I should preface this discussion by noting that no solution will be painless or perfect. We need to be pragmatic while recognizing the genuine benefits to our nation from constant immigrant infusion. Our past amply confirms these benefits.
The Immigration and Naturalization Act, the body of law governing current immigration policy, provides for an annual worldwide limit of 675,000 immigrants, with certain exceptions for close family members. I think this is too small by far and that is one source of our broken immigration policy.
Our internal birth rate is well below replacement levels and is trending down. According to the National Center for Health Statistics, the total fertility rate for the United States in 2017 was 1,7655.5 per 1,000 women, which as 16% below what is considered the level needed for a population to replace itself. A shrinking population is inevitably also an aging population. Both of these attributes are ominous for our social and economic future.
I would at least triple the legal immigration limits, and even that amount might be larger if professionally conducted studies support the need. One idea that I haven’t sufficiently analyzed is to base the limit on a fixed percentage of the total population so that it would naturally evolve over time. Then I would allocate sufficient funds to process applications within a reasonable time. Part of our current problem is that our processes are underfunded and this subverts their intent.
I would prioritize immigrants who are most likely to fit in to our society and contribute to its well-being. Reasonable criteria for meeting this standard are not hard to construct, though I won’t debate this here. The point is to set our immigration policy for our benefit, not as some well-meaning outreach to the world at large. There should be no conflict between family-oriented immigration and that based on desirable skill sets. Both can contribute to a healthy and productive society. However I would re-establish a rule from the past that worked well. If current residents wish to sponsor family members to join them, they must provide legal assurances that they will not burden our welfare system.
Requests for asylum are simply urgent immigration applications, and we should treat them accordingly rather than as some ad hoc addition to policy. I would only accept asylum requests for any shortfall in the number of normal immigration applicants. These requests, as with all immigration applications, must be made in US consulates abroad, not at our border. The only difference would be that asylum requests would get priority consideration. They would jump the queue, so to speak. In all other respects, asylum requests would be treated and handled exactly the same as regular immigration requests. The process would be as follows. Each year, asylum requests would be limited to the accumulated shortfall under the total immigration limit from preceding years. Thus, such requests would never supersede those who are following the regular process. Fairness would prevail, while giving full recognition to urgent applications.
Anyone attempting to cross our border without permission or proper immigration papers would be summarily rejected, not held for legal proceedings. The lack of authorization would be treated as prima facie evidence of violation of our laws. Instead of capture and release, it would be capture and eject. Moreover, anyone caught in this fashion would be fingerprinted and photographed and would be permanently precluded from legal immigration. I have argued before that no one who is neither a citizen nor an authorized resident of the United States qualifies for any Constitutional protections whatsoever. And this includes due process. Of course, we can voluntarily offer such protections if we so wish.
Finally, but most importantly, I would establish a fair, swift and certain path to citizenship for all qualified illegals who have been living here for a sufficient time, with rules for this to be determined. Once these rules are set, anyone in that category could apply immediately for something comparable to a Green Card – let’s call it a Blue Card – that would signify temporary legal resident status while their citizenship application is processed. This would entitle the holder to Green Card benefits, such as Social Security and the like.
Now I grant that some of this may seen draconian, but I believe that in time it would regularize our immigration process. It should incentivize following the rules, something that our current system utterly fails to do.
I don’t claim this is a perfect plan, nor that it won’t face operational problems. But I believe it is far superior to our current system and better than any proposal I have heard. I definitely disagree with open borders, which seems to be the unspoken concept underlying some proposals by Democratic Presidential candidates. But at the same time, my plan opens our door wider to those willing to follow the rules while barring anyone from climbing in our windows. And most importantly, we can and must know who is living among us.
There is, I think, one important footnote. The Statue of Liberty in New York Harbor has come to symbolize immigration, and its pedestal poem, The New Colossus by Emma Lazarus, cemented that image. I can personally testify to its impact as an immigrant from England all those many years ago. This has now been taken to symbolize that our immigration policy should be fully open and accepting, especially to poor and suffering peoples everywhere. And this is somewhat in contradiction to the policy I am recommending.
But in fact the monument was never intended for that purpose. Its proper name, as given by the French donors, is La Liberté éclairant le monde which means Liberty Enlightening the World, and it was intended as a celebration of Republicanism. No, that is not our wretched political version. Rather it refers to the French liberal ideals of liberty, equality and fraternity. It is somewhat unfortunate that this has been appropriated for a political purpose. Its true meaning is a glorious affirmation of our ideals.