Nearly everyone agrees that our immigration system is badly broken and in urgent need of reform. Under the existing system people are dying at the border, immigrants are living and working in abject conditions, families trying to reunite legally are separated for many years, employers are unable to hire the workers that they need, U.S. workers suffer from the unlevel playing field shared with exploited immigrant workers, and law‐abiding U.S. employers are in unfair competition with unscrupulous employers who increase profits by hiring cheap and vulnerable labor. Meanwhile, the United States continues to spend billions of dollars on enforcing these broken laws.
We can expect every major piece of comprehensive reform legislation to tackle the issue of creating a legal status for the 11- 12 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States. Ultimately, most politicians and policy makers agree that practically, the U.S. cannot deport this population, and some kind of process for legalizing status is necessary. However, there remains a temptation to create high penalties in exchange for a green card because many politicians want to ensure that people have paid the price for coming to the country illegally. An overly punitive process, however, ultimately defeats the purpose of a legalization program because it will deter people from participating and potentially drive people further underground. A successful legalization program combines measured penalties with clear and achievable goals that will get the maximum number of people into the system, identify the relatively few who do not belong here based on criminal activity, and integrate those who can contribute their talents as quickly as possible.
While some characterize our immigration crisis as solely an issue of the 11 to 12 million unauthorized immigrants living in this country, our problems extend beyond the number of undocumented people to a broader range of issues.
The public debate over immigration reform, which all too often devolves into emotional rhetoric, could use a healthy dose of economic realism. As Congress and the White House fulfill their recent pledges to craft immigration-reform legislation in the months ahead, they must ask themselves a fundamental question: can we afford any longer to pursue a deportation-only policy that ignores economic reality?
The current immigration system is outdated and broken. Americans are justifiably frustrated and angry. The U.S. needs a fair, practical solution that addresses the underlying causes of undocumented immigration and creates a new, national legal immigration system for the 21st century.
America’s immigration laws are some of the most complex and archaic provisions that can be found in the U.S. statutes. The Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA) rivals the tax code in the level of detail, confusion, and absurd consequences produced by years of layering on provisions without systematically reviewing their results. Since the 1960s, Congress has periodically overhauled the INA, but has tended to focus on one hot-button issue at a time, resulting in a patchwork of outdated laws that fail to reflect the realities of 21st century America. The necessity of comprehensive immigration reform stems from years of neglect and failure to respond to incompatible interactions between different parts of the system, resulting in breakdowns that have crippled our ability to regulate immigration adequately, protect our borders, reunite families, and foster economic opportunity.
Critics of H.R. 5882, a bill that would would allow visas that have gone unused due to bureaucratic delays to be "recaptured" and issued to family- or employment-based legal immigrants, claim it will needlesly create new visas. The fact is that "recapturing" lost visas would not authorize any new green cards; it would allow the government to issue green cards that Congress has already authorized.
While the U.S. government has poured billions upon billions of dollars into immigration enforcement, the number of undocumented immigrants in the United States has increased dramatically. Rather than reducing undocumented immigration, this enforcement-without-reform strategy has diverted the resources and attention of federal authorities to the pursuit of undocumented immigrants who are drawn here by the labor needs of our own economy.