As some of us have seen, and many more have heard, 84Lumber ran an “ad” last night during the Super Bowl wherein their takeaway message at the end of a nearly 6 minute long video was “the will to succeed is always welcome here”.
A noble sentiment, to be sure…except for the part where, in their video, the “will to succeed” was illustrated as two supposedly Mexican nationals (sympathetically portrayed as a mother and her little girl) encountering a border wall…and then entering the United States illegally.
This ad has drawn admirers and critics both. Personally, I think breaking our laws is wrong and American companies supporting the portrayal of such, even with characters designed to be heart-tugging (right down to the little girl knitting a United States flag out of discarded garbage) is irresponsible and wrong. Skip for a moment that the corporation (a member of a usually demonized and evil group) who produced the touching Super Bowl spot is a lumber company that would like to sell even more of their lumber to the number two employer of illegal labor in our country, the construction industry, so they could make ever greater profit. This self-serving fact is conveniently missed by those who are cheering this ad for the sensitive and thoughtful message of how we should welcome anyone who wants to come to our country regardless of whether they observe our laws doing so or not. However, setting aside this curious bit of dogmatic blindness, I do believe we have a real issue with regard to illegal immigration to our country.
People who support such an ad as the one 84Lumber did like to point to our history as a receiver of other country’s “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free” and believe that people streaming unchecked and unknown across our southern border in violation of our laws is the same thing. I could get into a discussion of how it’s clearly not the same thing but that debate is for another time because, as the title of my article states, I Can Fix Illegal Immigration (so no debate would be necessary). My idea is to take the 1900’s example of immigration and apply it to today’s issues.
Back in the early part of the 1900’s, many immigrants to the United States came from overseas and ended up, often times, at Ellis Island. Ellis Island opened in 1892 as a federal immigration station, a purpose it served for more than 60 years (it closed in 1954). From 1900 to 1914, the peak years of Ellis Island’s operation, some 5,000 to 10,000 people passed through the immigration station every day. Approximately 80 percent successfully passed through in a matter of hours. Millions of people came through the station during its operation, an island of only 6 acres (or roughly 4.5 football fields). Most that came to the United States back then came for various reasons: war, drought, famine and religious persecution amongst others. They overwhelmingly had one thing in common: they were poor. They often arrived by paying for a steerage fare (if you’ve seen Titanic, they were the people in the lower levels of the ship) and brought with them only what they could carry. Upon arriving, they were tagged with information from the ship’s registry and passed through long lines for medical and legal inspections to determine if they were fit for entry into the United States. Doctors checked for more than 60 diseases and disabilities that might disqualify them from entry into the United States. Those suspected of being afflicted with or having a disease or disability were marked with chalk and detained for closer examination. Each passenger had to answer up to 31 questions (the answers recorded on manifest lists) before boarding the ship in their home country. The questions included, among others: name, age, sex, marital status, occupation, nationality, ability to read or write, race, physical and mental health, last residence, and the name and address of the nearest relative or friend in the immigrant’s country of origin. Immigrants were asked whether they had at least $25; whether they had ever been in prison, an almshouse, or an institution; or if they were polygamists or anarchists. This information was part of the ship’s registry and passed to United States immigration officials upon arrival.
Immigrants weren’t charged for actually entering the United States but they were screened for diseases, criminal history and ability to contribute to our society (and not be a vagrant or social support case). These are the conditions that proponents of immigration point at as superior examples of what we could be doing today for immigration policy. The trouble is, we don’t have an analog to Ellis Island along our southern border and no way to force people through a funnel like that. Back in the 1900’s the journey had to be made by ship which necessitated landing at a port…aspects our government could and properly did control. A sea border of thousands of miles width, cannot be easily circumvented like an unfenced land border can be.
Before I go further, it’s helpful to understand why people immigrate to the United States illegally. This isn’t about opportunities in the US that don’t exist in their own countries. This is about the barriers to legal immigration to today’s version of the 1900’s “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free”. This interesting article from Bloomberg sums the current immigration dilemma up nicely:
…to hire someone on an H-1B visa, a U.S. employer has to pay about $2,500 in legal fees; a $1,500 training fee; a $1,000 “premium processing” fee; a $500 antifraud fee; a $190 immigration service fee; around $125 in additional incidental costs; and a $100 visa fee. That totals almost $6,000.
Complicated immigration cases can cost eligible applicants $10,000 or more in legal fees alone.
…unauthorized immigrants from Central America pay between $7,000 and $10,000 in smuggling fees to get across the border…often more than once, because they get caught, thrown out, and try to return.
So, how much could—or should—we charge for the right to live and work in the U.S.? Becker suggested the U.S. should let in anyone who can pay $50,000 to Uncle Sam and pass a criminal background check. That may seem like a lot of money, but Miao Chi and Scott Drewianka of the University of Wisconsin estimate that, allowing for factors including age and education, the average recent Mexican immigrant with a green card (permanent resident status) earns roughly $20,000 a year more than the average Mexican immigrant without one (on a more limited visa or undocumented). So, allowing for education, the average immigrant from south of the border would recoup that $50,000 in less than three years.
For those who oppose the very idea of selling citizenship or residence…[t]he current EB-5 visa program gives green cards to people who invest $500,000 and create at least 10 jobs in the U.S. And the proposed (bipartisan) Schumer-Lee bill would provide a residency visa for anyone who simply spends $500,000 on buying a house. So Republicans and Democrats alike in Congress have already thrown their support behind a fee-based immigration system—all there is to haggle over is the price.
That’s a lot to digest but the upshot is that back in 1900’s you merely had to figure out how to pay for a way to get here and, later, have $25 in your pocket. That’s a far cry from the tens of thousands that immigrants, both legal and illegal, spend today to come here. The real issue is: if they are already “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free” they likely don’t have the tens of thousands they need to come here. Our current immigration system is, for lack of a better word, catering to an elite that it didn’t used to. My solution fixes that.
My solution seeks to combine the security, registration and documentation aspects of the old system (which, in the case of illegal immigration, we currently lack) with the economic equality of access we used to have…and apply it to our southern land border. Here’s the solution in bullet point form:
- Along our southern border we build new immigration centers designed to process up to 5000 prospective immigrants each per day. These centers are built AWAY from current urban areas so that infrastructure and building surrounding them can be carefully controlled. The only business taking place in these areas is immigration control and processing. Essentially, copies of Ellis Island times however many we deem necessary.
- To anyone who voluntarily agrees to legally process through these immigration centers we propose the following exchange:
– For registering to enter the country legally and be subject to and successfully pass health and legal inspections you will be given a social security number and a probationary visitor visa good for 5 years.
– During that 5 years you will abide by the laws of the United States. Conviction of a felony during that time period voids your probationary visa and you will be subject to deportation.
– Because we aren’t charging you the $6000 or so in fees we currently charge to existing legal immigrants, you will forfeit federal tax refunds for those 5 probationary years in order to pay for your entry to the United States.
– You will not be eligible for federal social support in the way of welfare or foodstamps.
– You will take part in whatever federal health initiative exists (eg: ACA or whatever that turns into) and will be eligible to receive unemployment compensation provided you qualify via being previously employed in the US.
– At the conclusion of the 5 year probationary period, you will apply for and pass a citizenship test and become an American citizen.
- Enforcement of 8 U.S. Code § 1324a (the federal law against employers knowingly hiring illegal immigrants) will become the top ICE enforcement focus with mandatory penalties for guilty findings.
- Illegal immigrants already inside the United States may not participate in the immigration centers from inside the country. They must exit the country and re-enter and be subject to all health and legal inspections before being allowed to re-enter the United States.
- Impose a 25% export duty on sending funds outside of the United States after 1 duty free transaction per year via methods like Western Union and other currency transfer methods that do not require proof of identity and/or taxation documentation. Legal immigrants will be allowed to open regular bank accounts to bypass use of such services that illegal immigrants use to send funds acquired through illegal labor back to their home countries.
- Finally…with the funds raised through tax refund forfeitures in point 2, penalties acquired via convictions of employers for point 3, funds acquired through drug interdiction efforts at the border and currency export duties in point 5…build a comprehensive border barrier to discourage crossing of the border illegally and encourage participation in immigration centers. Once the barrier is built, the funds used to build the barrier will be dedicated to maintenance of the barrier and immigration centers as well as funding drug interdiction and Native American enhancement initiatives.
All these, put together, create a system wherein we gain the benefits of legal immigration (health and physical security, increasing the taxpaying base, allowing immigrants the ability to benefit from social security via their participation in that program) while offsetting the costs to the immigrant which they likely cannot currently pay. It allows the United States to truly take in the “tired, poor, huddled masses yearning to breathe free” while ensuring that the process is orderly and that our national sovereignty and security is maintained. It ensures that people actually melt in our “melting pot” and commit to becoming Americans.
The thing that has always made the United States different from the Old World was that we ARE made up from different races, ethnicities, religions and that all those differences merged and melded together into defining what an American is. That is what our Founding Fathers wanted, that is what we should also want and strive for.
My name is Euroranger and I approved this message.