More than 50,000 unattended children and teens from Mexico and Central America have crossed the U.S. border, creating a humanitarian crisis that will cost taxpayers billions to ease.
It has also added a sense of urgency to the debate over immigration reform and the status of an estimated 12 million illegal immigrants already in the country.
For starters, we need to acknowledge that many of these immigrants are part of our workforce, particularly in agriculture, and that adds complexity to the search for solutions.
We propose a reform plan that would provide citizenship to legal immigrants already in the country – if they meet specific conditions – and also require commitments from government.
U.S. citizenship is an honor and privilege that has immeasurable value. To be granted conditional legal residency with a path to citizenship after 10 years, illegal immigrants already in the country should be required to:
• Register and undergo a background check.
• Obey the law. Anyone convicted of a felony since arriving, or after being given conditional residency, should be deported, as should anyone with a significant criminal record in their native country.
• Pay a fine, set over the next 10 years, for breaking the law when they arrived illegally.
Illegal immigrants given conditional legal status would be allowed to work. Those who fulfill the requirements would, after 10 years, be eligible to apply for permanent residency and then, after the statutory waiting period, citizenship.
Meanwhile, the government must control the borders. When he was running for re-election in 2012, President Obama said the U.S. border with Mexico was secure. But the New York Times reports that since April 300,000 illegal immigrants have crossed the border.
There is no immigration regulation without a secured border.
We also need a system to verify legal status of employees, and we need to reform the H-2A system to remove the politics and the nonsensical requirements.
Immigration reform is a divisive political issue, but partisans need to be pragmatic. There is not sufficient political will to push 12 million illegals back across the border, or to offer them unconditional amnesty. The most realistic solution is to get them on the books while securing the border.