I’m not a political junkie (anymore) and I try not to follow all the feints and counter-offers and posturing and whatnot that comprises so much of political discourse, but at this point the momentum for immigration reform in Washington seems really to be bearing fruit. A deal has been made. The New York Times celebrates:
Huge news from the scorched desert of immigration reform: germination!
At last there is a bill, the product of a bipartisan group of senators who have been working on it for months, that promises at least the hope of citizenship for 11 million undocumented immigrants. It is complicated, full of mechanisms and formulas meant to tackle border security, the allocation of visas, methods of employment verification and the much-debated citizenship path…
There will be much to chew on in coming weeks, but it is worth a moment to marvel at the bill’s mere existence, and at the delicate balancing of competing interests that coaxed this broad set of compromises into being…
The bill gets around the “amnesty” stalemate by turning the undocumented into Registered Provisional Immigrants — not citizens or green-card holders, but not illegal, either. They will wait in that anteroom for a decade at least before they can get green cards. But they will also work, and travel freely. The importance of legalizing them, erasing the crippling fear of deportation, cannot be overstated.
Yes! Deportation is a particular disgraceful feature of the American polity, and it will be a tremendous moral relief to have it, if not permanently and generally abolished, at least abolished for most of the millions who live under the threat of it now. The Times deplores the length and difficulty of the path to citizenship:
That said, a decade-plus path is too long and expensive. The fees and penalties stack up: $500 to apply for the first six years of legal status, $500 to renew, then a $1,000 fine. If the goal is to get people on the books and the economy moving, then shackling them for years to fees and debt makes no sense.
The means of ejection from the legalization path, too, cannot be arbitrary and unjust — people should not be disqualified for minor crimes or failure to meet unfair work requirements. It should not take superhuman strength and rectitude, plus luck and lots of money, for an immigrant to march the 10 years to a green card.
Here I’m ambivalent, except about the “means of ejection” sentence. You can’t justly deport someone just because they don’t want a job, and to deport someone for, say, a speeding ticket, is a violation of just proportionality. My sympathies lie with a relatively short and easy path to citizenship. But reason tells me that if your goal is an immigration regime that is simultaneously incentive-compatible and humane, you can’t make the path to citizenship easy. And $500 here and $1,000 there are nothing compared to the income gains that immigrants to the US typically enjoy, though I’d prefer to see money extracted from immigrants in the form of taxes attached to earnings rather than as lump-sum fines and fees, so we can raise more revenue from those doing relatively well while mitigating the hardship we cause for the poorest immigrants. Continue reading The Gang of 8 immigration deal