Sens. Chuck Schumer and Lindsey Graham's blueprint for immigration reform, published in a Washington Post op-ed today, does nothing but perpetuate the fundamental misunderstanding that has plagued our immigration policy for decades. Their goal is not to fix our broken immigration system but to solve the "problem" of illegal immigrants. The "four pillars" of their plan:
Requiring biometric Social Security cards to ensure that illegal workers cannot get jobs; fulfilling and strengthening our commitments on border security and interior enforcement; creating a process for admitting temporary workers; and implementing a tough but fair path to legalization for those already here.
These proposals are each problematic. Biometric cards bring up all sorts of privacy issues -- and if the error-prone E-Verify system is any indication, database errors will be just as big of an inconvenience to citizens as they are to permanent residents. Border enforcement will also do little to stop people coming into the country because most illegal immigrants arrive legally and overstay their visas. And a temporary worker program is just another form of outsourcing. But their most atrocious proposal is the "tough but fair path to legalization" for those already here:
For the 11 million immigrants already in this country illegally, we would provide a tough but fair path forward. They would be required to admit they broke the law and to pay their debt to society by performing community service and paying fines and back taxes. These people would be required to pass background checks and be proficient in English before going to the back of the line of prospective immigrants to earn the opportunity to work toward lawful permanent residence.
Granted, this is a better solution than trying to deport millions, but burdening impoverished immigrants with fines and making them "admit they broke the law" is callous and humiliating.
Right now, it's nearly impossible to become a legal immigrant. Because of our highly restrictive system of quotas, the resulting backlog, and our woefully under equipped immigration agencies, "opening the door" or "going to the back of the line" can mean waiting 20 years outside of the United States, separated from your immediate family. To use an analogy: Take a school made for 200 students but forced to accommodate 500. Instead of expanding the school, the Schumer-Graham plan would punish those among the 300-student overflow.
Schumer and Graham note that Americans "overwhelmingly oppose illegal immigration and support legal immigration" (if asked, who wouldn't be more likely to oppose something with the prefix "illegal"?), but the point is that most Americans have no idea about how difficult it is to become a naturalized citizen -- especially if you're poor and coming from a poor country.
If Graham and Schumer want to reform immigration, they should actually focus on the problems with our immigration policy:
- Our quota system is outdated and grossly unfair. Not only did we cap the number of people granted citizenship each year in the 1970s, when immigration rates were much lower, we impose a per-country cap. That means that Iceland, a country of 300,000 people, and Mexico, a country of 106 million, get the same number of legal immigrants to the U.S. each year.
- We restrict the types of people whom we let immigrate based on employment. Each year, the U.S. grants 140,000 employment-based green cards, but these go primarily to high-skilled workers. We grant a mere 5,000 green cards to unskilled laborers. So much for "give me your tired, your poor...."
- Our immigration laws have no provision for family unification. If one family member is a permanent legal resident, his or her spouse or child cannot legally enter the country until they receive a green card, which takes years of "waiting in the back of the line."
- Immigration agencies are grossly underfunded. To help fund operations, immigration agencies must rely on exorbitant fees prospective immigrants have to pay.
The Schumer-Graham blueprint does little to address any of these problems. Even if it does provide a path for citizenship for those already here, it doesn't address the fundamental failure of the system to make these "illegal" immigrants legal in the first place; there is nothing in their plan that will prevent us from being in the same situation 20 years from now. Most important, it is premised on the dehumanizing assumption that unskilled workers are outlaws that should be punished.
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