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Immigration's good, bad, silly

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POSTED: June 21, 2007 5:04 a.m.
The latest immigration deal is not the final deal. There’s still time to keep the good, get rid of the bad and put up with the silly.
The good: possible better enforcement of immigration law in the future, and a break for people who broke immigration law in the past.
Under the proposed legislation, illegal immigrants who pay fines and back taxes, learn English and stay out of trouble get a temporary Z visa that allows them to apply for permanent residency and eventual citizenship — at the back of the line, behind people who applied legally.
Critics are crying that this is just like the amnesty of 1986, which, as we can see two decades later, failed to stem illegal entries. But the tougher enforcement provisions make today’s proposed reform different. Back in 1986, only 4,000 new Border Patrol agents were added.
This time there will be nearly 14,000 new ones in the next five years, on both borders. There will also be more electronic surveillance, tougher sanctions for employers who hire the undocumented and a requirement for tamper-resistant, biometric green cards.
Enforcement alone is not enough, however. Which brings us to the bad: The proposed immigration law does not recognize the law of supply and demand.
Immigrants will want to come — legally or otherwise — as long they can feed their families with jobs they can’t find at home. The new legislation approaches the economic problem by letting in some 400,000 guest workers for three two-year terms. The problem is that those guest workers do not qualify for permanent residency, so many will go into hiding — creating yet again a population of illegal immigrants. If 20 years from now we are back to living with 12 million illegals, why bother with any legislation to begin with?
Another dilemma is the heavy cost of fines and processing fees, which can add up to $19,000 for a family of four. Yes, illegal immigrants should pay a high price for admission. But if that price is unaffordable for the family of the guy mowing the lawn, then, once again, what is the point of passing the legislation?
Then there is the silly: the requirement that illegal immigrants go to their nation of origin and reapply for legal entry. When this “touchback” idea was first brought up, there was no guarantee the applicant would be allowed back. This meant most people would have stayed in hiding rather than risk the trip.
Under the latest version, illegal immigrants will get that Z visa before departing, which lets them back in right away. So it’s just a matter of dropping off papers at the consulate — pretty easy for the majority of illegal immigrants who only need to cross the border into Mexico.
What shape will the final deal take? Even the most ardent proponents of earned legalization are not predicting victory — fear of the A-word might still be strong enough to stop the whole thing. But everybody I talked to, on both sides of the issue, thinks that if something does pass, it will offer some sort of path to legalization, tortuous though it might be.

Hernandez is a syndicated columnist and writer-in-residence at New Jersey Institute of Technology.
 

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