Saturday, November 18, 2006

Five Steps to Immigration Reform

By Howard Hyde

(ver en Español a:

A realistic, politically feasible solution to the problems of illegal immigration which will actually work must be comprehensive, involving several interdependent aspects of security, politics, economics, citizens, immigrants, businesses and government agencies. It must be consistent with basic principles of how society actually functions, not on the ideology of narrowly-focused political factions or special-interest groups. And it will involve compromises with entrenched political interests; it will have something in it to offend everyone to some degree.

I see five pillars required of a comprehensive reform plan:

1. Legalize Capitalism. (Yes, you read that correctly.)

Abolish socialism. Stop paying able-bodied adults to breathe at the expense of fellow (taxpaying) citizens, many of whom are worse off than the beneficiaries but don’t meet the political requirements. Slash regulation of anything that doesn’t relate to murder, theft, rape, persecution or conspiracy (see the Ten Commandments). Allow businesses and individuals (including hospitals) to do as they see fit with what is theirs, including picking and choosing their customers, suppliers, employees, employers, investors and investments according to their own criteria and requirements. Allow medical savings accounts, deductibility of healthcare costs to individuals, marketing health insurance across state lines, and the right to refuse service to anyone. Abolish the abolition of unskilled labor (minimum wage laws). Cut red tape that keeps legitimate extra-legal and black market businesses out of the mainstream system. Understand that inclusion has been the number one challenge of capitalism for centuries; it is nothing new (see Hernando de Soto’s The Mystery of Capital: Why Capitalism Triumphs in the West and Fails Everywhere Else).

2. Elevate Citizenship.

Require 8th-grade English proficiency for US citizenship. Print ballots and other election materials only in English. Amend the US Constitution to repeal the loophole that grants automatic citizenship to children born (even of illegal aliens) in the US.

3. Liberalize the quotas.

WE NEED the workers, unskilled and skilled, blue collar and professional. We need the professionals because their productivity and services maintain our leadership in the world and generate more opportunities at home. We need the laborers to perform jobs we’d rather not do, lower the prices of all goods and services, and free us to do higher-order work.

The current legal quotas are out of touch with reality by orders of magnitude. It is a lose-lose proposition to discourage educated professionals and force desperate poor people into illegality and danger with no benefit to ourselves. We need to make it easier, not harder, for economic immigrants to come into the US to live and work, with few strings attached other than compliance with law. No restrictions should be put on immigrants as to where they shall live, who they shall work for, or what businesses they shall open, provided these are all legitimate, that is, do not involve crimes of murder, theft, rape, persecution or conspiracy.

4. Document the Undocumented --- without penalty.

Every immigrant should be photographed, fingerprinted, tested for infectious disease and documented in a national database. Non-citizens should periodically (once, twice or four times per year) provide a verifiable residence address, subject to random audit; guest workers may apply for a non-citizen’s driver’s license, NOT valid for obtaining public services reserved for citizens, and must pass the appropriate exam to receive it.

Do not require immigrants to have already been in the country for a specified period, or to return home after another. MAKE IT EASY to comply with the law, and people will comply. People want to live legitimately, out of the shadows.

5. Isolate the criminals.

If we accomplish the above four points, then this one will be much easier. We have made legal immigration easy, so there is a drastically reduced need for anyone to ‘sneak’ across the frontier zone. Citizenship is not automatic, welfare fraud has been shut down, and hospitals aren’t obliged (penalized for opening) to serve patients that don’t pay, so the draw of inappropriate benefits has been reduced. The only real magnet left is honest, hard work for willing employers and customers, leading to a better life for all.

Some criminal element will remain, of course. Drug traffickers, car thieves, pimping rings, and terrorists will always be attempting to penetrate our borders and society. Nevertheless, under the circumstances in which legitimate but ‘illegal’ economic immigrants no longer form a massive cover under which the criminal element may operate, the latter will be easier to target and interdict. With legitimate immigration easy, the waves of desperate and innocent families with children flooding across the desert will recede, revealing only the highly suspect. The immigrant database mentioned earlier makes us able to know who’s who and where.

As for terrorists, let us not forget that the 9/11 terrorists all entered the country legally and repeatedly. With limited resources, we would do better to scrutinize those few mosques and madrassas in the United States where radical Islamic imams are preaching ‘death to America and to the infidels!’, rather than flailing after millions of Mexicans as terrorist suspects.

A nation has the legitimate right to secure its borders, and a security fence can be a justified part of a plan to prevent illegal entry. That being said, a wall in and of itself is not a solution; if the above reforms are carried out, it may not be necessary. We have lived as neighbors with Mexico without a wall for almost 160 years, and we have the best friend America and George Bush could ask for in President Felipe Calderón, a pro-capitalist conservative.

The idea of criminalizing and/or deporting 12 million illegal immigrants en masse is logically ludicrous, socially destructive and politically suicidal (is the Republican Party listening?).

Spanish-speaking Puerto Ricans have few restrictions on their movement into and work in the continental United States, yet ‘immigration’ from Puerto Rico never makes the headlines; it’s balanced.

The solution is to allow the natural process to work.