I can’t remember whether I saw the Statue of Liberty before or after I had to memorize and recite the Emma Lazarus poem it inspired.
“Give me your tired, your poor” – “send these the wretched refuse of your teeming shore” – “I lift my lamp beside the golden door”.
Stirring words for a 19th century nation – set on transforming itself into a global industrial powerhouse. A powerful lure for European peasant farmers needed to settle America’s prairies and grow the crops to fuel its rapid industrialization.
America No Longer “the New Colossus”
But truth was never quite as romantic as the words rolling off the tongue.
By the 1930s Congress had placed severe limits on immigration – quotas by nationality and skill.
In 21st Century America there’s no more open frontier and no more repetitive assembly-line factories that can absorb wave upon wave of unskilled immigrants.
21st century America — experiencing its lowest labor participation rate in nearly a century – is not the same economic “Colossus”. China is now the largest economy in the world.
Current and future immigration policy must reflect this reality.
Why US Immigration System Must Be Transparent
A fair immigration system must work as intended – balancing control with compassion.
The American people have repeatedly told their elected representatives directly in town halls, with their votes and through pollsters they want an immigration system that fits the realities of 21st century America – a system that is fair and transparent.
A fair immigration system will protect the rights of American citizens and legal immigrants while providing a pathway to legitimacy for the estimated 11 million who are here illegally.
The Senate’s 2013 Immigration Reform legislation achieves the necessary balance. But it is fatally flawed because it repeats the mistakes of the 1986 Simpson Mazzoli Act. It offers a path to legalization within months of enactment but gives the government more than 4 more years to implement a mandatory E-Verify work authorization system and 10 years to secure the borders.
Simpson Mazzoli offered amnesty to 2.7 million illegal immigrants, out of total of 5 million then in the country, in exchange for strengthening the borders and imposing sanctions against employers who hired illegal immigrants. The failure of successive administrations to implement stronger border controls and work authorization controls led to a doubling of the illegal immigrant population in 30 years.
Reform must happen within the Context of American Economic and Social Renewal
The message of the 2014 General Election was simple. Government must enact policies that allow the American economy to strengthen organically through innovation and productivity.
Four Practical Measures:
- The American people want good jobs – middle class skilled jobs. Congress must explain why so many immigrants are needed when US workers face a real unemployment rate of nearly 12%. Immigration reform must contain provisions that require American employers to retrain and retain US employees before hiring from overseas.
- Los Angeles County estimates that it spends $1 billion a year on social safety net benefits related to illegal immigration. Congress must investigate how much more social spending on illegal immigrants federal and impacted state tax payers (California, Texas etc.) can afford without reducing spending on infrastructure, education and other national priorities – or raising middle class taxes.
- Congress cannot secure our borders by turning the Border Control into an army. Law enforcement must be balanced with eliminating the three magnets to illegal immigration — “birthright citizenship” granted administratively to children born in US to illegal immigrant and foreign tourist parents, associated social safety net benefits paid to their parents, and the black market for cheap illegal labor. It’s not just the southern border that must be secured.
- Following the 2001 attacks, the Department of Homeland Security acknowledged they had no technology to track foreign visitors’ inside the US. The government still has no effective tool. The metamorphosis from tourist to illegal immigrant is as simple as renting an apartment instead of checking into a hotel after leaving a US airport.
Only Congress Has the Constitutional Power to Reform Immigration
A 21st Century American Immigration System can’t be a single omnibus bill passed in haste. We’ve tried that and it never works.
Immigration reform can be better implemented as a series of smaller, sequential steps that the American people understand and agree with. As each control is implemented and tested in practice, the compensating step toward legalization can be implemented.
Incremental, evidence-based immigration reform is the only path to a 21st Century Immigration System that works today and continues to light the golden door tomorrow.
Photo Credit: Susan Ragan/AP file
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