The Corner

Amnesty National

Texas senator John Cornyn soon will introduce a bill offering “earned amnesty” to illegal aliens. The idea, basically, is that illegal immigrants who hold down a job for a little while should be eligible for legal permanent residency–i.e., green cards. My friend Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies is always reminding me that there’s nothing more permanent than a temporary (or “guest”) worker program, and this would surely be proof of that. Also, any kind of amnesty insults the rule of law. If we want foreigners to come here and work, we should let them do it legally. If we don’t have enough legal immigrants, then we should admit more. We definitely shouldn’t fill our labor-force needs by creating a big underground economy. Having said all that, we must also confront a simple reality: There are some 10 million illegal aliens living in the United States today. What’s more, we’re not going to deport them. I know plenty of restrictionists who like to pump up their chests and proclaim oh yes we will, but they’re living in fantasyland. These millions of illegal aliens are here, embedded in our economy and having U.S.-born children who are citizens. We aren’t going to kick millions of them out. So I’ve always thought conservatives concerned about rampant immigration should try to make a deal: We on the Right accept some kind of amnesty for a portion of the illegal aliens already living here, in return for genuine immigration reform. What shape this reform takes is an open question. The “employer sanctions” deal of 1986 failed to put a dent in illegal migration. Some might propose giving it more teeth, though I think this is a mistake. Deleting the brother-sister admissions preferences and the diversity visas might make part of a good trade. Personally, I would prefer scrapping the entire system of legal admissions and changing it to one based on points. Whenever I make this proposal, though, critics say Miller’s too soft on illegal immigration. To them, I always respond: Do you have a better idea for achieving worthwhile immigration reform?

John J. Miller, the national correspondent for National Review and host of its Great Books podcast, is the director of the Dow Journalism Program at Hillsdale College. He is the author of A Gift of Freedom: How the John M. Olin Foundation Changed America.

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