By Ric Llewellyn
Why do we need "comprehensive immigration reform?" Why do we need any immigration reform? Seriously, what is the need we have as a nation that drives changing our current laws on immigration and naturalization?
Maybe we are trying to solve a problem we don't even have.
What we have is a rambling, eclectic federal Code to regulate immigration. I guess it was Congress's best attempt at fulfilling its Constitutional commission to establish a "uniform rule of naturalization."
Chapter 12 of Title 8 of the U.S. Code is the substance of the "uniform rule." It is horrendously long and complicated. Although it is page after page of typical statutory jargon, it is a system that organizes and regulates immigration and naturalization in the U.S.
Certainly it could be faster and easier to make application to enter the country. It could be clearer who we will and will not allow to enter. And there could be more powerful and more practical deterrents against disregarding the law on immigration.
But as we have seen before, the political climate is working against one rational uniform rule for immigration and naturalization.
At one time politics dictated that we exclude Asians or Africans. At another time politics compelled us to exclude Eastern and Southern Europeans.
The political climate in the early twentieth century drove the exclusion of "anarchists." But by the end of the century politics drove amnesty and citizenship for Central and South Americans who hadn't followed any of the rules.
Here we are again. Politics is driving change to the immigration law. And political needs may be the worst reason to make a change. Just look at the wild swings from the days of Chinese exclusion to the days of amnesty.
If we have an economic need, let's address it. Do we need seasonal workers? Do we need medical doctors? Do we need engineers? Then we should reform the law to encourage and facilitate their immigration according to those needs.
Is there a social need immigration law can address? Perhaps we want to exclude criminals or take in orphans. Let's change the law to make sure it happens.
Perhaps the general welfare of the nation would be best served by limiting the number of people entering the country each year. All Congress has to do is change the law to support that need.
The reality is that our immigration code is set up like that now. Perhaps it is slow and complicated. That's a bureaucracy problem that doesn't require scrapping all we have in place.
It may be awkward and difficult to enforce. That's an implementation problem that just needs focus and commitment.
We already have a comprehensive, practical and reasonable rule of naturalization. We need better administration.
So what is the real reason there is a call for "comprehensive reform"? Millions of unauthorized immigrants are living and working in the United States and we don't have a way to deal with it.
Rounding them up and deporting them seems heartless and inhumane. But a 1986-style amnesty is probably not the answer either.
Let's face it. People come here for economic opportunity. In other words, their countries of origin offer no hope for them and their families. Many come here never intending to become citizens. They simply want to earn a living.
We should partner with the top 10 countries of origin to follow the current rules for immigration. Let's offer amnesty from any criminal or civil liability in exchange for beginning the immigration process in compliance with today's laws.
The countries of origin need to step up and properly document their citizens' exits from their countries. Our government will have to get busy and apply the criteria for admittance and status. Unauthorized immigrants will become documented -- not by the wave of a magic pen -- but through compliance with our immigration code.
People will self-select for citizenship or for visitor status or for status as a student. If we need more categories, we can write them into law. Millions who are here illegally may not even want to become citizens. They should have that choice.
Our "need" for reform is the result of a long and irresponsible laissez faire attitude toward unauthorized entry into the country. It is time for real leaders to create a plan that respects the federal code on naturalization. Instead of once again throwing up our hands and resetting the illegal immigrant counter to zero, we need to make residency and citizenship something that is treasured and respected.
-- Ric Llewellyn is one of three community columnists whose work appears here every Saturday. These are the opinions of Llewellyn, not necessarily The Californian. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Next week: Heather Ijames.