I just got an email from Cecilia Muñoz, who is the Director of President Obama’s Domestic Policy Council, outlining the administration’s proposal for immigration reform. Rather than use the abbreviated description in the email, I’ll use the slightly wordier summary on the Whitehouse web site:
FACT SHEET: Fixing our Broken Immigration System so Everyone Plays by the Rules
“So everyone plays by the rules” is a worrisome phrase. The biggest problem with our immigration system is not some people are not playing by the rules, but that the rules themselves are stupid, arbitrary, and cruel. One of the most effective ways to get people to play by the rules is to have good rules.
America’s immigration system is broken. Too many employers game the system by hiring undocumented workers and there are 11 million people living in the shadows. Neither is good for the economy or the country.
If we’re going to complain that 11 million people are hiding, let’s be clear about who they’re hiding from. They’re not living in the shadows because they’re afraid of their employers; they’re living in the shadows because they’re afraid of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency.
The page goes on to outline 4 key principles of “President Obama’s commonsense immigration reform proposal”:
Continuing to Strengthen Border Security: President Obama has doubled the number of Border Patrol agents since 2004 and today border security is stronger than it has ever been. But there is more work to do. The President’s proposal gives law enforcement the tools they need to make our communities safer from crime. And by enhancing our infrastructure and technology, the President’s proposal continues to strengthen our ability to remove criminals and apprehend and prosecute national security threats.
Doubling border security and building wall sounds wasteful, as does giving law enforcement “the tools they need to make our communities safer from crime,” which also sounds like it will lead to some sort of abridgment of our rights.
Cracking Down on Employers Hiring Undocumented Workers: Our businesses should only employ people legally authorized to work in the United States. Businesses that knowingly employ undocumented workers are exploiting the system to gain an advantage over businesses that play by the rules. The President’s proposal is designed to stop these unfair hiring practices and hold these companies accountable. At the same time, this proposal gives employers who want to play by the rules a reliable way to verify that their employees are here legally.
There are a couple of things very wrong with that paragraph. First of all, it shouldn’t be the job of employers to enforce federal immigration policy. That’s the job of the United States government. And just because the government can’t do its job, doesn’t mean they should push these responsibilities onto private employers, turning every business owner into an unpaid ICE agent.
(Some of you may think that’s crazy talk, but it used to be the law of the land up until sometime in the 1980’s. Before that, nobody had to show ID and fill out an I-9 form to take a job. Worrying about an employee’s immigration status just wasn’t the employer’s job, nor had it ever been.)
The second problem is that the President and Congress really ought to ask themselves why employers that hire illegal immigrants are able to “gain an advantage over businesses that play by the rules.” Is it because those rules are bad for business? In that case, wouldn’t it make more sense to get rid of the bad rules? Or maybe it’s because illegal immigrants can be exploited. But the reason they are open to exploitation is because they can be imprisoned and deported if they come to the attention of the authorities. If you’re working illegally in the U.S. and you get cheated (or for that matter, if you get robbed or raped or beaten), do you go to the authorities? Or do you try to handle it as best you can on your own?
Earned Citizenship: It is just not practical to deport 11 million undocumented immigrants living within our borders.
Not only is it impractical, it’s also a very cruel thing to do, ripping all those people away from their friends, families, and communities. Someone has to say it.
The President’s proposal provides undocumented immigrants a legal way to earn citizenship that will encourage them to come out of the shadows so they can pay their taxes and play by the same rules as everyone else. Immigrants living here illegally must be held responsible for their actions by passing national security and criminal background checks, paying taxes and a penalty, going to the back of the line, and learning English before they can earn their citizenship.
That last sentence has a lot of bad parts. National security and criminal background checks are a good idea — we don’t want terrorists and gangsters to get a free pass — but the devil is in the details, and given that ICE has no sense of proportion and uses their own private definition of criminality by treating misdemeanors as felonies, and dismissals as convictions — I’m more than a little worried about how much damage they can do.
I’m not sure what taxes and penalties they’re talking about here, but I have similar concerns about how those will be calculated. It’s one thing if the IRS just grinds through the process for back taxes, and quite another if the the monkeys at ICE will be assessing penalties of their own.
As for “going to the back of the line,” that’s complete nonsense. “The line” is why so many immigrants come here illegally in the first place. The quota for immigrants who just want a job — and have no special skills or relatives living here — is only about 10,000 people per year. Before the economy collapsed, illegal immigration was at least 500,000 people per year. If they had waited in line, it would have taken 50 years to get a work visa. Nobody is willing to wait that long to make a better life for themselves and their families. Going to the back of the line — even just having “the line” — is how we got here in the first place.
There will be no uncertainty about their ability to become U.S. citizens if they meet these eligibility criteria.
That would be great if it actually happened. Who’s going to invest in America if they aren’t sure they won’t be kicked out? But this means committing to not kicking people out without a damned good reason. In our three-felonies-a-day society, any government employee who gets paid to kick out immigrants will be able to do so for the stupidest of reasons.
The proposal will also stop punishing innocent young people brought to the country through no fault of their own by their parents and give them a chance to earn their citizenship more quickly if they serve in the military or pursue higher education.
Great idea. But why isn’t being innocent good enough? Since becoming a citizen would be better for everybody, why make it harder by adding extra criteria?
Streamlining Legal Immigration: Our immigration system should reward anyone who is willing to work hard and play by the rules. For the sake of our economy and our security, legal immigration should be simple and efficient. The President’s proposal attracts the best minds to America by providing visas to foreign entrepreneurs looking to start businesses here and helping the most promising foreign graduate students in science and math stay in this country after graduation, rather than take their skills to other countries. The President’s proposal will also reunify families in a timely and humane manner.
So the wealthy, the educated, and those with family members here will have it easier than other immigrants? That’s not reform. That’s our immigration policy today. Most of the people who have come here illegally are neither wealthy nor educated — that’s kind of why they want jobs here — and most of them don’t have close family here (aunts, uncles, cousins, nieces, and nephews don’t count).
Let’s look at the “Streamlining Legal Immigration” section a little closer by examining the detailed items listed further down in the Whitehouse press release:
Keep Families Together: … The proposal also raises existing annual country caps from 7 percent to 15 percent for the family-sponsored immigration system.
Cut Red Tape For Employers: The proposal also eliminates the backlog for employment-sponsored immigration by eliminating annual country caps and adding additional visas to the system.
Dropping the essentially racist country caps is a great idea, but there is no principled reason to drop them for employer-sponsored immigrants while keeping them for family-sponsored immigrants. The contrast between these two sections makes clear that the proposed reforms are being driven mostly by the needs of businesses that want to hire immigrants, rather than concern for the welfare of the immigrants themselves. The next provision makes that crystal clear:
“Staple” green cards to advanced STEM diplomas: The proposal encourages foreign graduate students educated in the United States to stay here and contribute to our economy by “stapling” a green card to the diplomas of science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) PhD and Master’s Degree graduates from qualified U.S. universities who have found employment in the United States. It also requires employers to pay a fee that will support education and training to grow the next generation of American workers in STEM careers.
In other words, they’re going to allow in cheap high-tech workers so businesses don’t have to pay American high tech workers so much. I guess there’s a lot less political pressure to allow in more graphics designers, artists, waitresses, and auto mechanics.
Finally, check out the thicket of economic micromanagement in these three sections:
Create a “startup visa” for job-creating entrepreneurs: The proposal allows foreign entrepreneurs who attract financing from U.S. investors or revenue from U.S. customers to start and grow their businesses in the United States, and to remain permanently if their companies grow further, create jobs for American workers, and strengthen our economy.
Expand opportunities for investor visas and U.S. economic development: The proposal permanently authorizes immigrant visa opportunities for regional center (pooled investment) programs; provides incentives for visa requestors to invest in programs that support national priorities, including economic development in rural and economically depressed regions; adds new measures to combat fraud and national security threats; includes data collection on economic impact; and creates a pilot program for state and local government officials to promote economic development.
Create a new visa category for employees of federal national security science and technology laboratories: The proposal creates a new visa category for a limited number of highly-skilled and specialized immigrants to work in federal science and technology laboratories on critical national security needs after being in the United States. for two years and passing rigorous national security and criminal background checks.
Every industry and every single business that wants to hire cheap immigrant labor will have to lobby Congress to make sure their needs are on the approved list. You don’t think that will lead to any corruption, do you?
If we really want to reform our immigration policy and reduce the damage caused by illegal immigration, the solution is to make legal immigration predictable, easy, and fast. Strip out the country caps, shorten the wait for permanent residency, and make it legal for everyone living here to work here.