THE IMMIGRATION REFORM DEBATE
For several decades now, the issue of immigration reform has surfaced regularly. When it comes up, typically, it does so as a fiery controversy. But, in spite of all the attention the matter has received, there has been little progress towards settling it. One might say that, with this topic, there has been much heat and little light.
Former Governor and potential presidential candidate, Jeb Bush, set off another round of heated public debate on this topic with comments he made at a recent event, held at his father’s Presidential Library. On that occasion, he said:
“The way I look at this is someone who comes to our country because they couldn’t come legally, they come to our country because their families — the dad who loved their children — was worried that their children didn’t have food on the table. And they wanted to make sure their family was intact, and they crossed the border because they had no other means to work to be able to provide for their family. Yes, they broke the law, but it’s not a felony. It’s an act of love.”
Conservatives, who want to see a fully secured border prior to any implementation of broader immigration reform, were quick in their response to Bush’s comments. Leading the way was Senator and potential presidential candidate, Rand Paul. In his response, Senator Paul said:
“I think it wasn’t the most artful way of saying something, but I think he was well-intentioned. If I were to make the same point, I would say that people who seek the American dream are not bad people, but that doesn’t mean you can invite the whole world to come.But I think [Bush’s critics question], if love is the criteria, what does that mean? [Does that mean] everybody who’s got some love for their relatives can come? You know, the whole world loves America, and they can’t all come. It is important to have a healthy respect for immigrants when engaging in the debate over immigration policy.They come to this country and they’re not bad people. But we have to start with the first part then that the border can’t be open, and everything that’s offered to American citizens can’t just be offered to the world. We have this enormous welfare state that we can’t pay for on our own, so we can’t invite the world to be on it.”
A CARING SOLUTION
I agree with Senator Paul, that Governor Bush’s comments were well-intentioned. And, whether or not it was an “artful way” of expressing his sentiments, I’d like to see that sort of caring as an obvious part of a whole solution for immigration reform. It’s been about 35 years since I first traveled from where I lived in Southern California, to visit Baja California and I still vividly recall seeing communities of homes constructed from appliance boxes and other similar materials lining the Mexican side of the U.S./Mexico border. My immediate thought, at that time, remains yet today … “If those were my circumstances, I’d be doing whatever it takes to get across that border.”
Although both Bush and Paul spoke kindly of immigrants, neither of them offered practical solutions for the immigration challenges the U.S. has been facing for the past several decades. In Paul’s case, he mostly talked about what we can’t do. However, in replying to his critics, I think Bush pointed the conversation in a more productive direction when he said,
“To be young and dynamic again we have to be young and dynamic again. [People need to view] immigration reform not as a problem, but as a huge opportunity.”
Though I, generally, agree with that, I think that Bush may have gone from what “wasn’t the most artful way of saying something” to saying it in a way that is too “artful”. I’d put it more simply by saying, “On this issue, we need to move from the ‘can’t-do attitude’ of people like Rand Paul to a ‘can-do attitude’ that incorporates the caring demonstrated by Bush.”
A PRACTICAL SOLUTION
With that said, I’d start with the immigration reform agenda item that Paul expressed as his priority … fully securing the border. Without that done, attempting to address what to do about the current illegal immigrant population and what reforms are appropriate for immigration going forward both seem futile.
Once we are on a sure footing, moving towards secure borders, I’d tackle determining what reforms are appropriate for immigration going forward. In doing this, I’d take advantage of what we know about our current illegal immigrant population. Although we may not have details on every individual in this group, we do have some sense of their demographics – i.e. What countries they come from by volume, their respective skill levels, their respective acceptable income levels, etc. That data could easily be used to augment our current immigration policies, to provide a legal path for those whose demographics map to our current population of illegal immigrants. My logic here is that though this group of immigrants did violate our immigration laws, doing so as what Governor Bush calls an act of love also means that, by and large, they strive to be productive members of our community.
Finally, I’d turn my attention to what we do about our current illegal immigrant population. I think solving this aspect of immigration reform becomes much easier, if we can be successful with the first two steps outlined above. I know that there are those who scream “Amnesty!” about any solution that doesn’t punish illegal immigrants in some way. In part, this comes from the sense that it’s a slap in the face to those who immigrated legally, if there is no penalty for those who immigrated illegally. Although I sympathize with that view, I see this as a cutting off our nose to spite our face approach. I think everyone involved is far better off, if we just have the current population of illegal immigrants join the line of those applying for immigration under the reformed policies described above and doing so as though they just arrived today. As far as any hard feelings this might cause with those who followed the rules of our present immigration policies, I think they should be satisfied with our pointing out that, while illegal immigrants have been living in the shadows, they have been out in the open, enjoying the full benefits of their legal status.
A SOLUTION THAT IS BOTH CARING AND PRACTICAL
Considering the fiery controversy that typically rages when the issue of immigration reform comes up, I won’t be surprised if critics attempt to shoot holes in the ideas I’ve presented here. But, it seems to me that these are ideas with some appeal for all the major factions in the debate. Additionally, it has the sort of caring for what Governor Bush calls an “act of love”, as an obvious part of a whole solution for immigration reform. And, it’s the sort of caring we showed when, as Governor Bush said, we were “young and dynamic” … The sort of caring indicated by the inscription on a most-famous 128 year old symbol of our nation that says:
Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breath free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore,
Send these, the homeless, tempest tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.