Sunday, January 06, 2013

Bilbo's Comprehensive Immigration Reform Plan, Revisited

As we gear up for another year of the useless name-calling and finger-pointing that has replaced good government at the national level, the list of critical problems the 113th Congress will try to avoid is lengthening daily. Fortunately for our elected reprehensives, though, there is one problem they will not need to take up - immigration reform. The reason? (sound trumpets and launch rounds of self-congratulatory back-patting here): Bilbo has long ago solved the problem! Of course, although I sent copies of my plan to the President, my Senators, and my district representative, all I got back was a collection of form letters on handsome letterheads, thanking me for my interest in this critical problem which (insert name of President/Senator/Representative here) is working tirelessly to address, blah, blah, blah.

Don't let the door hit you in the backside on your way out.

But a new year is dawning, a new Congress has been sworn in (and at), and it's time to dust off my plan and send it out again. Those of you who have been reading this blog will recognize this as the plan I first floated in 2008, and have updated a few times since, but I encourage you to read it again and give me your critical thoughts. If you like it, you might even send a copy to your own Congressional delegation. Here we go again ...

First, let's recognize that the nation’s immigration problem has lots of interrelated elements:

- Calling a Spade a Pointy Shovel: No one is willing to say out loud that the problem is not with immigration per se, but with illegal immigration … illegal immigrants and their apologists who insist on their protections under American law conveniently ignore the fact that their very presence indicates a willingness to obey the law only when it is convenient to do so;

- Even if the flow of new illegal immigrants were stopped tomorrow, there would still be millions of illegal immigrants already here;

- Constitutional Rights and Protections: American traditions of Constitutionally protected rights of privacy, due process, and equal justice under the law limit the constitutionality and legality of many actions that might be taken in other countries;

- Race: those who imply that illegal immigration is a problem and that illegal immigrants are breaking the law are often branded as racists (a convenient and over-used ad hominem attack). Organizations like La Raza* protect illegal immigrants purely on the basis of racial and ethnic solidarity, without regard for the negative effect on the much larger population of legal immigrants;

- Economics 1: Illegal immigrants provide a badly-needed pool of cheap, unskilled labor for jobs many Americans don’t want, and help keep business costs and, therefore, prices down by working for minimum or below-minimum wage;

- Economics 2: Illegal immigrants, without proper documentation or status, do not pay taxes and yet are able to take advantage of public services (schools, hospitals, police and fire protection, etc) funded by those who do (and this category includes not just citizens, but legal immigrants as well).

These are just a few of the interrelated issues that complicate any meaningful attempt to reform our badly broken immigration system. Each one is difficult by itself, and when taken together, they imply that the problem is beyond solution. But what if we take a comprehensive approach, and try to devise a solution that addresses more than one element at a time? Consider …

Bilbo's Comprehensive Immigration Reform Plan, 2013

Congress begins by enacting legislation to create a new category of immigration status – the “Provisional Resident Alien (PRA)” – and designates the status with a new form of identification – let’s call it the “Blue Card.” Anyone who is in the United States illegally on the date of enactment will have a grace period of six months to register for PRA status and obtain a Blue Card without fear of arrest, imprisonment, or deportation on any immigration violation charge. They would, of course, remain subject to arrest for outstanding criminal violations unrelated to their immigration status.

Those registering as PRAs must pay a fine of $1000 per person or $5000 per family (whichever is less) for the privilege of obtaining that status. This fee does two things: it imposes a penalty for having broken the law in the first place, and it partially funds the cost of the new program. This provides something for those who oppose blanket amnesty, because it imposes a financial penalty for the willful violation of the law. Many churches and immigrant rights organizations will object to the fine because they think it’s either unfair or too much for poor immigrants to pay; such organizations may demonstrate their concern and willingness to help by paying the fine for those who are unable pay it themselves.

Once a person has been granted PRA status, he or she will be required to obtain a valid social security number, and will be entitled to the same rights, privileges, and services as other legal immigrants; in exchange, they will be required to obey all laws, pay all taxes, enroll in basic English classes (if they do not speak English already), and otherwise act as responsible members of American society. They will enjoy 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 unscrupulous employers.

Initial PRA status will be valid for five years. At the end of this period, 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 – it will still have to be earned through the same application and naturalization process completed by many millions of legal immigrants throughout our history, with the clock starting at the end of the current PRA period, regardless of how long the individual has already been in the country. This protects the interests of those who have followed the legal immigration process by preventing previously-illegal immigrants in PRA status from “jumping the line” for quick citizenship.

On the date the grace period for seeking PRA status ends, anyone who has not registered will be subject to arrest and deportation, without the opportunity to appeal. Because the great majority of previously-illegal immigrants will almost certainly have taken advantage of the opportunity to legalize their status by becoming PRAs, the much smaller number remaining in an illegal status can be assumed to be those with criminal records. Immigration authorities can concentrate their efforts and resources on tracking down this much smaller number of scofflaws and dangerous individuals.

Next, amend the citizenship laws to state that children born within the United States obtain automatic citizenship only if both parents are either US citizens, legal Resident Aliens (not PRAs), or a combination of the two**. This will help reduce the problem of “anchor children” used to establish legal residency for people otherwise here illegally.

On the date the law is enacted, most immigration enforcement agents will be transferred to border security duty to crack down on new illegal immigration. Border security will be enhanced and those caught attempting illegal entry will be summarily deported after being photographed and fingerprinted. Facilitation of illegal immigration (whether by “coyotes” who help smuggle illegals across the border or by those who knowingly employ illegals) will be made a felony, as will a second attempt at illegal immigration.

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

Employers will be responsible for reporting to the immigration authorities any change in the employment status of a PRA. A person in PRA status who is fired or laid off from a job and does not get another one within a prescribed period (say, six months ... the period to be adjustable depending on the economy and job market) loses his or her status and must leave the country until otherwise eligible to enter in that status in the future.

This takes care of those who are in the country illegally today. But comprehensive immigration reform must also address the need for a responsible and responsive program to allow unskilled, low-wage workers to enter the country to take jobs that might otherwise go unfilled. PRA status can be used 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, pay taxes, and learn English in order to maintain their status. At the end of five years, they would also have the opportunity to apply for citizenship.

This plan 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 (who, after all, are too numerous and well-protected to be rounded up and deported), 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 people already in the country illegally.

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 eases the pressure on public services by ensuring that more people have jobs and are thus better able to pay for their medical care and, through their taxes, for the education of their children.

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

I see two downsides to my plan: 

1. The prices on some goods which have been kept artificially low because of the availability of cheap, illegal immigrant labor, will rise. We will, for example, almost certainly 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. 

2. It establishes a requirement for an expanded bureaucracy to administer it, which is anathema to small-government conservatives. While this is true, it is also an example of the need to address a sort of problem that must be addressed at the national level. And, it must be noted, the requirement for PRA applicants to pay a fine does provide at least partial funding for the program.

So, Dear Readers, what do you think? How can this plan be tweaked to make it better? Send me your ideas as a comment, or e-mail them to me at der_blogmeister(at)yahoo(dot)com. Next weekend, I'll send copies of this plan to the usual suspects once again, and we'll see what sort of reaction I get this time.

Have a good day. Think outside the box. 

More thoughts tomorrow.


* The National Council of La Raza ( - an organization dedicated to the support and advancement of Americans of Hispanic origin.

** This will require revision of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which states that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” A reasonable change might be “All persons born in the United States to parents who are native or naturalized citizens or legal residents of the United States, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside.” 


eViL pOp TaRt said...

I'm with you: call a spade a spade. They are illegal immigrants, and some of them might break other laws.

Much of the problem is due to the absence of any strong documentation of green cards or other status signs by employers. Let's face it: those employers are the beneficiaries of having these people around that they can pay exploitative wages and they will keep quiet. If proof of citizenship or legal status was required of all potential employees, and severe monetary penalities extracted for noncompliance, then this would eliminate a motive for illegal immigration.

Yes, work out some system where the nonproblem illegal immigrants who are already here could legitimize their status. There are too many to deport. I like your idea of a fine being imposed. The amount is not excessive; and it emphasises the fact of their illegal status.

A terrific proposal!

Alice Sycamore said...

I don't understand how we got here to begin with. As a citizen I am required to give my social security number to receive most services such as health care, driver license, registering children in school, etc. I feel that the consumer
Of cheap labor is also at fault. " my Mexicans " cans take care of your lawn , brick your home, for a lot less !!!! To me we are participating in a form of indenture . My daughter is a school teacher in VA, her school has many children from illegal immigrants , how does that happen??
She has to work another job just to afford her living expenses!! At least you have thought of a possible solution while congress continues to waste time and money posturing for what??? Maybe they should all watch the movie"Lincoln" to see themselves a 150 years ago !! They really haven't come too far!!

Mike said...

Time to set up a deportation jail. Since the deportees have a habit of coming right back, put them in a special jail for 6 months before sending them back.

allenwoodhaven said...

Uh, Bilbo, I see one major problem with your plan that will keep it from becoming law: it makes sense.

I like the idea of a blue card and having the fine. The amount is tricky. Even $1000 would be a fortune for some yet a pittance for others. Perhaps it could be determined by their employment or savings. It should be substantial to them but not impossible.

Changing the 14th amendment would be a big challenge but should be possible. Your idea is reasonable and would appear to me more in line with what the amendment was supposed to mean.

If I lived in VA, you could count on my vote to get you into Congress, although you might rather not be there...

Elvis Wearing a Bra on His Head said...

Great ideas for immigration reform.

We have to admit that much of the country is hooked on there being a large stream of low-paid workers to fill in a number of jobs. As a result of this, some companies have a vested interest in hiring illegals.

Also, whether we like it or not, in some parts of the rural South the illegal drug trade is growing dominant.

Big Sky Heidi said...

The problem would be greatly reduced if they enforced laws that only people who have legal status could get a job, money for heath care, and social assistance.

Some of the churches are part of the problem. Their priorities should be adjusted. Also, we have no national consensus on what our immigration policy should be.