The issue of illegal immigration is much tougher than legal immigration, in the sense of finding a centrist position upon which people across a wide range of our society can agree, or at least reluctantly accept as a compromise. There are three main elements to consider: keeping our border secure in the present and future, dealing with the substantial number of illegal immigrants in our country today, and and Sanctuary Cities.

Most people will agree that present and future border security is important, and that we have every right to implement a good plan. It is important for national security, but also because we now have many government paid benefits that should not go to other than our citizens–social security, Medicaid and Medicare, unemployment and disability compensation, food stamps, etc. In the days of open immigration, before the Act of 1924, government benefits were small to non-existent.

The question of how to provide that security is an open one–President Trump has been proposing a giant wall. Although I have not studied the economics, I believer that there are better, cheaper and less obtrusive ways to close the borders, using technology. Some combination of cameras, lasers, drones, infrared and motion sensors, married to GPS locations and wireless communications should be able to seal the land border quite effectively. I don’t believe that illegal immigration by air or by sea is significant, but I’m sure we could find effective ways of dealing with it; in any event, a land wall wouldn’t work either.

Another source of illegal immigration is people who enter legally with a temporary visa, but never leave. Once again, technology in the form of a data base with alerts and required contact information should be able to curtail that substantially.

Actually, illegal entry has declined in recent years, and the greater problem is what to do with the large number of past illegal entrants, who now live in our country. Most estimates for their number is around 12 million, which is roughly 4% of our population. Many are from Mexico and Central America, but by no means all. Some have lived here for many years, with jobs, paying taxes, owning cars and homes. All live in fear of being deported.

Some are criminals, but I’ve seen no evidence that the illegal immigrant population outstrips native born in crime rates per 1000 inhabitants. I’ve seen economic studies that “prove” illegals cost us $ Billions per year, and I’ve seen some that “prove” they contribute far in excess of what they cost. As Mark Twain said, “Statistics don’t lie, but liars can use statistics!” What to do with our 12 million illegals has been a dilemma, because of strongly emotional and conflicting viewpoints.

On the one hand, they are human beings with lives, families, children. We have let them in though our own neglect. They came, seeking to work and have a better life, just our ancestors did, before 1924. They can, and do, contribute to our society. They often take jobs that native Americans wouldn’t do. However,they did enter the country illegally and knowingly so. Their first act on American soil was thus to break our laws. Some have managed to obtain benefits that should be reserved for citizens. Because they live in the shadows, they are willing to work for lower pay in unskilled labor jobs, and are thus competing unfairly with similarly unskilled native labor. Amnesty is proposed by some, and is anathema to others. Deportation of 12 million people is inconceivable to most who think seriously about what it would entail.

What we need is a centrist solution, and here is one proposition that fits that definition. Any that are known felons, guilty of a violent crime, drug dealing, or grand larceny should be deported, with no mitigating circumstances. All others would be encouraged to register with the INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service), and pay a moderate fine for illegal entry, on the order of $5000. In return for registration, they will be granted a permanent resident alien status, and a work permit. They will not become citizens, and will not be entitled to the government benefits that citizens are. If they choose to become citizens, they must do so by going back to their country of origin, and applying through the normal legal process, although if they do that, they could return to the US as a resident alien while waiting.

What can’t they do? They cannot vote. They cannot received Social Security payments when retired. They cannot collect unemployment compensation or disability income. They cannot get food stamps, Medicaid, subsidized housing, aid to families with dependent children, and other benefits we have that don’t immediately come to mind. They can work, and enjoy the minimum wage laws, and they would not have to have deductions for the benefits they do not receive. But the employer share of those payments would still be mandatory, so as not to give the former illegals a cost-competitive edge over native born.

They should be encouraged to register by being offered English as a Second Language courses for free, for all those who register in the first 12 months. Those who wait will not get that benefit, and will have to pay an additional modest fine for not having registered when first permitted, say $1000 in the second twelve months, and $2000 thereafter. The entire program should voted and implemented as a one-time solution, and not be available to future illegal entrants.

Lastly, turning to Sanctuary Cities, where local governments have chosen to defy Federal law, we see behavior that is unsupportable. We cannot say we are a country or government of laws, if citizens and municipalities can choose to obey only the laws they approve. The Federal government has every right to withhold funds for any and all other programs to force these entities to follow law. Imagine if a city decided to serve as a sanctuary for rich, white-collar embezzlers, because they could pay large “stay-out-of-jail” fees and live freely.

Only the most extreme Nativists will call this “Amnesty”. Only the most permissive Progressives will equate this treatment with deportation. And otherwise law-abiding resident illegals can come out of the shadows, keep their family intact, and become contributing members of their community and of the economy.

7 thoughts on “Immigration, Part 2

  1. Most of this, I agree with more or less.

    I find the Sanctuary City situation challenging. While of course you’re right that we can’t have cities or states pick and choose which federal laws to follow as a general rule (just ask John Calhoun and the nullificationists of the mid-19th century), this particular use case is a little more nuanced. It’s never been clear to me that Sanctuary Cities are harboring illegal alien felons as a matter of practice. It’s possible some are thumbing their nose at federal immigration law, but everything I’ve read indicates that most believe they are keeping their citizens safer by cooperating with non-criminal illegal aliens (other than the fact that they are in the country illegally) to fight bigger crime. There’s something to the lesser-of-two evils argument that I find appealing, although I can’t quite square it with your points.

    A related point that would be interesting to hear your view on is what the federal government should do about the fact that several states have legalized marijuana. That, too, is in contravention of federal law, also of a “minor crime” sort. Perhaps answering that question would help answer the Sanctuary City question in a different way.

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    1. Thanks for the comments. There is a similarity with the marijuana laws being passed by states, in contradiction to the federal law. I’ve put that down as a possible future topic. Our recent past president allowed these state laws to go unchallenged in the courts by the DOJ, probably because he was in favor of the states’ position. The question also should involve jurisdiction of the FDA, which has been uncharacteristically silent on the issue.

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