It Is a National Disgrace that Congress has Failed to Provide Meaningful Immigration Reform
Once again, Washington finds itself paralyzed over immigration. Squabbles over funding a proposed wall along our southern border are emblematic of a larger issue that has seared any hands it has touched.
For far too long, the immigration debate has focused on scoring political points at the expense of improving the system. Both major parties are to blame, with little progress to show for it. As a country, I believe we are better than this. It is a national disgrace that Congress has failed to provide meaningful immigration reform. One way to do this would be to pass what I would call the Family Stabilization Act.
Undocumented families who arrived prior to January 20, 2017, would be permitted to apply for legal status under FSA, provided they were otherwise law-abiding. The application and potential permit, if approved, would be paid in full by the applicants (NOT the taxpayers). If approved, a permit would be valid for five years, and would be eligible for subsequent five-year renewals provided the applicants stayed out of trouble. The permit would allow unrestricted right of employment and the right to travel in and out of the United States. This process would aid law enforcement by culling criminal aliens, and would eliminate the shadow economy by ensuring a legitimate labor force.
Given the fact that the individuals at some point either entered the U.S. without inspection, which is a violation of the law, or overstayed their temporary status, which is a civil violation, those individuals would be subject to a reasonable fine as punishment and in addition would have to pay a reasonable filing fee to obtain legal status.
Importantly, while the FSA would allow permit holders to remain in our country legally, it would NOT, under any circumstances, offer them a pathway to citizenship; applicants would only qualify for legal status for purposes of employment and residency. Just as important, they would not skip the line over those legal immigrants who have been waiting – some of them for years – to have their cases approved.
Individuals who would benefit from this program – approximately 11 million undocumented persons are estimated to reside in our country – would not be eligible for any public assistance other than earned benefits. The implementation of the FSA could be conditioned upon meeting certain benchmarks established by U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the U.S. Border Patrol that appropriate levels of border enforcement were achieved.
No intellectually honest person within either political party believes the removal of these 11 million people makes sense from an economic or humanitarian point of view. Of this number, more than seven million are estimated to be in the active workforce, most of them for decades. Many of them work in industries and in jobs for which there are few, if any, citizen or resident applicants. In addition, many have one or more children who are US citizens. This population is concerned primarily about having a lawful status to eliminate the nagging fear that they could be apprehended at any moment – never to return to their families. The FSA will relieve that fear.
And while these people are often hiding in plain sight, removing the legal cloud hanging over them would impart some key benefits. First and foremost, they’d be fuller participants in the economy, with greater rights – but also greater responsibilities, such as paying taxes. Second, federal officials whose duty now is to apprehend and deport undocumented aliens could be redeployed to protecting our porous southern border – without adding a single Border Patrol agent to the federal payroll. Placing additional personnel on the border – both for immigration enforcement and drug interdiction – would help prevent the problem from repeating, as it has for years with lax oversight.
We’re rightly proud that under President Trump, we have a record low unemployment rate. In fact, recent studies suggest job openings outnumber potential workers. How can the economy continue its upward trajectory? One way is by allowing productive workers to continue participating in the economy. By normalizing their status, these workers would be freed from constant worry, and might become even more productive, creating businesses, adding new jobs, and paying more taxes.
The Family Stabilization Act simply recognizes the plain fact that people who are otherwise law-abiding, contributing members of society have no straightforward, legal way to ever obtain a lawful status. Lifting the shroud is in the interest of all Americans so these people can be identified and more fully integrated into the economy. The time for meaningful change is upon us.