Immigration Reform Should Start with Legal Immigration, Border Security
Before embarking on yet another "comprehensive" legislative effort, Congress should learn from the failures of Obamacare and start with incremental fixes that prioritize the most urgent problems. On immigration, the most urgent priorities are border and visa security, plus the ongoing failures of a legal immigration system that struggles to bring law-abiding, skilled, and would-be patriotic Americans to the United States.
The legal immigration process is unduly long, overly complex, and baffling in its inefficiency. Making matters worse is the fact that U.S. Immigration and Citizenship Services (USCIS) are overwhelmed by the task of implementing President Barack Obama's so-called "Dream Act by fiat." Call centers have prioritized "Dreamers" calling to register for "provisional unlawful presence waivers" to keep deportation at bay.
In addition, forms submitted to USCIS can take an inordinate amount of time to more through the system. Applicants can pay extra to apply for an expedited process. They can also hire a lawyer, which can cost thousands of dollars, who may know better how the system works (or doesn't). Or they can turn to a member of Congress for help, as many do, creating a sense of dependence on public representatives.
Millions have endured the difficulties of the legal immigration process. But there are many who give up, and who opt for other countries--notably Canada, which has many of the economic advantages of the U.S. (more, lately) with an immigration process that prioritizes skills. The U.S. should adopt a similar process and place skilled legal immigrants at the front of the line once again, both legislatively and administratively.
The problem of what to do about illegal aliens currently living in the U.S. is a serious one--and one that most Americans would like to see resolved through some sort of process that allows them to become citizens, but only after the borders are secure, so that this "amnesty" is the last. That may be too great a challenge for a government that remains deeply divided, and that is likely to stay that way through 2016.
But if there is common ground to be found between the Silicon Valley donors pouring millions into the Democrats' coffers, and the conservative House members who want to hold the line against illegal immigration, it is in making the legal immigration process easier. A smaller bill that aims to achieve that--and no more--could pass both houses, if the President and Senate would negotiate in good faith.