Immigration policy is a highly emotionally charged political subject. Immigration reform is politically toxic. Any politician making an honest attempt to address it faces serious scorn. Presidents George W. Bush and Barack Obama both faced serious criticism for their immigration reform plans.
Immigration is so politically toxic it's become a ploy to cause derision. Nothing tars and feathers a candidate more than being painted as favoring amnesty for illegal immigrants. Listening to Rush Limbaugh, I heard a conversation about liberals wanting to allow illegal immigration so they could continue abortions without losing voters.
Hateful and conspiratorial nonsense like that does nothing to actually solve our problems and has helped turn immigration into a problem no politician seems to want to solve. Does it make sense to argue over illegal immigration and completely ignore our broken legal immigration system? Fixing our basic immigration policy should help with the factors contributing to illegal immigration.
I'll give a brief run down of our immigration policy. As a very broad approximation, about 1 million people legally immigrate each year. Before the Hart-Keller Act went into effect in 1968, American immigration policy was based on a racist quota system. Since then, it's been replaced with a system based primarily on family petitions.
Most people that immigrate to the U.S. are persons with family in the country who petitioned on their behalf. Of legal immigration, 66 percent is family based, 17 percent humanitarian based, 13 percent employment based and the rest based on the diversity lottery and miscellaneous programs.
A lot of illegal immigration is driven by the family based immigration system. Any child born in the U.S. is a citizen, and rightfully so. As adults that citizen can petition for extended family members to enter the country.
If family member petitions were no longer the primary basis of our immigration policy, the incentive to enter the country for the purposes of giving birth would be lowered. Instead, gaining education and skills become the pathways to citizenship.
I don't support the racist quota system of old, but I must say the family-based immigration policy is also unfair. It turns the U.S. into an invitation-based, members-only club where mostly recent immigrants with foreign relatives get to invite new members.
I firmly believe our nation is in a competition with the rest of the world. Shouldn't our employment or skills based immigration be much higher? We give foreign students visas to go to college here, yet after they graduate instead of offering these scholars permanent visas we require many of them to leave the U.S. Then, wherever they end up they become our competition only because we wouldn't allow them to stay.
I would suggest we adopt a system similar to Australia's. The heart of Australian immigration is a point system. An applicant needs a set number of points to immigrate. Points are based on things such as the applicant's ability to speak English, how educated the person is, how old they are and how steady their work experience is.
If a person is a little low on points, extra points can be found with job or family sponsorship. That, too, is very logical as sponsorship helps insure the immigrants' easy transition.
If we go to a point system, we can set the criterion for attracting the type of self-sufficient citizens we want with the skills or work experience we choose. Most of these immigrants would have been educated in their home countries on the dime of foreign taxpayers. Unemployment is high now, but Social Security needs more people paying into it. I would imagine with an influx of educated productive immigrants our economy would grow.
The downside to a point system is that it could discriminate against the undereducated and underprivileged. To compensate for that I would suggest increasing diversity lottery-based immigration and make it easier for immigrants to qualify for refugee status. There really isn't a shortage of people in the world who are like America's first colonists and fleeing persecution and violence.
The status of adult illegal immigrants may be too politically toxic to deal with. However, concerning the children of illegal immigrants, I would suggest supporting the Dream Act. This is not an amnesty bill, as some have tried to paint it in an attempt to spread hate and gain listeners. The Dream Act would provide a pathway to citizenship for those people brought to the United States while they were minors, as long as they enroll and graduate from college or join the armed services and don't have a criminal history.
They didn't make the decision to break the law; they were raised here and they are willing to contribute. We already educated them through the 12th grade. Why waste that investment? If they've spent their youth here they really are American, the United States is their home and sending them elsewhere would only be cruel.
Brandon Givens is a teacher and Hall County resident whose columns appear regularly and on gainesvilletimes.com.