Before readers go off the rails and scream “amnesty,” bear with me. First, there are an approximate 11 million illegal immigrants in the United States according to most sources. About 5 million entered the United States legally and overstayed their visits. This group must be dealt with and legally deported despite the number of years in this country.
As for the remaining 6 million, a tiered system dealing with them dependent on the number of years in this country should be established: Tier I- greater than 15 years; Tier 2 at 10-14 years, Tier 3 5-9 years and Tier 4, less than five years. Before we deal with these tiers, certain benchmarks would have to be established and met.
First, the southern border must be secured and the DHS must certify a minimal threshold of decrease in illegal crossings before any other aspect of the proposal kicks in. We can leave it to Congress to decide those thresholds. Second, we not only increase border patrols, but we insist that Mexico better controls their northern border. We also build, where feasible, physical barriers- not a 2,000 mile long wall, but one designed to create choke holds to better position available personnel.
Third, we insist on employer E-Verify before anyone is hired in this country. We often heard it said that these people come here to work the jobs that ordinary Americans will not work. Well then how about making not-so-ordinary Americans work these jobs- non-violent criminals. In lieu of jail time or community service requirements, have them work these jobs at a rate of pay less than minimum wage while seizing a portion of the wages for crime victim compensation. At least it would useful, productive work rather than cleaning dog cages at the local SPCA or whatever else it is people do to satisfy the “community service” requirements.
Consider the savings to the state and the employer. Suppose a business takes on these people for $5 per hour. The business saves money in payroll and does not have to worry about running afoul of the law by hiring illegal workers. Instead of 200 hours of community service, the business gets 5 weeks of labor. The business saves $700 in labor costs and crime victims get $500 with the remainder going to the worker ($500). It alleviates the need for judicial oversight through probation officers, alleviates financial pressures on the state by imprisonment, and dries up the labor market for illegal workers. If successful, the program could be expanded to non-violent criminals currently serving a prison or jail sentence, but under indirect supervision. It also would not run afoul of the Thirteenth Amendment. It’s a win for the criminal justice system, for employers, and for immigration control.
By structurally blocking the need for an illegal worker labor market, you remove the number one impetus- jobs- for illegal immigration in the first place. As long as the bed is made, the toilet scrubbed, dry wall installed, or the beans picked, what difference does it make whether it is a convicted pothead or an illegal worker?
In order to address residual need, we need to establish a temporary worker visa program three years in length that is portable across state lines. At the end of three years, they would return to their home country and can re-apply for another visa on a rotational basis. The number of visas issued annually would be determined by the Bureau of Labor Statistics based upon projected need. We also strengthen existing visa laws to alleviate the backlog of those waiting. Those attempting to enter the country legally would be given priority as a reward for following the rules.
Once these systems are in place, we deal with the various tiers. Let’s start with tier 4- those here less than five years. According to the most recent statistics, they number about 900,000. Most experts predict that we can deport, at most, 400,000 illegal immigrants using existing resources. Increase the resources, increase the number. They would have a hearing before an immigration judge and then deported. They could reapply for entry legally, but go to the back of the line.
Tier 3, the 5-9 year group, is more problematic and numerous with an estimated 1.32 million- obviously too many to deport. Instead, they would be granted a one-year special visa to remain in the country to get their business in order for eventual deportation after the year expires. The 1-year visa would not qualify them for moving to tier 2; it is what it is at the time. They could reapply for reentry legally after leaving the country. They would also undergo a criminal background check which would likely screen some of the 1.32 million out of eligibility for the 1-year grace period. It is not a probabtionary period; it is a “get your business in order” period.
Tier 2 people- the 10-14 year ones- are more troublesome because they number 1.68 million and likely have ties to the community. They would be placed on a five-year probationary visa provided they (1) speak and write English, (2) pass a criminal background check in their home country and here, and (3) pay a $1,500 fine. That would raise $2.52 billion for implementation of these programs. After the 5 years, provided they (1) remain criminal-free and (2) pay applicable taxes, they would be granted the opportunity to apply for legalization only, but get at the back of the line as far as that is concerned.
Tier 1 people would be treated like tier 2 except they would be granted a 3-year probationary visa and have to pay a $1,000 fine. That would raise an additional $2.1 billion in revenue to fund these programs. During the probationary period, they would have to remain crime-free and pay applicable state and federal taxes. Upon successful completion of the three year probation, they could apply for US citizenship. In effect, they are “legalized” with the option of naturalization. But they cannot reapply for legalization- it is citizenship or out- their option.
Illegal immigrants who entered the country legally but overstayed valid visas would not be eligible for the program. Those eligible would have six months to apply at an immigration field office. Once the six month window closed, anyone found to be in the country illegally regardless of time here would be subject to deportation. This would be a one-time-only deal.
It is important to note that each aspect would not go into effect unless and until the flow of illegal immigrants into the country shows a noticeable decrease. We dry up the illegal worker labor market by simultaneously engaging in innovative criminal justice reform that saves states money on imprisonment, makes the employer save labor costs (the “wages” would not be subject to federal, state or payroll taxes) and compensates victims. We strengthen border control, remove incentives to illegally immigrate and make deportation more manageable and cost-effective while filling the coffers of the Treasury to fund these programs with fines collected.
For those here in the lower tiers subject to immediate or impending deportation, children under the age of 18 at the time would be allowed to stay with legal relatives or those in tiers 1 and 2. We could work some formula for family reunification in the legal re-application process. For those who fail or refuse to take advantage of the 6-month window, the entire family would be deported, except children born in the United States who would be given an option of staying with relatives (if any), or going with the biological family. The family would choose that option. Again- their option!!
Furthermore, any city or county that designates itself or acts like a sanctuary jurisdiction would be denied federal housing or economic development funds.
This is a just an idea. Of course, other areas, such as visas for high-tech professionals and the like, also need to be reformed and streamlined while ensuring qualified American workers are not displaced. A thorough vetting process of all visa and refugee applicants must be established to minimize national security threats.
Some will argue this smacks of amnesty. To this writer, amnesty is something for nothing. There are fines to pay, hoops to jump, and hurdles to avoid. It is a one-time deal. It can almost fund itself after start-up costs. It realistically deals with the problem. Provided the security measures at the border are stringent and kept in place, it deters future illegal immigration in a humane and reasonable manner. Visions of families being torn apart do not exist- it is the family’s option. It is time-limited and dependent on benchmarks being met. If you want to call it “amnesty,” fine- do so. But the silly chorus of simply deporting all the illegal immigrants in one fell swoop is some bizarre right wing Utopia that will never happen. Doing nothing, you get the status quo at best; at worst, you get more illegal immigrants on top of those already here. Neither solves the problem. Nor does a 2,000 mile long yuuuuge wall.