From the beginning of our republic, immigration has played a critical role in the vibrant United States economy. Diversity and innovation are the very hallmark of our nation. That is not to say that immigration has not sparked controversy in every generation. Today, no one would critique mainstream German and Irish immigrants, but only a century ago they were looked upon as “Papist” invaders. Similarly today’s immigrants will be tomorrows all-Americans.
There are 12 million or so undocumented immigrants already living in the U.S. In addition it is estimated that 400,000 people enter the country illegally each year — a direct consequence of the fact that our current policy is to make available only 5,000 visas annually for low-skilled workers.
We need a plan to legalize this group while at the same time creating a system that allows the U.S. government to control the flow of new low-skilled workers. The following elements should be included in any immigration reform plan:
1. It’s time for the xenophobes to get over it – The vast majority of the 12 million undocumented immigrants are here to stay. Their children are American, they have roots in the United States and frankly they are here because we needed their labor. First and foremost a path toward citizenship must be created for all but the criminal element within the undocumented community.
2. Politics be damned, forget the punitive punishment of fines etc. – Let’s give all the immigrants that can demonstrate that they have been in the U.S. for at least six months and have no criminal record, identification that legally recognizes their status as immigrants. This is both the first step on the path to citizenship and also provides a way for the U.S. government to gain some semblance of control over who is actually in the country.
3. The path to citizenship should be the same for all legal immigrants, creating a special system is punitive and unwarranted. Our Italian, Irish, German, Polish, Jewish etc. ancestors where treated equally (sometimes badly) and the system worked well. It isn’t broken let’s not fix it.
4. Future immigration must be subject to real legal control. Given that a limited number of unskilled jobs that will be created in a 21st century global economy, we probably cannot absorb 400,000 unskilled laborers per year. But we can accommodate 200,000+ legal unskilled immigrants per annum, once the recession has passed.
5. Since millions of disserving individuals from all over the world would like to immigrate to the United States a lottery system will have to be established which gives priority to those who have relatives in the United States. This is merely recognition of our traditional pattern of immigration where once an immigrant is established he or she tries to bring the rest of their extended family to the U.S.
6. Open boarders with neighboring countries is not an option – We remain a sovereign country. The most difficult aspect will be how do we select quotas by country? Mexico for example, cannot fill the majority of the slots. The United States cannot become the release valve for the pressure building up in such a poorly managed economy. There would be no end to that game and ultimately Mexico would become a ward of the U.S. The best option is do to all that we can to help Mexico fix its internal problems.
7. Little “Ellis Islands” should be established on the southern boarder to process legal immigration while the rest of the boarder must be controlled either with fences, electronics and/or air and land patrols. Unlike the descendents of the current 12 million undocumented immigrants who will never be able to trace the entry of their ancestors, lets make sure that the next wave of immigrants retains this wonderful connection to American history. All immigrants should have “Ellis Island”.
8. If during economic boom times we need more labor by all means we should have a guest worker program.
Worse still we make it difficult for American educated foreign scientists to stay in the United States. Should an American educated foreign scientist leave the country to attend a brother’s wedding or visit a dying parent or simply take a vacation — they could well be informed that they cannot come back until the U.S. government had done a security screening – which could take years. This is troubling because foreign students and researchers, especially from India and China, comprise more than half of the scientific researchers in the U.S. They earn 40% of the Ph.D.s in science and engineering, and 65% of the computer science doctorates.
The Obama administration seems to have adopted a policy in its stimulus plan that would be prejudicial to American educated foreigners despite the fact that may have graduated at the top of the class from one of America’s great Universities. The mantra is lets hire Americans even if American educated foreigners are more qualified. The only thing the administrations policy disserves is the xenophobia award.
On a broader economic note, we should embrace diversity and formally recognize the contribution foreigners make to the U.S. economy. Let’s start by issuing 1 million “green cards“ – Over the next 12 months, issue green cards to well-educated immigrants who have the resources and will to commit to starting small businesses, which are the greatest engine of job creation in the U.S. Priority should be given to those who want to create export companies. We will create millions of new jobs, reduce our surplus housing inventory by 1 million units, stimulate the auto industry and reduce our balance of trade at no expense to the U.S. taxpayer. Such a plan would also increase our most important resource, intellectual capital, which is the basic premise upon which our immigration policy should be based.