Guest Commentary

Opinion: An Immigration System Rigorous And Generous

, The Connecticut Law Tribune

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Prospects for resolution of the country's immigration issues are fading in Congress as details complicate the outline of a settlement, essentially an immediate amnesty for all 11 million or so illegal aliens in exchange for much better control of the borders.

While this stalemate is especially painful for the young people who know no other home and whose lack of authorization to be here is impairing their lives, getting the details right is crucial. For there is far more to "immigration reform" than the convenience of illegal aliens.

The debate pays little attention to national security and culture. Many immigrants come from places where the murder of infidels is the highest expression of religion and theocracy is the ideal form of government. Having failed to control immigration, Western Europe is coming apart in separatism and sectarianism. Democratic and secular culture can be preserved only if immigrants are carefully screened. Blanket amnesty won't do that.

While border control is important, the most effective immigration law enforcement would be directed against employers, since jobs are what draw most illegals and employers are the great beneficiaries of illegal immigration. But for different ideological reasons both the political left and the political right oppose immigration law enforcement at the employment level.

The great myth in support of immigration is that immigrants are needed to do jobs the native-born won't do. This is simply a question of wages and welfare benefits. If job compensation is high enough and welfare benefits are low enough, the native-born will do any job. Eligibility for welfare benefits discourages citizens from taking poorly paid work, while ineligibility for welfare benefits encourages illegals to take it.

To appease the political right, the compromise immigration bill in Congress would exclude amnestied illegals from the new national medical insurance system for many years. This would have perverse results. It would give employers incentive to hire the amnestied rather than citizens and would stick the country with a big new medical problem. If amnestied illegals are to be put on a "path to citizenship," the country will need future citizens to be healthy ones, not people who have gone years without adequate medical care.

But the political right properly resents the left's campaign to devalue citizenship, as with "sanctuary cities" that obstruct immigration law enforcement and giving illegals driver's licenses and residency discounts on college tuition, as Connecticut has done. Leading officials in the "sanctuary city" of New Haven, which years ago began issuing city identification cards to illegals to facilitate their violation of immigration law, even advocate allowing illegals to vote. That is, much of the political left wants no immigration enforcement at all. That would be the end of the country, which sometimes seems to be the left's objective.

The country needs to decide what sort of immigration it wants — good citizens committed to the country and its principles or just anybody hoping to wire money to relatives abroad.

If left and right could put their politics and resentments somewhat aside, it might not be so hard to construct an immigration system that was both rigorous and generous and addressed all concerns. It would require immigrants to be able-bodied and proficient in English, to pass a high school equivalency test with an emphasis on U.S. history and political values, to clear a background check, and to perform some community service before being granted legal residency and put on the "path to citizenship." It would forbid immigration from the religious crazy part of the world. And it would monitor employers closely and punish violators severely.

Under such a system immigrants would have well earned their citizenship and likely would become better citizens than most of the native-born. But is the government competent enough to administer such a system?•

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