President Obama wants Congress to overhaul immigration law. He's right.
The problem is there's a political stalemate over our dysfunctional immigration system. There has been since the failure of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act.
Back then, with less than 2 million illegal immigrants, a three point law made sense.
Amnesty those here, control the border to prevent further illegal immigration, and sanction employers who hired illegal immigrants. Problem solved.
Sadly, after 1986 we got the amnesty but the border remained open and employers were never sanctioned for hiring illegal immigrants.
The result was a flood of illegal immigrants estimated today to number between 11 and 15 million.
In 2007, the McCain/Kennedy immigration "reform" bill was endorsed by many Democrat and Republican Senators and was strongly endorsed by President George Bush.
The McCain/Kennedy bill was a transparent repeat of the mistakes of the 1986 immigration reform. Amnesty would certainly happen, but border security and requiring employers to hire only citizens and legal migrants would not.
That year, I helped organize opposition to the bill.
I led forty two radio talk show hosts from around the country. We broadcast from Washington D.C. and mobilized tens of thousands of listeners to overwhelm the Capitol Hill phone system and fill the email in-boxes of Congress members and their staff urging a no vote.
The Bush White House was confident of victory. One official told me "see you at the bill signing ceremony". When it came to the floor, the bill was defeated in the Senate by a vote of 34-61.
But since then the problem has gotten worse. Our immigration law is riddled with bad policy.
For example, a yearly worldwide lottery grants a U.S. visa to lucky foreigners who would never qualify under any rational criteria for issuing visas. "Family re-unification" has resulted in one legal immigrant bringing in dozens of relatives, however distant in relation.
"Refugees" are too often more dangerous to the U.S. than in danger in their home country. "Students" get visas to study in the U.S. and may never enter a classroom. Several of the 9/11 hijackers had "student" visas.
Too many immigrants get Social Security disability checks without ever contributing a dime and (despite legal prohibitions) wind up on multiple welfare programs.
Our immigration laws have lost the common sense they had when my maternal grandmother came in steerage on a freighter from Italy to New York.
Landing on Ellis Island, she was checked for disease, fingerprinted, had to name a sponsor who would be responsible for her behavior, and had to promise not to become a "public charge" (i.e. not on welfare).
In an afternoon, she was found fit to immigrate to the U.S. and was admitted. Within a year, she was married, working, and had started a family.
What happened to that common sense immigration law? It has been replaced over the years by a labyrinth of legal dysfunction..
So, how to break the stalemate? Here are a few ideas (taken from both Democrat and Republican sources) which would produce real immigration reform.
Future legal immigration should be based on merit. No more lottery winners, deadbeats or jihadis.
Illegal immigrants who are already here should be encouraged to apply for legal status, including citizenship, which should be granted if they are employed, pay their taxes, are not a "public charge" and have no criminal record.
Those who meet the criteria—welcome. Those who don't or won't—go home.
And it's way past time to close the door on future illegal immigration.
Federal law currently requires that only citizens or non-citizens with work visas can be employed in the United States.
Employers should be required to use E-Verify, a federal database which allows employers to instantly check whether the name and Social Security number of the employee or job applicant match.
Too many illegal immigrants today are using fake Social Security cards with stolen identities to get hired here.
The President wants E-Verify for new hires. Good, but not good enough.
E-Verify should be applied to all workers and job applicants especially now during high unemployment to make sure only those legally entitled to work in the U.S. get jobs.
These are just a few ideas. The important point is that our immigration law is broken. It neither protects the immigrant nor the country.
This is the year that the President and our dysfunctional Congress (reportedly less popular than cockroaches and colonoscopies) must enact real immigration reform, not a rehash of the 1986 failure.