The humanitarian crisis triggered by tens of thousands of children crossing the border into the United States, combined with the nation's political impasse over immigration reform, has turned the spotlight on the need to secure the border and respond to the vast number of residents lacking legal status.
Contributing to the stalemate: Widespread misconceptions about GOP views on immigration reform. Among the salient examples:
- Recent data by GOP pollster Whit Ayers show that more than 67 percent of Republicans favor some kind of immigration reform. Yet only 31 percent of Americans approve of President Barack Obama's handling of immigration issues, according to a recent Gallup poll.
- Editorial pages are filled regularly with passionate pro-immigration policy reflections and reasoned suggestions from our most successful and thoughtful business and conservative leaders: Rupert Murdoch, Sheldon Adelson, Mike Bloomberg, Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg, George Will, Ralph Reed, Haley Barbour, and many others. So the desire for action is thriving among conservative and the business ranks.
- The demand for comprehensive reform — a "path to citizenship or nothing" — has always been an unrealistic negotiating point. According to the State Department, there are more than 4.7 million people already in line waiting for green cards (or permanent resident visas). Roughly 1.3 million of them are Mexican. If you add to those the immigrants whose green card applications are approved but pending, the number jumps to at least 5.5 million. Some have already waited more than 15 years. Clearing this backlog efficiently in the current system is questionable. So how can America expect to grant a guaranteed path to citizenship to the undocumented millions before, say, the end of this century?
- The "no amnesty" position is an equally untenable argument because the status quo (which is de facto amnesty) is proving chaotic — as demonstrated vividly by the stream of unaccompanied Central American children crossing our border. Opponents' fear legalizing or registering undocumented workers will flood the United States with millions of new workers who will hammer down wages in the competition for lower tier employment and drive up costs of public benefits. But according to Professor Giovanni Peri, whose research focuses on the labor-market effects of immigration, because undocumented workers have been living in the United States for many years, their economic impact has already occurred. A two-year trial period for undocumented worker registration that would include criminal background checks for felonies or misdemeanors, fines, taxes, probation, and no eligibility for federal benefits hardly passes for "amnesty."
Given these realities, let's stop wasting time bouncing off the same unproductive hot buttons. Republicans can create a constructive role as problem solvers, demonstrate leadership, and pursue some policy items most sides can agree are necessary.
The world is filled with human beings seeking a better life — and the United States still offers a compelling place to build a safe, satisfying, and prosperous future.
That said, we can aim for some realistic goals and attainable, measurable targets such as:
1. Secure the border.
Our border security system is irresponsibly broken. Building up and maintaining strong, effective resources to address security, monitoring, and manpower requirements should not be a work in progress. Why the delay in addressing this obvious and primary need? The children now clamoring at our borders should sound serious alarm bells about the consequences and dangers of inaction.
The cost of immigration reform in a Senate bill estimated by the Congressional Budget Office amounted to $17 billion over 10 years. Almost all of the funds were directed at border security, including new surveillance technology implementation, new border fencing, additional border and customs agents.
2. Modernize the visa system.
There are systems management technologies available to bring efficiency, scalability, and sensory tracking ability to major industries — just ask Google and Facebook.
3. Help U.S. companies.
They need E Verify, a potentially complex online system, to verify their workers' legality.
4. Strengthen diplomatic efforts.
Maintain real relationships with Central American and Mexican officials on these immigration issues and more. U.S.-Latin American relations have long been a secondary foreign policy consideration to our detriment.
5. Enact new laws.
Serious immigration resolution requires provisional legal status, or guest-worker registration, with probation after all the background checks, fines, and taxes. Yes, there are doubts that undocumented immigrants will come forward to register. But it is safe to say that more will come forward to register than appear out of the shadows for mass deportation. Any process that includes identification beats the unknowable status quo we remain mired in at this time.
6. Fix the visa process.
The H1B visa restrictions on foreign graduate students are unwieldy at best. Some rules are archaic, such as a 7 percent limit on permanent permits to any nationality. The notion of limiting H1B visas to 65,000 (a number selected during or just after 9/11) is incomprehensible in a free market society. Such a policy is arbitrary, inefficient, and creates no economic benefit.
These talented foreign-born Ph.Ds and graduate students have historically been the major innovators and contributors to the economy. More than 35 percent of successful start-up enterprises and companies, responsible for creating at least 350,000 jobs over the last 20 years, were founded by foreign-born entrepreneurs.
They do not replace American engineers or technology professionals. They increase intellectual property, spur competition and magnify business potential. Our American technology sector has been most vocal in attempting to correct this illogical government bottleneck.
Being a strong advocate of legal immigration should not imply a diminished humanitarian concern for those trying to escape poverty and violence. Simply put, a disregard for law and order eventually leads to more chaos — as we see in the increasing incidents occurring in our border towns today.
It seems so unfashionable to be optimistic about our country's future. Yet the eager immigrants who arrive year after year clearly do not share this pessimism. With common-sense reforms and tighter border security, these new arrivals can make America's economy even stronger and its future brighter.
With the right policies, the multicolored pie can grow bigger for everyone as the United States absorbs an increasingly diverse group of new arrivals. After all, it is difficult to prevent the citizens of an intrepid $16 trillion economy from discovering new paths to prosperity.
Clara E. Del Villar is founder, CEO, and editor-in-chief of the Hispanic Post (HispanicPost.com). A former trustee of the Metropolitan College of New York and the Women's National Republican Club, she currently serves on the executive committee of the Women's Health Symposium in New York City.
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