How to Fix the Broken Immigration System

The best way to fix the broken immigration system involves bipartisan legislating of three main policies: improving border security, adjusting legal immigration to allow for the entry of needed workers, and creating a method for unauthorized immigrants who are already here to earn legal status.

Border security is necessary for any attempt to pass immigration legislation. Republican lawmakers have made that clear. The federal government should have operational control over our border and who and what is coming into our nation. What Republican lawmakers have not made clear is what defines a secure border. While the federal government should devote more resources towards improving border security, lawmakers will need to establish metrics to measure what they aim to achieve at the border and what will allow them to move forward with additional reforms. While most conservatives will argue that we should spend more on the border, at some point that spending will reach a point of diminishing returns. I recommend more detailed border policy solutions in in another article.

Another way to help secure the border and prevent illegal immigration is to create legal and viable methods of entry for some of the people who are coming illegally.

As long as there are open jobs in the US economy that Americans are unavailable to fill, people in countries with limited economic opportunity will come to fill them by any means necessary. Current legal pathways of immigration have not been updated since 1990, and do not allow most immigrants who lack higher education or family members in the US to migrate here legally. This not only encourages illegal immigration, but also stifles US economic growth by preventing the entry of legal workers from across the skill spectrum that the US economy needs. With the highest number of open jobs in US history, the current workforce shortage is undoubtedly contributing to rising costs of goods and services. Efficient legal immigration can provide an immediate solution to skyrocketing inflation.

Lawmakers should also create a conditional method for 11+ million unauthorized immigrants who are currently living in the US to earn legal status so the federal government can identify and tax them properly. Lack of legal status and work permits encourages unauthorized immigrants to work for employers who do not pay employment taxes or provide benefits like health insurance. This allows these employers to undercut and underbid employers that follow the rules. Coupled with increased enforcement against payroll fraud and worker misclassification, there are many benefits of such an ID and Tax policy. Here are just three:

  • It would allow unauthorized workers to obtain the necessary work authorizations they need to work for legitimate taxpaying employers.
  • It would help to level the playing field for law-abiding workers and businesses who are being cheated by fraudulent employers.
  • It would increase tax revenues without raising taxes on lawful taxpayers.​

Recent efforts by Democrat lawmakers to pass immigration reform without the support of Republican lawmakers through the budget reconciliation process in the Senate were stifled by a Senate Parliamentarian ruling. Parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough ruled that budget reconciliation is for adjusting federal spending and revenues and not creating policy. Although some Senate Democrats have called for their colleagues to bypass the Parliamentarian’s ruling, it appears for now that at least one Democrat Senator, Joe Manchin, is not interested in doing so. This has made it clear that immigration reform will require bipartisan legislating.   

The problem is, most Democrat lawmakers refuse to work with Republicans on securing the border, and most Republicans refuse to work with Democrats on creating a method for unauthorized immigrants to earn legal status. Each party is focused on their own immigration solution while failing to acknowledge that both are needed. Ironically neither side is placing emphasis on adjusting legal pathways of immigration to allow for the timely entry of workers the US economy needs, while the lack thereof is arguably the biggest cause for illegal immigration.

That is not to say that 2021 was without any attempts at bipartisan legislation. For example, the bicameral Bipartisan Border Solutions Act introduced in April by Texas Lawmakers John Cornyn, Tony Gonzales, and Henry Cuellar, and Arizona's Kyrsten Sinema to improve border security and immigration processing can provide a good first step towards passing additional beneficial immigration policies.

2022 presents an opportunity for incumbent lawmakers to prove to their constituents that they are interested in and capable of fixing the immigration system in a way that benefit Americans and the US economy ahead of midterm elections. Let’s continue to call on our lawmakers do their job on immigration. Americans must not accept the 30 year status quo of politicians using the broken immigration system as a campaign issue while legislating almost nothing to fix it.



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