Thoughts of a Conservative Immigrant, A Better Way to Reform Immigration for the 21st Century
A detailed analysis, observations and specific proposals for actual bills by the author to reform immigration, and why he thinks if the GOP does not lead on Immigration Reform, it could be making its greatest political blunder of the 21st Century.
Immigration is arguably the most polarizing topic facing America, but it is also probably the most mishandled issue by both major political parties due to its influence in political power . It is the hot can that keeps getting kicked down the road in American politics. We entered 2019 with a government shutdown due to Democrats ( who now holds majority in the House) refusal to fund President Trump's commitment to building a wall and other border security measures. The President and Republicans in Congress missed major opportunities when they had majorities in Congress to sign immigration bills to handle issues such as DACA (Differed Action for Childhood Arrivals) and border security and put Democrats on defense for not supporting them. Now going into the 2020 Presidential campaign, it will be even more difficult to do anything on immigration. President Trump and Republicans have carelessly lost major political leverage to make the argument on border security by coupling it with the same vigor that they believe immigration is good for America when it meets the parameters of law, order and motivated by the ability to assimilate and prosper.
America has always been a country of immigrants, but since 9/11, and terrorist attacks in the West due to the rise of radical Islam, the implications of immigration to both national and economic security has attracted more scrutiny. The escalating refugee crisis in the last few years due to turmoil in the Middle-East has only fueled these sentiments. There is also drug trafficking and a refugee crisis on our southern border with people fleeing violence in Central America and elsewhere. However, it is still possible to address the 21st century challenges of terrorism and border security while having sensible immigration laws that are good for America. Immigration is also a complicated issue because there are so many factors and variables that constantly grab or stoke the emotional and optics driven headlines.
One issue that keeps in the headlines involves the plight of young undocumented immigrants who were brought here as children. In 2012 former President Obama issued a controversial executive order called DACA, which granted a two year renewable reprieve from deportation for these children, often called Dreamers. in the Summer of 2017 the Supreme Court (which at the time only had 8 justices), ruled to leave in place the ruling by the lower federal appeals court which said the Obama Administration lacked the authority to enact DACA, which shielded up to 800,000 unlawful immigrants from deportation and made them eligible for work permits without approval from Congress. In short, this blocked President Obama's controversial executive actions on immigration. The participants of DACA included children who were brought in as children before the age of 16 and are under 31, who have lived in the U.S for at least 5 yrs, have enrolled in school or have received a high school diploma, and had to pass background tests to vetted for security threats.
President Trump vowed in his campaign to overturn President Obama's executive actions including those pertaining to immigration such as DACA. Late in 2017 President Trump decided to rescind DACA but called on congress to come up with a legislative solution for the participants of this program by last March which did not happen. However court actions have kept DACA in place. It would be very controversial to deport thousands of young illegal immigrants who came out of the shadows, especially most who are already working and integrated in our economy. As such, there will be a lot of political pressure to solve it and may in turn motivate a pragmatic and well over due reforms to our broken immigration system.
Despite his campaign rhetoric, Mr. Trump has at times shown compassion towards these young immigrants and has even expressed willingness to work with Democrats to find a solution. He has also contradicted himself, made decisive rhetoric and made serous blunders such as the recent zero tolerance policy which separated minors from parents when families were detained for entering the border illegally. Due to the strong political firestorm the president was forced to issue an executive order to reunite the families under detention. It is politically self defeating to roll out a policy without the foresight that the backlash will make you rescind it while achieving nothing and then affecting your credibility addressing the issue going forward.
The broader political implication for the GOP is that the Democratic Party has downplayed border security to employ a long term strategy to use race, identity politics issues regarding immigration and particularly what to do with the estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants already here, as a political identity wedge issue. It is a key method to increase the party's electoral majorities among growing and key demographics. Despite a current myriad of issues regarding the rise of terrorism and anemic economic growth, it would be a dis-service to the country and the GOP as a political Party if it does not lead on a viable plan for true immigration reform. It needs to not only offer a legislative alternative to former President Obama's executive actions, but also to the controversial proposals made by Mr. Trump during the campaign and now as president. Mr. Trump has previously shown that he is willing to strike a deal to resolve DACA in return for more border security measures and curbs to legal immigration but Democrats have no showed willingness to take the offer.
There will be a major short and long term political implication if the GOP fails to lead on a true immigration reform larger than the DACA issue. Otherwise it could be making its greatest political blunder of the 21st Century.
The GOP has a demographic challenge and has also lost the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections including the last one. If such a trend persists, popular votes may ultimately lead to more electoral votes for Democrats in swing or normally reliable red states. Most legal immigrants might not vote based only on immigration policy but they can be sensitive to how it is handled and the rhetoric relating to it. It is inevitable that demographic changes the country will continue see in the next decades will be largely driven by immigration trends of the last few decades and century.
The GOP's win of the White House in 2016 and have had majorities in both the House and U.S. Senate should not have been seen as a vindication of some pressures within the Party to be more nationalistic and anti-immigration. It should not also be seen as a repudiation for calls within the Party to be more inclusive and the need to grow the base more demographically. This unique victory by the GOP in all branches of the U.S government was a golden opportunity to assert the relevance of conservative reforms to solve complex long standing problems which we face now and will in the future. Currently caravans of immigrants have made their way to the U.S border from Central America with the intent to enter and stay. Democrats have escaped proper scrutiny in the media for their acquiescence in encouraging such caravans and violation of American immigration and asylum laws. However, they are more skillful in weaponizing emotion and optics than Republicans do in getting public support.
There may be a better way to handle and reform immigration in the 21st century that reasserts conservative values and which would also be beneficial to America. It would also help to elevate the GOP and conservative brands as having credible ideas and solutions.
I am an immigrant and also a conservative because I came to realize that it was those values and ideas embraced by the GOP, which made America attractive for millions of immigrants like myself to want to come here in the first place. As such, it is possible to apply those principles to have immigration reform which would reaffirm rule of law and restores order. Also one that is pro growth for America in this century by nurturing the culture of individual freedom to achieve the American Dream. Not doing so would marginalize millions who share values that would normally make them natural constituents of the GOP, and more so broaden the implications of the broken system we have now.
My intention as a conservative immigrant is to share some thoughts and perspectives based on experiences and research that may offer some ideas on how the GOP could approach immigration reform. In addition, I will also suggest some proposals that could serve as the basis for immigration reform bills.
Going into the 2020 elections, many Americans are still expecting viable ideas to deal with and solve challenges surrounding immigration. Americans still expect a more prudent approach on this topic from Mr. Trump and everyone in Congress, however conservatives will have the most to lose politically if they do not.
Seven Observations the GOP Should Consider in Immigration Reform.
There are seven observations I would suggest to the GOP address in their approach on immigration.
First, the GOP must recognize that President Obama’s executive actions on immigration were political shots at not just the 2012 and 2016 Presidential campaigns but to rattle the Republican Party and influence its reaction long term. The executive actions allowed the immigration 'can' to constantly be kicked down the road with on-going political ramifications. It seemed to have backfired in some ways because opposition to these executive orders greatly assisted in propelling Donald Trump to become the Party's nominee and ultimately to be elected president. However, it also worked to promote the stigma that the GOP is against immigrants in general and against minorities. Mr. Trump and GOP members of Congress will still have to work harder to overcome those objections.
President Obama's executive orders were not only for the relevance for his legacy, but it was also a strategy to diminish the relevancy of the GOP being the credible governing alternative no matter the outcome of the 2016 elections. The predictable reactions of many in the GOP are already in motion to the Democrat party’s advantage. These include a strategy of some Republicans to only oppose any proposals for immigration reform without initiating practical long-term alternatives and solutions. In addition, still some members of the GOP only approach to illegal immigration is to deport all illegal immigrants and building a wall, while curtailing legal immigration. Many others who have supported a more practical approach have been excoriated for doing so.
Some members of the GOP led House had previously expressed a more practical approach that favored passing smaller bills to handle particular issues such as border security, illegal immigration, and a guest worker program, etc. This they argued would avoid the impact of a large bill on such a complex issue reminiscent to Obamacare. President Obama and Democrats in Congress rejected this approach, which is one reason why the House did not take up the ‘one-bill fits all’ from the Senate a few years ago.
Second, there is an ‘Obamacare lesson’ for the GOP on immigration. If the GOP does not lead on issues when they have political majorities and/or the White House, Democrats are apt to make decisions for it when they in turn have the majorities or the White House or both. The calls by President Trump on the GOP to wait till after the mid-terms to vote on a GOP compromise bill on immigration is such an example of not heeding that lesson because the GOP lost control of the House. Now Democrats are emboldened to block GOP measures such as President Trump's 'wall' especially going into election season. It is always better to lead than to play catch up when you have political majorities. The Democrats used last years family separation firestorm at the border and immigration in general to make a case that they are better to handle these issues and should be given back majorities in Congress. Too often the GOP plays defense on immigration which allows Democrats to play offense.
Third, the GOP alternative to Democrat immigration policies must involve enhancing their own relevancy by leading on a positive agenda to justify why they deserve to govern. It must elevate substantive ideas over rhetoric. President Trump's inflammatory rhetoric may play well with his core voters but it is also seen as a turn off to many people who also voted for him.
Fourth, fundamentally the transformation of American immigration culture is a major challenge that the GOP must effectively respond to. For every policy fight, there is an underlying influence of a culture war that has overwhelming bearing on the political outcomes of policy decisions. Mark Steyn once told told Fox & Friends co-host Brian Kilmeade that, “ the left controls society.” He also said, "Election Day is one day a year, and the culture is the other 364 days a year. So, if you're not in there competing in the schools, competing in the pop culture, competing in the media, competing in the main-line churches, then the air that we breathe becomes liberal.” While the GOP may gear up to win on election dates, hard liberals and now self avowed Socialists in the Democratic Party have strategically focused on winning the culture war everyday though out the year. That is an important observation the GOP should take heed. Republicans may have won a few political battles but Democrats are winning the long term political war of shaping the culture and political outcomes in years to come. Democrats are not only emboldened to shape culture and policies but also essential principles of the founding of the country such as getting rid of the electoral college and allowing non-American citizens to vote.
Immigration is a major front in the culture war and the GOP has not competed enough in immigrant communities to encourage assimilation and recognition of American civics. Most importantly, the GOP and conservative movement has ignored the opportunity to grow their base from this community which often has people who resonate with conservative values. Instead the party and movement has too often made arguments that seem to many immigrants as distant and out of touch. I have also made similar observations to Mr. Steyn in regard to the underlying culture war in America and how it influences policies such as immigration, which in turn influences political power. If a political ideology influences culture gradually and long term, it will eventually gain and maintain political power. President Obama promised to transform America during his 2008 campaign to become president. That legacy has endured. Even though Mr. Obama is now out of office he has inspired his Party to still continue to make immigration one of the biggest gateways to achieve those ends and establish America the way he has always visualized.
The Democrat Party's actions to pander to immigrants and the Hispanic demographic in particular is to transform immigration culture into the mold of the Left. The Party has been more concerned on gaining the votes of immigrants rather than the concerns of border security and the implications of unchecked immigration.In addition, the goal has been to make big government accepted as the primary means of getting ahead and playing a dominant role in people’ lives via entitlements, state mandated redistribution, stoking identity grievances, class warfare and undermining the rule of law in the name of actions of compassion. Thus, redefining the culture of the American dream from one of personal responsibility and free market driven economic prosperity, to one that depends on a highly government regulated and managed economy similar to the European socialist model.
Many immigrants fled the stagnancy of the latter approach to be apart of the free market driven economy of America favored by conservatives. Some have fled the destruction by socialism to countries in Latin and South America and sought to live in America at a time while progressive Democrats are embracing and promoting socialism in America. However, the GOP and conservatives as the defenders of the free market driven economy have not adequately defined why their stance has been to the benefit of immigrants and immigration as a whole. The GOP and Conservative movement have also missed the opportunity to recognize that conservative immigrants makes up their greatest untapped base especially in an era to counter socialism. If this were done sufficiently, it would subdue the fears of some conservatives that liberal immigration policies might succeed in transforming the culture of immigration from personal ambition and self-reliance to government dependence, entitlements and ultimately transformation to the much-feared welfare state.
Fifth, understanding perceptions and the vital role they play in winning the argument on this topic is also essential. Many immigrants have not made the connection between the freedoms and opportunity they seek or enjoy, in relation to the conservative and American founding ideas that make them possible in the first place. This again has a lot to do with the disengagement of the GOP in the immigrant communities by being absent in presenting it self as why it is in fact the party of immigrants, and why conservative ideas relate to them. However, the immigrants who have made the connection are fervent defenders of the American idea and conservatism.
Too often the conversation about immigration by some members of the GOP is only discussed in the context of illegal immigration and terrorism, rather than arguing how they believe immigration is actually good for America when it is done legally and adhere to the principles of free markets and rule of law. It is akin to seeing one tree and not the whole forest. The one tree being illegal immigration and not the whole forest that includes the many variables and factors which make up immigration in a larger context. This miss-step heightens the false perception that the GOP is anti-immigration overall, and that it believes that no immigration is good for America. That perception in turn further deafens the ears of those who might be receptive to the conservative message, and some who are already living lives based on conservative principles. One of the first things I noticed when I moved to America was the abundance of outreach by Democrats in immigrant communities pitching liberal policies that offered entitlements as being helpful to them. In doing so Democrats have been presenting themselves as the party of immigrants, and have succeeded in creating the perception as such.
Sixth, despite missed opportunities and the influence of perceptions, the GOP should realize that it have the upper hand by officially adopting as part of its platform going forward that immigration is good for America if it is legal, orderly and adheres to rule of law. The GOP should outline why conservative values and principles have and can lead to more of this outcome. To craft legislation on this issue, a study by The Manhattan Institute titled ‘Does Immigration Increase Economic Growth,’ would be highly instructive to the GOP and Mr. Trump in analyzing the impact of various groups of immigrants and immigration as a whole on the economy. It would also help in approaching certain concerns and objections when immigration is taken up in Congress.
Seventh, the GOP should be cautious in its urge to limit legal immigration and totally dismiss the benefits of family based immigration. While it is beneficial for some efforts such as the RAISE act to revise immigration policies to attract more skilled based immigrants, it greatly underestimates the positive aspects of family based immigration which it tries to reduce. Many immigrants succeeded, have prospered and contributed to the American economy because of the family support structure they received when they arrived in America. Family based immigration also plays a crucial role in assimilating and guiding new immigrants into upward mobility and making it less likely for an immigrant to need government assistance. Many immigrants like myself can attribute their path to success due to early help from parents, siblings, uncles, aunts and cousins already living in America when they arrived.
Why Re-asserting Conservative Values to Reform Immigration Still Matters.
During my fortunate personal journey as a legal immigrant from Jamaica to becoming an American citizen, I have recognized that becoming a citizen is not just the mere means to access opportunity, but rather it is a cherished privilege to be an American and what it stands for. As such, a pathway to citizenship should not be degraded to a bargaining chip in the name of reform instead of a well thought out and transparent orderly process.
As a child before coming to America I was curious why so many people wanted to come here and why they seem to be able to prosper here more than if they had stayed in their country of origin, or had moved to another. I observed people from all over the world of different colors and backgrounds including, those from war torn regions, from countries with history of slavery or extreme poverty, came to America with little or nothing and still prospered. I eventually realized it was due to the liberty to prosper on one’s own merit if they had ambition, and a country founded on principles of individual freedom, and limited government and order. This enabled economic growth that nurtured a culture to work towards dreams. Those values resonated with me as an immigrant and established why I am a conservative. At age 9 and years before I lived in America, I had an American flag in my room.
I came to realize that the founding principles that enable limited government and property rights, in addition to the design of a political system with checks and balances and rule of law, addressed two major human traits. Limited government based on the premise that humans are infallible and thus subject to fault, addressed the human trait of the urge to acquire and exercise power, which often impedes the free will of others while at the same time leads to corruption. Property rights addressed the other human trait of seeking liberty to succeed and prosper. This allowed the ambitious to prosper as they saw and were able to keep the rewards resulting from investing their labor. Property rights therefore allowed economic freedom, the free movement of capital both human and man-made to areas where they are most productive. People have come to America because they have seen it as a place where they can be free to become more productive and achieve what they couldn’t elsewhere. Adherence to founding principles that are part of the GOP conservative brand are key aspects that have made America attractive to many immigrants.
The GOP can still have a win-win situation both legislatively on wise policy and politically by taking certain steps in leading on immigration reform. It also is possible to do so without sacrificing its principles, but by rather reinforcing and justifying them. It is paramount to underscore why adherence to the rule of law is important in solving issues such as immigration. Corruption, tyranny and abuse of power due to the breakdown or absence of rule of law in many countries are some of the main reasons why people leave to come to America in the first place. The absence or breakdown of the rule of law inhibits freedom, and the order necessary to allow prosperity to those that are not politically connected or were to born into wealth and nobility. Maintaining rule of law has been the trait that separates the countries that succeed and grow to become fully developed from those whose projected prosperity to becoming developed countries now languish and are still stuck at the 'developing' stage.
As such, one cannot expect to benefit from the virtues of rule of law while selectively supporting breaking down parts of the law to suite a personal motive. This brings us to the complex issue of what to do about the millions of undocumented immigrants. For this the saying ‘you can’t eat your cake and still have it’ must be considered and reiterated. One should not expect reforms to address these immigrants without accepting that reforms must also simultaneously be taken to prevent further undocumented migration activity.
Four Proposals for Conservative Immigration Reform Bills
Three pillars could serve as the basis of a conservative immigration reform. They should be the rule of law, economic freedom and empowering the traditional immigration culture of ambition and assimilation while pursuing the American dream. I would suggest to the GOP that it revives its piecemeal approach to immigration. I would also suggest four specific proposals which could serve as a possible framework for real bills: The Border Integrity and Deterrence of Illegal Migration Act (BIDIMA), The Earned Adjustment of Immigration Status Act (EAISA) with an Ability to Prosper (ATP) visa to not only address current undocumented immigrants but other segments, The Market Empowered Temporary Guest Worker Act (METGWA) for a guest worker program, and The Economic Freedom and Prosperity Immigration Act for the 21st Century (EFPIA21), to make reforms to allow more H-1B visas based on market driven criteria, and one that encourage entrepreneurship and investment by legal immigrants that will make America more competitive for the 21st century.
The Border Integrity and Deterrence of Illegal Migration Act (BIDIMA): Border security is more than a wall and the southern border, and contrary to many reports the integrity of our border security is still severely lacking. Border security is even more important now after 9/11 because there has been evidence that Islamic radicals and rogue regimes like Iran and Syria are establishing a presence in Latin America mostly via Venezuela and could easily take advantage of our porous southern border. The American media has not examined closely enough why Hezbollah and Iran have such an interest in the outcome of the current turmoil in Venezuela and have exhibited a vested interest in the current regime surviving.
Border agents have already noted that many apprehensions at the border now include OTM or 'other than Mexicans' from countries in Middle East and Asia and Europe. A border agent with President Trump when he visited the border recently said that in just one day they apprehended over 140 OTMs. Some radical elements may have also taken advantage of our lax visa system that does not properly monitor visa over stays. Mr. Trump is correct to emphasize the implications of these threats especially after terrorist attacks and murders by gang members here and in Europe. However, while the President's catchy campaign line 'Build that Wall' played well in the 2016 election campaign, it would be more helpful for him to outline more including using graphics that the 'wall' encompasses more than a physical wall on the southern border and rather broad border security including stopping underground tunnels.
Republicans have previously introduced “The Secure Our Borders First Act,” with involves drones, double fencing, maritime assets, surveillance flights and more fencing. However, it lacked the deterrence elements. A BIDIMA type bill would expand to include strong measures to deter illegal entry or overstays in the first place and so would lessen the pressure on the border and reduce the incidence of having to deal with a large number of undocumented immigrants in the future.
A BIDIMA bill should revive details of expanded border security measures that they have proposed previously and were blocked by Democrats. This could include a former proposal by Sen. John Cornyn which was an amendment for border security that would require biometric systems to monitor who is exiting the country and would call for a complete operational control of the US-Mexico border before illegal immigrants can receive green cards. A system should also be established to monitor those who overstay visas with legal penalties and consequences. This would further help to deter people from overstaying.
BIDIMA should also put an end to catch and release by a having an expedited system of returning people who are caught at the border back to their countries. This was what President Trump was trying to do when it unraveled in to the controversial child separation from families. Since the U.S already sends millions of dollars in aid to countries where many people leave and try to enter the U.S illegally, such aid should be tied to repatriation costs of these individuals. Also it would serve as a deterrent to those same countries that actively encourage their citizens to enter the U.S illegally.
There is no doubt that the technology exists to enforce the border whether through radar, satellites, drones and resources such as more border agents and fences where appropriate. There should be a competition prize in this bill to encourage technology companies to come up with more innovative and cost effective ways of enhancing border security and have them bid on it. Having a Security Commission made up the Governors of the four southern Border States and border control agents to advise on when the border is secured would also be an added benefit. To attain border security, each local jurisdiction along the border should have input by specifically submitting what they will need in their respective areas to secure that section of the border. On such a vast border, measures that will work to secure it may vary from mile to mile, town to town, or county to county, or on private land.
A border security bill like BIDIMA should empower local jurisdictions to enforce current immigration laws rather than to overlook them. The status of being a sanctuary city should be disbanded especially their propensity to harbor illegal aliens who have committed serious crimes and were never deported. This again would deter an influx of new arrivals of illegals while other security measures are being enacted, or to those that have the hope that some time down the road there will be another immigration bill to accommodate them. It would also force current undocumented immigrants out of the shadows to take part in an Earned Adjustment of Immigration Status Act (EAISA) type bill (outlined below). Some would argue that a ‘deterrent’ aspect of a BIDIMA bill would complicate and kill an immigration bill. However, without one there would be no effectiveness in having a border security measure. Some may also say it is harsh to enforce such stringent laws that may drive people further into the shadows, but again ‘one cannot eat their cake and still have it’. If one wants the status of illegals addressed, enforceable border security measures must accompany it.
Democrats have lamented that walls and physical barriers are immoral and ineffective. However, their preferred method monitoring technology alone would not prevent people from entering illegally and if they are caught that puts extra pressure on resources to detain illegal entrants and process them in courts. Just like the point made in a LifeLock identity theft commercial, it is not enough to monitor if there is no method to prevent something undesirable from happening. Many Democrats have been quite comfortable in our border detention being so overwhelmed that many people would have to be released. This is one a main reason why Republicans have to make a better case for border security.
BIDIMA would also reform the loopholes in our current asylum and humanitarian laws that are currently being abused and has been a key magnet and incentive to droves of people overwhelming the southern border. The Trafficking Victim Protection Reauthorization Act of 2008 requires that children from countries other than Mexico must be treated differently if they enter illegally. The law creates a situation where many if not most are released into America with dates to appear in court and most do not. A recent court decision in 2016 forces border security to release families with children. The humanitarian and asylum laws under BIDMA would reform these laws so that requests for immigration under those circumstances must be done at U.S consulates at countries of origin, or in the last country of transit to the U.S border. This would deter countries like Mexico from accommodating these caravans which are often organized by drug cartels who also profit from them. Many of these immigrants pay large sums to cartels and 'coyotes' to do these transits but would be dis-incentivized to do so if they know there is a strong possibility they will not actually enter the U.S without permission.
The Earned Adjustment of Immigration Status Act (EAISA) with an Ability to Prosper (ATP) Visa:
Symbolically instead of just issuing visas like in a traditional amnesty bill, a EAISA type bill would sub-plant the ‘V’ in visa with ‘EA’ as in Earned Adjusted’ so it would not have the aspects of an amnesty bill. The anxieties surrounding undocumented immigrants are the winds in the political sails that President Obama and other Democrats have used to still support his executive orders. It is important for the GOP to divert and calm those winds by earning credibility in leading on immigration reform that includes addressing this most polarizing issue as part of a broader and bold approach.
This could be the best alternative plan to both Mr. Obama's executive actions such as DACA, and could serve as a frame work to address the status of other illegal immigrants. It could also help address immigrants who have been here for years under Temporary Protected Status programs such Haitians and El Salvadorans or those who apply for refugee status. It could also be used to vet immigrants who come via student visas or even family based immigration. Young illegal immigrants who have come out of the shadows and have been accepted under DACA will have already met some of the criteria of EAISA. They should be required to meet the rest of the requirements of EAISA in order to renew into another two year reprieve without disrupting any productive efforts they would have made in order to earn further deference of deportation.
A Pew Research survey taken after Mr. Obama's executive order was issued showed that 70% of all respondents and 53% of Republicans said illegal immigrants who meet certain requirements should have a way to stay in the country legally.
The reality of not being able to deport over 11 million undocumented immigrants should highlight that this issue should not be kicked down the road or ceded to the whims of presidential executive overreach. This reality if left to be handled by liberal Democrats will almost certain mean that there will be de facto amnesty of millions of immigrants absorbed into more government dependency programs and entitlements. Allowing this would result in undermining the traditional immigration culture of individual effort to prosper. The only way conservatives can counter this is to have a reform such as EAISA implemented with the use of an Ability to Prosper (ATP) visa that encourages current undocumented immigrants to be productive members of the American economy, and promote self-sufficiency while removing those that pose a security risk. Hence, fostering conservative values and culture that promotes good work ethic and ambition to individually succeed.
To supplement an effective border security bill like BIDIMA, the GOP could use a EASIA type bill to mandate all undocumented immigrants to come out of the shadows, be identified and processed to be put on a probationary path to earn adjusted status or in the case of those who have committed serious crimes, be deported. Anyone who does not comply by being identified within a certain time period for processing would be subject to immediate deportation. A points or credits system should be used to determine the levels a person have reached during this path to adjusted status. This could eventually lead to earning a green card after border security measures have been met. Based on certain criteria, the points system should be measured by a scale that determines one’s ‘ability to prosper’ (ATP) and with restrictions on receiving any government assistance while exhibiting good conduct and ambition. For federal programs like Social Security and Medicare, people who qualify for EASIA would have to pay in at a higher percentage rate that is pro-rated depending on how long they were in the country undocumented and did not pay into the system.
Under EAISA, it could take 100 points/credits on the ATP scale to get an adjusted status or ATP visa that puts the person at the back of the line of people who were already going though the legal immigration process of getting a green card. Until then they would be in a probationary status and have a document to prove that.
Certain attributes could be used to award points on the ATP scale with some carrying more points than others. Some attributes that indicate a higher risk of being unable to prosper or dependent on government assistance would give negative points that could lead to deportation. If the person was brought here as a child more than 5yrs ago and still under 16 they would start off with more points than a person who came as over 16. Serving in the military, doing well in school, graduated college, have a technical or vocational skill and/or the ability to speak English would give points. Having paid taxes, contributed to social security and paying into Medicare as an adult would give points, if not, there would penalties to pay back taxes or contributions at a higher rate. Having finished college while being current on student loans would add points. Since many undocumented immigrants have actually started and are running successful businesses while paying taxes, this should award high number of points on the ATP scale. If they have hired tax paying employees, that should lead to more bonus points. So too if one has been active in volunteering in community service and/or charities, they could earn bonus points. If a person has been dependent on assistance such welfare or have racked up medical bills without taking efforts to repay them even though that person is actively working or physically able, that would lead to negative points which may vary depending on the situation and extent. The aim of awarding negative points is to deter unproductive or irresponsible behavior and to also address concerns of those apprehensive about immigration reform and fear that many illegal immigrants may be allowed to get a ‘free ride’. It would help to address the concerns that immigration reform may have a negative impact on the economy over the long run.
Achieving the goals of a points system and ATP criteria would also encourage productive assimilation in American society. Optional requirements could also be used to earn extra bonus points such as exhibiting further abilities to assimilate and understand American culture. These could include documented visits to points of interests that teach or display key points in American History and civics that have shaped the country. For example, visits to museums on American History, monuments on historical events or people, memorials and even doing civics courses such as on the American Constitution and other founding documents. When I did my citizenship test I noticed that where a lot of questions that started with ‘when,' ‘how many,' ‘who’ and ‘what are’. However, very few asked ‘why’ certain things happened to shape the American Idea as we know it. Thus there were very few thought provoking questions asked to help an immigrant realize the true underlying reasons ‘why America’ is in fact the success it has become, and in turn made it the place where he/she wanted to be.
The Market Empowered Temporary Guest Worker Act (METGWA): Putting pressure on border security and contributing to the large number of undocumented immigrants are low skilled workers who ventured to enter the country illegally and stayed. Some did so because it was easier than trying to enter legally or virtually impossible under current laws. Having reforms that admit in temporary low skilled guest workers based on market and economic conditions for various industries such as agriculture and construction would alleviate such an influx. A METGWA type program could address quest worker needs as they vary geographically from state to state and time period. Part of the reforms should include input from the states in administering or determining the number of workers needed. For example the demand for agriculture workers may be higher in states like California and Florida than the Northeast where the demand may be higher for landscapers, domestic and construction workers. At times of natural disasters such as the aftermath of hurricanes Harvey, Irma or more recently Michael which devastated southern states, a guest worker program could fill worker shortages for construction workers and manual labor.
Many guest workers have family and property back in their native countries, so a guest worker that allows them to travel back home and then re-enter the U.S on a seasonal basis, is an incentive for them to not become undocumented immigrants. The comparable strength and purchasing power or exchange rate of he U.S dollar allows many immigrants to live or care for their families well in their home countries. So many are happy to not fully emigrate from there if they just make a 'little' U.S dollars seasonally. A METGWA program should allow flexibility between different job roles that have a demand for guest workers. Many agricultural areas have a shortage of low skilled workers, which often leads to spoiled produce and ultimately imports of fruits of vegetables if local farms can’t meet the demand. A guest worker program would not only help America’s ‘food security’ by having more domestically grown food, but would also help local economies. Giving higher quotas of guest worker opportunities to countries in the proximity of our borders in exchange of those countries taking steps to curb people sneaking through the U.S border for illegal entry could be an element of a METGWA type bill. It could discourage the caravans of migrants we see now heading towards the U.S border.
Despite falling unemployment in the U.S there are certain industries where there are labor shortages such as in construction and technology. Even with rising wages before the hurricanes 69% of contractors in Texas said they had difficulty filling positions. About 60% of contractors in the fast growing areas in the South have been struggling to fill positions for concrete workers, carpenters and day laborers. Also no matter the economic situation, there has always been available jobs that many Americans have chosen not to do that entail manual labor or domestic help.
When I came to America and lived in the South Bronx, I noticed many people who were natural born Americans loitering around and depended on government programs. Others would take odd jobs or seek civil service jobs. Meanwhile many immigrants had tended to take jobs as landscapers, painters, and construction jobs or as domestic workers such as baby sitters and house cleaning. Some would actively stand on street corners or make themselves available for such jobs. Many would learn these skills and then go on to start their own business. A large number of immigrants didn’t compete much with American born low skilled workers, as they tended to seek different type of jobs. In some areas, construction companies have had difficulty finding American born workers for some of these jobs even after considerable efforts. A study on immigration by the Manhattan Institute illustrated the divergent paths immigrants both low skilled and high skilled take versus Americans, and suggests how proper immigration reform could determine the number of immigrants admitted based on this trend. Understanding labor economics and trends is vital to immigration reform.
As part of METGWA, if the market conditions presents the need for the same worker to come 6 or more times, there should be a provision for that worker to apply for an adjusted status via an ATP visa or points basis similar to a EASIA. The goal of a METGWA bill would be to simultaneously reduce the number of low skilled workers trying to enter the U.S illegally while establishing an orderly market based system of allocating this type labor needs to certain industries. At the same, it would also help to determine if some of these people could contribute long term to the economy if they were allowed the ability to adjust their legal status to a permanent one. Some of America’s biggest success stories and household brands have been people who came here with nothing, but due to ingenuity, ambition and strong work ethic they eventually built empires.
Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson introduced a bill a few years ago ( The State-Sponsored Visa Pilot Program) that would have enabled states to have visa programs for foreign guest workers that are currently managed by the federal government. It would have allowed about 500,000 visas with 5,000 for each state and the rest allocated based on population. The cap would be indexed to GDP growth. It would also have allowed states to have the freedom to determine which skill levels or industries would be eligible for the program. Congressman Ken Buck of Colorado at the time also worked on a companion legislation in the House. These ideas or legislations could be the component of a larger METGWA type bill. Also another advantage of having the inputs of states on a guest worker program would be to bring more local accountability of Governors and representatives of a state to their constituents.
The Economic Freedom and Prosperity Immigration Act for the 21st Century (EFPIA21): This bill would have overlapping features of METGWA and EAISA with similar requirements to meet the ability to prosper (ATP) criteria. EFPIA21 goes further in driving economic freedom by addressing the competitive nature of human capital and movement of other types of capital in the 21st century to areas where they are most productive, and to still make America the favored venue for such capital. Key elements of EFPIA21 would include: A more market based and adjusted method of determining the number of H-1B visas needed to meet the high skill worker demand in the US Giving such recipients flexibility to move from one high tech job to another. A point based system with ATP criteria to enhance the H-1B visa to a new type H-1B+ visa if such individuals exhibit the ability transition to start new ventures, or can significantly contribute to the long-term success of an existing one, which could then lead to an expedited path to earn a green card. Revising the current work permit requires that no country can receive more than 7% of the permits to a floating mechanism based on a country’s population and the number of high skilled workers it can produce. To attract more entrepreneurial talent, EFPIA21 would not only expand the E-2 visa and EB-5 programs that provide permits under a treaty to immigrants who do business or invest a substantial amount of money into the U.S to create jobs here, it would have also allow an expedited path to an earned green card via an ATP and assimilate criteria. EFPIA21 would also in-cooperate some of the virtues of the attempted bi-partisan Startup Act 2.0 and 3.0 introduced by Sen. Jerry Moran (R., Kan.) and co-sponsored by Senators Mark Warner (D., Va.) and Marco Rubio (R., Fla.) to help foreign-born entrepreneurs stay here (some who may have also been educated here) or to those who specifically want to a startup businesses in the US These Startup Acts bills and their House counterpart H.R 714 were never enacted.
The U.S needs a better immigration system to set aside visas for entrepreneurs like other countries such as New Zealand and Canada. A EFPIA21 type visa would allow immigrants who would like to start companies in the U.S a path to do so rather than having to go the route of applying for other types of visas that does not specifically address that goal of specifically starting a business. It would require a certain amount of investment and have a probationary period to prove that it has long-term success potential and can hire and maintain minimum set of employees.
America’s prosperity benefited immensely in the 19th and 20th centuries from people who left from other countries with their skills and capital to America as they saw it as the best place to prosper. America has also benefited from the ‘brain drain’ from other countries who saw their brightest and most skilled leave for opportunities and freedom in America. However, the 21st is a lot more competitive for attracting talent and entrepreneurial skills. Emerging markets such BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa) in addition to industrialized and advanced countries in Europe or Canada, Singapore, Australia and New Zealand will compete for human capital especially in the sought after STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) skills.
The U.S is still the destination for many who come to train in these high skill areas and also those who seek to invent and innovate. This is more apparent as some of the rising economies of the last 20 yrs. are either faltering or having political challenges that question their stability in the long run as places for investment. According to the Manhattan Institute’s study, “ On the high skills spectrum, 56 percent of engineering doctoral degrees, 51 percent of computer science doctoral degrees, and 44 percent of physics doctoral were awarded in 2011 to students who were neither U.S citizens nor permanent residents.” The numbers also keep rising in other fields as well. Foreign nationals in the U.S make up about 70% of doctorates in electrical engineering and half the masters degrees. Russia who wants to re-establish itself as a superpower and China who wants to be one, are seeing a higher percentage of their successful citizens not wanting to stay in those countries and instead prefer to take their investment capital to the US and other developed Western countries. They are also increasingly sending their children to the West for education and training. Rule of law and property rights both attract and are advantages for these preferences.
The Manhattan Institute’s study also notes that in 2011 the federal government spent over $58 billion on science and engineering research at American universities and research institutions which helps finance Ph.D. programs, heavily populated by foreign students. However, as much as 51 percent of engineering doctorate earners and 41 percent of physical sciences doctorate earners who are foreign born are forced to leave the U.S due to the 85,000 annual cap on H-1B visas. This number represents one-twentieth of one percent of the overall workforce. Therefore private and taxpayer investment loses its value as many of these students go on to contribute in another country’s economy.
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics since 2012 the U.S has had a demand for about 120,000 annually new jobs requiring at least a bachelor’s degree in computer science. But all our colleges and universities put together only produced about 40,000 new degrees in that field. Microsoft and other tech companies have expressed concern of lack of enough high skilled workers in the US The late Steve Jobs also once told President Obama that Apple employs 700,000 factory workers in China because it can’t find 30,000 engineers in the U.S that it needs at its site plants. This complemented what some studies and economists believe, that more high skilled workers cause a multiplier effect in increasing employment for more Americans especially manufacturing jobs. Berkeley economist Enrico Moretti believes that each engineering job as a multiplier effect of five additional jobs. According to the Kauffman Foundation between 2006 and 2012, 24 percent of companies founded nationwide were done so by immigrants. In Silicon Valley during the same period 44 percent of the companies were founded.
Overall the Kauffman Foundation's study found that immigrants are twice as likely to start a company as an American born here. A 2002 study in the American Economic Review by Stanford economist Charles I. Jones found that, “ Half of the productivity growth in the U.S since 1950 was driven by the increase in number of scientists and engineers doing research and development.” A 2013 study done by Giovanni Peri and Kevin Shih of the University of California and Chad Sparber of Colgate University found that between 1990-2010, scientists and engineers admitted by the H-1B visa program added $615 billion to the economy. In a separate article in WSJ in 2013, it noted that links on the site MarchforInnovation.com shows leaders from tech firms who are frustrated to lose high skilled technical talents to China and India. The site also shows links to findings that every 100 immigrant technologists with advanced degrees who stay in the U.S, lead to 262 jobs for American workers, and that over 40 percent of Fortune 500 companies were founded by immigrants or first generation Americans. An EFPIA21 type bill would incorporate ideas with these statistics in mind ensure the best and the brightest have a legal means of adding to America’s prosperity and maintain the ATP requirements.
The GOP's Untapped Base, the Immigrant Who Resonates with Conservatism
The GOP may have won political battles in the last few years and now face it’s most immediate political battle in the mid-term elections. However, it is also currently battling a long-term cultural war, as there is a growing acceptance in America to the allure of socialism over capitalism and free markets. This has emboldened many Democrats to identify as socialists, because they know that they are successfully re-branding and re-marketing socialism as ‘Democratic –Socialism’ into a movement to make it a more politically palatable vehicle to expand and increase government control or redistribution of capital.
While there are daily rebuttals with examples written and spoken everyday by conservatives about the failures of socialism, probably the GOP’s best asset to counter this socialist tide eludes it. Recognizing, connecting and energizing its untapped base, immigrants who resonate with conservative values especially those from socialist and communist countries who make the best arguments against socialism and the ideological infatuations that promote it in America.
During the Obama era, Democrats went at great lengths to disavow that their policies to expand government and its control of capital were socialist in nature. Today in the Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Democrat Party, it has become a litmus test to prove how socialist candidates are who seek to represent that Party.
Ironically, this Democrat-Socialist movement is happening at a time when GOP free market policies of low taxes and less government regulation have unleashed strong economic growth levels and low unemployment rates which Obama era Democrat policies promised but failed to do. More so, it is also happening under the backdrop of the imploding socialist disaster in Venezuela, once Latin America’s richest country before the socialist model that was lauded by the Bernie Sanders type Democrats brought the country to ruin. It is no coincidence that the implications to the region of Venezuela’s downfall especially to bordering countries gets so little American media coverage, because many of the stars of ‘Democratic-Socialism’ have become media darlings.
Despite major record accomplishments and wins by conservative policies in uplifting the economic prospects different demographics and the middle class, the conservative movement will not win against the populist movement and culture war of accepting socialism in America if they do not properly support and expand a much wider untapped base of advocates for conservatism such as conservative immigrants and members of the Walkway Movement (former supporters of liberal policies who are walking away from the Democrat Party). Simply put, recognizing and understanding the factor of immigration culture is essential to any approach taken by the GOP in addressing immigration reform and maintaining the essence of America itself. It has been easy for liberals to mischaracterize every conservative idea as 'racist' anti-immigrant and other hateful descriptions because the conservative movement has lacked a more diverse group of advocates and faces to justify its ideas.
Conversations with immigrant entrepreneurs from socialist countries who I do business with everyday have something in common with some popular immigrant speakers I listened to at local Tea Party rallies a few years ago. They are appalled that it is becoming fashionable in America to court the idea of socialism. These immigrants who have experienced socialism first hand often make the most passionate and eloquent arguments against it developing in the US. They also display high levels of entrepreneurship. The most vocal against socialism I have experienced are Cubans, Albanians and Kosovaars. Just walking around a large city like New York one cannot help but see many businesses and commercial vehicles with lettering of the names of the businesses they represent which signify that the entrepreneur who started that business is an immigrant. They represent a story of achieving the American dream as an immigrant due to inherent American founding values that are still relevant for more dreams to be built on or of those of others to be accomplished.
Most of these immigrants have become very successful entrepreneurs despite incredible odds and failures, they also ambitiously and aggressively take risks to pursue opportunities to start and keep business prospects alive that the average person may avoid. What do they often attribute this drive to? They have known what it is like to not have the economic freedom to succeed, and not having the property rights and law and order to keep it. They also know that an expanded government control of capital results in contraction of individual opportunity.
Many immigrants from socialist countries are apt to notice that Democrats pander to immigrants with a socialist message to transform immigration culture into the mold of the Left and to gain the votes of immigrants. Many resent the goal to make big government accepted as the primary means of getting ahead and playing a dominant role in people’ lives via entitlements, state mandated redistribution, stoking identity grievances, class warfare and undermining the rule of law in the name of actions of compassion. Thus, redefining the culture of the American dream from one of personal responsibility and free market driven economic prosperity, to one that is highly government regulated and managed.
In terms of small businesses, the 2010 Census revealed that Hispanics were creating new small businesses at 2.5 times the rate of the general population. While Hispanics have tended to vote Democratic, this trait or statistic resonates more in common with people who already vote Republican or with the work ethic and independent entrepreneurial values and culture of work that conservatives support. If the GOP was to lead on an immigration reform that reinforces what it stands for such as these ideals, and how they make immigration good for America, they would see a lot more Hispanics voting Republican. Numerous statistics, some of which have been cited in Forbes magazine point out that the areas of the country where both blacks and Hispanics are experiencing the best upward income mobility are mostly states and cities with conservative leadership and policies. Even in the last election cycle, the GOP has not capitalized on using these statistics to counter the ‘inequality’ and ‘middle class’ populist narrative liberals are using to entice these demographics.
Many Republicans in their quest to earn more Hispanic votes should also reach out to another demographic that is the fastest growing group of new Americans, and who also shares values that resonate with conservative ideals, Asians. A 2012 Pew Research Center detailed study of Asian-Americans summarized it's finding with “Asian-Americans are the highest income, best educated and fastest growing racial group in the United States. They are more satisfied than the general public with their lives, finances and the direction of the country, and they place more value than other Americans do on marriage, parenthood, hard work and career success.” Based on a culture of strong work ethic, being success driven and well known for pursuing entrepreneurial and ambitious ventures, Asian-Americans in general exemplify the embodiment of the American dream. The study also finds that more Asian-Americans (69 percent) than other Americans (58 percent) believe that you will get ahead with hard work. 93 percent of Asian-Americans believe that their ethic group is hardworking. These attributes should also make Asian-Americans natural base for the GOP, but the party has to reach out to these communities and say why it is so. Not to be out done, it is often unreported that almost 50% of African immigrants have bachelor degrees and Nigerian immigrants in particular have a higher rate of having advanced degrees than Asians. Like many other immigrant groups they have also shown strong personal initiative and ambition to prosper by often having multiple jobs while still going to school to further their education.
All of these observations and statistics reinforce the opportunities the GOP will have to modernize immigration policies that attract and assimilate the best, brightest and most ambitious from around the world who seek to enter or remain in America. These opportunities will also allow the GOP to grow its base with new Americans that resonate with its values while also discovering it's largely untapped base, current conservative legal immigrants with strong work ethics who value the virtues of limited government, rule of law, low taxes, individual freedom to prosper and a pro growth regulatory environment. Currently, many may not be engaged in the political process. Some of the best advocates for American ideals and liberty has been conservative immigrants such as the aforementioned Mark Steyn and also Dinesh D’Souza who brilliantly made the case for America in his movie ‘America Imagine a World Without Her.' Again at the peak of Tea Party rallies across the country, some of the most vocal and passionate speakers that called for responsible and accountability in government were immigrants from socialist, communist or countries collapsing under the weight of a welfare state. Some too who had experienced tyranny or the effects of radical Islam and sought religious freedom as they value America's leadership in the world. Most importantly, the biggest opportunities and responsibilities for the GOP will be to reform immigration so that it continues to be good for America in the 21st century by nurturing a culture of work, order and prosperity. Failing that, populist liberals will be allowed instead to change the country to one that fosters a culture of government dependency that decimates American ideals and slowly transitions the country into a welfare state later on in the century.
One of the biggest political blunders of the 20th century was when the GOP slowly lost most of the black vote. Once of one their biggest constituencies, disengagement by the GOP in the black communities left a vacuum for liberal policies to dominate and eventually kept many in poverty, kept racial tensions alive and left many dependent on government with fewer opportunities. These are examples of where liberal policies can affect and undermine the culture of some people in certain communities and affect their ability to prosper. It is inevitable that America will continue to be a nation of immigrants with changing demographics in this century. It will be up to the GOP to lead on immigration reform so assimilation to the American culture of prosperity is strengthened to maintain one that still allows the American Dream. Otherwise, it will be the biggest political blunder of the 21st century when a political party such as the GOP had so much to simultaneously gain politically and move the country forward, but instead tragically failed to lead on an issue that had such implications on generations to come and the identity of the country itself.
President Trump does not have to compromise his quest to bring law and order to our immigration system at the expense of losing the opportunities. He still the opportunity to continue to make immigration great for America in the 21st century.