It seems Speaker John Boehner and the other members of the House Republican leadership are determined to pass some type of “immigration reform” in 2014. Here are four areas where immigration reform is desperately needed:
1. End birthright citizenship. The U.S. one of the few countries in the world that recognizes citizenship by birth. Anyone born on U.S. soil is automatically given citizenship for life, no questions asked. How we got here is a long and sordid mess mostly complicated by the Civil War. We know the original intent of the post-War Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution, referring to “persons born in the U.S. and subject to the jurisdiction thereof…” was to enfranchise the former slaves. Nobody then conceived it would apply to illegal immigrants, an unknown phenomenon. The Supreme Court has never squarely addressed the issue of birthright citizenship for the children of illegal immigrants. Congress can act and take it away. Such a statutory change will, of course, be challenged and probably will be decided by the Supreme Court. So be it. Everyone knows this is the magnet that draws illegal immigrants into the country- even more than employment. If the Court ultimately rules the Amendment applies to illegal immigrants, then we will need to pass a new amendment to bring it in line with reality.
2. Tie immigration to the unemployment rate. It makes no economic sense to have immigration, that is more job seekers, entering the country when unemployment is high. High is over 5%. The Republicans need to win back working class voters. This will draw a sharp difference with the Democrats, who favor more immigration regardless of its economic consequences. They want immigration to transform the country. We want it only when it makes economic sense and demand immigrants assimilate.
3. Require immigrants to have sponsors. Any immigrants who enter the U.S. must have a sponsors who sign surety bonds to support them. If the immigrants become unemployed and end up on entitlement programs the government should be able to sue the sponsors for reimbursement. This would dramatically lower the flow of unskilled and uneducated immigrants, the very people our economy does not need and who compete with struggling Americans for scarce low-end jobs. If we are to have immigration, the immigrants should have strong ties with this country and excellent job prospects by virtue of education and skills. Such people will obtain sponsors because their sponsors know they won’t end up on welfare.
4. Prohibit lawful immigrants from returning to native homelands Anyone who becomes a lawful permanent of the U.S. (commonly known as a “green card” holder, one step below citizenship) should be barred from returning to their home countries more than once a year. Citizenship means abjuring one’s loyalty to his or her former nation. But in practice, this means nothing today. Lawful permanent residents return home for long stretches, maintaining close personal and cultural ties with the countries they supposedly want to leave. But this is incompatible with the concept of citizenship. Dual citizenship is not, and never has been, a goal of U.S. immigration policy. We have always demanded new citizens be singularly loyal to this country. A person who cannot do so in good conscience should not become a U.S. citizen. And if they aren’t on the path to become citizens, to use today’s vernacular, then we should question whether we even want them here long-term. Perhaps such people are only interested in this country for economic reasons, to earn more money than they could at home, but plan on remitting most of their income back to relatives there. Such people are not good candidates for citizenship and don’t help our economy. If modern day immigration means a new class of “citizens of the world” traveling continuously from nation to nation, then we need to rethink the entire concept of immigration. It has only been for people who want to be Americans, a cultural aspiration more than an economic one.
The “reforms” the Republicans are talking about, such as legalizing more unskilled agricultural workers and Dreamers (the children of illegals), are counterproductive. The Chamber of Commerce favors this. The rest of us don’t. Will the leadership listen to us this year?
Howard Foster is a Chicago-based immigration law attorney.