The immigration debate has been wrong from the beginning

Donald Trump’s possibly serious, possibly not serious presidential campaign is focused on illegal immigration and populist rhetoric. He discussed how illegal immigration and bad leadership is why the U.S. is being beaten by other countries during his appearances in Phoenix and Las Vegas on Saturday. One of the key points from his Arizona speech was how easy it is for illegal immigrants to get into the country versus legal ones (emphasis mine):

These are people that shouldn’t have been in this country. They flow…they flow in like water. And I love legal immigration. I love it. I love it. I think it’s great. My wife is a legal immigrant. I mean she, you know, she went through a whole long process. It’s not easy and we should maybe make it easier, and faster, which I think is fine.

Trump is actually right on the long immigration process, which is where the debate should actually be. A part of the problem is the debate has been wrong from the very beginning. The focus from Republicans and Democrats tends to be on illegal immigration and what to do with the people who are already here. Some of the left accuse people against the “Gang of Eight” bill of racism, while some on the right accuse those in favor of immigration reform of being for amnesty. But that’s ignoring the main problem which is how screwed up and restrictive the current LEGAL U.S. immigration system is. The government caps the amount of foreign nationals wanting to immigrate into the America at 625K per year, although it sometimes gets increased if there are unused visas from other programs. The government also grants Legal Permanent Resident status to some immigrants already in the U.S. Here’s a table of the last four years of visas issued at Foreign Service Posts by the State Department.


The federal government also has multiple per country caps on immigration. One cap is 7% of the country’s population, while the other is 26K people per country. This causes a massive backlog in immigration applications as detailed by the chart below.


Another part of the confusion is navigating the eleven types of visas the State Department offers, not counting the special visas for Iraqi or Afghan translators. There are also over a dozen forms potential immigrants have to fill out before they can even submit their applications. Some of the forms include medical history, which is understandable, but others include marital history (even if the person is divorced), work history, educational history, charitable organization history, military service, and what wars they’ve been involved in. It’s an absolute headache. One immigrant mentioned he had to send 150 pages worth of documents to the State Department. And he’s married to an American citizen. This is a, if not the, major problem in the U.S. immigration system. It actually encourages illegal immigration because of the hard limits on who can come into the country. There’s no reason for someone from Mexico, Central America, or anyone else to go through the waiting time to come into the U.S. if they can try to slip through the border. A fence might work, but it might not. National Geographic explains what’s happened on the Gaza strip after Israel’s blockade went into effect in 2007.

Until recently, though, the tunnels extended only into Egypt and were used mainly to smuggle in consumer goods. Because of the Israeli blockade of Gaza, introduced when Hamas won elections in 2007 and relaxed only recently, many items—foodstuffs, gas, clothing, cars—were unavailable through normal trade.

Now citizens of Gaza appear to be applying tunnel thinking to its attack strategy. A new network of Hamas-built tunnels into Israel was created expressly for launching attacks, according to news reports.

It’s possible building a fence along the southern border might cause a similar problem. Putting the National Guard on the border isn’t a bad idea, but the cost is a big question. Texas spent $17-18M a month on last year’s surge. The federal government would have to examine what the cost would be for them to do a similar operation. It would also need to decide what agencies are going to see budget reductions to pay for the increase patrols. But Congress can’t afford to ignore legal immigration. They need to raise the caps on legal immigration to cut the backlog of cases and reduce the stress of people who want to move here. It’d be nice if no caps existed, but that’s a long-term goal because the federal government has been involved in restricting immigration since the Page Act of 1875. The visa process also has to be simplified. There is no need for anyone wanting to legally immigrate to have to submit over 100 pages of documents. There is no reason for the U.S to have eleven types of visas, especially when they could be simplified to work visas, student visas, and people wanting to become legal permanent residents. The immigration process has got to be simplified. There’s nothing wrong with being against illegal immigration. It is a problem in the U.S. But there’s no way illegal immigration will be fixed, unless legal immigration is fixed. This is where the discussion needs to be.