Sunday, September 23, 2007

As Stephen Colbert might say if I was one of his staff writers, “I feel dirty from mucking about in the cottony waters of immigration truthiness.” Before you read this post you might want to go back and read the last two. Or not. Anyway, how do we make it both harder to enter the U.S. illegally and less profitable after illegal entry? Four words: Fence, Enforcement, Fine and Amnesty. Don’t count the ‘and’.

Fence. We make it so that the chance of passing that fence without interception is 9% instead of 90%. If we can do this, it will not make much financial sense to attempt illegal entry. Two chain links separated by sensors and a lot of space. Rapid response teams every few miles. It is totally doable and completely necessary. Arguments that this will increase xenophobia, undermine human rights, or dehumanize latinos or immigrants are specious. Knowing that everyone here came legally will put us all on even footing.

Enforcement. Finding a way to punish employers that hire illegal immigrants is at least as important as making it harder for illegal immigrants to enter the country. Fixing one of these problems without fixing the other will not solve the problem. The fundamental problem in achieving this relates to our previous discussion regarding statutory prohibitions on information sharing between the I.R.S and D.H.S. Also social security numbers are a century old technology that is insanely ineffective. It is time for biometrics, period. This will fix everything. There are obviously privacy issues, but they are solvable by hashing (a non-reversible hash obviously) the biometric data and then encrypting it. The encrypted hash would be passed for verification or embedded on ID cards. If the code was compromised (identity theft), then the citizen could apply for a new hash. Once we have biometric IDs, law enforcement of right to work becomes trivial. If it takes 9 tries to enter the U.S. once successfully, and the average illegal immigrant is caught and deported after a year, it simply will not pay to try to cross the border.

Fine and Amnesty. We’ve talked stick – here is the carrot. The U.S. economy obviously depends on its current illegal workers. Deporting them all, even over a long period of time, would not be in our best interest. This is an understatement…it would cause horrific inflation and would make it difficult for most businesses to operate profitably. Think colossal blunder. So if we can’t remove the current illegal workers, but they got here, well…illegally, then what should we do? Here is my answer.

After Fence and Enforcement are up and running, we publish the following plan and then implement it, making it clear that all steps will be followed:

Step 1: All illegal immigrants must register with the D.H.S. within 12 months. Failure to do so will result in missing the opportunity to apply for a Conversion Visa. There will be no exceptions – if you are an illegal immigrant in the U.S., and you do not register in 12 months you will permanently lose the opportunity to obtain this visa. This will mean certain deportation.

Step 2: Those illegal immigrants registering and passing a criminal background check are issued a Conversion Visa. The terms of the Conversion Visa are as follows:

a. Within 2 years of obtaining a Conversion Visa, the visa holder must return to his or her country for at least a week. The purpose of this element is trust building. If the visa holder does not return within this period, the visa will expire and the holder will be permanently unwelcome.

b. After travel back to the home country and then return to the U.S., the trip will be verified by inspection of the Customs stamp in his/her passport. Upon return to the U.S., the Conversion Visa will become a “Yellow Card”. A Yellow Card confers permanent right to work and residence in much the same way as a “Green Card”, with the following exceptions:

1. Yellow Card holders may apply for U.S. citizenship after a period of 10 years. This long period is in deference to the millions of foreigners that are legally waiting to immigrate to the U.S..

2. Yellow Card holders (even after they obtain U.S. citizenship) permanently forfeit their right to collect Social Security retirement benefits, but they must continue to pay Social Security Tax. However they are eligible for Medicare/Medicaid. The lifetime forfeiture of Social Security benefits is a substantial fine – paid to the U.S. government for having broken the law.

That’s it. Fair compromise, full citizenship eventually. S’up?

PS...A lefty would (did) say (yeah that’s right I’m talking to you Greg Becerra) that making Mexico’s economy stronger will help solve the problem. No. Even if that were to happen the problem would cascade and there would be just as many illegal immigrants coming through Mexico from Guatemala, Honduras, etc. Any weak economy in the world is going to create this problem. To boot, even though Mexico’s economy has gotten much stronger over the past decade the disparity is still huge. According to the CIA world factbook, in 2006 Mexico’s per-capita income is a fourth that of the U.S. 20 years ago in 1987, it was a sixth. The actual numbers for 1987 are $26,668 vs. $4,656 in real 2000 U.S. dollars (reference here). Illegal Immigration from Mexico is at least as large of a problem today as it was 20 years ago. It will continue to be a problem for at least several decades. And that is just Mexico.