Letter to the Editor: Immigration proposals

Dear Editor: 

I'd like to address illegal immigration with series of proposals.

The first thing to point out, though, is that there is a difference between illegal immigration and illegal immigrants. Congress' last major attempt to "fix" illegal immigration under President Reagan focused mainly on illegal immigrants. And despite Reagan's promise that the law wasn't just another amnesty, that's exactly what it turned out to be: an amnesty that encouraged more illegal immigration. 

If the goal is really to reduce illegal immigration (that is the goal, correct?) then yet another amnesty - even "an amnesty to end all amnesties", or an amnesty with a border wall, or an amnesty with more enforcement - isn't the solution. Permanent policy changes need to be instituted which reduce the drivers of illegal immigration.

Here are my suggestions

1) End "birthright citizenship". Yes, this is a Constitutional Amendment, and amending the Constitution is a major step. but we've amended the Constitution to prohibit alcohol (18th Amendment) and then amended it again to repeal the prohibition (21st Amendment). If we can dither on whether alcohol should be legal or not, surely, we can amend our Constitution for something this important. Birthright citizenship is an unintended consequence of making former slaves citizens, and no longer serves its original purpose. Instead, what it does is create the phenomena of "birth tourism" and "anchor babies"; and once children are born as American citizens the cry then becomes to "not split up families". So, lets not split up families- let's mandate that children born in the USA are born with their parents' citizenship. 

2) Make English the official language of the United States. Another Constitutional amendment! A very smart friend of mine once said, "There are no nations, only language groups". His point was that people identify themselves primarily by the language that they speak, not lines on a map.

After all, he said, look at Poland: Sometimes it was a very large nation, sometimes it disappeared from the map for decades at a time. And yet, it always reappeared, because there was a large group of people who spoke a common language and identified themselves and each other as "Polish".

A common language is also a practical requirement. This doesn't mean that other languages are prohibited, simply that government and business aren't required to provide services in other languages (except as required by treaty). 

3) Withdraw from "free trade" agreements. NAFTA is widely recognized as having driven Mexican corn farmers out of business, leading many to seek work in the border maquiladoras or here in the USA. This was a purposeful result of NAFTA, which sought to allocate certain kinds of production to each nation which, in the view of the negotiators, was "most efficient" (eg. corn to the USA, cheap labor to Mexico). This arrangement of interlocking, interdependent, international production (like the old Soviet Union) may be more "efficient" but it is incredibly fragile to natural, political, and economic shocks. My own view is that, for security, durability, and financial reasons, each nation should be as self-sufficient as possible. "Free trade" agreements also exploit people because they're negotiated and enforced in secret conferences and tribunals, outside of democratic input. The entities which wind up benefiting the most from "free trade" agreements are the transnationals who play one labor force against another. We should end our participation in anything other than the WTO. 

4) It must be recognized that part of the reason for poverty in Central and South America is the USA's constant interference in domestic governments of other nations, in favor of banks, transnational corporations, and the elite. Land reform and social justice movements were often thwarted by the USA; military juntas were often supplied with weapons, intel, and training from USA AID and other organizations. The United States should adopt a policy of non-intervention in foreign governments. Democratic processes in other nations should be allowed to function without intervention so that each nation can seek its own path. 

5) Chinese immigrants have told me how wealthy Chinese exploit one kind of visa by sponsoring their parents and then setting them up on benefits. Technical professionals tell me how H-1B visas suppress American wages. But we have something like 60 different non-citizenship visas, and about as many citizenship-path visas. Those roughly 120 different sets of requirements are impossible to enforce. We need to simplify our system, attach fewer benefits (such as Medicare) to our non-citizenship visas, and find a way to be able to identify and deport those who overstay their visas. 

6) Also, there should be a standard procedure for citizenship. When I listen to those who have gone through the process, I have to say that there doesn't seem to be any set procedure; the requirements seem to be quixotic and changeable, a person is told one thing by one person and another thing by another person. This is almost as bad as our tax and Social Security laws.

Once those policies changes are in place, we can address immigrants. 

I would suggest that any law-abiding immigrant who's been living here long-term (say, 20 years) be given the opportunity for citizenship. The requirements for citizenship should be strictly enforced ... especially the requirement to learn English. (By the way, if one is required to learn English to be a citizen, why does California provide voting materials in so many languages? Apparently, we don't take the English-language requirement very seriously.) People who are here in the USA simply to earn money, but whose allegiances and identity are elsewhere ... do we really need them here? For those who've been here for less time, or who don’t want to become citizens .... provide a two-year visa to give people a chance to transition back to their native country. In the meantime, the government should continue to enforce our immigration laws, and deport those who are here illegally, starting with those who’ve broken our laws (aside from immigration laws). 

There is much here for people at either end of the political spectrum to hate, but there is much here for people to agree with. I hope this will start a more productive conversation, focused on real policy changes and not on irrelevant ideas, on how to fairly and lawfully address our immigration issues.

Joan Niertit