Poll after poll shows that Americans believe in strong border security and in bringing undocumented immigrants out of the shadows. For example, 81 percent of Americans favor legalizing undocumented immigrants, according to a CNN poll.
It’s not only Democratic voters who want to see Congress provide undocumented immigrants a path to legal status but a majority of Republicans as well. According to an August POLITICO poll, 59 percent of Republican voters said they supported immigration reform that contained a legalization component.
This means that, contrary to what we have been led to think, former Rep. Tom Tancredo (R-Colo.) doesn’t speak for the conservative movement on immigration – merely for a small group of anti-free-market restrictionists who say the U.S. is overpopulated and don’t want our businesses to bring in the foreign labor they need. Clearly, these are not traditional conservative positions!
With Republicans now in control of the House and increasing their numbers in the Senate, they should be aware that the American people -including most conservative voters – expect them to lead on immigration. Yet they should also realize that the American people are wary of recent “comprehensive” reforms, like Obamacare, that seem to only expand the role of government and could end up aggravating the problems they are intended to solve.
Republicans should now stay away from big, ambitious reform plans. They should instead propose practical measures that will begin to put our immigration laws in order in a way that is consistent with the rule of law, national security and our economic needs.
What should a Republican plan look like? First, it should strengthen and expand border security. The Obama administration’s response to the increasingly ghastly violence along our Southern border has been lukewarm. Republicans should demand immediate completion of the 700 miles of fencing along the border and construction of double- and triple-layer fencing at appropriate locations.
And at least 6,000 more National Guard troops should be deployed along the border. The 1,500 guardsmen the Obama administration is sending are insufficient for the task.
Second, a potential GOP proposal should focus on preventing the hiring of undocumented immigrants. Republicans could propose mandatory use by businesses of the federal E-Verify program. Created through legislation by Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, the Web-based system enables employers to determine prospective employees’ eligibility to work in the United States.
These enforcement measures, however, are not likely to be enough to begin fixing our dysfunctional immigration system. We need to recognize that our economy has a demand for foreign workers. They are performing jobs Americans don’t want or for which there are few or no Americans of working age.
So we should also create a mechanism to allow a legal flow of the migrant workers our economy needs. Our market system needs a demand-based guest worker program. I recognize, though, that since our economy is sluggish and unemployment is above 9 percent, beginning a new program to bring in foreign workers may be a tough sell.
Nonetheless, Republicans can start addressing the market’s needs by proposing to give temporary work status to undocumented immigrants already in the country. With this temporary status, undocumented immigrants could be considered admitted into the U.S., authorized to work and allowed to travel back and forth from their homeland for the duration of their temporary status. The status could be granted initially for two years and renewed twice, for two-year periods – for a total potential stay of six years. After temporary status expires, the beneficiary would have to leave the country.
Beneficiaries of temporary work status should be required to pay at least a $2,000 fine for their illegal conduct and perform 10 hours of community service. By imposing such a penalty, proportional to their legal infraction, no one could seriously argue that this proposal is amnesty.
The Republican Party cannot afford to be the “party of no” on immigration. The American public, not to mention the majority of Latino voters, won’t stand for it.
Republicans in this new Congress need to propose specific solutions to immigration that go beyond enforcement-only measures. These security-and market-based solutions could go a long way toward dealing with the serious immigration crisis our nation faces.
Found in Politico
Alfonso Aguilar is executive director of the Latino Partnership for Conservative Principles and served as chief of the Office of Citizenship in the George W. Bush administration.