The Gang of Eight (I guess) release the outline of immigration reform today. Let’s go through it.
1. Create a tough but fair path to citizenship for unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States that is contingent upon securing our borders and tracking whether legal immigrants have left the country when required;
Putting aside the proclamation, they propose increases in the border patrol and tracking entry and exit for visa holders. It will also allow current illegals to come forward, pass a background check, pay back taxes and fines and acquire probationary legal status. If they continue to pass checks, they will move to the back of the line for eventual green card status. There will be special dispensations for people who came here as minors and agricultural workers (the latter put in place, no doubt, because of reports of food rotting all over the west when no one was around to pick it).
I suspect this provision will be the most contentious, but it is a fairly obvious tradeoff: enhanced border security in exchange for a path to citizenship. The striking thing is that they are trying to improve the number of people protecting the border rather than building a ridiculous and useless fence — although I suspect the fence will come when some campaign contributor needs a federal contract.
The effectiveness of this will depend on well they do on the other provisions. To wit:
2. Reform our legal immigration system to better recognize the importance of characteristics that will help build the American economy and strengthen American families;
We desperately need an overhaul of our nightmarish immigration system, which is complex, slow and expensive for legal immigrants. I have said it before and I’ll say it again: if you make it easier for people to come her legally, fewer will come here illegally. More illegals will go back and get in line.
The interesting provision is that they will give a green card to anyone in the sciences who gets a Ph.D. from an American University. While it has been fairly easy for STEMs people to get visas, getting a green card is notoriously difficult.
3. Create an effective employment verification system that will prevent identity theft and end the hiring of future unauthorized workers; and,
This is the second part that makes the “path to citizenship” work. If illegals can’t compete for jobs and have an easier way of becoming legal, the problem will eventually abate. I suspect, however, this will prove very difficult to implement. And it’s not going to do much about the guys standing around at Lowe’s who will work for cash.
4. Establish an improved process for admitting future workers to serve our nation’s workforce needs, while simultaneously protecting all workers.
This mainly is about allowing more flexibility with low wage and agricultural workers.
Overall, the outlines are about what I expected. Provisions 2-4 are fairly uncontroversial, depending on the detail. It’s the first provision that’s going to provoke a battle. I’m not fond of the path to citizenship myself. As someone who is married to a green card holder and has been through the stress and expense, I’m disinclined to allow an easier path for those who broke the law.
But I also recognize that we have a Democratic President, a Democratic Senate and a Republican Party that is hemorrhaging votes. If we get better border enforcement, cleaner immigration law and a employer verification system, I’ll take the tradeoff. It will be a massive improvement over the current mess.
Post Scriptum: I should not that illegal immigration has dropped substantially in the last five years. But that little to do with policy and everything to do with the crappy economy. When the economy improves, those numbers will spike again.