A U.S. Senate bill touted Thursday night as a potential breakthrough in immigration reform stalled the next morning amid partisan rancor — and having failed to advance the measure, senators left town for a two-week recess.
But when they return, their herculean task will still be waiting for them: crafting a solution to the conundrum of some 12 million illegal immigrants who, while living on the margins of American society, have nonetheless become a part of it.
The very presence of these people, the vast majority from Mexico, is an indication that America has a place for them. If their work were unneeded, they would not be here, for the opportunities that attracted them would never have arisen.
That being the case, any solution Congress eventually comes up with — and the lawmakers are going to have to come up with one, because the Bush administration has repeatedly passed the buck to them — must provide an opening to an American future for those who have come here for the employment their homelands have failed to provide them. This may be a bitter pill for opponents of illegal immigration to swallow, but the potential consequences of continuing what amounts to the establishment of a de facto caste system are too dire to countenance inaction.
Hence, any plan must prompt illegal immigrants who have worked and sunk roots in America to come forth and legally register their identities. It must offer them legal permanent residence, with the prospect of eventually becoming U.S. citizens. Their original border violation must be penalized by the assessment of a reasonable fine. To qualify for citizenship, they must pay any back taxes they may have incurred and demonstrate a proficiency in English beyond that already required of new citizens.
And it must be firmly emphasized that such concessions will not be offered to future illegal entrants.
Future needs for foreign workers must be met with a temporary worker program establishing a visa whose renewal is dependent on the worker’s return to his homeland. The number of these visas should be subject to annual adjustment in accordance with market demands.
In order to ensure that all workers are here legally, a tamper-proof form of employment eligibility identification must be developed including biometric verification features. The intent would be to create a “virtual wall” that would deny employment to illegal entrants. In the interests of the health of our economy and simple fairness, American employers should not be subjected to onerous scrutiny unless and until such a system is in place.
In addition, technological surveillance capabilities and enforcement manpower along the border must be built up to levels commensurate with security requirements. An actual wall should be constructed only should such measures fail.
A matter that must be resolved is the illegal entry of pregnant foreign nationals to bear “anchor babies” on American soil — infants whose automatic citizenship is then used as a leverage by their scofflaw parents. Such gaming of the immigration system must be thwarted by laws prohibiting it, which, contrary to popular belief and current practice, would not be crosswise with the U.S. Constitution. A future editorial will address this issue.
No solution to this thorny and dauntingly complex problem is going to be perfect — or emotionally satisfactory to all sides in the current contentious debate. But a good-sense plan is both feasible and imperative.