Thursday, January 31, 2013

A Path to Repatriation

I have ambivalent feelings about the desirability of strict limitations on immigration to America.  I have no ambivalence about people who violate laws that are already passed:  it is wrong, and it ought to be dealt with.  Granting illegal aliens an amnesty just because they have come here in such numbers that we can't deal with them seems like a poor excuse for public policy.  If amnesty is inevitable (I'm not sure that it is, but if), then we should make it difficult.  The illegals should have to reside in an ambiguous probationary state for a long time, say 10 years, paying taxes the whole time.  Any criminal conviction would void the amnesty and require immediate repatriation.

Even this, however, doesn't seem very onerous compared to what legal immigrants have to go through.  I heard an excellent suggestion (hat tip: Joe Thomas at The Afternoon Constitutional) that illegal aliens might be granted a path to citizenship only on the condition that they would admit that they crossed the border wrongly and accept a felony conviction with no time served.  The felony would not affect them in any way except that they would have to bear it on their record and suffer whatever penalties are provided by law against ex-felons in the state where they reside.  While this is an elegant solution, I don't think it is realistic, as many people are unwilling to concede that illegal immigrants have done anything wrong.  There may also be something awkward about adding 10 million felons to our citizenship rolls, although I'm not sure what practical consequences it would have.

Current proposals center around trading stricter border enforcement for amnesty.  Many Republicans have proposed setting an enforcement goal that we would have to reach prior to allowing the amnesty to take effect.  The problem with this idea is that I can't see what kind of targets we could set.  By its nature, we can't document everyone who crosses the border illegally.  Maybe there are some other very good ways of measuring illegal immigration, but I doubt it; and, even if there are, they would be subject to interpretation and manipulation by those who wanted to reach the target but weren't interested in actually achieving tighter enforcement.  The only kinds of goals, therefore, would be entirely based on what we do -- e.g., completing a border fence -- without any good way of measuring whether it is working.

There are, however, some concrete steps that we could take that might be worth exchanging for an amnesty.  Here are three ideas:

(1) English as the official language:  I love foreign languages, I have no problem with people learning them and speaking them.  I think that having a government that tries to cater to multiple languages is inefficient, and permitting it encourages divisiveness.  We need a law (or, better, a Constitutional amendment) stating that all official transactions of the Federal government are to be in English and no other language.  That would leave states free to do their business however they decided, and of course it would leave individuals free to do whatever they want.  It would also leave the door open for third parties to provide translations of U.S. documents into Spanish or whatever other language, and I suspect that would become common.  However, it would save the government from having to publish everything in multiple languages, and it would pre-empt any future legal difficulties with laws or statutes that might exist in two languages, which is an open invitation to ambiguity and legal loopholes.

(2) The end of birthright citizenship:  I have never understood the logic of granting automatic citizenship to anyone born here; while it may have made sense at a time when illegal immigration was rare, at the moment it seems chiefly an enormous temptation and incentive for foreigners who wish a better life for their children to come over here by any means possible prior to giving birth.  By ending this provision, which is anachronistic at best and illogical at worst, we would not end illegal immigration, but we would at least reduce the incentive and resolve the anomalous legal situation of parents who may break the law in order to make their children legal citizens.

(3) Clarification of the status of illegal immigrants:  The federal government has primary responsibility for enforcing immigration policy.  Although the best will in the world would not be able to prevent all illegal immigration, the government ought at least try to enforce it, and it should not have a policy of treating illegal aliens the same as legal citizens.  The federal government should make it clear that it will provide no government services to illegal aliens, and it should have a policy of how to deal with illegals once they are discovered.  If immediate repatriation is not possible, it should at least establish a "path to repatriation" with the end goal of returning them to their home country.

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