Friday, August 6, 2010

Fantasy Immigration Policy

This is how I'd go about trying to fix the immigration policy.  By fix, I mean fulfilling as many expressed policy goals as fully as possible.  This is written with no consideration for existing law, while I'm unsure I believe that the tax provision at least would likely face difficulties with existing legislation, other portions likely would as well.  This is the advantage to being a blogger and not a legislator.  I'd list those interests as the following:

Provide America with a workforce it needs given demographic changes
Maintain our international obligations and reputation (asylum mostly)
Minimize regulatory burden and business uncertainty
Promote labor mobility
Reduce impact on the budget
Provide long term revenue
Assimilate new immigrants
Reduce smuggling
Protect against security threats (terrorism etc.)
Prevent crime (as in street level, thefts, assaults, etc.)
Distinguish between security threats and benign traffic
Create opportunities for the American workforce

Part 1: End the Quota System
The quota system places an undue administrative burden on the state as well as making it difficult to distinguish between legitimate security threats and benign immigration.  Furthermore it is simply philosophically unsound to apply quotas to people when rationing is not enforced by physical constraints.  The most basic reason being that it is essentially arbitrary which engenders contempt for the law, even using the point system, because there will be equally well qualified individuals who are permitted in and who are not with no promises to those who were not permitted in.  Expanding on this idea would take too much space so I'll propose an intellectual exercise, imagine if government decided to control pollution not through regulation on vehicles or by imposing gas taxes but by restricting access to public roads by setting up quotas on the number of driver's licenses available each year, would you continue to feel the law was just if your neighbor gets one and you didn't?  The fact that this arbitrariness is applied solely to non-citizens does little to make it more philosophically defensible.

Part 2:  Require Registration
All immigrants would be required to register with the federal government, including immigrants currently illegally within our borders on payment of a small fine (the advantages of this system require registration, providing strong disincentives, while perhaps just, would prevent many of the positive developments of registration).  There would be a requirement of productive activity to remain in the country, this could be a job, marriage, school, voluntary work, and perhaps some other areas.  This would have to be renewed on a yearly basis showing that requirements were met for at least half the previous year, if the requirement isn't met at the time of renewal there would be an additional requirement to fulfill the productive activity requirement within 3 months and submit proof to ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement).

Part 3: Tax
All registered immigrants would be subject to an additional 3% tax on income while they remained under that status.  This tax would cease once an immigrant becomes a permanent resident.  A large portion of these funds would be earmarked for programs designed for new immigrants that will be described below.  This tax serves several purposes.  First, it funds specialized programs for new immigrants, existing citizens should not be responsible for services they will not use directly.  Second, it is a Pigovian tax and creates disincentives for businesses to hire immigrant workers when entirely equivalent workers are available in the US labor pool (indirectly through lowering effective wages, this is charged to the worker, not the business).  Third, it is flexible and can be responsive to changes in labor demand, though to maintain the legitimacy of treating these workers differently any increases should also lead to correspondingly greater budgets for services of interest to immigrants.  Fourth, it would create an incentive for a worker to either eventually return home or to make a priority of fulfilling the requirements to become permanent resident.

Part 4: Updated Permanent Residence Laws
Permanent residence requirements would be extended to include English language requirements (or alternately American Sign Language, other waivers may be necessary in some cases), a minimum of 1 year of residency as a registered immigrant, no criminal history (with a possible waiver for misdemeanor or less after the passage of several years), and passing a basic test on US history and culture to help promote integration within the broader community.  The effort required to achieve this minimum requirements will provide a disincentive for immigrants who simply wish to avoid a small tax from going through the effort while providing a strong incentive for an immigrant desiring longer term residence to work on skills needed for integration in the community.

Part 5: New Immigration Programs
Using money from the new tax programs would be developed to aid immigrants.  These would involve English language classes or subsidies for all registered immigrants and permanent residents, bi-lingual education for immigrant's families, a relocation program funding a move back to the country of origin for immigrants which so desire (this would be capped), and a job matching program for immigrants that would like to come over as temporary workers that would help them to have employment prior to arrival (ideally with offices in countries having high levels of immigration to the US).  Funds would also go towards enhanced law enforcement activities against groups which seek to exploit immigrants, such as prostitution and drug smuggling rings.  The victims would be provided with counseling and given the option of repatriation or going through the standard immigration process (the exploiters would obviously be punished to the full extent of the law).

Part 6: Access to Services
Registered immigrants would receive access to most basic services, exceptions would be made for unemployment insurance and other transfers until permanent residence status is attained.  This serves two purposes.  First, it provides an incentive to register to receive basic services such as a drivers licenses.  Second it provides incentives to work towards permanent residence to attain full access to services.  The restrictions should, along with the increased revenue provisions, assuage fears that immigration will be a net drain on the Treasury.

Part 7: Enforcement
Shifting to these mechanisms would do a great deal to make enforcement easier, even without additional considerations.  There would be little incentive for a law abiding immigrant to enter illegally, too many advantages would now be available to a legal immigrant.  To help insure this would be the case, immigrants who fail to register should be subject to severe penalties, including the potential for a permanent ban on them achieving legal status.  Immigrants entering illegally would be much more likely to be engaged in illegal activity allowing security forces to focus on those that pose the biggest threats.  Immigrant communities would also become much more likely to assist law enforcement since they would no longer have to fear legal action.  There would furthermore be an additional funding stream if additional resources prove necessary.  Businesses would also benefit from decreased regulatory costs since there would be less incentives for immigrants to commit fraud, removing a source of some uncertainty and of workforce turnover.

That's pretty much it.  I'll add a subsequent post if I think of anything more I'd like to add.  If by some miracle a politician reads this and proposes it I believe this could solve most of our problems.  It would make border enforcement a doable, rather than impossible task.  It would end what reality there is to the contention that immigrants are a net drain on revenue.  Incentives would be provided to assimilation, countering those critiques.  Otherwise law abiding immigrants that are currently illegal would no longer have to fear the law and could become full members of their communities. Strong incentives would be provided to foreign students that have already completed their education here to stay, most of the bureaucracy would have been reduced to a straightforward registration process that would be well funded through a dedicated revenue stream.  Business would have a more secure workforce with less turnover as well as less regulatory burden since verification is shifted to the individual not the workplace.  It would be easier for immigrants in unstable circumstances to leave, reducing the possibility that workers would stay here despite unemployment.  I could probably add some more positives if I wished.  I also have trouble seeing much downside, though there may be something of a net increase in immigration this would be partially offset by an easier outflow.


  1. Sounds good. I'm still with arming the INS with a copy machine and a xeroxable work visa to hand out to anyone that passes a criminal background check and a TB test.

  2. Yeah, I'd be all for that. I just don't think it addresses a lot of concerns people have (that I don't share). I think this is what workable reform would actually look like if we ever get it. Since we still have the unworkable drug war going on though I have little faith that just because something is impossible to do that we'll stop trying in favor of workable policy.