As the son of immigrants to this country, and as a student of American history, I’m an unapologetic advocate for immigration. I believe immigration is crucial for the health and growth of our nation. That’s why it’s so troublesome to see Washington in the process of botching immigration reform for the umpteenth time.
Across the country, we see the ramifications of the broken status quo. Reform is necessary for the future health of the economy and to ensure our border’s security. Business owners are sick and tired of struggling under the current system to make ends meet while keeping on the right side of the law. Immigration policy represents a major breakdown in governance, and we are wasting enormous human resources that could be powering our economy.
I am for immigration solutions now. But that’s not what Washington’s current approach seeks. The problem begins with bad motives. Politically craven electoral concerns and the interests of big businesses and unions should not drive legislation. Washington as usual is focused on what’s good for political parties, instead of focusing on what’s right for America.
That’s how you end up with another thousand-page bill full of pork, regulations, and new powers for bureaucrats to manage the economy. This isn’t a solution any more than the last thousand-plus-page bill that President Obama forced on the nation was. Obamacare is already collapsing under its own weight, with delays and broken promises — yet the Gang of Eight is employing the same approach on immigration.
The Gang of Eight bill includes some bacon for Majority Leader Harry Reid in the form of taxpayer-funded travel promotion for Las Vegas and declaring Nevada to be a border state; some sausage for Hollywood in the form of free visa applications for aliens with extraordinary ability in the arts; and some ribs for avowed socialist Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont in a $1.5 billion “jobs for youth” scheme, which is another Obama-style stimulus program.
The truth is, many Democrats don’t really care about meaningful reform of our immigration system. They are pushing a pork-laden Big Government power grab and hoping to demonize the Republican party in the process. If it fails, they get to demonize Republicans among Latino voters in the next election; if it passes, they will happily grant amnesty to millions of people without solving the fundamental problems with the current system. They see the Senate bill as a win-win.
So we find ourselves in a familiar cycle: Washington produces a massive bill full of pork and needlessly complex and unworkable rules and regulations that create more problems than they solve; then governors, businesses, and citizens are left to try to make sense of it and clean up the mess.
If and when the folks in Washington want to successfully reform our immigration system, they will have to accept the simple fact that it needs to be done in stages. An all-or-nothing approach will likely yield what it usually yields — nothing. It just takes three simple steps.
Step 1: Secure the border. Do this first. It’s time to get it done. We cannot trust bureaucrats or agencies to determine when the border is secured, so we should instead adopt a goal that can’t be manipulated — such as complete implementation of fencing, technology, and other security methods — and only then should we decide whether that approach has worked or not. We should consider the border secure only when the properly elected representatives of the people agree it is secured. Border-state governors and the U.S. Congress must be the ones who verify that our borders are finally secured.
As George Will noted in a recent column, the Senate bill includes 222 instances of a discretionary “may” and 153 of “waive.” Will then argues persuasively that “such language means that were the Senate bill to become law, the executive branch would be able to do pretty much as it pleases.”
Step 2: Once the border is secure, and not before, we should provide an opportunity for those who came here illegally seeking to work for a better life to gain legal status rather quickly, if and only if they are willing to do all that is required.
We should deport immediately those who engage in criminal activity. We should bar those seeking public assistance from receiving welfare or unemployment benefits for a substantial period of time.
After fulfilling other logical and reasonable requirements, we should offer legal status to those currently here illegally so they can work and pay taxes via a guest-worker visa. Union political bosses killed such a program in the 1960s, and blocked it again in 2007. But the truth is that a responsible guest-worker program serves the interests of immigrants, businesses, and taxpayers. It would bring these workers out of the shadows, allow for visa portability, and address employer needs without opening taxpayers up to the burden of costly increases in entitlement programs.
As for a pathway to citizenship: For folks who came here illegally but are willing to gain proficiency in English, pay a fine, and demonstrate a willingness to assimilate, we should require them to work here and pay taxes for a substantial period of time after obtaining legal status before they have the opportunity to begin the process of applying for U.S. citizenship.
Step 3: Increase legal immigration, by a lot. Letting folks into our country who want to work, get an education, and improve their lives is good for them and good for us. We should increase legal immigration not only for unskilled laborers, but also for skilled workers from all over the world. We need to stop educating the world’s best and brightest engineers and scientists and then upon graduation kick them out of the country so they can compete with us and create growth and wealth in other countries.
The path to real reform is just not that complicated.
I can hear the critics now: They will say we can’t secure the border, it’s too hard. But that’s a straw man — the people who say we can’t secure the border are really saying that they don’t want to secure the border.
Border security is the necessary step if we’re going to have any meaningful reform. And it’s necessary to gain conservative support. This isn’t about being anti-immigrant. Conservatives, including two-thirds of Senate Republicans and most Republicans in the House, simply resist the notion that we should provide a pathway for the current 11 million illegal immigrants while the back door remains wide open for the next 11 million illegal immigrants. If anyone in Washington truly wants to solve the plight of these 11 million, they will get about the business of securing the border right now.
The critics will also say that conservative Republicans, even once the border is secured, will still oppose a pathway for turning illegal immigrants who are already here into legal immigrants. I disagree. Sure, some small minority may take that view, but the vast majority will not. I believe that virtually all Americans will gladly embrace and deal compassionately with those currently here illegally . . . once they are assured that our borders are secure.
We need immigration reform. The status quo is unfair to hardworking immigrants, to the businesses who need them, and to law-abiding Americans. It’s unfair because the Democrats and the unions rigged the game for their own benefit. It’s time to reform immigration in a way that is fair to hardworking Americans — and to hardworking immigrants who seek the American Dream. All it takes is a few simple steps on things everyone can agree on: security for American communities, beginning at the border; respect for American entrepreneurship and its needs; and, most important, policy made with American interests front and center.
It’s time to get this done.
— Bobby Jindal is governor of Louisiana.