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Why Immigration Reform is not as Easy as Sound Bites

CNN has an interesting article about a couple that married in Kansas several years ago. What the wife, who is a US Citizen, didn’t know while they were dating was that her husband was an illegal immigrant. He tried to do the right thing earlier this year, which was to return to Mexico and apply for legal immigration status. The problem is, since he was in the country illegally for over a year, he is barred from returning for over 10 years unless there are extreme extenuating circumstances. You can read about it here.
While I have my doubts about this case (a 26 year old man marries a 40 year old woman, hmm…), this is one case out of over 12 million currently in the US. It illustrates, however, the difficulty faced by true immigration reform. When an illegal immigrant marries a US Citizen and they start a family (where under the Constitution the kids are US Citizens), do we tear the family apart to enforce immigration laws?
How we tackle this debate will in some ways define us as a nation, since we are a nation of immigrants. Keep in mind that 100 years ago, to the best of my knowledge, there was no such thing as “illegal” immigration. Here’s my two-cents:

First and foremost, we must secure the borders. You can’t have a meaningful debate on illegal immigration when we continue to have easy access for migrants to cross the border at will. I’m not saying it’s easy for them right now, but building a fence and enforcing the border will make it a lot harder.
Second, you really need to figure out almost a who’s who of the illegal immigrants. Here are the four criteria I would use:

  1. Single Criminals
  2. Have they committed any crimes in this country (besides the obvious one of crossing the border without permission)? If the answer is yes, and they’re single, buh-bye. Don’t pass go, don’t collect $200.00. They are deported, with no possibility of ever returning. Along these lines, the laws should be written to where gang-membership is considered a crime. Just because you haven’t been convicted of an aggravated crime (yet), being a member of MS-13 is justification enough.

  3. Married Criminals (Including Single with US Citizen Kids)
  4. If the answer to the question “Have they committed any crimes?” is yes, but they are married (or even worse married with kids), then this needs to be looked at on a case by case basis. Multiple aggravated offenders (robbery, assault, etc) are gone with no possibility of return. Single time petty offenders (traffic tickets, shoplifting, etc), maybe we’ll let them apply for legal immigration like the cases below, but it will depend on the crime committed and their behavior since. My personal inclination is that they have a very high slope to climb to convince me they should be allowed to stay or return. Something along the lines of return to the home country for no less than 5 years, then get in line like everyone else (this is still more lenient than today’s standards, which call for 10 years prior to the possibility of return). If the family wants to stay together, then the spouse and/or kids can go with them. Exceptions could be made when appropriate, but they would be rare and based upon true family hardship. Let me make clear that this is a case where the spouse and/or kids are US Citizens. If the family is illegal, then they all go.

  5. Single Taxpayers
  6. We all hear about the illegal immigrants that are “good citizens.” Trying to do the right thing, their only crime is being in this country without permission. They pay their taxes and keep their nose clean while living in fear of being deported. In my mind, they should be allowed to return to their home country (or pay a large fine to remain, something on the order of a year’s wages like $30,000.00) for a minimum of one year, during which they would be allowed to request legal immigration like everyone else. If they pay the fine instead of returning, then they would go into a temporary status for that year (i.e. yellow card instead of green card). The other requirement would be that, if they remain, they have to keep their nose clean. After a year, they are granted permanent legal immigration status. If they break the law during their probation, however, the fine is forfeit and they are on the next plane home.

  7. Married Taxpayers to US Citizens((Including Single with US Citizen Kids)
  8. This is the second most-difficult of all (the most difficult being those folks who are married, but got caught doing something minor one time). Similar to the single taxpayers, they should also be allowed to return to their home country (or pay a large fine to remain, the same as single taxpayers). The difference here is that their stay would only be for a minimum of six months, in an attempt to keep the family from breaking up. Same rules apply, break the law and you’re gone.

There are the criteria, now here are a couple more points to make about the debate:
The Escape Clause for the Good Folks
If the single or married taxpayers don’t want to return to their home country, and can’t afford the fine, give them a third option (yes, door number three). Enlist in the Armed Forces under a 10 year contract for a period of not less than 6 years of Active Duty (current enlistment contracts are normally 4 years, followed by 4 years in the inactive reserves). Let them serve the country they want to be a part of so bad. After two years of service, their yellow cards turn green.
The Time Limit
If this is enacted, then there is a time-limit for illegal immigrants to declare themselves and apply for legal status. If they haven’t let us know within six months that they are here illegally, then they forfeit their right to apply for legal status as stated above. At that point, they go home. End of story. They had their chance to make it right, so they can then apply just like everyone else, but with a time penalty imposed (i.e. like the 5 years for folks with criminal records). Along these same lines, at the end of the time limit, businesses are now required to check credentials of every employee (even those that have been employees for years). An employee must show either a yellow card, a green card, a US Passport or a US Birth Certificate. Any business caught employing illegal immigrants after the time limit will be subject to fines equal to what the immigrant would have had to pay to remain in the country, per immigrant (i.e. you have 10 illegals, you get fined $300,000.00).
The Bottom Line
Let me be perfectly blunt. At no point should an illegal immigrant be allowed to move in front of those individuals who are trying to immigrate legally. To achieve these goals, it means we need to significantly ramp up the ability to accept legal immigrants. As the system works right now, people can end up waiting years for the possibility of legal immigration. In my mind, this should be no more than three months at the most from the time they apply to when their application is either approved or disapproved. Background checks don’t take that long, and green cards can be revoked for the same things we’ve discussed (namely breaking the law). Having said that, it is impractical to attempt to deport over 12 million people. I’m sure I’ll get slammed for “supporting Amnesty.” Its not amnesty, it is attempting to tackle immigration in a way that solves the problem and allows our country to move forward.