I Was an Illegal Immigrant

My buddy Shaquille A. Hayford (the A. is for Albino) has posted his perspective on the current immigration debate. Now before I link you over to his post, I want to provide you with his credentials to be speaking about this issue with knowledge and fairness (ideally, we should all be able to judge ideas based completely on their own merit, but practically is another matter): he grew up bilingual, son of a white pastor of a spanish-speaking church in south Texas, left a job as a youth pastor at a cushy suburban church in beautiful San Diego to be assistant pastor again with his dad, he has an extensive history of ministering all over Mexico as a preacher and missionary, and he married a Mexican woman (and persevered through all the required legal channels to secure her citizenship). That doesn't sound to me like somebody who hates Mexicans. Anyways, here is his perspective.

This spurred me to capture my own thoughts on the issue, which are also informed by my personal experience as an illegal immigrant. You see, a few years back, I accepted a job offer in England (where limejelly works), which required that I obtain a work permit. The paperwork did not happen in time, and I had to eventually buy my plane ticket, and go on over to England (where my American passport guarantees me legal entrance as a tourist).

Seeing all of my luggage, the customs official was a little suspicious of whether I was actually just a tourist. He eventually let me pass (as a tourist), warning me very explicitly that I may not work until I obtain my permit, and if it were to fall through, I must leave the country.

When I showed up at work to find out how the paperwork was coming along (not to try and work), they reminded me very explicitly that they could not put me on the payroll without a work permit, and I would just have to wait.

After (fortunately) only a few days, the permit arrived, but I still could not work until I entered the country through an official customs Port of Entry, with my permit in hand. So T & I took a few-day vacation, hopping a ferry to Amsterdam, seeing some sights (the Van Gogh museum was excellent!), and ferrying back to England, thus arriving through a customs process.

At this point, I had a work permit, I was legal to work and get paid, from which was deducted income tax, as well as tax to pay for my participation in their socialized medicine (which also came with the equivalent of a SSN). I was also explicitly warned that my work permit in no way entitled me to any English welfare benefits (beyond health care, which I was taxed for).

So it would seem that England takes their immigration laws seriously (although probably only because I took them seriously — I have heard that England has a tremendous problem with "Asian" (Indian/Pakistani) illegal immigrants). I think we can too.

As AlbinoShaq states, no plan can succeed without first securing our borders. Lock them down to legal entrants only, and then we can deal with our existing problem. And here's how I think that could be done:

Set a date for full compliance, maybe a year or two out. Within this window, enforcement of immigration laws will continue at their present level of virtual nonexistence (employers are not required to verify work eligibility documentation, illegals can find work (pretty easily, or else they wouldn't keep coming!), illegals can congregate in public around Home Depots and "Migrant Worker Centers", with no fear of any action by police, border patrol, or INS, etc.).

During this window, illegals will have the opportunity to apply for guest worker status. When they receive their paperwork, they will report to the nearest port of entry, and officially enter the country as legal workers. Because of the number of illegals all over the country without resources to travel out of the country and back, provision can be made at every international airport in the country to be security-escorted into the line of arriving international passengers, to be subjected to the standard customs processing. Once they are in the country legally, they will provide their documentation to their employers.

When the date of full compliance arrives,

  • Any person in the country illegally is eligible for immediate deportation, and appropriate agencies will take proactive steps to enforce this.
  • All U.S. employers are required to have up-to-date, verified work eligibility documentation for all their workers, and appropriate agencies will take proactive steps to enforce this for problem industries (agriculture, service, …). This will be a non-issue for most employers (everybody I ever worked for required a copy of my birth certificate or passport to verify my eligibility to work legally)
  • Any additional non-citizens who wish to work in the U.S. can apply for the guest worker program, which will continue as before, except they will have to pass U.S. customs by actually arriving from outside the U.S.

For this scheme to work,

  • The guest worker application process must be sufficiently funded and well-administered so that all the applicants can reasonably complete the process within the allowable time window.
  • After the compliance date, the immigration laws have to be strictly enforced, first against employers (who are easier to track down), and second against illegals (who will go away on their own if they are unable to find work).
  • During the application period, everybody has to believe that the laws are going to be enforced — the only incentive for an illegal to participate in the process is to avoid being deported; the incentive for employers is to not have their businesses shut down.

Would it work? I think it could. Will it happen? I doubt it. I predict a repeat of '86: massive amnesty, followed by no enforcement, landing us in the same situation in another 20 years. Or sooner.

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