Here’s an understatement: illegal immigration is a superheated issue. The all-or-nothing alternatives offered from the extremes on both sides seem unworkable, offering no possibility of compromise. Little wonder that viable solutions have not been seriously discussed for many months. To break the impasse, we need a new plan — one that retains core principles but requires all sides to compromise.
The apparently intractable issues have to be acknowledged up front. Real immigration reform sets forth several principles that (hopefully) can be accepted by a majority of Americans:
1.) Any plan, regardless of its content, must start first with a fully secured border. A solution leaving open the floodgates fails to address the source of the problem and is unworkable.
2.) Every person currently in this country illegally must be known and accounted for, with each having a clear and official status and a timeline that governs the terms of their ability to remain in the U.S. Indeed, illegal immigrants need the security and protection of having an official status to protect them from abuse and exploitation.
3.) Families should not be divided; rather, the legal immigration of whole and intact families should be recognized as a positive benefit to America, as it has proven to be so often in the past.
4.) All immigrants on temporary status must show a means of support for themselves and their dependents, pay taxes, and share in the costs of public benefits they receive — or they should not be allowed to remain in this country. Similarly, benefits such as Social Security that are intended for the benefit of American citizens must be restricted to those citizens only.
5.) There must be legal mechanisms that allow for immediate deportation of those remaining here illegally or who remain by permit and violate our laws. Deportation should be without delay, long process, or the possibility of re-entry.
6.) Employers must be held to strict compliance with both a clear, reliable method to verify the legal status of employees and the obligation to report violations immediately to authorities. While penalties should be substantial for willful violations, there should be no special regulation of the terms of employment between the company and legal workers. A worker with legal status has the ability to make his or her own decisions regarding the acceptability of employment.
A plan that accommodates the elements above would encourage families to stay and prosper, provide needed workers under free-flowing market conditions, require a more inclusive sharing of costs to society, and alleviate the ill will between groups who perceive, rightfully so, an inequality of treatment. It should be noted that mass deportation is not included in the above. Individuals who believe this is a realistically achievable basis for a solution are not serious enough to engage in argument at this point.
The plan rests on the basic concept that every person in this country illegally needs to be given an official status, one that both sets the conditions of their staying in the U.S. and does so under terms agreed upon by the people of America. This is actually not so hard to do if we are willing to acknowledge that legal immigration has been proven to be beneficial to America and if we can accept the reality that millions of people are already here and part of our economic life. At this point, it no longer matters that the condition exists because of a feckless government with no policy regarding security and enforcement. The people in government who created the problem will never have the courage to resolve it, so Americans must force a solution the politicians cannot alter or easily undo. If there is anything for all sides to agree on, it is that we cannot remain where we are.
Registration and Declaration of Intent
It is as fundamental as securing the borders against continued illegal entry that all illegals in the U.S. be accounted for from the outset. That will require in-person registration with the government and the issuance of an official ID card that includes a new immigrant number under which all records would be kept. This card and number would be required of all individuals, including children and infants, even if born in this country to illegal parents. (The reason for this last provision will be made clear further on.)
The only way to accomplish this is for people to register themselves voluntarily or face deportment. Certain guarantees would be required in order for this to happen — primarily, a guarantee of no immediate deportation and a clear understanding of what will follow registration. (It goes without saying those who don’t register, but are found subsequently to have criminal records or are otherwise deemed unacceptable, should be immediately deported.) The registration process itself would include name, address, phone, family and dependent status, years in the country, and place of employment. Heads of household would be required to identify all the members of their family, and each would receive a card and ID number.
The key part of this plan is that every registrant must make a declaration at the time of registration of his or her intent to either become an American citizen or to remain in this country as a temporary worker. Every individual must declare one of these two alternatives. The path each person or family takes after making this declaration varies dramatically depending on this choice.
Temporary Worker Status Election
If an illegal immigrant elects to be a registered temporary worker, then the registrant would be given a dated ID card and number for work within the U.S. The permit would be good for two years from the date of issue after which the worker MUST return home for a period of no less than six months before becoming eligible for readmission. Arrest for any serious legal violation is subject to immediate deportation and would require a minimum one year period before eligibility to re-apply. Additionally, through an employer reporting system, any worker without employment for 180 days or more would be immediately deported. A head of household can elect this status for a family already here, subject to the two year limit, provided that they can demonstrate a means of support for the entire family. Family units would NOT be permitted for new applications to enter the country under temporary worker permits.
Temporary workers would be required to pay all payroll taxes, with employer matching contributions, plus 10% to cover the cost of social services. A worker demonstrating health insurance coverage would have this reduced to 5%. These taxes would put temporary workers on an even tax footing as citizens and remove the incentive of employers to exploit illegal immigrants as can happen now. Under the ID program, both the employee and employer are protected.
For those declaring the intent to become citizens, their individual position would depend on marital status and time in the U.S. Families that have been in the U.S. for five years or more have already laid down significant roots and would be allowed a faster track to citizenship. They would be required to meet the following requirements within one year of registration to become citizens:
1.) They must give up citizenship in any other country upon becoming a U.S. citizen.
2.) All family members must pass the citizenship requirements at the same time, including those children born in the U.S. The reason for including children born in the U.S. in this provision is simple: the status of these people is contentious in this country. Making their citizenship official will remove this argument, as they have passed the same requirements of those not born here.
3.) All members of the family must pass a test in basic English sufficient to assure they can function reasonably on a day-to-day basis.
4.) All family members must attend and pass a very basic course in U.S. history (particularly immigrant history so they appreciate how they, like others before them, fit into the U.S.), government, and the culture and values that are uniquely American. There is a value to all of us at least knowing, if not appreciating, values like freedom, hard work, equality, religious, tolerance and all that U.S. citizens accept as the basis of our relationship to society.
5.) The family must demonstrate an adequate means of support for the entire family unit.
6.) All taxes must be paid, including payroll taxes, during the one year period before citizenship is granted. Social security benefits, however, will not begin to accrue until citizenship is officially granted. All taxes paid prior will be forfeited as a cost of being in this country illegally. Once citizenship is granted, however, all the benefits of citizenship begin to accrue as befits all citizens.
7.) Any arrests or criminal convictions during the period before acquiring citizenship could result in extension of the waiting period, revocation of their pending status, or deportation at the discretion of the courts.
A family that has been in the U.S. for less than five years would enter a probationary period until they reach the fifth year, at which time they would have one year to complete the requirements for citizenship outlined above. All the other conditions for families would apply. The family would be required to show a means of support and remain within the law. Children that reach the age of 21 during the waiting period can either opt to stay within the family unit or make an election to pursue citizenship or temporary worker status on their own.
Single individuals that elect to pursue citizenship will require a five year waiting period before becoming eligible to begin the one year process to citizenship regardless of how long they have been in the U.S. During this period, any violations of U.S. law, even down to serious traffic violations, forfeit the citizenship election and would result in immediate deportation.
In the case of all of the above, a flat income tax of 10% for families and 5% for individuals, over and above payroll taxes, is to be added as a payroll deduction to defer the costs of social services available to them as non-citizens living in this country. If their income level would be such that a greater amount would be due under federal and state income tax law, the higher amount would be due. This provision would end upon achieving full citizenship.
The status of all people involved in this program is established and defined by their ID card and their ID number. No card, no status, no job. An employer would be prohibited from hiring a worker that did not present a valid card. The number could be verified instantly through a central registry generated at the time the card is issued. In addition, employers would be required to visually verify that all employees have a valid card monthly, with number checks no less than semi-annually. This would verify that a number or card hadn’t been revoked for criminal violations or time period expiration. Any cards found to be invalid must be reported immediately or the company would face serious fines.
The above system is simple, verifiable, and does not require employers to be experts at counterfeit identification. Either present a valid card or you can’t be hired or retained. Having a newly created number system will also go a long way to stopping forgery and the use of phony Social Security numbers that is so rampant today.
Closing The Loop
In summary, after a certain date — say, December 31,2011 — all the people in this country illegally would have to register and get an ID number and card. Their status and rights would be clearly defined by their circumstances and the election they make to become either a citizen or a guest temporary worker. There would be every reason to expect that registration levels would be high because no one would face immediate deportation unless they were a convicted criminal or fugitive. The U.S. would get an accounting of who is in the country, their identity and location and plans for the future. Employers would be encouraged to participate, even help in the registration, as it would both protect their current workers and allow for an end to the hopeless mess that is the current system. Families could remain together and the country would benefit from yet another wave of solid immigrants seeking a new and better life.
On the other hand, on an ongoing basis this plan also provides for immediate deportation of those here without a card or one that has expired or been revoked. We would no longer have to suffer the pontifications of local officials with their sanctuary cities and such. Every eligible immigrant/worker would have a clear status and the ability to prove it on the spot. Americans would also be able to be assured that their neighbors and coworkers are rightfully here and bound by U.S. laws.
Is it amnesty? In part you could call it that. But citizenship granted under sound terms, our terms, and reasonably applied for and earned, is far more important than redress at this late date. Get it under control, stop illegal entrants, and set a clear path for all.
Then, let’s get back to living together in America.