Don’t Let Congress Dodge the Immigration Issue

Original Article

Congress should not go home this month without addressing the immigration problem. Neither Republicans nor Democrats should be let off the hook.

If the current stalemate persists and the 109th Congress makes no headway, employers will continue to employ illegals without any legal repercussions, and other employers who need to import particular high-skill workers in specialized fields (like high tech) will continue to suffer from an artificially low H-IB visa quota.

Meanwhile, porous border security will continue to mock the sovereignty of the country and possibly endanger our national security. No one really benefits from the status quo, while real reform could satisfy legitimate concerns.

Such was also the tone of a speech given in Seattle recently by Carlos Gutierrez, the U.S. Secretary of Commerce and the point man within the Bush administration on illegal immigration. Currently, 12 million illegal immigrants are “living in the shadows,” as Gutierrez put it. Even more problematic are the 3 million children who are now American citizens by birth, but face possible separation from their parents if the parents are deported.

When examining solutions to this problem, two diametrically opposed approaches are often offered. Both are wrong-headed.

One is to deport the 12 million and let their children decide their future alone, while the other is to grant amnesty to the 12 million, instantly making them U.S. citizens.

Practically speaking, neither of the extremes offers a real solution. The Center for American Progress, a think tank in Washington, D.C., estimates that deporting all 12 million illegal immigrants would come with a hefty price tag of more than $200 billion over the next five years. On the other hand, amnesty will simply precipitate a new wave of illegal immigrants.

Thankfully, the Bush administration and Secretary Gutierrez realize the absurdity of this choice, and instead suggest a “middle-of-the-road” approach that accepts the need for compromise, serious border security and the need to deal realistically with illegal immigrants here now — many of whom simply want to work.

Factions of both parties in Congress, however, refuse any compromise. Their frustrating posturing is allowing the extremes to win the political battle, while common-sense solutions fall by the wayside. The rhetoric from members of Congress over the past 24 months has been high in volume but unproductive in results.

From a health-care system stretched much too thin to a dangerous type of underground civilization that is struggling to assimilate, something must change — and soon. The administration reasonably wants to require illegal immigrants living and working here to — among other things — undergo a rigorous background check, pay a fine and begin paying taxes (if they aren’t doing so already) if they want to be granted citizenship.

Once those hurdles are crossed, it will become clear that many undocumented workers either do not desire full citizenship or are unwilling to go through the formal citizenship process. Instead, they may simply want to work and travel back to their respective homes, making a guest-worker program — like the one outlined in the bill sponsored by U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (R-Texas) and U.S. Rep. Mike Pence (R-Ind.) — an appealing part of any immigration package.

Of course, loopholes for undocumented workers will remain. One possible answer that holds promise and could ultimately prove extremely effective is a high-tech identification card that all immigrants would be required to possess in order to work in this country.

Currently, employers’ efforts to weed out undocumented workers are made difficult by easily forged documents and legal limitations on background checks. In addition, the government has proven lax in punishing employers who — knowingly or not — employ undocumented workers. With a “biometric” card that may include identifiers such as a fingerprint, the likelihood of forgery or any other attempt at falsification will be greatly reduced. Also, the card, combined with beefed-up border enforcement, will dissuade potential illegals from crossing in the first place.

We also should be asking: Why can’t the illegal immigrants stay in their own countries? Why can’t they obtain a job at home? The answer to that question lies in the difficult and fickle government regulations on business and industry in Mexico, especially, that have slowed job growth, forcing able-bodied Mexicans to abandon their homeland for jobs in El Norte.

The newly elected president of Mexico, Felipe Calderon, campaigned on a platform of creating more jobs as a way of allowing Mexicans to stay in their own country. Any real immigration reform in our country should include help for Mexico in meeting this goal. So far, not one leader in Congress has picked up this banner.

LINCOLN VANDER VEEN is a graduate of Pacific Lutheran University, an intern at Discovery Institute in Seattle and a freelance writer.