Wednesday, November 14, 2012

The GOP Must Change on Immigration

A few years ago, the Reason Foundation, a libertarian think tank, graphically illustrated the process for foreigners becoming legal permanent residents and citizens of the United States. You can find it here.

The common refrain found within the Republican Party and the nativist/xenophobic elements of American society is that illegal immigrants should "get in line" to immigrate to the US. What they don't know, or don't care about, is that it's virtually impossible for non-skilled immigrants to apply for permanent residency in the US, and that there is an extremely limited number of non-immigrant work visas available for temporary stays.

In short, there's not enough supply (legal immigrant visas and permanent residency permits) to meet the extraordinary demand for the ability to work and live in the US. The application process for those lucky enough to be eligible for residency takes too long and is prone to frustrating mistakes and maddening delays that you come to expect when dealing with the Federal bureaucracy.

And the Republican rhetoric on immigration policy isn't helping matters. Here are a few gems:

1. We need to secure the border before engaging in comprehensive immigration reform

2. No amnesty for people who break the law

3. Illegal immigrants don't pay taxes and are a drain on the government

The problem with all three of these claims is that it shows absolutely no compassion for people wishing to enter the country. Illegal immigrants didn't come here to mooch off our welfare system. They came to work to support their families and to live in a society where the government is fair, non-corrupt (say what you will about American government, it is far more transparent, competent, and law abiding than your average third world kleptocracy), and stable.

Minimizing or dismissing the hardships that people have to go through to live in this country is callous. Especially when you consider that many native born citizens often show no appreciation for their extremely fortunate circumstances. It is usually the first and second generation that works the hardest and most appreciates productive values like honesty and thrift.

The Republican Party's current stance on immigration is becoming increasingly untenable. Given the fact that many of the most ardent supporters on the issue articulate it in terms that are increasingly xenophobic, hateful, and racist, and it turns off the electorate at large. If the GOP ever wants to win another Presidency, it must change both its style and substance on immigration.

There must be a way to allow illegal immigrants to stay on a legal basis. There must be a way to streamline and increase the legal would-be immigrants in order to keep our population growing and our economy strong. And immigration makes an economy stronger when those immigrants are quickly integrated into the country. Humans are simply another form of capital. The more capital you have, the wealthier you are.

That means some sort of amnesty (most likely a quid pro quo of legal status in exchange for both one-time and recurring penalties). That also means uncapped H-1B visas. It means reducing the wait times and the bureaucracy that stands in the way of people applying for permanent residency. And it means an unlimited guest worker visa program (unlike the capped and expensive H-2A visa). It also means allowing those on student visas to automatically convert to permanent residency upon graduating from an American university.

Immigrants and their immediate descendants have made up almost all of the population growth in the US for the past decade. It has single handedly prevented us from suffering the sort of demographic crises that Western Europe and Japan are currently undergoing. Immigration is good. And we need to recognize the fact that we only have illegal immigration when we restrict the amount of legal immigration.

The faster the GOP can accept this, the shorter the time they spend out of the White House. It's that simple.

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