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The Agenda

NRO’s domestic-policy blog, by Reihan Salam.

Newt Gingrich and the Krieble Foundation Plan



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During tonight’s foreign policy debate, Newt Gingrich made reference to the “the Krieble Foundation plan.” If I understand correctly, the plan is called “the Red Card solution.” The Krieble family has devoted considerable resources to finding a politically viable way out of the immigration impasse, which is, well, kind of interesting itself, the merits of the plan aside. The plan was drafted by the head of the foundation, Helen Krieble, and it aims to reconcile various clashing interests.

Its basic premise is that “a path to citizenship” isn’t the only viable way forward, as large numbers of migrants are primarily interested in accessing the U.S. labor market rather than permanently settling in the U.S. The current immigration enforcement regime, however, has ended the “circular migration” that once existed, as migrants are afraid of losing access to lucrative job opportunities. Instead, we have an entrenched and socially isolated population of less-skilled migrants without strong attachments to U.S. society. This ultimately leads to entrenched poverty.

One solution is to reduce the social isolation of this population through a path to citizenship. Krieble offers an alternative.

The solution would seem much simpler if leaders understood that the vast majority of illegal workers in theU.S. are not here seeking citizenship, or even permanent resident status. They are workers with families to support back home, and they have every intention and desire to return home. They are here because they cannot hope to earn as much money working at home. They are here for the money, not because they want to be permanentAmericans. …

But the debates about “illegal immigration,” and solutions proposing a “path to citizenship” fuel deep-seated concerns about amnesty – and even voting rights – for people whose only qualification is a blatant defiance of the law. However, since this is not the objective of most illegal aliens, a program to provide legal non-citizen work permits for these people does not require a significant change in immigration laws. It is a private-sector function, the basis of the Red Card solution.

So what exactly is the nature of the Red Card solution?

This approach is based on separating the alien population into two different groups, on two different legal paths. One group that wants to become permanent residents or citizens would have to comply with those laws and procedures, including the vitally important process of assimilating into American culture, learning our history, our government, our language, and especially the responsibilities required of citizens. Citizenship is clearly a responsibility of the federal government. The second group, non-citizen workers, would follow a different path, a simple way for workers and their families to come to the U.S. for specific jobs and for specified periods of time. It would also require them leave the U.S. at the end of that time, and would provide no special access to the citizenship path. Matching employers and employees is a function of the private sector, not the government.

The Red Card solution is far from perfect. A few obvious rejoinders come immediately to mind:

(a) Biometric identification is far from foolproof;

(b) employers might have excessive power over employees under this arrangement;

(c) there are legitimate anxieties surrounding the creation of guest worker programs and their broader implications for the idea of shared democratic citizenship and shared obligations (a few years back, for example, Yuval Levin called for an immigration reform that doesn’t allow lawful permanent residents to remain in the country indefinitely if they have no intention of pursuing citizenship);

(d) if we do create a guest worker program, we might want to distribute Red Cards with a humanitarian interest in mind, as Lant Pritchett and Michael Clemens have proposed (i.e., we might grant Red Cards only to workers from highly-indebted poor countries, like Mali, the Central African Republic, and Zambia, rather than from middle-income countries like Mexico, Turkey, Brazil, and Ghana);

(e) and what happens when Red Card holders give birth to a child on American soil? Replacing birthright citizenship (i.e., a jus soli regime) is controversial, but it might be necessary if we intend to create a population of temporary guest workers.

Apart from (a), which does strike me as serious, these don’t strike me as insurmountable objections. The idea of separating those who intend to become lawful permanent residents and U.S. citizens from those who intend to become circular migrants or temporary guest workers is coherent, though of course some immigrants will intend to come in the second category and decide that they’d rather be in the first as they develop attachments. What should be clear is that the Red Card proposal represents a radical departure from the immigration status quo, for better or for worse.

Kudos to Newt Gingrich for advancing a distinctive, unconventional proposal. As much as I disagree with Gingrich on any number of issues, we share a number of fixations. His frequent invocation of “Lean Six Sigma” has become a running joke in some circles. Yet the idea of expecting more managerial rigor from the public sector is, as regular readers know, a subject of consuming interest in these parts, and I’m glad that one candidate has taken up the mantle unironically. 

P.S. I should note Mark Krikorian’s strong objections to the proposal.



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