The immigration bill announced this week by the Senate's so-called Gang of Eight will be one of the most important legislative issues of the year — and one of the most divisive, especially within the conservative movement. Many of the organizations I admire most are already lining up against it, but Let Freedom Ring has taken a position of cautious support. Here's my thinking, and I invite your comments on it.
There are at least six major elements in the bill, every one of which must work almost perfectly before any green cards can be issued, and then those green cards must be in effect for three years before any path to citizenship can be opened. In the meantime, those who are granted temporary legal status will not be eligible for federal benefits such as Medicaid, Medicare or Obamacare.
Here they are the six preconditions to granting green cards, as I understand them:
1. The Department of Homeland Security, presided over by a person in whom I have little trust and for whom I have little respect, must first design and fund a plan that can secure the entire 1,951 miles of the US — Mexico border — at a minimum. The most optimistic estimate I have seen for how long this will take is 6 months.
2. Second, DHS must design, fund and construct a border security fence in high traffic areas. That will probably take two or three years, but it could be more.
3. Third, DHS must find a rational way to measure and meet the standards of 100% observation and detection of any and all illegal border crossings and 90% effectiveness in stopping them. That's the hardest of the six, in my opinion.
4. Fourth, if the federal government does not meet those two standards to the satisfaction of the Congress within five years, it must turn over to the border states the responsibility to design and construct an adequate security infrastructure.
5. A workplace identification and enforcement system for workers similar to the never-completed E-Verify system must be designed, funded, built and implemented across literally millions of workplaces. This will probably take at least five and more likely about ten years.
6. Finally, an entirely new system to monitor the expiration of work, student or travel visas, and to track the actual exits of those who leave on time so that those who don't can be identified, tracked and apprehended. In the meantime, a new system of allocating future visas and legal immigration limits on the basis of need within the economy, in addition to family unification.
I suggest to all you loyal listeners of American Radio Journal that the proper way to evaluate this complex and ambitious plan is to do it in two stages. In the first stage, assume that each element works optimally. Or, as the lawyers would say, stipulate that each element works. Then ask yourself the question, would such a system in fact solve the problem of illegal immigration, or most of it? Only if the answer is yes, should you then proceed to thoroughly examine each of the six elements that you stipulated would work to see if you think those are in fact workable systems. If one or more of them is seriously flawed, then presumably you would decide that the bill's goals are noble but impractical, and that you would oppose the bill in its current form.
I have already identified the element that I think is the hardest to implement, namely the metric for meeting the bill's standard for declaring the border secure. I am also skeptical of the ability or sincerity of the Janet Napolitano-led Department of Homeland Security to design an adequate border security plan. But if all elements were implemented properly, I would support the system that the bill proposes, and I salute Senator Rubio in particular for his courage and leadership in bringing us to this point.
(Colin Hanna is President of Let Freedom Ring, USA and a commentator on American Radio Journal. His web site is www.letfreedomringusa.com.)