Donald Trump’s proposal on “fixing” America’s immigration system is getting mixed reviews. Jazz was happy a candidate released a proposal, while Ross Kaminsky at The American Spectator wrote it was economically ignorant over the demand to have Mexico pay for the wall. Trump’s right (I’m sure some people are shocked to see me write that) about America needing to enforce its own laws. He’s also right on making immigrants who overstay their visas face consequences and wanting to keep illegal immigrants off welfare. But here’s an alternate idea on immigration reform. It isn’t perfect (nothing ever is), but it’s meant to be a compromise for conservatives and libertarians who obviously care about the issue. It’s presented in four parts with parts 1a), 1b), 1c), and 1d) happening first (and in any order) before 2) happens. The proposals shouldn’t be in one whole package, but should be done piecemeal to reduce pork and confusion.
1a) Eliminate bureaucracy (optional, but preferable): Immigration enforcement is spread out within three agencies under the Department of Homeland Security: USCIS, ICE, and CPB. The agencies need to go back to their pre-September 11th structure with the Border Patrol, Enforcement and Removal Operations, and Immigration and Naturalization Service under DOJ. Student visas should stay with INS, instead of being with State Department. This will cut down on bureaucracy and the chance for waste. It will also improve communications between departments and reduce the chance of someone who overstays their visa “falls through the cracks.”
1b) Fix legal immigration: This isn’t a popular idea on either the Right or the Left because both sides are focused on illegal immigration. However, one reason why illegal immigrants are coming here is because of how confusing and restrictive the system is. There are 12 different visas for people to choose from, not counting the visa waiver program. This needs to be simplified into three categories: business/tourism, student, and permanent resident. The refugee program is a completely separate entity which will need its own modification. The U.S should also consider allowing E-filing of applications or at least make it easier for potential immigrants to track their application process, and reduce some of the immigration fees. The U.S should also raise the visa cap from 625K per year to 1M per year, then to 1.5M the year after, and to 2M the year after that. It should also get rid of the per-country limit on immigration or at least raise the cap to higher than its current seven-percent of a country’s population. Doing this will reduce the 4M immigrant backlog the U.S. currently has.
1c) Border security and enforcement: Protecting the border is something which should be done. There are reasons why a wall from California to Texas isn’t feasible, but there are other ways of protection. The Border Patrol should be allowed to use drones to patrol the Sonoran Desert night and day to search for drug and human smugglers. Drones should also be used on other sections of the border where there is no private land. Motion sensors should also be considered if there are ways to calibrate them to not detect a random animal. Border Patrol should work with local and state authorities on what their needs are. The National Guard is also a good idea for border protection. From an enforcement standpoint, INS (or ERO) officers should personally follow up monthly with every student/work visa holder starting six months before their visas expire. If the visas expire and are not renewed, then the holder should be deported.
1d) Drug legalization (optional): The War on Drugs is one reason why illegal immigration is an issue. Illegal immigrants get arrested plenty of times smuggling drugs into the U.S. By legalizing or at least decriminalizing drugs, it would force the Mexican Cartels to make their U.S. operations legit. It would also reduce violence on the U.S. side of the border. If drugs were decriminalized there would be even less of a worry about drug mules sneaking into the country. This is obviously optional because Washington, DC doesn’t appear to have an appetite for legalization yet. But it should at least be considered.
Illegal immigration can be handled once the reshuffling and streamlining is complete, and the departments are sure the new measures are working. This is probably going to take between two and three years, but people are going to have to be patient. The results may take longer than people like, but it’s imperative to fix these things first before moving on.
2) Illegal immigrants already here: This probably isn’t going to be popular with people here, and in all honesty I’m not sold on this idea completely either, but the U.S should set up “immigration centers” (think mini-Ellis Islands) in the states with the most illegal immigrant populations. They’d be open for 16 months to give illegal immigrants plenty of time to come. People stay a week, get background and medical check, and the ones who pass will get a permanent resident visa. They’ll also have to pay a fine of say $300-500 (this can be higher) for every year they’ve been in the country illegally. If they can’t afford to pay the fine immediately, they should be able to set up a payment plan. They would not be citizens and wouldn’t be able to vote. Those who do not pass background checks should be fined, deported, and not allowed back into the country for five years. If an illegal immigrant decides to not go to one of the centers within 16 months, they’d be fined, deported, and couldn’t come back into the country for at least seven years.
The centers could be created from any of the ICE detention facilities already in use, or new ones could be built without using eminent domain. Some states, like California, Nevada, Arizona, and Texas would have to have more centers, while others might not need any. There’s still a question of how to let illegal immigrants know the centers exist. One way is to use AmeriCorps to get the word out. The other way is to take the cash the Department of Health uses for their smoking and anti-drug PSAs and instead use them for promotion of the centers. There would still have to be cuts to the federal government to offset any potential budget increases. One way is to follow Rand Paul’s Amendment 940 plan which cut $21B in foreign aid, $14B from the National Science Foundation, $10B from the EPA and Commerce Department, $20B from Department of Education, and $41B from HUD. It’s doubtful a plan like this would actually cost more than the $212B in cuts, but the federal government cannot to spend money it doesn’t have.
As much as politicians want to bluster about how to solve the immigration issue, it’s going to have to be done sooner rather than later. The U.S. cannot afford to keep letting illegal immigrants in when most of them probably want to come over legally. It also can’t put the cart before the horse and try to figure out what to do with the illegal immigrants already here. Fixing legal immigration and enforcement first is the only way to go. Until then, people are just going to keep coming over without fear of repercussions.
Taylor Millard can be reached on Twitter @TaylorMVLR