Monday, August 29, 2016

When Walls Don't Work

One of the major points of the GOP platform for the coming election, as insisted on by their standard-bearer, Donald Trump, is the construction of a mighty wall across the length of the border between the US and Mexico. This wall will supposedly secure our southern border and keep out all sorts of undesirable people.

The building of walls to keep out undesirables has a long history. It was tried by the Chinese (The Great Wall of China), the Romans (Hadrian's Wall between Roman Britain and Scotland), the French (the Maginot Line facing Germany) and the government of the former German Democratic Republic (The Berlin Wall or, as they preferred to call it, the "Anti-Fascist Protective Rampart"), among others. History shows that none of them worked particularly well.

Mr Trump's wall notwithstanding, illegal immigration is indeed a problem we need to face. Unfortunately, we don't approach it realistically. Building huge walls and rounding up and deporting millions of illegal immigrants are not realistic solutions: they are too expensive, morally questionable, and unconstitutional ... not to mention that we can't maintain the public infrastructure we have already, much less a twenty-foot high-tech wall thousands of miles long. We need a comprehensive, detailed, realistic approach for immigration reform.

And as it happens, I have it.

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a long time have seen this several times before. It's slightly tweaked from previous versions, but all the essentials are the same (I have added a section dealing with the impact of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution on questions of birthright citizenship). I have sent copies of this plan to all my elected officials and to Presidents Bush and Obama, all of whom have responded with thanks-for-your-interest-in-this-serious-issue-blah-blah-blah letters, and the dumbassery has gone on.

If you've seen this before and don't want to read it again, come back tomorrow for something else. If you like it, feel free to copy it and send it to your elected reprehensives ... it's not copyrighted or anything. Perhaps it will fall on fertile ground, although in the current atmosphere, I doubt it.

Bilbo’s Comprehensive Compromise Immigration Reform Plan

First, Congress enacts legislation to create a new category of immigration status – the “Provisional Resident Alien (PRA)” – 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 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, be subject to arrest for outstanding criminal violations unrelated to their immigration 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 levies a fine for having broken the law in the first place, and it partially funds the cost of the new program.  It provides something for those who oppose blanket amnesty, because it imposes a penalty, albeit a modest one, 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; in this case, individuals or organizations who object to making the illegals pay the fine could be offered the opportunity to pay it on behalf those who, for whatever reason, can’t or won’t pay it themselves.

Once a person has been granted PRA status, they will be required to obtain a valid social security number, and will be entitled to the same rights, privileges, and social services as other legal immigrants; in exchange, they will be required to obey all laws, pay all taxes, enroll in basic English classes, 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.

Initial PRA status would be valid for five years.  At the end of this period, the individual must report to the immigration authorities with proof of employment, proof of a clean police record (no felonies), 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 naturalization process completed by many millions of legal immigrants throughout our history, with the clock for all associated requirements starting at the end of the PRA period, regardless of how long the individual has already been in the country.  This protects the interests of those who have weathered 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 PRA status applications ends, anyone still present illegally in the country will become liable for arrest and deportation.  Because the great majority of previously-illegal immigrants will have taken advantage of the opportunity to legalize their status by becoming PRAs, those remaining in an illegal status will probably those with criminal records.  Immigration authorities can then proceed to concentrate on this much smaller number of more dangerous criminals.

On the date the law is enacted, most immigration enforcement agents would 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 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 illegal immigration attempt.

On the date the grace period for PRA registration ends, a set of very steep fines and jail sentences 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.

Employers would be responsible for reporting to the immigration authorities any change in the employment status of a PRA. If a person in PRA status is fired from a job or becomes unemployed, his status is revoked and he must leave the country until otherwise eligible to apply for legal immigration in the future.

Several people who have reviewed my plan over the years have reminded me that the 14th Amendment to the Constitution 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." This means that children born within the United States - even to those illegally here - are US citizens*, even though their parents may not be. If we as a nation wish to change the birthright citizenship status of children born in the future to illegal immigrant parents, the relevant part of the Fourteenth Amendment would have to be amended, perhaps to read,

"All persons born in the territory of the United States to parents who are citizens thereof, and those who have attained citizenship through lawful naturalization, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside."

Regardless, although children born in the US to illegal immigrant parents are citizens under the Constitution, the parents of those children would be required to obtain PRA status just like any other illegal immigrant.

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. 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 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 under the same rules as any other person in PRA status.

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 the PRA 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 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.

6. It does not, of itself, provide the “path to citizenship” that is a red line for hard core opponents of immigration reform.

7. It recognizes the reality that there are children of illegal immigrants who are, by virtue of being born in the United States, citizens, and requires the parents to legitimize their status.

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, and the services provided by those who no longer live in the shadows and earn meager wages.  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.

There you go. Sorry for the repetition of the topic over the years, but it doesn't seem like anyone in a position of authority and leadership has a plan even half as good. What do you think? Where does my plan fall short? How can it be improved? Leave a comment. Send it to your elected representatives if you like.

Have a good day. More thoughts tomorrow.


* The 14th Amendment was intended to establish the citizenship status of freed slaves in the aftermath of the Civil War. In 1898, in the case of United States v. Wong Kim Ark, the Supreme Court interpreted the 14th Amendment to clarify that children born on American soil are U.S. citizens without regard to their parents’ status. The Court held that a baby born in San Francisco to Chinese parents -- Chinese subjects (they had an emperor back then) were prohibited by law at the time from becoming U.S. citizens -- was a citizen at birth under the 14th Amendment. 


The Mistress of the Dark said...

The problem with this is it makes too much sense and I think there's a written code in Congress that nothing they do must ever make sense. (Also...they never do anything)

allenwoodhaven said...

Oh Bilbo, there you go again, being reasonable. When will you learn? (I hope never...)

Dave Hess said...

Doesn't the provision for deporting anyone in NPR status who loses his or her job put a bit much power into the hands of the employer? I'm thinking of, say, a young female who is unlucky enough to find herself working for a Bill Cosby or Roger Ailes.
Also, I may have missed it, but how do you envision dealing with families that would be separated under your proposal? Deporting U.S. citizen children is not an option. What happens to them?
As we both know (but Trump obviously has no clue about), deportation is often easier said than done. The country you want to deport someone back to sometimes will not agree to take them or may argue that it is not the country of origin. Proving otherwise can be difficult. If the proposed deportee is uncooperative, it can even be difficult to impossible to determine the country of origin.

Bilbo said...

Dave, your point about putting power in the hands of employers is well taken ... I need to think about that. I did address the issue of families with citizen children born to illegal parents - the parents must obtain PRA status like everyone else, and there's no reason why they shouldn't unless they're guilty of some crime unrelated to their immigration status. If they refuse, the family separation is on them. Deportation is another issue ... you are correct that a lot of countries won't want their citizens back, and that proving someone's original citizenship can be difficult in any case. If they can make a case that they face death or imprisonment if deported, they can apply for asylum; otherwise, the undesirable alternative is probably imprisonment here rather than in their home country.