News reports are buzzing that immigration reform is on the horizon. Once again our leaders in Washington have the opportunity to work together to make this happen. The question is: will they again politicize an issue that is of immense importance to this country or do the right thing? Will they again pander to the lobbyists and self-interest groups or rise above the muck, educate us about what they are doing as to how reform will make our lives better, our country more secure and solve the multitude of issues that are entangled in this reform.
There are many countries in the world that depend on foreign labor to get the job done. Saudi Arabia, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Quatar are all doing a very good job of managing workers from far away lands while still protecting their ways of life. Their immigration laws are very strict. For example, a foreign worker cannot own property, send children for advanced education within the country, etc. Foreign workers are constantly reminded that they are in a foreign land and that they should be heading back once their job is done. Even laws dealing with illegal immigrants in Mexico and South American countries are far stricter than ours.
What has really made immigration reform tough is the inability of the leaders in Washington to deal with it head on. They have passed the buck to the states to handle it. There is no consistent and focused approach on what needs to be done. A golden opportunity during the Bush administration to tackle it in 2006 was lost. Now there is a bipartisan group trying to lay the groundwork. Sens Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., and Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., are heading a team to determine what should be in the immigration reform bill. But looking at how bitter the division is between Republicans and Democrats, the nation will once again be subjected to a lot of stress.
The news media will make a lot of money on ads, the talk show hosts will spew hatred, and the spin doctors will get everyone confused. Emphasis will be placed on discussing disagreements on minutia that impact a small proportion of the population rather than significant agreements.
Frankly, immigration reform is doable. It must deal with: illegal immigrants (we can't banish almost 10 million people from here), tightening our borders, simplifying visa categories, providing for English language proficiency for permanent residents. This makes reform a win-win situation that benefits the country.
Many experts have been offering ideas on reform, and the following makes sense:
1. Federal laws should clearly spell out responsibilities for state and local governments.
2. Congress should mandate that unfunded federal directives should be prohibited.
3. Benefits for illegal immigrants should be frozen where they are today and not expanded.
4. The number of visa categories should be simplified. A visa category for immigrants who are highly skilled or have superior education, experience or talent should be created. Temporary work visas for seasonal and short term employment are needed.
5. A secure national ID card should be created. This card will identify who are citizens and who are here legally. Today's technology makes it possible to make such a card difficult to counterfeit. An ID card would be required for employment.
6. English language proficiency should be made mandatory for permanent immigration status.
7. Employers should be provided with the proper tools, rules, ID card verification software etc. to support immigration policies. Employers should be required to use the software for everyone they employ.
8. Once the employment ID card and the employer electronic verification system is in place, Congress should define a time-based program for those who are here illegally to obtain legal status.
9. Immigration based on family ties should be limited to immediate family members: spouse, unmarried minor children and parents. All others should be managed through the employment visa system.
10. Employment-based visas should be controlled by economic conditions. States and employers should have an input on the number of visas to be issued.
11. Our borders must be protected and strengthened and necessary funding provided to border protection agencies.
12. Immigration reforms should be simple, comprehensive and understandable.
The debate on reform degenerates into talk about kicking out the illegals or throwing them in jail. The reform process should require illegals to register, pay fines and penalties before they can be included in the line of lawful people seeking permanent residency. Laws should be stiffened for unscrupulous employers who break immigration laws.
Immigration should be considered a wonderful opportunity for people seeking better lives, so reform should focus on making sure that the nation benefits socially and economically. And employers must be made allies in this endeavor so that it can be a win-win situation for everybody--immigrants, citizens, employers, states and the nation.
Kulkarni lives in Perry.