Let's face it: The current system of immigration in this country isn't working. If it were, we wouldn't have an estimated 12 million undocumented immigrants living here, which accounts for about 5 percent of the civilian labor force. And that number is conservative. A 2005 study for Bear Stearns Assets Management, “The Underground Labor Force Is Rising To The Surface,” puts the number at more like 20 million. And while there is definitely a contingency out there saying that any kind of reform will hurt America more than it will help, I disagree, even though I'm not completely on board with the proposal being considered by the Senate right now.
If you are not current in the happenings surrounding the issue, here it is in a nutshell (quoted from David Medina at The Hartford Courant, who does a nice job summarizing):
“First, the House of Representatives dashed off a ridiculously punitive bill making it a felony to be in the country illegally or to harbor illegal immigrants. Then the Senate produced a bill that allowed illegal immigrants who have been in the country more than five years to be granted work visas after they complete an obstacle course of fines, back taxes and learning English. Then after working six years, they could apply for legal residency. Those here less than five years and more than two would be considered for a limited number of temporary and guest worker visas, if they agree to return to their native countries.”
Does this bill address everything we need in a new immigration bill? I mean, if we're going to redo it, let's get something that fixes all of the parts — and does so plainly and fairly. We need realistic entry quotas, a fair legalization plan for undocumented workers and a strict plan for more secure borders. Anything else should be rejected. Come on, if it's easier to simply sneak in, why would anyone even bother to apply?
But devising a fair proposal isn't going to be easy. Not when the word amnesty comes into play. And it's what ultimately is going to stand between passing workable legislation or just slapping a bandage on the issue. On the table now: Amnesty if you're an unauthorized immigrant who has been here for more than five years. How do you tell the millions who have been waiting for years to enter the country legally that they should have just done so illegally five years ago and everything would work out? But how should we determine who gets to stay? On the basis of job skills? Family ties? Or should we maintain a strict first-come, first-served policy?
President Bush advocates a temporary worker program that rejects amnesty. Workers would be able to register for legal status on a temporary basis. If they then decided to apply for citizenship, they would have to get in line. But would this just encourage future waves of illegal immigration?
I think the answer lies somewhere in between. I don't think sending millions of people home is the answer, but I also don't think we should reward them just because they've been here for five years. What do you think? E-mail me and let me know. For more information on the issue, turn to “Help Wanted,” page 20.
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