The last post discussed the immigration debate as it concerns the United States: the current system, with some explanation for the casual reader, as well as some common refrains on it. One comment on the thread asked whether I would take up any proposals to improve the system, as well as whether I might address “birthright citizenship.” This post will address both. Warning: what you read here will be heavily opinion-weighted, so proceed with that in mind.
Any discussion of the basic issue of immigration must recognize certain factors. First, the US population is graying because the “baby boom” generation has arrived at a point where significant numbers of us are moving into “senior citizen” status. If you use the definition of a “boomer” as anyone born between 1946 and 1964 (one of many that takes in the generation, oldest to youngest, born to the World War II veteran cohort), then quite obviously, the leading edge of boomers reached (full) social security age of 65 in 2011, and the rest of this demographic will cross that significant line in the next dozen years. Since Congress long since threw caution to the wind and raided the Social Security trust fund for other expenditures, Social Security must now be partially funded by those who still are of working age. A gradual rise in the age of eligibility for full benefits is another consequence. Taxable benefits for current recipients of SS benefits is still another. (Taxing the first 50% of SS payments passed Congress in 1983 under President Reagan, and the tax liability was raised to the first 85% in 1993, under President Clinton. It doesn’t apply to all recipients, exempting those whose only source of income is Social Security benefits and whose benefit is low, but still, the idea that Social Security is a freebie for Golden Agers is gone.)
The reality of things, 2018 edition, is that there are (and will be) more retirees than ever. They (we) paid into this system all our working lives with the understanding the benefits were there for the retirement years. Cuts in benefits will be resisted, as they should be. So other sources of revenue are needed, and thus, Congress now partially relies on something akin to a Ponzi scheme to finance it all–meaning more younger workers are needed–or, those workers need to make higher wages than has been the case in the past, which has not happened in the last three decades. Or (as I have advocated in the past) high-wage earners need to pay the SS payroll tax on their entire income, and not just the first $100,000 or so. Plainly, more younger workers will be Congress’ choice, since there is little political risk in it, and since birth rates are not as high as they once were, you get more younger workers by importing them. Period. The reactionary crowd that wants to say “no more immigration” will not win their point. Take that to the bank.
Nor will Americans be told they can’t marry foreigners and bring them to the United States. I can’t imagine a louder non-starter.
So, should our immigration system be streamlined? Yes, I think it is burdened by outmoded thinking as well as inefficiency. I do not propose any changes in processing immigration applicants herein, only changes to the regulations governing who can immigrate and under what circumstances.
I think that family-based immigration should be retained–to a point. US citizens who want to bring a spouse or minor children (including adopted children) should absolutely be able to do so. US citizens who came from elsewhere may have a significant interest in having their parents come here, as well. However, under current law, I have seen instances (I won’t say in what country, because this is a common pattern) where entire villages have been depopulated by the urge to emigrate to the US. An officer from the US embassy in country X visited the civil registry of a small town, in which all marriages in the jurisdiction are recorded. This officer noted 75 marriages during that calendar year. 40 of those marriages involved a villager who was marrying a US citizen. 34 united a villager and a US permanent resident. And one was contracted between two natives of the place. In 74 of 75 marriages, after the wedding, one spouse returned to the USA, and one stayed behind to await the petition for US residency. You may think, if you want to, that this is only anecdotal, and proves nothing, and I will agree–again, to a point. But to think that the drive to get to the US by any means (and marriage is the easiest) plays no part in this phenomenon is at best naïve. Also, in some countries, it is common knowledge that a legally-married person can not immigrate to the US through a petition by his/her green card-holding parent, but a single one can. So people pair off as unmarried couples, live, have children, etc., as though they were married, and wait until such a petition (by the parent) grants one of them residency in the USA–whereupon that party–green card barely dry–goes back “home” and marries (legally) his/her longtime partner, then goes home and files a petition for the spouse, who in turn then waits until a visa is available. This is family reunification?
So I would like to see a modest change: the right to petition foreign relatives could be restricted to US citizens only. If a US citizen wished to have his parents here, he could petition, but for what is called in France a droit de sejour: the “right to stay.” The citizen could provide for his mother or keep a father who is in declining health close at hand, but the parent would not qualify for his/her own citizenship, nor for the right to petition other offspring. My hypothetical citizen could still petition for his/her spouse and any minor children. If an immigrant wants to petition family members, this would give him additional incentive to acclimate–and naturalize. I realize that this would hand “America firsters” a victory of sorts by cutting into what they call “chain migration,” but it would also do much to remedy the sorts of abuse I describe above.
Similarly, the current family-based fourth preference (sibling of a US citizen)category might well be abolished with little to no ill effect on the US. Filing a petition for a sibling, only to tell him/her that it might work in 20 years…I really don’t see much purpose. I would establish a date certain when this would cease to be a category, then “grandfather” all the beneficiaries currently waiting in line, and grant enough numbers over a compressed period, for example, five years following that date, over which the line would be emptied and the category would be history.
The current preference that lets a US citizen file for his son or daughter (as opposed to child) also is open to abuse, since the US petitioner may not have been present during the son/daughter’s growing up and may have no relationship with him/her. To be fair, under my proposal, I would require an immigrant upon entry to announce the names and biographic data of all his/her children (much of this is current practice anyway) and limit the immigrant’s future rights to petition any offspring (upon naturalization) to the names that appear on the list.
Employment-based immigration: this is always going to be a matter of debate. but I think it is best dealt with by increasing the annual numbers of visas available for people in certain professions, and having a panel of eminent labor experts determine whether, for example, dermatologists or Ph.D. chemists or nurses or whatever are in short supply in the US labor market. The panel should be small and serve for a period of about five years, appointed by the Secretary of Homeland Security and the Secretary of Labor, and subject to Congressional review. Frequent turnover and legislative review should aid in objectivity. Once the decisions are finalized for a calendar or fiscal year, throw the whole thing over to US employers (with assurances against fly-by-night employment entities) to advertise in foreign markets. Once the demand for a particular profession has been filled for that year, the process closed for until a new assessment the following year. Unskilled labor should not be included.
“Dreamers:” Make no mistake, these people were brought here as minors through no will of their own and have grown up in the United States, perhaps not knowing their original country. I would not say that the United States owes these people anything, but I see no reason to expel them to countries they knew only as children or infants. This is not the action of a great, benevolent nation. I would let them stay, provided they were otherwise qualified (no criminals, etc.) and grant them limited rights of residency and citizenship–any simple regularization will be seen by a significant part of the domestic population of the US as amnesty, and abroad as another victory for those who persist as illegals for a long enough time. So grant them probationary resident status, right to work, live, leave and return to the US as tourists or whatever, etc., like everyone else, except no automatic path to citizenship. they could petition for citizenship after a long period of probationary residency–say, 10 years, and when and if they became citizens with squeaky clean records, they could then petition any foreign relative any citizen could, which would let them bring back their parents.
Last, but not least, birthright citizenship. There is a lot of hot air about this issue, but it is in fact currently a closed discussion, because by Section One of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution, which states, simply, that
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States…”
Interestingly enough, this is not the all-inclusive manner of gaining citizenship, since the child of a US citizen or citizens born abroad, is held by another section of law, to be a US citizen from birth, under certain conditions. (That’s good for another discussion. Note also that Ted Cruz, the Senator from Texas, was born in Canada, not the US, and got his citizenship by operation of law, not the 14th Amendment.) Also, children born in the United States to foreign parents in certain diplomatic statuses are not US citizens, because they are not “subject to the jurisdiction thereof…”
So, back to the 14th, this is open and shut, unless the Amendment itself is amended. It was originally enacted in 1868 to settle the question of citizenship of the (recently-freed) African-Americans, primarily, though not exclusively, in the ex-Confederate states. It vacated the infamous Dred Scott Supreme Court decision of 1857 that declared black persons could not be American citizens.
However, in 1868, there were not such occurrences as tourist excursions organized in foreign countries for the express purpose of having pregnant women travel to US soil to give birth, thus conferring on the infant US citizenship for life. Such tours are popular in China, but other individuals travel to the US with the same objective from many other countries; the idea is to give the child an “out” in case his/her home country goes south at some point in the future; coincidentally, as nativists point out all the time, the child, once he/she is 21, can petition these same parents for US residency.
The solution (if you think this needs a solution) is to add another amendment to the Constitution that amends section 1 of the 14th to add the following qualifications after the phrase “… are citizens of the United States”:
“…provided that one or both of the biological parents of such a child has been legally admitted to the United States in some status other than a temporary visitor or other temporary nonimmigrant.”
That’s enough. I hope this starts a lively discussion.