The Ethics of Immigration Reform

In the last presidential debate, Newt Gingrich did more to establish the Republican Party as the home of compassionate political ideas than any candidate has done since Ronald Reagan.

America has an immigration problem. As difficult as the economic times are now, we are still the best place to live to have a chance at a job, a decent home, education for our children and the opportunity to advance ourselves in life. America attracts people from around the world who beg to come here to live so they can take advantage of the American opportunities. This is especially true of our southern neighbors whose countries have weak economies, poor social structures and frequently, corrupt governments. Their proximity to our southern border draws them to us like bees to flowers. The attraction is so strong that we now have some twenty million people living here illegally.

What do you do with someone who crossed the border illegally and is living here now? The government’s past answer to this problem was to throw up their hands in surrender, legalize these illegal aliens through amnesty programs and vow that they will strengthen the border so that no more can get in. We know in practice that the amnesty part is easy but we have never had the fortitude to effectively seal off the border, as witnessed by the fact that once more, even after amnesty, there are tens of millions of people living among us now without the legal right to be here.

Our government’s immigration policy will again be a major campaign issue in our presidential election. There are two extremes in how to handle immigration. On one end of the spectrum there are the people who would seal the border, patrol it with troops, round up every illegal alien and deport them back to their homeland without exception. This is what the Democratic Party tells the people that the Republicans want to do. The Republicans do not strongly and effectively counter these accusations and so many people believe that this is the Republican/conservative/Tea Party policy. It is not.

At the other end of the spectrum are the people who would legalize all aliens, allow their families to join them in America and make no effort to control the borders or flow of illegal aliens coming here. American would essentially become the home for all of the world’s poor, to be supported by a shrinking number of working people here. This extreme most closely represents the viewpoint of the majority of Democrats in Congress.

The Democrats’ lenient attitude toward immigration legalization reflects their attempt to buy votes, particularly from the Hispanic community, by portraying themselves as the party of the poor, the downtrodden and the underprivileged. It also reveals their lack of will to take on important issues by avoiding them and ‘punting’ the issue down the road for a future Congress to address. This is consistent with their lack of action on the budget deficit, where the Democratic Party has failed to submit a budget to Congress for a vote for the past three years. It again shows the Democrats’ lack of willingness to work toward solutions to real problems.

At last week’s presidential debate, the immigration issue was once again brought up. Again, the candidates said the government has to get control of the border to stop the flow of illegal aliens from Mexico. Perry brought it up and Romney, Cain and the others agreed. And then Newt Gingrich said something that shattered the stereotype of Republican immigration policy conservatism. “We are not going to send somebody who has lived here for twenty-five years back to where he came from and split him up from his family.” In that simple statement, Newt Gingrich asserted the compassion of the Republican Party and of the conservative movement.

Any conservative who is elected president will face a most difficult task of getting immigration under control while weaving in policies that treat the longtime resident with fairness and dignity.

Immigration is not a black and white issue. Our policy choices are not either amnesty or deportation with no middle ground. Because we are a nation that values the individual and liberty, we are not a nation that has the cold, iron heart of dictatorships who would cruelly and forcibly expel a person from their land. And yet, we are, very importantly, a nation of laws.

In America, our personal liberties are guaranteed because we are a law-abiding nation. Adherence to our laws, the most important of which is our Constitution, provides us the security to work for our families, pray to our God and strive to better the lives of our children. Flaunting the law endangers the foundation that supports our freedoms to pursue our lives as we best see fit. What then do we do with the foreigner who knowingly broke our laws to come live here? By the fact of his presence in the country, this person is a criminal. What do we do with him? How do we treat this person?

If the illegal alien has led a good, law-abiding life in America for a long time, he should be allowed to stay. Whether it is twenty-five years, as Gingrich said, or fifteen or ten, is a matter for public discussion. However, if this person has lived among us, worked among us, raised his children among us, worshiped among us, he has done more to prove himself worthy of the title “American” than many people who were born here. He is an American by the way he lives, if not by law. These people should not be punished, harassed or deported. Yes, they broke the law by coming here illegally but having done so, they have lived the life of a good American and should not be expelled from our country. These are the people who are like our grandparents who came through Ellis Island. They are the people that we want in America.

What then about the other illegal aliens? Well, if they ever committed a crime, no matter how long they have been here, they should be deported. Coming here illegally is wrong. The appropriate action is to deport someone who comes here illegally because they do not have permission to be here. There should be exceptions for those who have lived among us peacefully for a long time, even though they broke the law when they came here. However, if the illegal alien continues to defy our society by again committing criminal acts, he should not receive amnesty from us. The American people are tolerant, often to a fault, but we should not tolerate people who flaunt our laws to our faces. Those people must go.

And how should we treat the recent illegal alien? These people should be returned to their home countries. The presidential candidates are correct to say that the border should be closed. We are driving ordinary people away from facing their countries’ problems rather than addressing them, when we allow them to get into America. We cannot be the safety valve for the world. At some point these people must assume responsibility for their countries and correct the problems that are causing them to flee to America.

How should we handle refugees? Throughout the world there are countless nations that oppress all or some of their people. As a nation, we have always had a generous heart when it came to the oppressed. Our government should, however, review its policies toward people seeking asylum. The categories of people, who qualify for asylum, have grown tremendously. These should be reviewed and asylum be granted only in those situation where there is a known threat to the individual.

People seeking asylum often arrive by air. They debark from the plane and claim asylum based on their country of origin. For those who qualify for asylum, if they arrived through a third party airport, rather than coming directly to the U.S., they should be returned to the prior country directly from the airport. If an asylee successfully flees his country and makes it to another country’s airport on the way to America, he has escaped from the situation that has put him in danger. That person is now the responsibility of the nation that first accepted him, not the U.S. Being free from the oppression of the home country does not entitle the individual to live in the country of his choice. The objective is to remove the threat to the person’s life by leaving their country, not to guarantee them a new life in the country of his choice.

Our government has failed the American people and the people of the world who want to come here. Our legal immigration process is inadequate for the demands of the people who want to live in America. Our immigration quota is too low, in part because is accounts for a certain number of people who come here illegally each year. To remedy this problem, I propose that the number of resident alien permits be dramatically increased. We should not just be looking to skim off the educated cream of other nations’ societies with restrictive visas. We should allow the common man, who is the same as the common man who built America, the opportunity to come here. However, to curtail the illegal immigration, I would have the visas only issued through the embassies and consulate offices overseas. If you want to come here, prove it by going to the American embassy and getting your visa. If you are already here, go back to get the visa.

We should close the loopholes in our laws and social programs that attract people here. A woman I know who did Christian missionary work in China came back and told me that the Chinese people openly talked about how to get SSI checks, a U.S. government public assistance program, when they came here. Our safety net system should not be so generous that people overseas plot to qualify for American benefits before they arrive here.

Employers should be required by law to verify an alien’s right to work here. The E-Verify system has been available since 2007 yet the government does not even require its contractors to use it. Businesses should be penalized if they retain employees who do not have work authorization. Each year the Social Security Administration sends out millions of letters to employers notifying them that their employees’ Social Security numbers do not match government records. This should serve as notice that the employee must correct the problem or be let go. Employers should not be able to use the excuse that they did not know that a worker’s papers were not genuine when there are ways to validate the documents. If employment opportunities are tightened there will be less incentive for people to come here for jobs.

We should review the issue of anchor babies. These are children whose pregnant mothers come here from other countries to give birth in America. By being born here the child is automatically an American citizen. The mother then claims the right to stay here to raise her child, who cannot be deported. This is a flagrant misuse of our laws.

American generosity is often self-defeating. If you are a serviceman stationed overseas and your wife gives birth there, you are not a citizen of that country, you are an American. The American embassy will issue a Certificate of Birth of a United States Citizen Born Abroad. This certifies the child’s American citizenship even though they were born outside of the U.S. John McCain has one because he was born in the Panama Canal Zone while his father was serving in the army. So, if a Mexican mother slips into San Diego to have her baby, is that child an American or should the baby be treated as a Mexican?

The “anchor baby” or “birthright citizen” derives his or her citizenship for the 14th Amendment which states “all persons, born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States.” The phrase “and subject to the jurisdiction thereof” exempts children of foreign diplomats and other people who did not intend to live in the U.S. or give up their native citizenship. However, current interpretation of this clause does not preclude an anchor baby from having American citizenship, even though the mother’s native country could claim that the child was subject to its jurisdiction. By allowing these children to keep their unwarranted U.S. citizenship, we are skewing all reasonable interpretations of the 14th Amendment and also depriving the native country of one of its citizens. This clause must be reinterpreted to prevent this problem.

Can there ever be a solution to the immigration problems of a nation founded on immigration? Our problems are caused by our success and by politicians who pass laws that provide incentives for people to come here, legally or not. Our laws need to be tightened. Existing laws need to be enforced. Benefit programs need to become much more restrictive. But for those who do come here, who are willing to make it here on their own through their own hard work, we say welcome. Join the millions who have come before you. Embrace our culture and language and be proud Americans.

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