Thursday, May 01, 2008


Comment about Immigration "Reform"

I tend to wander in my thoughts and forget where I've been before. I probably wrote something about immigration reform some time ago. There was a proposal in Congress last year that had some support, including the support of President Bush. It would have provided a way for the six million or so immigrants in the country without visas or permanent residence permits to become legal residents or legal visitors. A minority of the members of Congress and a minority of the American public rose in anger at the thought of granting illegal aliens "amnesty." The only thing these people would consider was a law that would require the federal government to rounding up all six million of the illegal residents and sending them back to their countries of origin.

It sounds simple, fair, and just to send these people home. Doing it is not simple. We don't have in place any means of tracking these people - or any other people. The government doesn't know where they are. Most of them will not willingly reveal themselves. How is the government going to find them?

That's not a problem to the angry minority. All of these illegal residents look the same. They have dark skins. They speak Spanish. Just stop every dark-skinned person who speaks Spanish and verify his or her citizenship status. Those who are not citizens (i.e., have no proof of citizenship) or who do not possess valid visas or green cards are therefore illegally in the country and must be deported.

This is an example of a solution to a difficult problem that is simple, cheap, and wrong. The thing that's the most wrong with it is that Americans who are citizens do not carry with them proof of citizenship. I have lived in this country all my life and I have no such document. Somewhere I have a copy of my birth certificate. That doesn't prove that I am the person named on the certificate; there is no picture or fingerprint or footprint on the certificate. There is just the statement that "Albert Jackson Saur" was born in Kent County, Michigan on March 11, 1923 and his parents were Harry and Bessie Saur. My driver's license is also not a proof of citizenship. It does have my picture on it and it is a government document that proves that a person who looks like me is named Albert J. Saur and is licensed to operate a car in California. It also states that Albert J. Saur was born on March 11, 1923. Perhaps the combination of driver's license, the birth certificate, and my pale complexion would convince a federal agent that I was probably a citizen and not deserving of deportation.

In fact, since I have a pale complexion and don't speak Spanish, the federal agent would not challenge me at all.

If the angry minority would think about what I have just written, it would dawn on them that it is practically impossible to enforce our present immigration law. We have no legal and fair means of identifying those persons who are here illegally. Perhaps what the angry minority really want is to deport everyone who has a dark complexion and speaks Spanish. If so, they are guilty of bigotry, racism, and white supremacy.

The law would be easier to enforce if we in the United States would adopt a national identification system, with every citizen and every legal resident carrying an identity card with a picture, a finger print, or some other suitable means of identification. It would be legally required to have this identity card with us at all times and we would be legally obliged to show it to any police officer or any federal agent who asked to see it. Americans rightly resist atopting any such scheme. Absent a fool-proof identity card which every legal resident carries, there is really no way to round up the illegal residents.

What, then, is to be done? Without calling it amnesty, we would provide a way for an illegal resident to become legal. The person would pay a fine and would demonstrate that he or she has not engaged in criminal activity during his stay. The person would then receive a visa, good for a certain length of time, and which could be renewed if he or she continued to obey the laws. The person would also be required to have employment. The visa would permit the person to return to the country of origin to visit relatives and to return to the United States. I think that there should not be a requirement that the person apply for citizenship. However, there should be a path toward citizenship if the person wanted to follow it.

At least, this is my suggestion. It doesn't choke me to admit that it is very similar to President Bush's proposal. Like Rip van Winkle's clock, even Mr. Bush is correct occasionally.

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My Libertarian friend R writes that existing immigration law requires a person to leave the United States and apply at an American Consul in another country to obtain a visa, or to obtain a different visa from the one he or she already has. I was reminded that when I married my wife, she was staying in this country with a student visa. To obtain a permanent residence visa, she traveled to Montreal and obtained the new visa at the American Consulate there.

This is a feature of existing immigration law that isn't being enforced, except sporadically. The problem could be alleviated by creating many more worker visas so that persons wishing to come to the country to work wouldn't have to wait in line for as long as ten years to obtain legal permission to enter this country for work.

My friend surmises that Mr. Bush and his wealthy business friends like the present situation, which provides a reservoir of cheap, non-union labor.
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