Immigration policy comes down to two questions: "Who gets in?" and "How many get in?" In the end, Washington has to decide the numbers.
One hundred and fifty million adults worldwide want to permanently immigrate to the U.S. today, according to a Gallup poll. The United States government is going to say "no" to most them. But the Senate and the White House refuse to acknowledge reality. They have presented Utopian proposals where anyone in the world can get a U.S. work permit except terrorists and ax murderers.
(This blog ran as an op-ed in Wednesday's The Hill)
We've seen this before. In 2004, President George W. Bush wanted to match any "willing worker" in the world with a "willing employer" in the U.S. His plan was criticized for being recklessly open-ended, especially coming out of a recession.
President Obama's proposal is broader than Bush's, stating, "Our immigration system should reward anyone who is willing to work hard and play by the rules" (emphasis mine). Obama dropped Bush's "willing employer" requirement even though there aren't enough willing employers to hire the U.S. citizens and legal immigrant workers who are already here.
The "Gang of Eight's" proposal is almost as broad. They call for expanded immigration for low-skilled workers and high-skilled workers in addition to legalization for illegal workers. Actual numerical limits are noticeably absent in the plan.
The truth of any rational immigration policy is that somebody’s favorite aunt isn't going to get in. Somebody's charming nephew is going to have to thrive in his native land. Millions of honest, hard-working people will have to pursue happiness in the countries where they were born.
That may be a hard truth to swallow, but it is a fact nonetheless. There are millions of honest, hard-working Americans (immigrant and U.S.-born alike) living in poverty today who deserve our attention.
America is not engaged in a pro -vs. - no immigration debate. Americans like legal immigration and honor our immigrant past. There is no disagreement here.
The disagreement is about the numbers. Should we continue to admit one million immigrants per year or double it to 2 million? 5 million? Or should we reorganize immigration to bring the numbers back in line with our tradition of less than half that? Where do we set the limits and how are those limits enforced? These are the questions our leaders have ducked and the immigration-expansion advocacy groups refuse to answer.
Fifteen years ago we were blessed with a bi-partisan group of leaders who confronted the numerical question. The U.S. Commission on Immigration Reform recommended immigration levels of approximately 550,000 per year. Chaired by the late Barbara Jordan, the commission had the integrity to say which categories would be eliminated under their plan - primarily adult, non-spouse relatives and visa lottery winners.
Unlike today's "Gang of Eight" and the president, the Jordan Commission understood the question of limits to be central to crafting an immigration policy that meets the national interest.
President Obama and the "Gang of Eight" on the other hand will avoid the question of limits for as long as possible. But legislation will be written. The numbers will eventually come to light. They will be big, they will be unprecedented, and they will not be supported by the citizenry who, unlike our leaders, can see the profound numerical impact of such proposals in terms of tax dollars, jobs and quality of life.
ROSEMARY JENKS is the Director of Government Relations for NumbersUSA