We all know what the “catch” is: the undocumented eleven million or so who are already here, but who will need to be allowed to stay, and possibly become citizens, if anything can ever be done to repair our broken immigration system. I admit that I don’t like letting them apply for legal status, but it makes no sense to continue with a system that is not working for us. If the price of revising it is to face that reality, then we should pay it. It will be worth it just to stop the pretense that we will ever engage in a mass deportation program, someday, whenever we get around to it. Instead, the illegals will be given the chance to apply for an individual review for continued residency. What we will get in return, hopefully, is a system where we have true control over immigration, which requires some official record of who comes to this country with the intent of living among us. We don’t have that now.
As I said, I don’t like the idea of absorbing aliens who have come here illegally, and have stayed. They have already shown a disrespect for our laws, and democracy, by dishonest entry. I think that the process of channeling them into citizenship should incorporate penalties that reflect this fact. But not a penalty just for the sake of punishment. The cost of any new immigration program will be enormous, and the American taxpayer will bear the brunt of it. A good share of the cost will have to be paid by those aliens who are applying for legal status here under this new system, but in a way that allocates responsibility in a rational legal framework.
My formula can be expressed in simple terms: X + Y = LS. Applying it will be complicated, but it is workable, and not as expensive as other proposals. Here’s what it means: X = Time ( the total processing time); Y = Payment (the cost to the applicant); LS = Legal Status.
The formula is applicable to any new law and policy that controls immigration. It can be used in three kinds of application for legal status.
The first application group is for people who are requesting permanent residence for the first time, and will be filed in their native country. The processing of this application, including background check and verification, can be done quickly, at least in relative terms (hopefully, not more than 90 days). Of course, it will also cost the least to process. The formula is thus expressed as: 1X + 1Y = LS.
Now, I will jump ahead to the third group, the one which will involve the greatest time and cost for the applicant. The members of this group will be composed of those undocumented aliens who are filing for status while they are still in this country. Presumably, the eventual law will include the “path to citizenship” that is has been the “catch” in dealing with immigration reform for so many years. But the application is only the first step on this path. The new law should require applicants to truthfully divulge their history as undocumented residents, including all the income they earned and property they have acquired while in the U.S. Processing this information, as well as doing a full background check on their history and property, both in their native countries and while in the U.S., should be the most time-consuming and expensive of the three procedures. The rough formula should be: 4X + 4Y = LS.
But the formula is most original when used for applicants in a third situation: those who have lived here illegally for a time, but are now applying after they have returned to their native countries and wish to be re-admitted for residency here. This will also be a time-consuming and expensive process, but not nearly as much as if they had remained here without legal status. One reason it is faster and cheaper is because you don’t need to include funding for possible deportation, always the most expensive part of the process. If the applicant doesn’t qualify, the application is simply denied. However, consideration should be taken for the fact that the applicant has taken a bold step by leaving voluntarily; it reveals strength of character, which is often an indicator of honesty, as well as a commitment to lawful conduct. The formula for this applicant is: 2X + 2Y = LS.
Of course one factor will be relevant in all three situations: whether the applicant is telling the truth. The standard for honesty should always be one hundred percent plus. Especially relevant — as I mentioned in a previous blog entry — is the declaration of income and property. This is crucial for an accurate computation of the account that must be repaid by the applying immigrant who has lived here illegally. It will be more, of course, if the applicant remains here during the immigration review, but total disclosure is required in both cases.
You can be sure that this proposal will be fiercely condemned by liberal as well as conservative partisans. Liberals will say that hard-working, honest people are being exploited and punished for something that was caused by our own unfair laws, but not by anything that they did. Conservatives will decry the program as submissive to political convenience, and a betrayal of principle. I am emotionally closer to the latter position, but only up to a point. I think it is also unprincipled to ignore the harm caused by a failed policy, especially when it is so inconsistently enforced.
Instead, this program will restore certainty to the immigration process. It is a simple framework that upholds the American values of fairness, truthfulness and respect for the law. Now is the time to consider it seriously.