Wednesday, June 19, 2013

Conversation with a Conservative: A compromise between a Conservative and a Libertarian on Immigration

I had a conversation about immigration with a ardent die-hard conservative Republican recently. I feel the discussion was valuable. I got a better sense of their concerns on the issue and it's more than just "foreigners are bad" or "they took our jobs" or "terrorists!!" like many seem to caricature them to be and in addition to educating them on the libertarian perspective, got their thoughts on that perspective.

For background, my ideal immigration policy is no policy - open borders, no govt required registration. Nobody is directly being harmed by people simply crossing a political line in the dirt. However, there are challenges to that view right now due to the policies of our current govt. For example, we currently face a threat from terrorism that our foreign policy exacerbates and invites. If you also have a non-interventionist foreign policy, I believe your risk from the threat of terrorism is significantly less and thus the need (or perceived need) to comb over every person that gets in an airplane or visits from another country is drastically reduced.

At the same time, however, I am a strong pragmatist and feel that libertarians are not going to get anywhere close to a free society by just declaring the govt is immoral and demanding that everyone stop using it. So I am often more willing to compromise on issues than I feel many libertarians are.

After a nearly 2 hour discussion with my conservative friend, we were able to reach an agreed-upon compromise for immigration reform:

Application process is a background check
A single, simple form to apply for immigration. This form should only require the basic information to identify the person and will be used to perform a background check. The only purpose of the entire application process is to determine if you are a threat to others - i.e. if you have a violent criminal history, ties to terrorists, etc. If you do not, you're free to enter the country at your earliest convenience. No multi-month/year long process of various approvals for different types of immigration.

This should change the legal immigration process from taking months or even years to a couple weeks. By making the process significantly more simple as well as shorter, I feel it will make legal immigration much more attractive compared to the risk and disadvantages of illegal immigration. In addition, with a drastically smaller number of illegal immigrants I think illegal immigration itself will be easier to deal with and certainly less of a problem.

A one-time fee
Applying for legal immigration will require a flat fee that simply pays for the cost of performing the paperwork and background check - no more, no less.

No fines or back taxes
There's little value beyond retribution in trying to excise fines or figure and collect back taxes on illegal immigrants already here. Besides, it would likely cost more in trying to audit and calculate those taxes on individuals who likely earned little income and have no record of it than the tax itself would amount to.

No English fluency/literacy requirements or tests
This is simply unnecessary. Plus, allowing immigrants to come out of the shadows of illegality would likely lead to them being more likely to assimilate and learn the dominant national language.

No expiration on legal immigration
There's nothing immoral and nobody is directly harmed by someone remaining here after govt has told them that they have stayed here long enough. If they are not a direct physical threat to anyone, there's no reason to put a time limit on their stay here.

Eliminate the dozen+ types of immigration statuses
A single status, either legal or not. Whether you're coming here for a single business meeting, a week long trip, a summer tour, or to live here for years doesn't matter. As long as you are not a threat to anyone, govt shouldn't care.

Secure the border
If you're going to have any immigration policy and any restrictions or controls on those who come in, it makes little sense if people can bypass and disregard the law and the process anyway. Frankly, however, I believe that the rest of the policies in this compromise would drastically reduce the demand for illegal immigration and thus reduce the need to aggressively patrol and defend the border as we do currently. I'm not sure how effective any attempt at securing the border would be or the costs involved, but I'm fine with enacting it as part of a bill.

No Federal Welfare
One of the concerns of many conservatives are those unskilled immigrants that come here and directly latch onto the govt dole. As a compromise between no restrictions whatsoever and no welfare whatsoever, we agreed that legal immigrants should be able to take advantage of as many state and local govt assistance programs as they are eligible for, but they should not be eligible for federal govt welfare programs. This is a basic decentralization/"laboratories of democracy" position (I hold the same pragmatic position on all welfare programs). Get the national govt out of it and let the states and localities decide how and to what extent to provide assistance to people - in this case immigrants.

Eligible for citizenship after a period
An immigrant can apply for naturalized citizenship after 10 years from the point they were approved for legal immigrant status. Time period is debatable, 10 years was just what we came up with, but some period of time from the point they received approval should be required before they can apply for full citizenship.

I just barely touched on these items to convey the basic premise. But it seemed like a good compromise that deals with both the concerns of conservatives while making the system and process more simple and open.

So what do you think? What does this overlook? What problems (besides political) might this create?

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