Immigration Reform: The Time is Now

On Tuesday, speaking at a high school in Las Vegas, President Obama declared: “The time has come for common-sense, comprehensive immigration reform.”

Yes, Mr. President, we agree. It is about time.

During America’s first century, immigration was virtually unrestricted. All those who value freedom have always understood America to be a beacon of liberty, and — whether escaping religious oppression, political oppression or poverty — have streamed here for a new start. Although they endured hardship, difficult beginnings and abuse from ever-present racist elements in society, immigrants and their children worked side by side with those native-born Americans to build this nation into the most prosperous in the world.

In the last quarter of the 19th Century, the first restrictive immigration laws were passed, mostly aimed at Asians, including the shameful Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882.

It wasn’t until the early part of the 20th Century that broad new immigration restrictions became law, including quotas, seeking to curb the influx of foreigners. The stated reasons for these limitations were similar to the arguments we are hearing now, whether from racists believing that “America is full” or from people who fear that the immigrants take away jobs from Americans.

Today, much of the debate over immigration revolves around the fate of the approximately 11 million people here illegally. The proposed solutions have ranged from total amnesty to deportation of all.

It would be more productive, however, if the discussion were to center on completely reforming our immigration laws, rather than on how to deal with the illegals who are currently here as a result of our broken system.

There is a common refrain among the anti-immigration contingent who wish to deport all illegals: “You have to take your place at the back of the line; you can’t be rewarded for cutting the line.” It sounds nice, and we are all for law and order, but the problem is there is no line.

Nobody prefers to immigrate illegally if he can do so legally. But myriad restrictions and limitations exist that make immigration very difficult, forcing people — often desperate to find work and escape dire poverty in their home country — to take what is often a far easier route and enter illegally.

It is impossible to police a mass influx of illegal immigrants. No number of guards, walls or deportations can dam the stream of humanity from crossing the border.

The majority, who arrive with good intentions, are accompanied by others who do not belong here — criminals, carriers of infectious diseases or freeloaders who simply want to feed off the welfare state. This makes it very difficult to catch the bad guys.

We believe the proper approach to immigration would be the following:

Thoroughly screen every would-be immigrant. Background checks and health screenings must be conducted to ensure that no immigrant has a criminal past, is on any terror-watch list or is carrying an infectious disease.

Ensure that every immigrant is coming here to find work, and not to become a burden on society. This can be achieved by simply barring immigrants from receiving any entitlements whatsoever during their first 10 years in this country (with the possible exception of impoverished children or expectant women).

After the screenings are conducted, all those who are determined to be healthy, law-abiding, hardworking and anxious to make a better life for themselves and their children — which would comprise the vast majority of would-be immigrants — should be allowed to enter freely and lawfully, without any quota or further restriction.

After living in the U.S. for several years, and maintaining a clean record (anyone who commits criminal acts should be immediately deported), there should be an easy path to citizenship.

Those illegals already here should be required to undergo the same screenings and be allowed to remain if they pass; no penalties or deportations should result from having committed the “crime” of seeking a better life for themselves while remaining peaceful and law-abiding.

This would result in the contingent of good, upstanding people being allowed to immigrate after perhaps a few months’ wait. Only a few, who would be rejected, might then try to enter illegally; the reduction in the number of people attempting to entry unlawfully will  make the borders much easier to guard.

An influx of workers would benefit our economy. The unskilled laborers would bring down the cost of labor, resulting in less-expensive goods and services for all of us. The highly-skilled would drive the fields of innovation and technology, contributing to the advancements that have improved our lives so much.

The greatest blessing one can have is to be allowed to live freely and have the opportunity to prosper. All those who wish to share in the blessings of the “land of the free,” in a peaceful and productive manner, should be welcomed with open arms.