Immigration policy in any country will inevitably benefit some groups more than others. In a government “of the people, by the people, for the people,” a responsible approach to reform takes the concerns of all stakeholders into account and then prioritizes based on the needs of the national community. Finally, no immigration policy can survive if its laws and limits are not faithfully enforced.
Our approach to reenvisioning immigration begins with this: immigration policy — like any public policy — deserves a vigorous, civil debate. We do not, however, confuse policy with people. From our founding videos and publications, respect for immigrants is foundational to our approach.
Second, as Temple University law professor Jan Ting explains, unless a person agrees with a totally open border for the hundreds of millions of people who would move to the United States if they could, policymakers have to choose numerical limits.
Prioritizing requires difficult choices, but that is the policymakers’ job. Our goal for sensible immigration policy is to maximize benefits and minimize harm.
Consider these vulnerable groups:
The Historically Left-Behind in The United States
Descendants of American slaves have a unique moral claim on American policy. A “best practice” of immigration policy would be “do no harm to Black Americans.”
Immigration (and colonization) have not served indigenous peoples well. A more moderate and just immigration policy would lessen pressure on tribal lands. A better immigration policy would improve hiring prospects for the chronically underemployed.
Newcomers with Tenuous Footholds
We want to live in an America where no one is suspected of being in the country illegally based on their occupation, name, accent, or physical characteristics. A credible system assures the public that anyone who works in America has a right to do so.
Recent immigrants in low-wage occupations are the most vulnerable to wage and job displacement from additional immigration. Previous flows of less-educated immigrants quickly assimilated into the economic mainstream when immigration policies were different and at much lower levels than we have today. We can do better for the newest members of our national community.
The Working Class
So-called “essential workers” are among the least educated, least compensated Americans. Immigration policy should treat them as essential, not replaceable or disposable.
Americans, regardless of education, deserve an immigration policy that is compatible with self-sustaining lives of dignity. Two-thirds of Americans don’t have a bachelor’s degree or higher.
A small minority of Americans actually live on the border. Their concerns are unique and important. One sensible way to measure border security is to determine whether or not the people who live on the border are secure.
The Global poor
Immigration to the United States will never be an option for 99 percent of the world. We want a system that gives confidence to the world that there is no benefit to risking lives and treasure to reside in the U.S. illegally.
The developing world needs their strivers, achievers, and discontents more than the United States. Immigration policy should leave room for truly world-class talents without contributing to the “brain drain” of vulnerable nations.
Our responsibilities of stewardship extend to Mother Earth, especially the American lands and waters the U.S. government has jurisdiction over. They cannot vote, but the critical habitats, wildlife, and biodiversity that sustain us — and are crucial to international environmental health — should all be considered in our immigration policies.
Future generations have no say in our current policies, but they will live in the world our policies leave them. Immigration policy should be responsive to immediate and short-term needs while never losing sight of the long-term ramifications.
A limited system with enforcement has always been the preferred approach to immigration to the United States; although the limits have changed and the enforcement, at times, has been lacking. Nevertheless, a limited system is clearly in the best interest of the United States. The challenge is in choosing how many, determining standards of admission, and ensuring the limits and standards we choose are enforced.