By Bill Siegel
March 10, 2008
Interim Immigration Proposal
The Macro Situation:
This uniquely long presidential campaign has brought America's illegal immigration problem to the forefront of political issues. In general (and with significant deviation), those on the left wish to protect presumed rights of illegal aliens in this country, find some way to bypass significant punitive action for their illegal entry, and assist them in becoming full citizens. Those on the right tend to regard the illegal entry as criminal behavior for which laws already on the books are sufficient if only they would be enforced. Equally important, the right presses for immediate increased border security to attempt to quell the rising influx.
While most everyone gave lip service to tighter border security, very little was accomplished as the debate percolated. President Bush (along with Senator John McCain) sided with the left on this issue and sought a "comprehensive solution" that would simultaneously address border security to best "stop the bleeding" while establishing new procedures and laws to compassionately deal with the population of existing illegals. During this period, border security measures were effectively held hostage by Bush and the left to the passing of such comprehensive solution.
Following the rejection of the comprehensive solution by the House, some increased activity in border security has taken place. The nature of the task, however, makes effectiveness ultimately a long and arduous task. McCain has attempted to smooth his conflict with the conservative right by claiming that he has "heard the message" and now supports tightening border security before any overhaul of laws addressing the treatment of the existing illegal population is attempted.
The Interim Period:
As a result, the country has entered a period that fails to lay claim to fully resolving the problem. To some, this is a lame duck period until the new president is inaugurated. The gamble may be that with any of the likely candidates as president, some form of the previously proposed comprehensive solution would be acceptable. When coupled with an election-strengthened Democratic Congress, such solution could be easily passed. Others from the right might view this period as an acceptable start to keeping a comprehensive solution off the table while pressing forward with security measures.
What seems to be clear is that this "interim" period could well extend for a long time. At what point could a President McCain comfort the supporters of his "security first" campaign position that the country is sufficiently secure such that the other aspects of the comprehensive solution are ready to be addressed? It is difficult to know what sufficient security would look like or anticipate how it would be measured. Additionally, the American public has significantly disapproved of the comprehensive solution such that even a fully Democratic Congress would have tough political choices to make in pushing through a revived version. Finally, should the Republicans hold in November a significant portion of their current position in the House, a comprehensive solution could face the same fate as it did before.
The Micro Interim Problem:
This interim period, however, brings with it its own set of issues. First, illegal entry is continuing in large numbers. As the government attempts new security methods, those orchestrating the entries find even newer ways to meet their goals. The illegals have adapted well to the governments methods, forcing constant changes and revamping. There is some sense that the government is always playing catch-up.
Second, any economic negatives to having a large illegal population continue to plague the country. To the extent jobs are filled by illegals, citizens continue to suffer. Social costs such as health care, babies born legally here to illegal parents, criminal behavior, etc. continue to rise. Employers who are avoiding enforcement are entrenching themselves even deeper such that a later reversal of rules will carry more drastic ramifications.
Third, no distinction is being made between the existing illegal population and illegal entrants in the future—those yet to enter. Much of the argument for some form of amnesty was centered on treating with compassion those who were presumed to be good hardworking contributors, living "in the shadows" of the society, and sometimes having paid taxes. The argument often was extended to suggest that the illegals had been enticed into illegal entry by the American dream for which we can not fault them. In essence, they were victims much like those presumed to have been encouraged to take out subprime loans despite lacking sufficient credit to justify. In any event, none of the compassion arguments can be made for the yet-to-enter illegal. If anything, those yet to enter have sufficient notice of America's growing intolerance such that they should not be afforded any favorable treatment.
Four, despite countless "experts" citing various facts and figures, the real statistics relative to the illegal population are largely disputed and unknown. It is often stated that 12 million illegals exist here but this number has been argued to be significantly larger. More importantly, attempts at finding acceptable solutions are invariably based on assumptions about the population—how many, what their health, education, job training status is, how many family members will they likely lead in, how much in tax revenues have been paid and how much would likely be paid following any resolution, and so forth. Because the population is in the shadows, we know very few verifiable facts that are essential to any responsible legislative solution. Nothing is being done in this interim period to dramatically improve our knowledge base.
Finally, much of the left-right debate concerning the comprehensive solution centered upon the notion of "amnesty." The right argued that anything granted to illegals short of enforcing the penalties on the books constitutes some form of unacceptable amnesty. The left countered that the comprehensive solution imposed its own new set of penalties and requirements such that the illegal was not getting off without punitive action. This debate was more about the word "amnesty" than the realities underlying the stalemated legislative activity. The debate has, however, become a significant barrier to any realistic compromise and little is being done during this interim period to bridge the two sides.
The Interim Proposal:
Addressing the interim problem would contribute greatly (if not be essential) to the nation's ability to ultimately find and comfortably agree upon an ultimate resolution to the macro problem. The following proposal attempts to address many aspects of the interim problem and take advantage of the period in which border security is being singularly developed.
In general, this approach would entail an immediate approval of an "Interim Bill" designed to move toward accumulating reliable information from which a viable solution can be more easily derived. It presumes continued strong focus on border security as that is a necessary component of any final resolution.
Specifically, the Interim Bill would:
(1) Require existing illegals to register under oath as a "Qualified Illegal Immigrant" ("QII") within a determined period. For these purposes it is assumed that six months are sufficient for the government to properly organize and for adequate notice to reach throughout the illegal community. The information extracted in registration would be extensive covering residence, when, where and how entered, health conditions, ages, family members here and those desirous of entry, educational levels, job skills, employment history, employer's information, wages earned, remittances made back to home country, and so forth. Such registration would elicit facts necessary to create a more accurate database of information relevant to designing an effective macro solution. With registration, some method of photo/fingerprint ID with appropriate protections from fraudulent duplication will be provided so that a fresh database can be created and the registrant has proof of compliance. Additionally, provision will be made for the registrant to notify his or her employer and for the employer to separately file that the employer is now aware of the employee's illegal status. Finally, it is a continuing obligation of the QII to update the registration information as necessary.
(2) Any illegal immigrant who fails to register to become a QII within six months of the date of enactment will be ineligible for any future QII status or remedial treatment in a future comprehensive solution. Furthermore, failure to register will constitute a new violation of law generating a separate basis for punitive action. Therefore, the window for those to qualify and obtain a registration ID is limited to those currently here and those who enter in the next six months. Obviously, the illegal will have a difficult choice to make--whether to trust Congress to ultimately come up with a future resolution that he or she will find acceptable or to stay in hiding and silence gambling that only illegal behavior has a history of being rewarded.
(3) In exchange for such registration, Congress simultaneously commits to:
(A) Grant limited immunity to all QIIs. This immunity is limited to all liability attributable to the QII's illegal entry and any unpaid taxes through the date of registration. The immunity does not protect against other criminal behavior and is forfeited if the registrant is found to have lied, to assist others in illegal entry, or to have failed to properly update the registration information. QII status, as well as the immunity, is intended to last until Congress and the President pass subsequent immigration laws (presumably as part of a future comprehensive solution) to effectively deal with the macro illegal population. It is intended that Congress will address in such final legislation how to treat the legal violations connected to the QII's illegal entry and unpaid taxes;
(B) Insure that those who do not register timely ("non-QIIs") will not receive any relief whatsoever from the penalties which currently apply. Rather, they are to receive automatic deportation and no benefit whatsoever if and when found in the future. Since, prospectively, the QII will have some form of accepted identification, the non-QII will have a more difficult time hiding his status. It is not unreasonable to anticipate that once deportation actions start to increase, much of the non-QII population might leave on its own accord.
(C) Grant limited immunity to employers of QIIs while enforcing appropriate penalties against employers of non-QIIs until a comprehensive solution setting new rules takes effect.
Benefits of Interim Proposal
While the nation has been unable to agree upon and adopt a comprehensive solution, the dangers related to illegal immigration grow rapidly. This factor alone accrues to the benefit of the illegal population and, specifically, those who have recently entered or will do so in the future. The proposal attempts to confront many of the interim problems currently faced. It is relatively simple to effectuate and can be easily communicated to the illegal population. Most of what is needed is the development of the registration process and the information sought.
The registration process will supply substantial valuable information concerning the realities and extent of our illegal immigration situation. More importantly, because QIIs are to be the only illegals that will obtain any benefit from a future comprehensive legislation (whether considered amnesty or otherwise), the information base accurately describes precisely the target group. Simply put, we will know the number of illegals needed to be addressed, significant information about them from which to draw appropriate provisions, and a base of information from which to more accurately estimate the costs of any final legislation. Congress might well wish to develop (and be able to afford and justify) a plan that addresses five million QIIs differently from one that must address twenty or thirty million QIIs.
Finally, the proposal takes significant steps towards bridging the "amnesty" feud. One argument of the right is that the illegal has broken the law to enter and consequently has no respect for the very country in which he wishes to reside. Further, to not enforce the laws against such illegal entry is to essentially reward the illegal for his behavior. The QII registration process, however, forces the illegal to take substantial action. By registering, he is cooperating with the government and assisting it in formulating an appropriate remedy. It is a second and final chance to decide to live under our laws or to continue to live outside of them and his decision tells us much about him. He forfeits perhaps his greatest asset which is his secrecy as he trusts the government to comply with the immunity. Most importantly, he is taking great risk in revealing himself with no clear idea as to what his ultimate status under a final bill will be. Simply put, he is putting himself in the hands of our legislative process. Whereas the failed comprehensive solution contemplated having the illegal come forward after he was assured of a secure future, this proposal requires the illegal to more appropriately come forward first and assist the creation of a more sensible solution without having the certainty that his future is secure.
At some point after the 2008 elections, a final bill may likely be generated. If it resembles the comprehensive solution previously offered and has the requisite votes and presidential approval, there is little the right could do to stop it. Nonetheless, presumably that bill will be all the more sensible as it would have had the advantage of QII information base. The right would have at least insured that non-QIIs would not be afforded any benefit under the final bill, a result that would not occur under a renewed comprehensive solution. Rather, what the right labels "amnesty" would be limited to those QIIs that actually took the risk of exposure. In such case, the left would be satisfied to the extent of the treatment of the QIIs. While it may object to what it would deem inappropriate treatment of non-QIIs, its justification would have been eroded as the non-QIIs are those who failed to cooperate with the interim bill.
If no final bill is reached post elections, the registration process has still afforded the nation tremendous benefit. There would be little justification for failing to deport or take other punitive actions against non-QIIs. QIIs would be able to live more freely and comfortably while the government would be in an improved position to monitor the growth of the problem. By splitting the illegal population, much more can be done to address the concerns coming from both the left and the right.
As the old adage recognizes, a fair compromise is one in which neither side is happy. The nation is extremely exercised over this issue and it is difficult to see a final resolution that does not bring with it extreme dissatisfaction on all sides. This interim proposal, if acted upon, can go a long way toward bridging the gap and soothing any ultimate outcome while improving the country's true ability to control a difficult problem.
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