By Freedom Newspapers
This year’s congressional debate over immigration has begun with the introduction last week of a House bill that would stiffen enforcement and worker verification procedures, set up a guest worker program and offer a path to citizenship for the 11 million to 12 million workers who are already in this country illegally.
If President Bush wants a successful outcome on an important issue before he leaves office, he would do well to aggressively support this bill, with some key modifications, or something like it.
He may have until July or so, after which the increasingly relentless focus on the 2008 presidential election will make passing any substantive immigration legislation unlikely.
Introduced by Illinois Democrat Luis Gutierrez and Arizona Republican Jeff Flake, the new bill is similar to the McCain-Kennedy “comprehensive” reform measure that passed the Senate but went nowhere in the House last year, but with a few significant differences. In addition to calling for more Border Patrol agents and better coordination with Latin American countries, it would increase penalties for crimes committed by immigrants and mandate a new biometric system that employers would use to verify workers’ legal status.
The provisions that could lead to citizenship for current illegal immigrants would not kick in until better border security and workplace enforcement are in place. Once that happens, current illegal immigrants could begin a process leading to legal status by leaving the country and then returning legally. They would have to pay a $2,000 fine and back taxes, and pass Homeland Security background and security checks. Then they would have to learn English and U.S. civics and avoid any trouble with the law. If they do all this, after six years they would be eligible to apply to become legal
permanent residents, a step toward citizenship.
There also would be a temporary worker program for agricultural workers and a program to admit up to 400,000 low-skilled workers a year (the number the Labor Department estimates will be created each year in service sectors) for jobs the employers are unable to fill with U.S.-born workers.
All this is short of the ideal, which would be to raise U.S. immigration quotas to reflect the vitality of the U.S. economy. If immigration quotas are kept below the number of new jobs the economy creates each year, illegal immigration will continue, with all theresentment and disruption that follow.
Significantly, job creation in Mexico has taken an upward turn. Through the first 10 months of 2006, Mexico added nearly 950,000 jobs — the first time in at least a decade the country has come even close to adding the 1 million positions needed annually to keep pace with the number of people entering its workforce, according to the Mexican government and published reports. More typically, the ratio has been two workers for every new job.
No matter how that plays out, the United States’ current unrealistic immigration policies have created a nearly intolerable situation. Deporting millions of
illegal immigrants would be impractical and disruptive, but having millions of people continuing to live in a legal twilight zone is simply intolerable.
The Gutierrez-Flake bill may not be perfect — some of its employer sanctions, which could send employers to jail for making honest mistakes, need adjustment — but it’s a start. With Democrats who are generally amenable to the president’s approach in control of Congress there is a window of opportunity. But the president will have to move quickly to get more Republicans on board.