EDINBURG, July 28 - While members of the House of Representatives continue to ponder what their take on immigration reform is, I want to pause to look at several key points from the Senate bill - mostly regarding expenditures on border safety and the path to citizenship – and propose what I believe is a rational fix.
Unfortunately, one of the main “issues” is whether or not to grant citizenship to the more than 11 million people in this country without proper documentation. The basic idea is that we need to move these people out of the shadows and into socially responsible and economically productive positions. The idea is to allow people who wish to embrace the United States as their nation, their “patria” to become citizens with full rights and duties. But this has run into opposition mostly from conservative politicians.The reason I call this unfortunate is because of the racial undertones of the policy.
What is it about these people that came here without proper paperwork that makes them unworthy of American citizenship? Some say that they have broken the law and that as such their behavior should not be rewarded by giving them citizenship. If this is so, are murderers ineligible for citizenship? Do tax evaders lose their Social Security and Medicare benefits? Are people convicted of two or more DUIs or DWIs put on citizenship probation? What is it about immigrants (the face of which we know as Latino) that makes them so unworthy of American Citizenship when we know they espouse American values.
Other opponents of a path to citizenship argue that illegal immigrants cheated and that they should wait at the back of the line and not be given preferential treatment over those who came legally. But first of all, nobody is suggesting they jump to the front of the line, but rather that they should be able to get in line. Second, preferential treatment for Cubans has existed since 1966 and it appears some of our Senators gleefully ignore that fact. Since the current U.S. immigration system creates country-based caps for green-cards and visas, it effectively discriminates based on nationality. But one of the major reasons that the path to citizenship is a thorny issue has to do with the economic and logistical costs involved in naturalizing 10+ million people. Before talking about the costs issue, I want to touch on the other issue I believe is important: beefing up border security.
On Face the Nation on Sunday July 7, 2013, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, argued that the border security amendment in the Senate immigration bill has no plan, has no guidelines and was just created to get Republican senatorial votes. I have made this point before arguing that it was just a way to appease Republican opponents.
Most of Representative McCaul’s objection to the Senate Bill centers around the huge increase in spending (close to $40 billion) to attempt to achieve an undefined goal. Although the CBO just estimated savings of about $175 billion in the 10 years following the enactment of reform, the increased expenditures seem like a deal breaker for fiscally conservative members of Congress.
The problem with these expenditures is that they are not aimed at achieving a specific purpose but rather propose the semi-militarization of the border by doubling the number of border patrol agents and the application of military unmanned technologies to guarding the border (not entirely clear what they are trying to keep out either).
As a response to several of these objections to the current immigration proposals I wish to present a simple point. Allow undocumented immigrants to have a legal status by starting at the back of the line. In order to avoid the problems with backlogs and to reduce untargeted spending, half of the money that would be used in doubling the border patrol force should be spent on hiring (or even contracting off if legislators believe it is more efficient) USCIS agents to process the paperwork that is current on the USCIS desks.
While opponents of big government might squirm at this proposal, their concerns could be assuaged by making the hires either temporary, or with a clear mandate (to reduce the backlog of green card and citizenship applications to less than 500 or some other arbitrary number). From there the government could determine how to best put these immigration officers to use, maybe at airports or at the border as customs agents to speed up the hundreds of millions of legal crossings that occur yearly between the US and Mexico.
Those who “played by the rules” would be rewarded by speeding up the appallingly slow immigration process, those who are in this country illegally would have a strong incentive to come out of the shadows. Spending would be targeted and have a clear goal, and the United States would create more well-paying jobs.
Who’s on board?
Angel Saavedra Cisneros, Ph.D, is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Texas-Pan American.