The issue of illegal immigration would be important in any ordinary election. Suffice it to say that this is no ordinary election, and a populist revolt on the left and right have really shaken things up. The inflammatory and reactionary rhetoric from candidates on the right have catapulted immigration issues to the forefront of this election, alongside foreign policy and the economy.
According to the Pew Research Center, there are somewhere between 11 and 12 million illegal immigrants in the U.S. Most of them have come here over the past 15 years either fleeing violence in Latin America or seeking a better life. With little doubt, most of these immigrants have contributed to our society, joined the workforce and tried to establish themselves here, just like every other group that came before them.
President Barack Obama’s executive orders have shielded several million people from deportation, mostly parents of children who were born in the U.S. and parents who came here illegally before 2010. It’s only a temporary measure though; executive orders can be struck down by the Supreme Court or countermanded by future presidents. Congress needs to act to create a more permanent solution to America’s illegal immigrant problem.
The ideal solution looks like this: Congress should pass two-tiered immigration reform that offers a path to citizenship for illegal immigrants currently in the country. We should apply the United Nations definition of the term “asylum seeker” or “refugee” when considering anyone who came here allegedly fleeing gang violence or the drug wars in their home country. Anyone who meets these definitions should be granted a green card immediately, pending some sort of vetting process.
All illegal immigrants should have a path to citizenship open to them. It would apply only to people who have not committed a felony in their time here; misdemeanors and citations should be excused at the discretion of case officers and the courts. Any man or woman who came here illegally before 2015 should have to pass a citizenship test and pay any back taxes which they have otherwise neglected in the years that they have been here. After that, they should be made citizens.
Rare is the bill that makes it through Congress in its original form, however, which is why lawmakers should be prepared to make concessions. These may include increased spending on border security, as well as other means of sealing the border in the future. Provisions requiring all employers to use E-Verify might not be a bad idea either.
The problem with such an idealistic solution is, in a word, reality. Reform can only come as a result of bipartisanship, which has been sorely lacking in Congress lately. In particular, there has been an increasingly vocal wing of the Republican party that is holding reform hostage. I speak not only of Donald Trump but also Senator Ted Cruz, his cohorts, and the citizens they represent who decry anything less than mass deportation as “amnesty.” Even Senator Marco Rubio, a Republican who was part of the bipartisan Gang of Eight in 2013 that tried to pass immigration reform, has been backing away from his handiwork, stating in the debate on January 28 that he was against amnesty.
The Republican solution to our problem with immigration has been to talk of grandiose fantasies of big border walls and deportation. While deportation should be an option if the authorities choose to exercise it, it’s neither practical nor advisable for the millions of people whose only crime has been entering and residing in the country illegally. We need a more practical solution for the future. Democrats are moving our country in the right direction by advocating for reform. Half the Republican party has no feasible solution to our problems, and they’re shouting down the half that understands they need to cooperate and compromise to fix our immigration problems.
Our solution to illegal immigration can’t end with President Obama’s executive order. Even if it’s upheld by the Supreme Court, we need something more permanent. Congress needs to recognize this issue can’t be ignored; already our immigration courts are backlogged and need relief. There are so many people here now, living in the shadows, who we should be happy to count as American citizens. The only way to truly solve this problem is through reform. Democrats have shown a willingness to step up to the plate. When will Republicans do the same?