Thursday, May 11, 2006

Rational Immigration Reform, Part III

This is the third and final part in a series on immigration reform. The first part provided background, and the second part dealt with current illegal aliens.

There is still the problem of avoiding a flood of additional illegal aliens. By providing a (slightly punitive) path towards permanent legal residency, we maintain an appeal to other would-be immigrants unable to enter the country legally. Thus, without addressing legal immigration we are setting ourselves up for another wave of illegal entry.

There are, naturally, a number of suggestions currently on the table. The Minutemen are a vigilante group trying to enforce our immigration laws themselves. As with all vigilante groups, they have little or no training in law enforcement procedures, standards of evidence, or other sometimes subtle aspects of police work. H.R.3622 would grant legitimacy to the Minutemen as part of a border-sealing initiative. Other civilian border enforcement bills are H.R.3704, which would establish a Border Patrol Auxiliary, and H.R.4099, which would establish a Border Corps within a Citizen Corps. This last is notable in that it appears to relegate civilians to roles as spotters and general assistants to formal border enforcement personnel, the latter being the ones who would potentially detain illegal crossers.

Farther down the rabbit hole are H.R.4083 and H.R.4313, both of which propose building a fence along the entire border with Mexico. H.R.4437, which has passed in the House, calls for a partially fenced border at key crossing points, which isn't necessarily unreasonable. I will not address other issues with this bill, as it is very long and has been discussed quite a bit in public and in the Congressional Record.

It seems clear that our economy has become at least somewhat reliant on foreign workers. A guest worker program has often been mentioned as a means to satisfy this reliance in a legal framework that would control the number of foreign workers and the terms of their residency in this country. H.R.2330/S.1033 would establish a new category of visa for nonimmigrant workers for a period of three years (renewable once for another three years). It would also provide labor protection for foreign workers, as well as encouraging economic development within Mexico. This last point is important, as improved economic conditions in Mexico will decrease Mexicans' incentive to come to America looking for work. Other Central and South Americans might also prefer to work in a more economically vibrant Mexico, where the local culture more closely resembles their own. H.R.3333 is similar in some ways, though it limits a foreign worker to a maximum of 365 days in the country for every two years. While apparently renewable indefinitely, this restriction effectively prevents foreign workers from changing their status from nonimmigrant to immigrant.

H.R.3333 has an additional provision worth noting. It requires that a potential guest worker obtain an offer of employment before being granted a visa. In order to match potential workers and employers, the bill mandates an Internet-based job listing site. This has the distinct advantage of ensuring that any foreign worker coming to this country has a job lined up in advance. For seasonal workers who come to America at planting or harvesting time and spend the remainder of the year at home, this could be very effective. There is always the danger of exploitation, however, and the listings and employers would have to be monitored carefully.

Guest worker visas are just one aspect of the immigration reform that we need, and address only one of the reasons that people want to come to America. America is not simply a source of employment, it represents the hope of a better life. Throughout our nation's history, immigrants have come here with the belief that if they work hard, they can be successful and provide a better future for their children than in their countries of origin. In turn, we have benefitted from their hard work and ingenuity.

Immigration benefits this country, and it is time that Congress lifted the isolationist barriers to and caps on immigration that were enacted in the 1920's.

I would like to close with yet another quote from 1870. This one is by Sen. Jacob M. Howard of Michigan, in relation to the bill advocated by Representatives Fitch and Johnson, and was made on December 22, 1869 (page 300 of the Congressional Globe for that session):

I desire to call to the attention of the committee to whom this bill may be referred that very singular provision of this bill. It is not unlawful for an American to make a contract with an Indian even in Canada or elsewhere out of the limits of the United States for the service of the person employed in the United States. There is no law, and never has been a law so far as I know, prohibiting such contracts. If they are fairly and honorably entered into they are as binding as any other contracts, and I should like to know how it has happened that the Chinese, with whom we have just entered into a treaty of friendship and commerce, are to be excluded from the right which is enjoyed by the people of all other nations of the earth, and even by our own aborigines. The right of individual immigration into the United States, I notice, is preserved by the bill. That is all well enough. I have no fault to find with that; but I do object to a discrimination against the whole population of China, such as is embraced in this bill. I think it incompatible with the spirit of our treaty with China, and unkind and unfair.

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