Immigration policy principles
25 September 2020
Immigration policy in the United States has been in need of reform for well over a decade. Without reform, our laws are not respected, businesses have a difficult time making long-range plans, and the lives of undocumented immigrants and their families (many of whom are United States citizens) are left in limbo. With no non-partisan compromise in place, everyone knows that the rules can change with every change of administration.
Rather than give a lot of specific policy proposals, I will just list some principles to guide what immigration reform should be and do.
- A high priority and should not languish for yet another decade.
- Non-partisan so that policy does not change frequently and radically.
- Set by Congress, not executive order.
- Compassionate and not unduly harsh.
- Enforced and respected.
- Balance business needs for workers and the desires of those who fear losing their jobs to immigrant labor.
- Provide a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children, have been educated here, have jobs here, and yet are in danger of deportation. Of these, many do not remember their home countries and would face significant challenges surviving if deported. Moreover, they are currently productive members of society who contribute to society and the economy. They contribute to Social Security at a time when Social Security’s finances are far from stable. They are already assimilated into the culture.
- Give priority to legal immigrants who come to the United States for college and graduate school. These people are educated and highly motivated. If they stay, they will work hard and contribute to the economy and Social Security. If they are forced to return home, they will still be successful, but we will have to compete with them.
- Establish a guest worker program for industries where Americans will not take the jobs anyway, such as field work.
- Offer security assistance to Central American countries where the largest number of undocumented immigrants are coming from now. They are not here seeking jobs — they are fleeing for their lives. As someone who has lived in Central America, I know that the people there would rather remain in their own country if they can only have a way to be safe and support themselves.
- Reduce illegal immigration substantially. Remove the incentive to immigrate illegally for work. Much of illegal immigration is motivated by the chance for employment. Among other things it should not be possible to use stolen or fabricated identification documents to gain employment. (Republicans have talked a big game about this, but in deference to the business community have never really taken significant steps to reduce the employment of undocumented immigrants.)
- Increase legal immigration. Without immigration, the population of the United States would be falling, causing many problems. Japan’s experience provides a vivid example of how negative this can be. New workers are needed, not just to avoid labor shortages, but also to pay into Social Security to support workers who are retired or soon will retire.
- Children should not be separated from their parents at the border.
- Minimize or eliminate the deportation of parents who would leave behind spouses or minor children who are citizens. Future illegal immigration should be discouraged by making it difficult to work, not by destroying the lives of those who have already become established.
- Begin accepting our fair share of refugees again.
- Not be based on the unrealistic idea that all undocumented immigrants currently in the United States will be deported.
- Focus deportation on criminals, especially violent criminals, and those who have been in the United States for only a short time.
- Not be based on the mistaken idea that a wall improves our border security. The majority of undocumented immigrants in the United States came here by overstaying their visas, not by crossing the border illegally. A border wall is a political symbol, not an effective strategy. It is a tremendous waste of resources that would be better spent on more effective strategies such as staff to check on visa over-stays, patrolling the border, and so on.