The good news coming out of the Republican Party’s Principles for Immigration Reform released this afternoon is that the prospects for passing immigration reform were not further degraded. At first glance, it looks like they provide a decent platform to move reform forward. There is even substantial agreement between the two parties on a few key issues. But principles don’t give details, and where they give indications they still leave us with questions.
Let’s take them in order.
Border Security and Interior Enforcement
The GOP principles say the border has to be secured first and declare “a zero tolerance policy for those who cross the border illegally or overstay their visas” after the reform. One has to wonder to what extent deportations will change in practice under a zero tolerance system. And securing the border first begs a few questions: Or what? Does all incremental legislation offered depend on first declaring the border secure? What percent secure do Republicans want, and what is reasonable in practice? A requirement that the border be 100% secure would be both impossible and insincere.
Pro-immigration reformers might be squeamish about including language that specifies a zero tolerance policy for future illegals, but as long as the end result of the process is many more visas – both green cards and temporary work visas – that alleviate the incredible demand for access to the United States, there is nothing inherently wrong about inflating enforcement measures. More visas means border enforcement will be much easier since fewer people will try to enter the country illegally.
The Republican principles also call for an entry-exit visa tracking system, which seems entirely reasonable. If Facebook can handle the amount of “checking in” that goes on everyday, the United States should be able to figure out where you entered the country and where you left.
At first glance, E-Verify seems like a no-brainer: Employers run potential employees’ Social Security numbers to verify that they are eligible to work. But many privacy advocates are wary of a system that gives the government control over the ability to hire. They look at the error rate of current E-Verify employment checks and forecast a few million people a year being caught in employment limbo for something that is not their fault.
Their fears are well intentioned but slightly overblown, or at least easily remedied. Even if the government gets a few E-Verify checks wrong, the simple presumption by the government that the employee is legal until proven illegal would allow employers to continue with the hiring process while the mistakes are remedied – which is how it works now with the voluntary system. E-Verify is okay as long as it continues to be monitored with a skeptical eye.