Sane Immigration Policy

I’ve been away from the blog for the last 48 hours (packing), but I stumbled across an op-ed in the Washington Post that will appear tomorrow morning. The op-ed mentions three strategies for a workable immigration policy. For those of you who have had me in class over the years, what Tamar Jacoby proposes many of the same things you’ve heard me mention in the past.

The first is to raise our immigration quotas so that they match our labor needs. This is a simply “open market” strategy. Immigration flows should match U.S. labor needs. Few people will risk their lives to come to the U.S. if they know there is little labor demand (also, why come here to be unemployed?). Many of our undocumented residents fill vital labor needs in our industries. Since we need the workers, it doesn’t make sense that anyone who can legitimately find a job should have to work without documentation.

The second and third are to increase border scrutiny and workplace enforcement. I’m not a big fan of our militarized border; I think the fence idea is a great way to waste tax dollars. BUT, if the border security was focused on people who can actually hurt U.S. interests, such as drug runners, then I’m all for protecting the border. Think about how little illegal border traffic we would have, not to mention the revenue we could collect, if we decided to sell work visas. Then we would know that the people trying to cross the borders were doing something potentially harmful, and not trying to get into the country to do the work no one else wants to do.

I believe workplace enforcement can also work effectively. Our laws have never been set up to go after employers who break the law, something that is rarely discussed in our current immigration debate. This dual approach could yield amazing changes, and perhaps for once we could see the changes we actually intended.

Jacoby does not mention the “path to citizenship” that is so often touted by the Senate’s version of the bill, which is an interesting omission. It is important that we offer people who have spent their entire lives here a means to formally join American society. I also think we could use another dual approach here as well: a path to citizenship for those who have been here and want to take that route, and a temporary work visa for those looking for short-term employment. I know many people in Mexico who don’t want to live here, but they wouldn’t mind coming here for two or three years to work for a while so they can save money to build a house, send their kids to college, or start a business in Mexico. This is an important option because it is not a good idea to force people onto a path to citizenship if they only want or need temporary work. A multifaceted approach to immigration will allow us to craft legislation that meets the nation’s labor requirements, but also humanely addresses the needs of the men and women who fill those jobs.

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