By Rev Robin Hoover PhD

          Presidents, candidates, and nominees have shown a stunning lack of imagination in trying to reform immigration.  The two approaches that dominate hark back to the efforts of McCain-Kennedy in 2007.  Those efforts try to take-in the people who are here and somehow magically make them like us.  That’s cultural imperialism.  And, they try to militarize the border to repel all others.  These efforts destroy the environment, support cartels, and disrupt trade and families.  All the efforts end up killing migrants by channeling them through inhospitable terrain. 

            Another way is possible.  Few deny that something should be done about the status of migrants who are already living and working in the US.  Some argue for paths to citizenship, others for some temporary status, others promote a plan to deport everyone.  Few deny the economic realities that the US has adjusted to a significant pool of migrant labor.  My friends and colleagues argue for a plan that combines market forces, human rights, and enforcement that allows migrants to share the joys and costs of migration while reducing costs in the US, expanding human rights, and creating more order along the border. 

            First, as a matter of justice, something must be done for those who are here.  When the US legalized millions in the early 90s as part of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 supported by Republican President Ronald Reagan, the migrants were subjected to 30 minute interviews and very little scrutiny of records and papers. In our plan, they are reviewed for an hour, and the examination includes sharing intelligence from sending communities in other countries, checks with local enforcement, extensive document inspections, and an eye for how long they intend to be in the US.  In exchange, the US offers a long-term visa the length of which is determined by the interview.  That legal status is not tied to a path to citizenship.  The migrant can choose to get into the citizenship line if he or she chooses.  At the end of the visa, say, 4-6-8-12 years, depending on the interview, if the migrant does not self-deport in compliance with the visa, he or she becomes a federal fugitive.  This process does not require migrants to return to the country of origin and then apply.  It recognizes that many are here to work for a relatively short period of time, anyway, and have no desire to become citizens.  That reduces the numbers of foreign born in the US census.  That is a goal of many critics, but does so in a responsible way.

            Second, there must be increased legal opportunities for our neighbors to share in and expand the US economy.  Sending countries can do background checks and examine migrants for skills, knowledge, and ability to work in the US.  Syndicates, labor unions, and job bosses can work together across the border to train workers.  Visas are granted.  The visas allow the migrants to be open and public, to purchase insurance, to obtain a license to drive, to fully participate in the economy.  Migrants use public transportation and not the desert.  Money is taken from the pockets of the cartels.  With the visa in the pocket of the migrant instead of the employer, the human rights of the migrant greatly increase. 

Upon entry into the US, the migrants put up a hefty bond, say $4,000 with the IRS.  At each pay period, 10% of the gross is withheld and added to the bond.  Using Pew Hispanic Center numbers, at the end of a 30 month visa, for example, on average, a migrant would have doubled the bond to $8,000.  When the visa expires, the migrant and the money goes back to the country of origin.  They keep families together.  They take money into the poorest parts of the sending countries.  We export US business, US culture, US language, and we strengthen ties with sending countries.  If the migrant is not in compliance, the funds are forfeited to federal law enforcement, creating what is in effect, a bounty.  With $8,000 (half of what it currently costs to deport someone), law enforcement can pay for most apprehensions with the migrant’s own money.  Officers can go after an individual instead of profiling a whole population.  Employers who persist in hiring the same migrant could be seriously fined.  All of these ideas combine to create the first ever economic incentive for migrants to comply with the terms of their visas.  Today, nearly one-half of all persons in the US who are in undocumented status are persons who arrived and did not comply with the terms of their visas. 

The vast majority of US citizens want there to be a way for migrants to make it here in the US, and they want there to be a way to integrate our economies.  They also know that poor neighbors don’t make us more secure.  A number of human rights and humanitarian groups along the border welcome opportunities to show the border to Congressional staffers, to candidates, and to concerned peoples in a way that dramatically differs from the severely confused vision of the Department of Homeland Security which also lacks from a vision of the inevitable future. 

Founder and President Emeritus of Humane Borders, Inc.

Recipient of Mexico’s National Human Rights Award

Retired pastor and political philosopher