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Immigration

We are all agreed, whether we be Americans of the first or of the seventh generation on this soil, that is not desirable to receive more immigrants than can reasonably be assured of bettering their condition by coming here.

President Calvin Coolidge – To Immigrants, October 16, 1924

We are a nation of immigrants. My own ancestors came here from England and Poland. My wife’s came from China. When people want to come to this country to adopt and enrich our culture, I welcome them.

The human right to liberty includes a freedom of movement, but this freedom is not — and cannot be — unlimited. It serves nobody well if a country adopts more immigrants than it can assimilate. Countries have a responsibility to welcome as many migrants as they can, but only as many as they can.

Our immigration policies should be open and welcoming, within reason. But they must also be prudent. We must take reasonable steps to ensure the safety and security of the people who are already here, and to ensure that immigration occurs in an orderly and lawful way.

Temporary Amnesty

I propose a temporary amnesty for all illegal immigrants who are already present in the United States. I am a law-and-order conservative, so I am the first to admit that this is a distasteful concession. My usual instinct is to throw the book at criminals. All else being equal, I would be inclined toward a ruthless and unforgiving deportation policy.

But we have to be reasonable. Illegal immigration has gone unchecked, and even tacitly embraced, for decades. People have built families and careers here. Our agriculture industry would grind to a halt without illegal migrant labor, as would the lawn service industry and parts of the construction industry. Even if it was possible to immediately deport every illegal immigrant, it would be economically catastrophic to actually do it.

A permanent amnesty, however, would be just as imprudent. Yes, many illegal immigrants might be — or might become — fine, upstanding members of our society. Many will not. For every story about some hard-working migrant laborer doing his best, there is another story about an MS-13 gang-banger murdering a local teenager. We need to come up with a way to help the former without giving a pass to the latter.

We need to get everything above-board. We need to clear the air and ‘reboot’ our immigration system.

The first step to doing this is to make the following offer to every illegal immigrant currently living in our country (except those with previous felony convictions): Register with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), get documented, and you’ll get a two-year green card. No questions asked. You’ll have to surrender any fake identification in exchange for new, legitimate documents.

Over the two year period, each newly-documented immigrant will have to decide what they intend to do at the end of that period. They may, of course, return to their home countries. They may also apply for citizenship, for the guest worker program (described below), or for any of the other legal means that might allow them to stay here. Each case will be adjudicated on its merits.

After the two-year period ends, any immigrant not authorized to continue residing in the United States will need to leave…and after the end of this period, enforcement will be much more organized and serious than it is today (also described below).

Guest Worker Program

Lots of presidents have talked about establishing a robust guest worker program. It’s time to actually do it.

The fact is that our agriculture, lawn care, and construction industries need a lot of workers…and the work they do is the kind of work that most U.S. citizens aren’t willing to do. This is one of the big drivers of the illegal immigration problem. Mexico and a number of South and Central American countries have a lot of unskilled labor. These industries need affordable unskilled labor that is mostly unavailable in the United States. This is capitalism at work.

The problem isn’t that we have a lot of migrants who want to work in these industries. No, we need workers in these industries. The problem is that we don’t have a simple, legal way to get them here.

Because we don’t have a functioning guest worker program, not only have we incentivized unchecked illegal immigration, but we have also subjected those immigrants to various kinds of abuse by their employers. Daylight is the best antiseptic. Get all of this above-board, and no longer will desperate workers be subjected to unreasonably low wages, insane hours, or unsafe work conditions.

There needs to be a mechanism for the United States to welcome hard-working migrants who are willing to do the kind of labor that most Americans won’t. They want to come. U.S. businesses want to employ them. All the government needs to do is give them a way to do so legally and with appropriate security vetting.

Secure the Border

It’s amazing — and depressing — that anybody objects to President Trump’s plans to secure the southern border with physical barriers. Maintaining the security of the borders is one of the most basic hallmarks of national sovereignty. Indeed, it’s part of the human right to self governance.

Making the other immigration reforms in this article will go a long way toward stemming the tide of migrants crossing our borders illegally, but it will not stop them. There will still be the drug trade. There will still be the sex trade. There will still be coyotes taking advantage of the desperate and destitute.

Securing the border is an essential step toward fixing our immigration system…and an essential step toward stopping the drug and sex trades.

One of my greatest frustrations with today’s Democratic Party is that it is willing to stand by silent, rambling about being “welcoming,” while young girls are smuggled across our borders by sex traffickers. But at least they aren’t being forcibly separated from the coyotes who claim to be their fathers. Wouldn’t want to break up those “families,” right?

Stop the Visa Overstays

Some on the political left rightly point out that hardliners on immigration seem overly focused on the southern border while ignoring visa overstays. This is a fair criticism, although it’s worth noting that the problem on the southern border is easier to understand and easier to solve. That means it’s easier to talk about and campaign on.

But the critics are right about one thing: The visa overstay problem is a real problem and we shouldn’t ignore it. Too many people come to the United States on a valid visa — for vacation, education, employment, or some other good reason — and then don’t leave when they’re supposed to. Our government seems uninterested in putting a stop to it.

We need to put as much effort into stopping visa overstays as we do into stopping illegal border crossings. People who have overstayed their visas should be permitted to join the two-year amnesty described above, but must remedy their situation before the end of that period by either obtaining a new visa, becoming a citizen (if eligible), or leaving.

Critics keep claiming — wrongly — that immigration hardliners “don’t like brown people.” That’s some good race-baiting, but it’s a lie. Most of us just believe in the rule of law, and that nobody should be allowed to cheat the system at the expense of others. We focus on the border because it’s easier to understand and easier to fix, not because of the color of the people crossing it.

But those of us who value the rule-of-law should acknowledge that immigration enforcement is more than just securing the border. The people who are already here illegally, by whatever means, should either get documented (through the aforementioned temporary amnesty) or get deported.

Keep (Real) Families Together

In 1999, the Elian Gonzalez controversy roared into the public consciousness. Gonzalez, his mother Elizabeth Rodriguez, her boyfriend, and eleven other Cubans attempted to migrate by sea to the United States. Most of them didn’t make it.

The U.S. policy for dealing with Cuban migrants at the time was called “Wet Foot/Dry Foot.” Migrants stopped at sea (“wet foot”) would either be returned to Cuba or to some other country. Migrants who made it to U.S. land on their own (“dry foot”) would be allowed to stay in the U.S. and could eventually qualify as permanent residents and, later, citizens.

In this case, only Elian Gonzalez and two others survived the journey. His mother didn’t make it. The survivors were picked up by a fisherman, who turned them over to the U.S. Coast Guard, who brought them ashore for medical treatment. But because they were apprehended at sea, the “wet foot” rule applied.

Elian Gonzalez’s father was still alive, and was still in Cuba. Some of Elian’s extended family lived in the United States. This set up a very difficult political situation…but the law was clear. Gonzalez had a “wet foot,” so he had to go back to Cuba. Not only that, but Gonzalez’s father — still in Cuba — was the most appropriate person to take custody after Gonzalez’s mother had died. This was the conclusion reached by President Bill Clinton and his administration.

Inexplicably, Republicans fought this. Many claimed that Gonzalez should stay in the United States with his extended family…because socialism. Look, socialism is bad. That isn’t in dispute among intelligent commentators. But children belong with their parents whenever possible. And the rule of law said that people from Cuba with “wet feet” go back to Cuba. So both natural and civil law required that Gonzalez go home to his father. Clinton was right; the Republicans were wrong.

And people wonder why I haven’t joined the Republican Party. Children belong with their parents. Republicans, who are supposedly the “family values” party, ought to know this…even when it’s not politically expedient in a particular case.

There are times when it is appropriate for a government to separate a child from his or her family. When a parent goes to prison, of course the kids don’t go with them. There are good reasons to separate children from immigrant “parents” who can’t prove their parentage, since sex traffickers will claim that underage sex slaves are their children. There’s also a good argument for separating children from the parents who dragged their kids across the southwestern desert without sufficient food or water — in any other context, we would call that abuse or neglect.

But when parentage can be verified, and when there is no apparent abuse or neglect, children should not be separated from their parents. Period. And, whenever possible, unaccompanied minors should be returned to their parents unless there is a legitimate reason not to do so.

Let People Come

After all of these reasonable processes and protections have been put in place, let people come. Let them come in the greatest numbers that we can reasonably accept. People who really want to become Americans — who want to assimilate into our culture and add their own unique strengths and capabilities to our own — should be allowed to do so.

Of course we should take steps to ensure that the people we are admitting are not criminals or terrorists. And it is also appropriate to ensure that the people we admit understand and support the principles of human rights and federalism.

Many politicians want to oversimplify immigration. Some focus entirely on enforcement and security, while others focus entirely on openness and welcome. Both are half-right…by which I mean, we should focus on all of the above.

Secure the border. Enforce the laws. And welcome the people who are willing to embrace our principles and play by the rules.