Friday, November 7, 2008

Immigration Strategies

The dilemma we face in dealing with immigration is that, on the one hand, we want immigrants to join us both (1) to honor our heritage, our self-image, our American Dream; and (2) to make their diverse contributions to our future as a nation, to our strengths. But on the other hand, (1) our resources are not boundless--there are a hundred times more persecuted and downtrodden people in the world than we have resources to rescue, and (2) our national security demands that we protect ourselves from alien threats. How can we best balance these factors?

First and foremost, the tide that washes onto our shores is not uniform; in fact, it is very diverse. There are students and teachers (and skilled administrators and researchers, etc.) who are smart and knowledgeable; there are laborers who are unskilled and hungry; there are the threatened and abused fleeing religious or political persecution; and there are other types or categories who seek to join us as citizens.

First principle: All newcomers should make a contribution, for example, in community service or in agreeing to pursue their skills and professions for the public good. Those who are in this country illegally should pay taxes on everything they have earned here--imputed to cover undocumented and unprovable years, and all brought forward as if they had been earned in the year of application for citizenship (so that the longer one waits, the higher percentage income tax bracket one falls into). These taxes are, of course, not due all at once; the IRS already has mechanisms for installments and for carrying forward overdue amounts.

Second principle: Those with the most to offer our society and those with the most to fear abroad should have the highest priority for favorable immigration action (this is already in place to a large extent).

Third principle: Our borders and air and sea ports should be guarded according to a realistic risk/cost assessment. Customs can never be 100% secure. And if it costs $100 billion a year to secure our entry points at the 95% level, then it costs $200 billion to achieve the 97% level, and $300 billion to reach the 98% level, and $400 billion to secure at the 98.5% level, etc. We can never reach 100% security; we should plan security expenditures with this in mind--explicitly, realistically.

Effective immigration strategies for our vast and diverse land will require thoughtful planning, strong leadership, and long, hard implementation and management.