Road to Reformation: Securing the Border

Road to Reformation: Securing the Border

There was some good news from Washington last week, as eight senators (four from each party) announced a “Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform”

The Gang of Eight proposed a “tough but fair path” to citizenship for undocumented immigrants that would commence only after the federal government secured the borders and put in place systems to prevent immigrants from overstaying their visas and to help employers verify that any new employees are legal.

This “border first, citizenship later” approach would require those now in America without permission to register with immigration officials and pass a background check.  Anyone with a serious criminal record or the potential to pose a threat to national security would be deported.  The rest would have to pay fines and back taxes to earn “probationary legal status.”

Then they would have to wait to begin the process of applying for a green card and (if they choose) for citizenship until after a commission of border-state governors, attorneys general and community leaders affirm that the border is under operational control.

This means that the process of regularization could take years- perhaps longer than a decade.  Meanwhile, these “probationary legal residents” would not be eligible for welfare, ObamaCare or other public assistance.

The framework also calls for a market-driven guest-worker program.  This is not only important for sectors like agriculture; it is also critical to reducing pressure on the border and making operational control more likely.

The bipartisan plan would also increase U.S. competitiveness by giving a green card to foreign students graduating from American universities with a Ph.D. or Master’s degree in Science, Technology, Engineering or Math.

Gang of Eight member John McCain was incorrect to say that this framework mirrors previous immigration proposals.  Making any path to citizenship contingent upon first securing the border distinguishes this approach from earlier ones, including the 2007 legislation advocated by President George W. Bush.

The framework of the proposed reforms highlights the persuasive powers of Marco Rubio, who reportedly helped convince Democrats in the Senate that “border-security first” and a difficult, lengthy but attainable path to citizenship are essential to making reform both possible and durable.

A bipartisan House of Representatives group is also at work on immigration.  Among the Republican congressman reportedly involved and John Carter and Sam Johnson, both Texans generally skeptical of offering illegal immigrants any path to legal status.  Also involved was Tea Partier Raul Labrador and Mario Diaz-Balart.  The presence of these congressmen in the discussion suggests an understanding among House Democrats that border security is a necessary precondition for establishing a bipartisan deal.

However, there are potentially significant differences between President Obama and the Gang of Eight.  An unnamed administration official told the Washington Post last week that Mr. Obama would not endorse a security-first proposal.  The White House has also signaled that the President favors a fast, easy path to citizenship.

The President can sabotage a deal by insisting on provisions (such as automatic citizenship or protections from same-sex couples) that appeals to his base but make it impossible to earn passage through the still Republican-controlled House of Representatives.  If he does so, that would be exorbitantly detrimental to the progression of our immigration policies.

To resolve this issue, President Obama should play it low-key.  In this instance, unlike in foreign policy, the president ought to lead from behind.  That means supporting the framework agreed to by members of Congress, not insisting on his own.  That is what will accomplish ACTUAL immigration reform.

I don’t even support the framework all the way.  I believe the best option in the realm of immigration would be a citizenship-first border-second policy.  That would be a better option for the immigrants currently living in the country.  With the currently proposed reform framework, we would be deporting a lot of immigrants, which would be beneficial neither for them, nor us.  If we make it easier to receive citizenship, we would have many more immigrants operating under legality in the country, which is better for everyone.  Despite my disagreement with the framework, though, I still believe it is best to put SOME sort of reform on the table, rather than waiting for a better one to come along in a couple decades.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official position of the Parkway School District.