In my first post on Immigration, I addressed the theological reasons why Christians should engage in immigration issues.

In my second post on Immigration, I addressed some common sentiments about immigration by clarifying the historical and present immigration realities.

In this third post I will address what is being proposed in Comprehensive Immigration Reform. There is a lot of confusion and misinformation about this term. We must have an accurate understanding of the proposal if we are going to evaluate the proposal. It is not as dramatic as what we hear on cable news shows, but it is a realistic plan.

Four General Components of Comprehensive Immigration Reform

1. Reduce the backlogs for family immigration.

The waiting lists for people seeking to reunite with their families in the United States are tremendous. A spouse is on a  waiting list for at least six months. Children are on waiting list for at least three years, and if that child gets married the wait becomes decades long. A nation that values families must do better than that. Around one-third of undocumented immigrants have a family member here legally. Part of the problem is our current laws do not meet the current needs.

2. Make it more difficult to enter and work in the USA.

C.I.R. is not a call for “open borders.” Current reform proposals include making our borders more secure. These proposals also recognize the reality that most immigrants come here for work. Our current policies make it very difficult to work here legally, but fairly easy to work here illegally. Think about your Social Security Card – you could have made that on your old Vic-20 computer in 1985! We should require more secure documentation for employment. We also need to hold employers responsible for who they hire. Today, enforcement of employment laws  almost exclusively means deporting the workers. We must make hiring undocumented workers too risky and too costly for employers. Until we do enforce our hiring laws for employers, there will be jobs for undocumented workers.  And as long as there are jobs here, people will come – it does not matter how big the wall is.

3. Make it easier to enter and work in the USA in ways that benefit the USA.

While entering the United States because of family is difficult, entering the country legally for work is an even greater challenge. Employment Green Cards are given primarily to upper skill level positions. However, the employment market is very clear that we need more low-skill laborers.  Many of those roles are already filled by people who are here illegally. It would benefit everyone to have those roles filled by citizens or legalized immigrants. We need to adjust the laws to fit our reality and the needs of our economy. Many people say that we also need more openings for high-skilled workers. When an American high-tech firm can not find an American citizen for a position, and they can not bring the right person in on a Green Card, then they must either eliminate that position or employ that person in another country. Neither of those options are good for America.

4. Establish a way for immigrants who are here illegally to earned legalization. While there are variations of this plan looks like, most C.I.R advocates envision: a reasonable fine, a background check, temporary status during the process, and placement in line behind the family backlog.  C.I.R. is not a call for amnesty. It is not a proposal to forgetting that laws were broken. This proposal includes openness, penalty, and a process that is fair to other legal immigrants and citizens.  It is also far more realistic than deporting everyone who is here illegally today. The “put them on a bus” approach is not practically possible or economically feasible, and it’s impact upon families and the economy would be devastating. Earned legalization is the best way forward.

Thanks again to Matt Soerens for clarifying these issues.

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Our opinion on Comprehensive Immigration Reform is shaped by our understanding of the history and present reality of immigration in America. Below are some popular statements in the immigration discussion. I have said some of them in the past. More accurate observations on immigration follow each statement.

“My ancestors came here legally, they should too.”

Immigration laws are radically different from when most of our ancestors came to the United States. We basically had open boarders until the 1880s, when the first restrictions, targeted at Chinese immigrants, went into place. While our families are full of inspiring stories of immigration, most of them do not include the current legal barriers. Now, though, our laws are very restrictive and make it impossible for many immigrants to enter lawfully.

“We already have good laws, they just need to be followed and enforced.”

We do have laws, and some of them were good when they were originally written. However, many of them need updated to match our current reality. That is the point of reform, to make it better! Part of the problem of enforcement is that the current laws do not match the current needs of the nation.

There are four ways to enter the nation on a green card. All of them have significant weaknesses. Family – years or decades on a waiting list. Employment – almost exclusively for advanced degrees, but employment trends show a need for low skilled workers. Diversity – by nature excludes areas of highest demand. Refugee – surprisingly difficult to prove, the number granted are only a small fraction of the number in tremendous need.

“Comprehensive Immigration Reform just another piece of the dangerous leftist agenda.”

The current reform legislation in discussion, written with Lindsey Graham, is more “conservative” than the version championed by George W. Bush and John McCain four years ago. None of those names are darlings of the “far-left.” I was recently on a conference call with a large group of conservatives, including Richard Land of the Southern Baptist Ethics and Policy wing, who are calling for comprehensive immigration reform. They see a need to reform the system for “conservative values” of family, economy, and security.

“Those people are taking away our jobs.” / “Those people are lazy and want to live off the system.”

Obviously those statements can’t both be true!

Immigrants are generally very hard-working. Many of them come here for work. The majority of immigrants working illegally, 75%, are paying taxes (often with a false Social Security Number, which will never be valid for obtaining any benefits under current law). Those payments account for $6 to $7 billion per year. The IRS has even created an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) for immigrants without a valid Social Security Number to file taxes, and many, many do each year.

Most employers want to get a good employee for the job at a low-cost. Some employers say that immigrants are willing to work jobs that American citizens will not. Some employers hire undocumented workers as a way to avoid labor laws, with little risk of being penalized.

“Those people are the cause of surging crime rates.” / “Those people are ruining our economy.”

People said the same things about all of our ancestors when they came here.

There is no data that shows immigrants are any more likely to commit crimes than citizens.

Immigrant workers are a crucial piece of our economy (See previous point.).

“Immigration is out of control right now!”

There were higher rates of immigrants one hundred years ago – the “golden years” for those of us who’s families came to America in the early 1900s. Immigration is actually down now. The overall flow at the USA – Mexico border is actually going to the south. Granted, most experts attribute that shift to the economic recession in America.

Thanks to Matt Soerens for clarifying these issues.