Immigration Reform Principles Worth Considering

By James R. Edwards, Jr. on January 27, 2014

House Republican leaders seem hell-bent on forcing through amnesty for illegal aliens. They have been huddling with open-borders apologists — big-government liberal ethnic advocates masquerading as conservatives — to come up with "principles" that will supposedly inform their immigration legislative agenda. These principles are expected to be unveiled at the House Republican retreat later this week and begin the marketing campaign to sell their rank and file on going along with mass amnesty.

That approach of a handful of amnesty zealots cooking up principles on which "everybody" (meaning the few people in the room) agrees didn't work very well for the U.S. Senate a year ago. Then, McCainiacs and Grahamnesties and other sellouts drafted a sufficiently vague set of principles that gave political cover to pandering politicians who rationalized their way to support S.744, which makes the McCain-Kennedy amnesty of 2007 seem modest by comparison.

The Senate amnesty bill largely shaped by Sen. Chuck Schumer, the liberal Democrat from New York, has languished — in no small part due to its over-the-top, gratuitous assault on the rule of law, sovereignty, and American national interest.

Now, some House Republicans want to give President Obama and Sen. Schumer a huge political victory in an election year that normally would spell electoral loss for the party holding the White House.

There's really no mystery about what the House GOP principles will espouse — nonsense about bringing cowering illegal aliens out of the shadows, "normalizing" their immigration status in exchange for shams about paying back taxes and learning English, and "ensuring sufficient future flow" of millions more foreign workers to rob Americans who aren't interested in slave wages of a chance for a middle-class life. Their big "penalty" will be withholding U.S. citizenship for some illegals (though undoubtedly the open-borders lobby will make citizenship for all its next goal). There will be vague, meaningless sops to "securing the border", but they are nothing more than rhetorical window dressing on mass amnesty and massive increases in legal immigration levels.

So, anybody with common sense can dismiss the House GOP immigration principles as a fraud. The truth is, the GOP immigration position is all about the amnesty.

If House Republicans really meant business about developing a set of principles to inform beneficial immigration policy, it wouldn't come from the top down or from some back room in the Capitol. If Republicans seriously wish to think through immigration reform they might start here:

1. First, Do No Harm

The 1986 amnesty overwhelmed the immigration bureaus, which became rubber stamps for frauds, terrorists, and others who never should have received legal immigration status. And that only involved three million illegals. Today, we have close to four times as large an illegal population. The IRCA amnesty, coupled with the 1990 Immigration Act, set up the conditions for even more overwhelming problems associated with immigration over the past two and a half decades.

Therefore, it makes enormous good sense to deal with stopping the flood before we start to bail water. That is, put into place meaningful, effective immigration control and enforcement measures in consular services; antifraud and verification checks in the interior involving state and local law enforcement; addressing visa overstays; gaining efficiency in capturing, detaining, and deporting illegal aliens at the worksite; disrupting day labor operations; and cracking down on marriage fraud schemes, identity theft rings, and human smugglers. Enforcement and control must be fully achieved ahead of most other immigration measures. ACLU and ethnic advocacy and Big Business groups' litigation assaults against such real reforms must be settled first and then allow ample time for control measures to tighten down things for illegals and their abettors.

In other words, amnesty first, enforcement later (if ever) is unacceptable because we will only find ourselves in the same position in a few years — again overwhelmed by millions of foreigners who willfully trounce Americans' economic prospects, threaten our communities, and disrupt our American quality of life (except for the elite few who live in gated communities, just like their counterparts in the Third World who never have to interact with average citizens).

We did not get into the current situation of a broken immigration system and an unlawfully resident foreign-born population of more than 10 million overnight. Therefore, no effort to rectify this situation should attempt to solve the multifaceted challenges all at once. Only prudence and discrete, reasonable measures must be taken.

2. American Citizens' Own Best Interests Must Be Served by Immigration

Immigration should produce consequences that benefit all Americans, not powerful special interests. The average American of modest means should gain something tangible from each decision to admit an immigrant. Good old average Americans certainly should not experience joblessness or underemployment or forced welfare enrollment or deteriorating earnings or a heavier tax burden as a result of immigration.

Immigration must not provide a job or an education or any other chance at self-reliance for a foreign worker ahead of any American citizen, particularly black or Hispanic citizens or any other average or less fortunate group of American citizens (e.g., the disabled, convicts who have paid their debt to society, midcareer and older workers, the less educated, the low-skilled).

No average American citizen should suffer adverse consequences on account of the admission of any immigrant. This means immigration should not burden American citizens or place Americans in a position where they are worse off economically, financially, or in some other way. Immigration should not cause any American citizen to lose out on job opportunities, health care, public assistance in hard times, or other benefits inherent from the social contract of their American citizenship. Rather, immigration's effects should positively, tangibly benefit the average American citizen — greater job prospects, better wages, lighter taxes, higher quality of life, and enhanced civic unity.

3. America's National Interest Must Take Priority over the Interests of Foreign Citizens or Other Nations

Immigration has been, from time to time, and can be something positive for our country. To achieve this goal, an immigrant should be admitted into the United States only on the basis of advancing the national interest, such as someone possessing extraordinary ability. A mechanism should be put into place that suspends immigration processing in case of a recession, a national emergency, a homeland security threat, or unemployment above 7 percent (including the officially unemployed, the underemployed, and those who have dropped out of the labor market).

It must be proven up front, clearly demonstrated, that a would-be immigrant's admittance will not harm any American citizen, or else he or she could get a visa only under an extraordinarily compelling exception (e.g., the spouse or minor child of an exceptionally skilled immigrant or for certain well-defined humanitarian reasons). In any instance, where this exceptional admittance is granted, there must be required some offset — Republicans are well versed in offsetting budget cuts with pay-fors elsewhere; this principle of setting priorities and making hard choices should be applied to immigration. If you make an exception to give one visa to this person, then you have to offset that by taking away another visa somewhere else.

Immigration reform should reorder the basis on which visas are awarded so that truly exceptional individuals receive admittance ahead of less compelling individuals. Visa categories or programs that make little sense for our modern, advanced nation should be scrapped altogether, including chain migration visas for distant relatives and the visa lottery. And, just like the goal of paring down overall government budget levels often informs congressional Republicans' legislating, so should overall immigration levels be reduced from today's million-plus visas a year flood to a more reasonable, rational, healthy level.

4. The Rule of Law Must Reign

Immigration policy should be reestablished on the Rule of Law, as well as solely determined by the legislative branch, which has until recent years possessed plenary power to set America's immigration policy.

To restore the rule of law in immigration, the laws must be faithfully executed. This includes on the border, in the interior, at the workplace, under state and local laws that exercise their inherent authority under the Tenth Amendment, and with reasonable state and local cooperation with federal authorities to enforce immigration laws faithfully.

Immigration policy should reward those who obey the law and punish those who break the law. This applies to unscrupulous employers who hire illegal aliens as well as to illegal foreign workers, legal immigrants who aid and abet unlawful immigration, and public corruption among public officials, from the lowest level visa or driver's license office clerk to the highest levels of the government. Our immigration system should not encourage or entice illegal immigration in any way. And immigration must be suspended at any time federal officials fail to enforce those laws in good faith.

If there is to be a legalization for some portion of the illegal alien population, the process of determining who qualifies for certain types of legalization should be rigorous and designed to reward officials who ferret out fraud. The standards for substantiating aliens' claims concerning date of arrival, residences, activities, etc. should be extremely high. Determinations of status grants should always err on the side of caution; legal status should not be the default setting for befuddled bureaucrats.

5. Fairness and Justice in Immigration Policy Must First and Foremost Mean Fairness and Justice for Innocent Americans

Law-abiding American citizens should receive justice and fairness under the immigration policies their government puts in place. Americans deserve this from their own government, as part of the constitutional social contract and meaning of citizenship.

No aspect of our immigration system should create competitive unfairness for American businesses that do not use foreign worker programs. Any American employers who use foreign workers, either temporary or permanent, should not be allowed to demand that American taxpayers subsidize the actual costs guestworkers place on our society. This includes both direct costs, such as health insurance and housing and public assistance, and indirect costs, such as the "congestion costs" the foreigners place on our infrastructure, police and fire protection, public transportation, hospitals, schools, etc. Thus, employers should not gain a competitive advantage from displacing American citizen workers.

Any legalization of immigration lawbreakers should be narrow and measured. It should come only at the end of a deliberate process that has put in place solid enforcement measures, new priorities for visa granting such as employment over family reunification, and reduced overall immigration levels that reflect those new visa priorities. Amnesty should only come at the end to deal with the residual effects of this deplorable chapter in our nation's life.

There must not be any "one size fits all" granting of legal status. The illegal alien population is multifaceted, with some aliens having been present for decades and others having just arrived in the past several years. This population should be carefully and thoughtfully parsed, with appropriate degrees of leniency or punishment assigned to each subgroup. For instance, those who really, truly were brought into the country as babies by border-jumping parents deserve leniency, while their parents deserve punishment; individuals who have not committed other offenses such as ID theft or marriage fraud or gang crimes should receive more leniency than someone who has brazenly broken a number of other laws.

For every illegal alien granted legal status in this end-stage process, his or her home country should receive two fewer visas. After all, its lawbreaker citizen brought this on the native country, and this withholding of visas would send home the message that America's "golden door" isn't a doormat to be trampled outside the law. This step would demonstrate that the harmful effects of illegal immigration on our own citizens won't be tolerated, thus achieving the principle of fairness and justice to American citizens.