Wednesday, May 02, 2007

Bilbo's Immigration Reform Plan

As I promised in my post this morning, here is my proposed plan for comprehensive immigration reform for America. It's already been duly ignored by the President, my Senators, and my is your chance to look at it again and see if you think it has merit. Here it is:

First, Congress passes legislation to create a new category of immigration status: the “Provisional Resident Alien” and designate the status with a new form of ID card – let’s call it a “Blue Card.” Anyone who is in the United States illegally as of the date of enactment will have a grace period (say, six months) to register for PRA status without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or deportation UNLESS they are wanted on criminal charges unrelated to their immigrant status. A person registering as a PRA must pay a fee of $100 per person or $500 per family (whichever is less) for the privilege of obtaining that status. This fee does two things: it makes the illegal immigrant pay a fine for having willfully broken the law in the first place, and it partially funds the cost of the new program. I can foresee that many churches and immigrant rights organizations will object to the fine…they’ll say it’s too much for poor immigrants to pay, or that it’s unfair. Well, too bad. It beats being chased, arrested, and deported, and it’s considerably less than I paid in various costs to bring my wife and daughter to the United States legally in 1982. And if the money bothers you, then do something useful – pay the fine for those who can’t pay it themselves.

Once a person has been granted PRA status, they will be required to obtain a legal social security number, and will be entitled to the same rights, privileges, and social services as other immigrants; in exchange, they will be expected to obey the laws, pay all taxes, learn basic English, and otherwise act as responsible members of American society. They will have the protection of labor laws which require payment of the minimum wage, and with a legal status, will no longer be subject to exploitation by shady employers.

PRA status will be good for five years. At the end of the provisional status, the individual must report to the immigration authorities with proof of employment and proof that taxes have been paid. If these conditions are met, the individual may either extend the PRA status for another five years, or apply for citizenship. Citizenship is not automatic on completion of PRA status – it will still have to be earned through the same naturalization process completed by many millions of legal immigrants throughout our history.

On the date the grace period for seeking PRA status ends, anyone still present illegally in the country will be arrested and deported.

Second, on the date the law is enacted, most immigration enforcement agents immediately transfer to border security duty to crack down on new illegal immigration. Border security will be severely stiffened and those caught attempting illegal entry to the country will be summarily deported. Those who facilitate illegal immigration will be arrested and treated as criminals.

Third, on the date the grace period for PRA registration ends, a set of very steep fines goes into effect for businesses and individuals hiring persons who are in the country illegally (without a Green or Blue Card). This will help to remove the economic incentive for businesses to support illegal immigration.

Now, this takes care of those who are in the country illegally today. But comprehensive immigration reform must also address the need for a responsive program to allow unskilled, low-wage workers to enter the country to take jobs that might otherwise go unfilled. I propose to use the PRA status for these persons, too. Businesses would project their labor requirements, and the State Department would make an appropriate number of PRA visas available to meet the need. Immigrants would then apply at the US embassy or consulate in their home country for PRA status covering any period of time from six months to five years, and need only maintain a job and pay taxes in order to maintain their status. At the end of five years, they would also have the opportunity to apply for citizenship.

That’s my plan. I know it won’t please everyone, but that’s the nature of a compromise, and the ability to compromise is what has been missing from political discourse in this country for too long. The advantages of my plan are:

1. It offers a way to legitimize the persons already here illegally, but imposes a fine on them as a condition of legalizing their status (i.e., no reward for having broken the law in the first place).

2. It funds itself, in part, through the fines collected from those applying for PRA status.

3. It provides resources for increased border security by freeing up immigration agents who otherwise spend their days fruitlessly hunting down illegals.

4. It provides a pathway for low-wage workers to legally enter the country and take advantage of economic opportunities not available to them at home, while contributing to the US economy in taxes.

5. It removes the incentive for businesses to hire and exploit illegal immigrants who cannot seek their rights for fear of exposure and deportation.

The downside of my plan is, of course, that prices on some goods will rise. We’ll pay more for the produce picked by immigrants who are finally being paid a decent wage. But I believe that in the long run, this plan represents a good start toward a stronger America and a better life for those who would share in its dream.

If anyone in Congress is interested, you can have this plan at no charge. It’s obvious you can’t come up with a plan yourselves.

Have a good day. Let me know what you think of my plan...constructive comments only, please!

More thoughts tomorrow.


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