Instead of engaging in protracted, rancorous, partisan debate on the problem, perhaps Congress can soon turn its attention to a practical solution.
I believe the right approach will acknowledge the size and scope of the problem and the sheer impossibility of trying to criminalize and deport even a fraction of the undocumented immigrants now in the US. It will recognize that both parties (government and immigrants) can benefit from addressing the issue positively and so both must make an extra effort to develop and implement workable solutions. It will conclude that we are obliged to provide a seat at the table of American bounty for these immigrants either because we should or because we have no other choice, in other words, we must.
Here 's one approach, a five-point plan for addressing the undocumented immigrant question in a forward-looking way:
First, the right approach will provide a mechanism by which qualified undocumented immigrants can and must earn full citizenship within, say, five years. To qualify, the immigrant might be required to earn a GED, learn English, pay a fine, pay back taxes and current taxes in full, hold a job or demonstrate willingness and an ability to work, undergo a background check with no felony convictions in the past 10 years, and renounce all other citizenships.
Those with US military service would move to the head of the line and may be able to appeal if some qualifications are not met. Undocumented immigrants who are unwilling or unable to meet the qualifications would remain here at their own risk and would be deported if located.
This approach is not amnesty, which is outright forgiveness for previous illegal conduct. It is earned citizenship.
Second, the right approach will provide a helping hand for those undocumented immigrants who need one or who meet some but not all of the qualifications for citizenship. Specifically, this might include high school equivalency classes, citizenship classes, and English classes. It would provide a public works WPA-style employment program that pays living wages to those head-of-household immigrants who are qualified and willing to work but unable to find jobs. As in the 1930s, these people could provide much-needed manpower to help rebuild our crumbling infrastructure. That program would include child care for people who need it in order to gain or keep employment.
Third, employers would be responsible for hiring only properly documented workers, for paying them the higher of the minimum wage or the local prevailing wage, and for withholding payroll taxes. This would apply to all employers, including those who hire only part-time service, household, and agricultural workers. Those who fail to comply with these requirements would face stiff sanctions instead of the laughably light penalties such offenses now receive.
Those who object may argue that this will give rise to "the $300 head of lettuce. " But the goal is to pay these workers a living wage, not to make them millionaires. Rising fuel prices in the last three years have added more to the price of a head of lettuce than paying farm workers a living wage ever would.
Fourth, the right approach would understand why people leave their native countries for the US, and would provide economic and other kinds of assistance to those countries to create jobs and improve living conditions in their native countries. The single best way to reduce illegal immigration into the United States is to make it beneficial for would-be immigrants to stay home.
Won 't that dramatically increase the cost of foreign aid? Perhaps, but no more dramatically than a living wage would raise the price of that head of lettuce. We are already the world 's largest donor nation (in dollar terms, not as a percent of gross national income). We just have to do a better job directing recipient nations on how we want our money spent.
Fifth, the right approach will beef up border security going forward with a combination of human, physical, and electronic resources. Every nation has a right to control its borders and to regulate the people and goods that cross them. We have not done this effectively in the past if we had, undocumented immigrants would not be an issue now.
Will this approach cost money? The answer is yes. Will it yield benefits? Yes. Will it avoid squandering money on approaches that do not work now? Yes.
Will it add to the present costs of law enforcement, health care, public education, social services, child welfare, and public transportation? No. Those costs are already being incurred. They are in the system now. It would generate tax revenue to offset those current costs.
Will it continue to locate and deport undesirable immigrants who remain here illegally? Will it help to slow the influx of illegal immigrants into the US? Yes and yes.