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Thinking About Immigration

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It would be one good result of the brinksmanship over the fiscal cliff if Marco Rubio took advantage of the president’s posturing on the “brink” to strike first and fast on immigration reform. The Florida senator was talking about principles of immigration reform yesterday, but more than talking about, it would be terrific if he and his staff produced proposed legislation and announced he would be introducing it in the Senate on the first day of the new session.

It would be better still if he found a colleague in the House tointroduce the same bills, so that the bill would share authorship. Someone with high visibiloity and credibility within the Caucus. Someone named, say, Paul Ryan.

Think of the many and obvious benefits of immigration reform legislation being introduced by Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan on the first day of the new Congress. The Rubio-Ryan Bill would then define the debate going forward, and open the door for not just those two, but other endorsing GOPers to travel together around the country to gather reaction and input prior to actually committee mark-up. That tour could be staffed and organized by the RNC, and while it would be certain to attract fringe critics from both extremes, the vast majority of Americans agree on most of the issues, and while the forums would attract oddballs they would also attract attention.

The bills themselves should be modeled on the Homestead Act of 1862 –short and easily understood by the average American:

The new law established a three-fold homestead acquisition process: filing an application, improving the land, and filing for deed of title. Any U.S. citizen, or intended citizen, who had never borne arms against the U.S. Government could file an application and lay claim to 160 acres of surveyed Government land. For the next 5 years, the homesteader had to live on the land and improve it by building a 12-by-14 dwelling and growing crops. After 5 years, the homesteader could file for his patent (or deed of title) by submitting proof of residency and the required improvements to a local land office.

The best laws are capable of being understood by an average citizen and are short, leaving little in the way of post-enactment regulation to the agencies charged with enforcement.

Senator Rubio, speaking to Politico’s Mike Allen earlier in the week, argued that “rather than working on one comprehensive bill, Congress should accomplish reform through a ‘comprehensive package of bills’ on issues like a guest worker program, border security and e-Verify that checks employees’ immigration status.”

Rubio ought to direct his staff (and invite Ryan’s staff) to meet with a select team from AEI and Heritage and produce actual language for a series of four or five bills, built on obvious principles:

1. The build-out of the border fence to an agreed upon length and on agreed upon areas.

2. Regularization of the illegal alien population currently living in the U.S. via permanent green cards issued –or denied– following application to and appearances before local boards comprised of retired field grade military veterans in panels of five to seven, with an appeal to a statewide panel. Such boards will have a limited lifespan, will be directed to value character and community service, reject applications of convicted criminals or individuals known to be associated with criminal enterprise, and to move quickly. Green cards issued pursuant to this program will have no rights of family reunification, and should be subject to revocation in three years iof no progress is made towards command of English.

I favor the use of retired majors and colonels, lieutenant commanders and commanders because these men and women have spent at least a decade and often two evaluating individuals based upon their character. They can scan files and adduce much from a few questions. They know how to judge truth-telling and how to decide. And they need not be a permanent bureaucracy, but a three-to-five year corps of regularization specialists. If you want to get this process done, assign it to individuals whose careers involved getting things done.

3. A path to voting citizenship of considerable length and contingent upon right behavior. As it requires 18 years to grow to the age of citizenship from birth in the U.S., there is an obvious term there: No penalty or fake “tax,” just a recognition that entry into the country was obtained illegally and that the penalty for that act is long-delayed full citizenship. The length of this variable will combine with the greatly enhanced border security to provide deterrent to further illegal immigration via border crossing.

4. The path to citizenship should be considerably shorter for anyone brought to the country through no adult decision of their own.

5. Employer sanctions and E-verify should be greatly strengthened. In an era when the computers of American Express refuses charges because they note “out-of-pattern” purchases, the idea that we cannot oblige employers to verify green card status post-regularization is absurd. Make the penalties real and compliance will be accomplished.

6. Visa reform: After a period of opportunity to regularize, one unregistered overstay should yield permanent bar on entry. This is the easiest part of the reform package to accomplish and also the most significant in terms of long-term anti-terrorism objectives.

7. The “guest worker” program is the most complicated of the provisions of immigration reform given its necessary flexibility based on labor conditions, particualrly those in the agricultural sector. Unlike most of the other areas, this has the greatest agreeemt on the need for it to exist, and also the least knowledge in the general population on how to make it work. This part of the program could trail if the working group didn’t have an immediate consensus on a first draft.

I think 70% of Republicans would agree with at least 5 and perhaps all seven of these points. I put them out just to show that this isn’t that complicated, but it does require political courage, and the time is now for the GOP, hopefully led by the two Beltway GOP’s two superstars, to lead and to get ahead of the president and his inevitable politicization of the issue.

The biggest problem of the failed effort of 2006 was its refusal to deal with border security and its very short path to citizenship which appalled especially legal immigrants and those citizens who understood the injustice of treating the illegal entry into the United States lightly. The second problem was the sudden introduction and attempted jam down of the law after it was drafted in secret. Putting forward legislation and then going out to hear, assess and incorporate reaction followed by amendment and then the committee process is the way to orchestrate support for the comprehensive approach favored by Senator Rubio and other well-meaning Republicans.

“There is not a moment to lose,” is a famous declaration of Jack Aubrey from the Patrick O’Brian novels. Would that someone in the GOP believed in the same maxim. Would that that “someone” be Marco Rubio and Paul Ryan, and that together they got ahead of the issue that will define 2013 even more than the budget debates which will extend far beyond the next year.

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