April 30, 2010


Two-stage reform answer to immigration (Stewart Lawrence, 04/30/10, Daily Caller)

There is a way for the two parties to avoid his cynical and destructive impasse. And that’s to do what Obama could and should have done with health care—abandon the pretense of “comprehensive” reform, and focus on a more modest package. As was the case with health care reform, there are smaller and more “digestible” pieces of immigration reform legislation that might serve as the basis for bipartisan agreement now, before the mid-term elections. Time is short, but if the two parties can reach a first-stage agreement on these less contentious items, it might make partisan gridlock a bit less likely when they resume their debate after November.

The logic of a stripped down immigration agreement is similar to what’s been debated in comprehensive reform—only the scale is much smaller. The basic trade-off is still the same: a legalization of the undocumented in exchange for improvements in enforcement. Except that we are no longer talking about a massive and largely unconditional legalization program affecting as many as 15 million people. Or an equally contentious effort to introduce a controversial guest worker program or to impose a national ID card as the “final solution” to enforcement.

Conservatives, for example, could easily agree to some of the narrow legalization schemes that Democrats have proposed in the past, such as the DREAM Act that legalizes the children of illegal aliens who migrated with their parents, and really, through no fault of their own, are now living here illegally. The bill only affects about 1.5 million people, and to qualify for a green card, it insists that applicants either go to college or join the recruit-starved US military. It makes no sense to try to send these kids back to their countries of origin that they do not know, and to lose the value of the accrued investment in their education acquired here. Skillfully presented, DREAM might do for immigration what the CHIP program has done for child welfare—build a badly needed bridge on a hotly-contested issue

Another likely candidate for GOP support is Ag Jobs, which combines a special guest-worker program for agriculture with provisions to allow these workers to transition to legal residency. It’s not really an amnesty because many of the workers “imported” under the program aren’t yet living here. And the numbers involved, as with DREAM, are relatively small—perhaps 2 million workers. Furthermore, agribusiness desperately wants and needs the program, simply to survive. Finally, in contrast to other sectors of the unskilled labor market, there is little evidence that the foreign-born workers involved are competing with native-born Americans for the same jobs. (Wages are low, and the work is simply too demanding, and dirty, except for those long accustomed to it).

What would the GOP get “in return,” for these concessions? A dramatic expansion of the “E-Verify” workplace enforcement system that currently only applies to companies that are federal contractors—a tiny proportion of the firms operating in our economy.

The vast majority of Americans don't object to the immigrants, just their illegality, so any steps that legalize them help drain the poison.

Posted by Orrin Judd at April 30, 2010 6:38 AM
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