Saturday, February 8, 2014

What real immigration reform looks like

So the immigration debate has heated up a bit again. Unfortunately, the "security pork in return for amnesty for illegal immigrants" monstrosity that is being debated in the Senate is a million miles from what I believe real immigration reform would look like, and is in fact so bad that I cannot even support it even though I love legal immigration and want far more of it. Below, I have summarized what kind of immigration reform bill we should be discussing.

1: Amend the 14th Amendment by adding the words "of an American citizen" after the word "born" in Section 1. Only children of American citizens should automatically qualify for American citizenship under the Constitution. As a matter of policy, children of permanent residents should also qualify almost automatically, but this should be at our discretion. Jus soli "birthright" citizenship is at the core of our immigration problem, and is a policy which almost all nations have rejected as being impractical and abusive. The rest of my plan would only go into effect on passage of the amending amendment.

2: A national ID policy. Our fragmented system makes enforcing immigration laws difficult, as well as mucking up voting and facilitating fraud. This would be coupled with a national voter ID law once the IDs were nearly universally in place.

3: A path to permanent residency for current illegal immigrants. This should be slower than the path for legal immigrants, and come with substantial fines in the form of something like a 10% payroll tax for ten years. The current Senate bill has fines, but they are so small (~$2000) that they aren't any higher than the application fees and legal bills illegal immigrants skipped out on. As part of the amnesty deal, these folks would forgo any chance at citizenship.

4: A 50% increase in the number of green cards awarded every year, to approximately 1.5 million. This would include the reinstatement of the green card lottery. The remainder would be granted on a points-based system that considered skills, age, education, income, family connections to the US, English skill, and time previously spent in the US.

5: Work visas would be sold, not granted. Each month, a fixed number of 3, 6, 12, 24, and 36 month visas would be auctioned off. Obviously, passing a security screen would be required before placing bids. Once won, the visa could be activated any time within the next year and last as long as noted. Bidding for new visas while under a current one would be allowed, thus making it possible for someone to stay in the US indefinitely if they are willing to pay for it and obey our laws. This would cause the price of residency to be bid up high enough that there would be little advantage in "importing" cheap foreign workers. It would also ensure that the companies that really needed to bring over some guru for a rotation in the US would have little trouble doing so. Note that under this system, H1B's would no longer exist. Immigrants who won work visas would be free to work for any employer during the period of their visa, or not work at all.

6: Use the several billion dollars per year generated above to speed up USCIS processing times and iron out any inconveniences that it inflicts on immigrants due to lack of funds (such as the inability to do biometrics processing overseas).

7: Get rid of the "travel permit" system. In a modern world, USCIS should recognize that immigrants to America will often need to move about the globe. As long as the immigrants are paying their taxes and obeying the laws of both the US and whatever country they find themselves in, USCIS shouldn't bother them...and certainly shouldn't force them to come back to the US repeatedly at USCIS's whim, as is the case now. Additionally, any US immigrant who is abroad for any length of time should be considered to be maintaining their US immigration status if they are living with their American citizen spouse or child, or if they or their spouse is working for an American company or its international affiliate. Currently, such people are constantly threatened with having their immigration status revoked for "abandonment", requiring them to repeatedly travel back to the US and spend a fortune on legal fees (it cost my wife and I, as well as my employer, something like $20,000!).

8: Family-based visas should include a temporary work permit and a Social Security card. Currently, these people arrive in the US and are promptly forcably unemployed, as they can't work in the US until their work permit application comes through in 3-4 months, and they can't leave the country without voiding their green card application. This is just a waste of human capital.

9: Get tough on illegal immigrants and their employers. Rapid deportation should be the norm for the former, and crushing fines the norm for the latter. Illegal immigrants and their children should qualify for almost no public services, including schooling or identification.

10: Increased border security...to the extent Republicans are willing to raise taxes to pay for it, and not one penny more.


There. Plenty of pain on both sides...but everybody wins except future illegal immigrants.