immigration may be a difficult problem but that does not preclude a solution — that is, assuming there is the political will to affect such a solution.

The political morass is beyond my comprehension or ability to navigate. That frees me to think unencumbered for possible solutions. Fortunately, I hang out with a group of friends who like to focus on what can be done rather than what can’t. Several weeks ago we spent a couple of hours trying to arrive at a workable and reasonable proposal to solve this mess.

Any proposal would balance the following set of criteria: recognizing America’s heritage as a nation of immigrants; realistically assessing our social network’s ability to absorb a given level of immigration; meeting the needs of the American economy for entry level and professional workers; and ensuring entry only of those who have been qualified.

That should be easy enough.

At some point in the discussion, one of our group suggested metaphorically constructing a high wall with a wide gate. What he was envisioning was an immigration control process that minimized the illegal entries while expeditiously processing the legal ones. A brilliant trope, in my opinion, but then the devil is always in the details.

The group was not shy about offering details for consideration.

One member, who clearly had given much thought to this, offered a comprehensive package of proposals. The foundation for his system-in-waiting is an e-verify process that would require employers to access before hiring any new workers. Records for all legal workers, both citizens and visa-holders, would be accessible for instant lookup. Employers would be required to verify the worker before hiring and, as this is a government program, be subject to significant fines for non-compliance.

One objection sure to come is the inclusion of citizens in this database. The privacy choir is sure to be heard on this. While understandable, employers already have access to confidential employee information for the purpose of reporting income and tax withholding. It is the age of Big Brother — remember that started in 1984 — and this system just won’t work without all workers in it. Confidentiality protections can be built and enforced.

I think the genius of this idea is a restricted amnesty provision for current illegal workers to apply for inclusion in this system without a risk of legal repercussions. Rather than calling this the politically charged name “amnesty,” I prefer labeling it an “armistice.” It is time we all admit the reality of the current state of affairs and consider a practical and achievable fix for all those “undocumented’ workers who are contributing to our economy.

Note that this would set a hard deadline for compliance. After that date those not registered would be subject to immediate deportation. This will work if the guarantee to those who register is credible. It requires trust, something in short supply today.

The economy’s need for more workers can be addressed by new immigrant workers who desire to come to America for job opportunities. A more efficient system for approval and placement is essential. There are too many entry-level jobs as well as skilled and professional positions not being filled by citizens. The “Help Wanted” signs are everywhere.

The system must also accommodate those temporary workers who have no desire for citizenship or permanent residence. Seasonal farm workers fall into this category. Work visas should be liberally and expeditiously granted to these workers. Entry and exit records would assure compliance.

Beyond this new verification system, there are some other immigration issues which must be addressed. The path to citizenship should be reassessed and perhaps shortened for those who have been here for years, gainfully employed and with no criminal record.

The proposed package is not without controversial provisions, such eliminating automatic citizenship to any baby born within our borders. I don’t’ know if this is a problem in reality or only in theory. The Center for Immigration Studies, self-proclaimed as “low-immigration, pro-immigrant,” estimates about one in 12 U. S. births are to illegal immigrants. The center concedes that this might be an under-count.

But here is the problem with eliminating this right to citizenship: the Fourteenth Amendment. Given our toxic political scene, it is hard to conceive of any constitutional amendment that could get two-thirds support in Congress and then be ratified by three-quarters of the states. Flogging this dead horse will only be a distraction from the achievable aspects of this package.

Then there is the issue of offering government benefits to illegal immigrants. The data on the cost of this is confounded by too many studies seeming to prove what the sponsors want proved.

Can it work? We think so. Can it pass? Probably not, at least in the alternate reality that exists in the halls of Congress. But somebody needs to do something, and soon.

Mark Franke, M.B.A., an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice-chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne.


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