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A bold plan to solve America's illegal immigration problem

We can end the political stalemate if we summon the courage to end illegal immigration, provide amnesty at a price, and be more selective about who we welcome into the country.

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As the debate on immigration policy intensifies, Americans are caught in a false choice between tougher border protection and amnesty for illegals. A compromise solution that both parties can rally behind is possible – but only if we have a revolution in the way we discuss our national identity and values.

At bottom, we must:

1. Substantially reduce levels of legal immigration and end illegal immigration, while providing amnesty – at a price – to most pre-existing illegal immigrants.

2. Be selective about future immigrants’ country of origin, and terminate multiculturalism as a national value.

Not a right-wing concern

Concerns about immigration are not confined to the right end of the political spectrum or to “xenophobes” and “nativists.” Both of us, we hasten to add, are avid supporters of President Obama.

The consequences of unchecked immigration affect all Americans. The US population in 1900 was about 76 million; today, it is about 310 million, of which about 47 million are Latinos. Richard Lamm observes:

In my twelve years as governor of Colorado, high levels of immigration, predominantly from Mexico, made virtually every major problem more difficult to solve. At least 50 percent of immigrants today come from Latin America, and they are acculturating much more slowly than prior immigration waves. Additionally:

• A substantial proportion of the patients at the Denver Public Hospital are illegal immigrants, virtually all poor and poorly educated.

• The percentage of Hispanic students in Denver public schools has risen quickly, to 54 percent.

• Public housing in Denver is filled with both legal and illegal immigrants.

• Nationwide, 20 percent of our prison space is occupied by foreign-born inmates, disproportionately Latinos.

Fifteen years ago, when these problems were less severe, Democratic Congresswoman Barbara Jordan, chair of the bipartisan US Commission on Immigration Reform, called for an end to illegal immigration and a calibration of legal immigration levels to the demonstrated needs of the economy. She understood then what is even more true today: High levels of legal and illegal immigration hurt all Americans, but they especially hurt US citizens, disproportionately black and Latino citizens.

With so many of our citizens unable to find jobs, we must be willing to lay aside our biases and work toward a solution that works for everyone.

Solving the amnesty issue

The first crucial step is to tackle the so-called amnesty issue.

We believe that amnesty for illegal immigrants is a bad idea, proven to encourage subsequent illegal immigration by the experience of the 1986 amnesty. But we also believe that the US government shares the blame because of its failure to enforce immigration laws. We consequently propose the following sketch of a compromise.

First, a bipartisan, commission must certify (1) that our borders are under control, and (2) that an effective system of employment verification is in place. Then, all illegal immigrants who can prove that they have been working or at school in the United States for at least five years are eligible for amnesty.

Each illegal immigrant who applies for amnesty must pay a fine of $10,000 per person, over a five-year period if necessary, before becoming eligible for amnesty. Family eligibility will be limited to the nuclear family: spouses and children who have lived in the United States for five years, or since their marriage/birth.

Some may argue that the $10,000 per person fine is excessive. But look at the numbers. In 2008, remittances from Latino immigrants in the United States, mostly to families in their homelands, totaled about $60 billion – $25 billion alone went to Mexico. That shows that Latinos in America are capable of generating serious income. With five years to pay, the $10,000 fine should be manageable.

This approach could generate as much as $100 billion in new federal revenues.

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