Solving the immigration dilemma would be possible if we took a couple of sensible steps. But we won’t take either one. So the coming battle over immigration will be loud and long, and there may be no good solution in the end.
The main problem, as everyone says, is that we have about 11 million illegal or undocumented immigrants in the country, and that hundreds of thousands more try to get in — or do get in — without permission every year. For the general public this is not really a grave or pressing problem, at least not as pressing as the attempts to limit people’s freedom under the Second Amendment or the refusal to face up to the reality of the government’s crushing debt and inability to fund basic programs without borrowing more. But if we nevertheless wanted to get beyond the immigration issue now, we would do two things.
First, for everybody in the country at least a year, we would declare them legal residents. No more threat of deportation. No more fuss. This would not be citizenship but legal residency. Legal residents have all the obligations of everyone else except they can’t vote. There’s a way for legal residents to apply to become citizens after a number of years, and whether to do so would be up to them. So that would solve the immediate problem. It might not be fair to lots of people on waiting lists around the world, but it would recognize the facts on the ground, and it would be decisive.
So then, what’s the second step? It would be to go back to the system of a few decades ago, when immigrants had to swear they would not become dependent on public assistance. There’s nothing unfair about this. The U.S.economy can’t support every poor person in the world who wants a better life. If we enforced a similar approach now, the urge to immigrate would likely take a dip and the second part of the problem would become smaller as well. (hh)