A Centrist Blueprint for Immigration Reform

I’m a pragmatist when it comes to immigration, and I think it’s hard to find politicians who are willing to publicly stake out pragmatic positions on this issue. Here’s my blueprint for what I think immigration reform should look like.

End Illegal Immigration

We are all for immigration, but through the proper channels, and with proper safeguards.

It is not enough to pay lip service to immigration laws – we need to enforce them as well. We need more vigorous border security. Beefed up ICE enforcement throughout the entire nation. Employers should be required to e-verify their workers, and anyone who knowingly or negligently hires an illegal worker should be punished punitively.

One-time Pathway to Citizenship for Dreamers

Anyone who grew up in America is for all intents and purposes, an American. Anyone who came into this country as a pre-teen, has lived here ever for at least 5 years, and has no violent-criminal-record, should be granted a pathway to citizenship.

One-time Pathway to Citizenship for Undocumented Workers with Roots

Anyone who is currently undocumented, with no violent criminal record, and has an immediate family member who is a US citizen or dreamer, should also be granted a one-time path to citizenship.

I would normally disagree with any forms of amnesty for law-breakers. But mass-deporting over ten million people who have been living here peacefully for more than a decade, is simply not an acceptable solution.

Return to 1900s Era Immigration Levels

Immigration is a central tenet of the American dream. This country should welcome with open arms those who believe in the American dream, will strengthen our society, and are ready to work hard and play by the rules.

That said, there is such a thing as too much immigration. Unrestricted immigration will destroy the social fabric and dilute the very qualities that make America great.

To that end, we should strive to emulate early 1900s immigration levels. That was the time when America rose from second-tier nation to world power. In part through the contributions of the German, Irish, Italian, Chinese, and Jewish immigrants and their descendents. The number of work visas and green cards issued every year, should be careful calibrated to maintain the same immigrant-native proportions that we had in the early 1900s.

More Selective Work-Visas

Let’s get real. There are maybe a thousand people in the world possessing “extraordinary ability” or special skills that do not exist in America. And most of these people have no interest in coming here. It is idiotic to base immigration policy around such a requirement.

That said, there are far more foreigners who are in the top quintile when it comes to intelligence, talent, character and work ethic. These would-be immigrants may be no Einsteins, but they would certainly be an asset to America. Technologically, economically and socially. They would make our society stronger, not weaker.

It is idiotic to set the bar as low as we currently do, and to use a lottery to determine who gets to live here. Whether by drastically raising the prevailing-wage requirement, or by giving preference to those earning high incomes, or by using a Canadian style points system, we need a system that selects for the best and brightest.

End Indentured Servitude

Companies should hire immigrants for their talents and skills, not for their servitude. To that end, all H1B visas and I-140 approvals should be issued to individuals, not companies. Once an individual is issued a work visa or green card petition, they should have complete freedom to quit their job at any time and look for a new one, without fearing deportation or having to restart the entire immigration process again.

Immigrant Tax

Immigrants who believe in the American dream, should be given every opportunity to pursue it. But it’s also fair to expect that they will kick back some of their good fortune to help those who are struggling. It is eminently reasonable to levy on all non-citizens a special immigrant tax. One whose revenues can be used to strengthen Medicare, Social Security, Pell Grants and the nation’s infrastructure.

Social Integration Requirement

We should welcome immigrants into America, but they too should welcome America into their hearts. Anyone wanting to live in this country should demonstrate a commitment to integrating into mainstream American society. By befriending their native neighbors and colleagues. By volunteering with local charities. And yes, by learning the English language.

End National Discrimination

A hundred years ago, America signed into law a shameful Chinese Exclusion Act, designed specifically to discriminate against Chinese (and only Chinese) immigrants. This shameful episode should never be repeated.

Such laws may not exist today, but there are other regulations that have the exact same effect. For example, those born in India have to wait for decades, even after being vetted and approved. This despite the fact that their immediate neighbors in Pakistan or Bangladesh face no such wait at all.

Such discrimination belongs in the 19th century, not the 21st. Every immigrant should be judged based on her character and qualifications. Not her race, religion or country of birth.

Better Balance of Family and Employer-Sponsored Immigration

At present, the vast majority of green cards are awarded on the basis of family ties, as opposed to individual merit or talent. We need a more equal balance between the two.

Perfect Is The Enemy of Good

I doubt that anyone is going to read my suggestions and agree with every one of them. When it comes to immigration, there are far too many controversial issues that everyone has strong opinions on.

However, there is one thing we can all agree on – no matter how much you may dislike any attempted reforms, the status quo is worse. Only by biting our tongue and agreeing to a good-enough compromise, can we get out of the mess we are currently in. My blueprint may not be perfect, but I believe it makes for a good starting point.

2 thoughts on “A Centrist Blueprint for Immigration Reform

  1. I agree with most of this except this:

    “At present, the vast majority of green cards are awarded on the basis of family ties, as opposed to individual merit or talent. We need a more equal balance between the two.”

    As someone who is born and raised here and who sponsored my husband to come live here with me, how should spouses not have priority over someone who wants to come here for employment and who has no familial connection to the country?

    1. Hi Sarah. I believe the number of green cards being awarded to spouses of American citizens, is small enough that they wouldn’t be affected by an equal-rebalancing of family-vs-employer sponsored visas. In fact, under current regulations, green cards awarded to spouses of American citizens face no cap at all, and I’d be all in favor of this continuing.


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