In my last post, I outlined the following key facts about American immigration policy (in a nutshell):
– American policies are partly responsible for the recent influx of child migrants from Central America.
– The conditions of migrant detention centers are horrendous, and likely violate human rights and civil liberties.
– Anti-immigrant arguments that focus on the “rule of law” and/or America’s ability to take in immigrants are sheer nonsense.
– The prevailing Democratic consensus cannot be the basis for sane immigration policy. Obama and the Dems do not have a pro-immigrant record.
Following from these basic facts, with an eye toward improving the conditions for all migrants, I’ve come up with the following framework for a comprehensive immigration reform plan:
1. Give Central American Child Migrants Refugee Status
The mainstream debate about the Central American child migrants has largely centered around how fast we should deport them. According to the UN, about 60% of the child migrants should receive some kind of refugee status. But US standards are different, and the US refugee system has become less generous over time. It’s high time that we adopt internationally accepted norms and grant the child migrants refugee status.
This might mean changing diplomatic relations with the countries from which these migrants are fleeing – Guatemala, El Salvador, and Honduras. Obama’s urged these countries’ leaders to stem the flow of child migrants. This isn’t enough. The US should immediately suspend military aid to these countries; the solution to this crisis will come from reducing vigilante and state violence in the 3 nations, not militarization of the police.
2. Grant Citizenship to Immigrants Who Arrived As Minors (DREAM Act) And Have No Criminal Record
Simply put, why should children who came here illegally as minors be punished for their parents’ actions? It makes no sense to keep young adults who have gone through the American education system disenfranchised. This policy’s not only morally justifiable, but also economically sound. Multiple reports have stated that the DREAM Act would save taxpayers money and boost economic activity.
3. Hire More ICE Agents to Clear Up the Green Card Application Backlog ASAP
The process of legally immigrating to the US is torturous and costly. Some have been waiting for a response for decades. It makes no sense to grant amnesty without addressing those who’ve tried to come here legally for decades. Only once this backlog is cleared can the US do something about illegal immigrants. Instead of setting deportation quotas and hiring deportation agents, we could divert these resources toward administrative tasks.
4. Grant a Green Card To Illegal Immigrants Without a Criminal Record Who Have Been Here For 5+ Years
A green card would allow immigrants to work, obtain a drivers’ license, take out loans, and receive federal benefits with ease. The work authorization would both shield immigrant workers from abuse, and allow domestic workers to compete effectively with immigrant labor. The rest of the benefits would be balanced by the increased tax revenues that legalization would create.
5. Grant Work Authorization to Immigrants Who Have Stayed Here For <5 Years and Place Them on the Green Card Queue
As I said before, the work authorization would allow labor to negotiate on better terms because immigrants would have to be paid minimum wage as well. This amnesty would also allow immigrants to report crimes that they might not otherwise in fear of deportation. There’s no reason immigrant women should be afraid of reporting rape, and until there’s amnesty, we have an underclass of Americans for whom “equal protection of the laws” (14th Amendment) does not apply.
6. De-Militarize the Border
We spend about $18 billion annually on fences and drones for the US-Mexico border, more than all other law enforcement agencies combined. Yet desperate immigrants still try to cross the border, often hiring gang-related “coyotes” to get here. Deaths on the borders have increased, mostly due to stringent border security measures.
But wouldn’t everyone just cross the de-militarized border and come into America? First, we should note that net migration to America from Mexico has fallen to zero. Second, we have to ignore those who oppose increased migration because its impact on demographics or “culture”; that’s an argument steeped in racism or self-interest (or both). Third, increased border security has been ineffective in halting drug smuggling across the border. On the other hand, reducing drug demand through treatment or prevention would be much more cost-effective.
According to the most recent polls, 62% of the public favors a path toward citizenship for illegal immigrants and a similar percentage agrees that “on the whole, immigration is a good thing” for America. We’ve lacked sane immigration policies for decades, and at some point, we have to decide that the resulting human and economic costs are too great.