Proposal for Immigration Reform (revised 4-13-17)

Introduction

My grandfather, Lonjino Rodriguez Sanchez, came to the US without documentation from Mexico in 1912. He became a citizen in 1969, one year before he passed away. During his many years as an undocumented worker he fathered 27 US citizen children here. The family travelled as migrant farm workers, providing essential agricultural services across the US and living in harsh conditions, even facing starvation at times in winter. Most of his descendants became grandparents and great grandparents and the majority of my extended family lives in Ellis County today.

Immigration is central to my story, my family is central to the American story, and I am a believer in the American Dream.

Today, however, there is less belief in the American Dream, and less optimism about the role of immigrants than there was when my father was born. Many US citizens believe there is a problem with illegal immigration from Mexico and Central America.  Although the influx of undocumented immigrants from south of the border has dropped since 2005 (as economic conditions in Mexico have improved) we still have no firm grasp of how many are in our country illegally. Some may be a threat to law and order in general or involved in the drug trade. Apprehending undocumented entrants, enforcing border controls, and providing public services is costly.

Undocumented immigrants have always filled a labor void by providing services that most Americans are unwilling to do at a lower wage. In addition, fairness to them and their children, practicality, and economics still dominate this complex discussion.

Further Facts

  • Today, an estimated 11.3 million immigrants are living in the US without documentation. Approximately 7.4 million of those originate from Mexico and Central America. However, it’s important to note that a full 43% of those in the US illegally came here legally and simply overstayed their visa.
  • Many who came across the border paid $3,000 – $4,000 to smugglers who are part of criminal cartels. Often risking their lives to cross in dangerous conditions, immigrants live in constant fear of being deported if they do make it into the United States.
  • Until now, the policy we as a nation have pursued is to make it physically difficult for immigrants to get here. This includes increased border enforcement and physical structures such as a wall. The problem with these are that the end result will not eliminate illegal immigration but it will destroy our environment, cost us billions of wasted dollars – and economic damage due to retaliatory measures – and lead to even more deaths of economic migrants who will continue to attempt to cross the border.

Real and perceived Impact on Texas and our district

Some citizens in Texas and District 6 mirror national objections. They complain about the number of undocumented workers here, because they say it’s not fair that people who broke the law in coming here are benefitting from their crime. It’s a matter of right and wrong. Furthermore, they feel they are paying the costs of providing for these immigrants in terms of emergency healthcare, education and other social services. A big complaint I also hear is that because these people live outside of the law without driver’s licenses, they often drive uninsured and are therefore not responsible for damage caused. There is a wider fear that immigrants are not obeying the law more generally and are using so called “anchor babies” as a way to be allowed to stay.

If you accept these problems to be true, then you also need to acknowledge that there are also some positive benefits of undocumented workers. They are being hired because there is a demand for cheap and flexible labor, particularly in construction, farming, food production and the hospitality industry. We all benefit from the low cost of labor and do not pay any penalties for the abuse that might occur to these undocumented workers who live without any protection. Furthermore, in the vast majority of cases, these workers use social security numbers and pay income tax and social security without the ability to claim a refund. Billions each year is paid in Federal taxes against fake or unmatched social security numbers. Any US citizen earning at these low rates would be able to receive all or most of that income back.

I hear these concerns and believe my suggestions for improvement address these issues.

MY PLAN

Background

My plan is based on the understanding that the vast majority of undocumented workers here are simply economic refugees. They plan to stay here several years and return home to their families and communities. Of course, there are exceptions. There are people who want to stay in America, become American citizens and contribute to the building of our great nation. Often, those people already have  family here. This plan is intended to accommodate both sets of migrants.

Legalizing the status of those already here

I’m going to start first with the biggest threat to our security: we simply have no idea who the majority of people who are here illegally are. They have no driver’s license and we have no way of finding them. They are not vetted in any way. There well might be terrorists and criminals among them. They might be hard workers who keep their noses clean or they might be hardened criminals praying on others. How do we know? During the Reagan administration, 2.7 million undocumented immigrants were given amnesty and became citizens following a 30-minute interview. That wasn’t enough.

My proposal, based on the Hoover Plan developed by Arizona scholar and activist Robin Hoover, says we should exchange this much-needed information for the right to legally remain in the US for a limited period of time (up to 3 years for instance).

Come forward and give us your details. You will be fully vetted and we will know who you are and how to find you. The very act of having your status legalized is worth the trade off. It means you can pay tax at the same rate as other Americans, you would be required to get a driver’s license and to have auto insurance like other drivers. And when your visa is up, we know where to find you. We can and should require all these guest workers to deposit $500 to $1,000 into a government account and to further add 10% of their gross salary – taken off the top – for the duration of their legal stay. (They could be given time to deposit the base amount.) If they overstay their visa, they would be charged with a felony, and that money they paid would be forfeited to law enforcement to pay for their capture and deportation. If they leave as required, that money would be wired to them in their country of origin.

This of course puts them within the legal category and decreases the chances that they were victimized by unscrupulous employers and others who prey on them. It also would require them to follow all the laws that citizens are required to follow. We would know how to find them.

Citizenship path

After one year of living and working in the US, these visa holders should have the right to apply for citizenship. They would follow the normal procedure and it would likely take years, during which they would abide by all the laws pertaining to their visa status. It is possible some of the money they amass and continue to amass during the process could be used to fund this process. The remainder would be given to them once their citizenship is confirmed.

This path would only be available to those already in the US. Anyone wanting to pursue family reunification from abroad would need to apply from abroad through the normal channels.

Legal immigrants

It is almost impossible to immigrate legally to the U.S. from Mexico or Central America. For instance, 1.38 million Mexican citizens are waiting in line for a work or immigration visa through a family member. But only 26,000 visas are available yearly for Mexico. Mexico has by far the longest waiting list, according to U.S. State Department figures. It is that scarcity – the realization that there really is NO line to get into – that sends people into the arms of the cartel.

So what if we made it easier to come as a guest worker for a limited amount of time, with a huge financial incentive? If immigrants are willing to risk their lives and pay up to $4,000 to smugglers to live with the constant fear of deportation, we could give them a legal option that was far superior and they would take it. We could modify the quotas to give each country a decent quota so that those who are qualified – and vetted by their governments – could come here. We would require them to deposit an amount – at least $3,000 – in a US government savings account. Additionally, they would pay 10% of their gross off the top straight into the account. If they overstayed their visa, they would be charged with a felony and that entire pot would be given to law enforcement to apprehend and deport them.

This plan would remedy the most challenging problems of the current situation for both sides. It would remove the illegality that bothers so many Americans and create an environment of accountability for these migrants. For those on the left side of the spectrum it would eliminate the senseless deaths as well as exploitation that these workers face. For all of us as Americans, it would dramatically reduce the billions we waste on enforcement each year.

“Anchor babies”

One final point I will address because it is symptomatic of the heated and ideological arguments about this issue. I’ve heard a lot of people complain about “anchor babies” – when undocumented immigrants have children in order that the entire family would be given permission to stay. The reality is that this is impossible to accomplish in the short term as it requires more than 21 plus years to benefit the parent. Children born to undocumented immigrants have the right to petition to bring their parents into the country from abroad, but the waiting list is seven years and they are not allowed to petition until they are 21 years of age. While it might be true that immigrants do in fact use this as a tactic, it’s a very slow and unsuccessful one. So, in reality, this is not an issue. It is symbolic of some of the hysteria around immigration today.

Conclusion

If we will stop listening to hysteria, much of it designed to scare us, we can come up with a creative solution that solves all of the problems associated with illegal immigration. And we can continue to fulfil the American dream – the one my grandfather believed in more than 100 years ago when he crossed the border in search of a future for him and his family.