A New Immigration Policy
The debate about immigration is bogged down in a discussion of punishment and reward. If you allow illegal aliens to stay, then you are rewarding them; if you deport people who are living honest and productive lives, then you are punishing them for the circumstances of their arrival when it is rather murky whether people who have arrived here over the generations were fleeing persecution or coming here to better their economic conditions even though crossing oceans meant that only aliens allowed to enter the country would get in. Now that immigrants are coming in over the Rio Grande, which is somewhat narrower than the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans, it is harder to keep illegal immigrants out. You may want to rant about that, from one side or another, conservatives saying it should make no difference, a border is a border, and liberals saying, we have to face facts and go with the flow. Either way, you end up with the usual opposition: conservatives are tough- minded, and liberals are bleeding hearts.
Let us try an end run around the punishment or reward debate by looking at an attribute of immigrants that may provide some leverage on the problem. Whether immigrants are legal or illegal, children born to them are American citizens, even if their parents arenít. Indeed, it is a safe bet that the reason the immigrants came to this country was to provide their children with a better way of life and the security that comes from living in America. (Mexico also has gangs and fewer ways to escape from gangs.) Now, imagine what would happen if we took the most anti-immigration position possible and decided to deport all the illegals. What would happen to their children? Well, some would go back to the country of parental origin along with their parents. But what if the parents left them behind on the grounds that they were born here, are American citizens, and so it is the responsibility of the American government to provide for them now that their parents are gone?
We purportedly take our responsibilities to our own citizens somewhat more seriously than we take our responsibilities to illegal immigrants. So we would have to provide some form of assistance to the American citizens who are orphaned as a result of the deportations, wouldnít we? We could establish orphanages for these youngsters; we could try to get them adopted by legal immigrants or by citizens. Another thing we could do, the simplest thing to do, would be to use their natural parents as their caregivers. They would be allowed to stay in this country so as they are tending an American citizen, evinced in part by the fact that they support these children. That way, the American taxpayer would be spared the cost of welfare or orphanages. It is very much what we did with welfare recipients before the draconian revision of the program in 1995: we paid mothers what was called Aid for Dependant Children. It wasnít a salary, just a subvention so that the children would not be burdens on society. It is a shame we did not provide the same subvention to fathers or provide them with jobs so they could support their families, but that is all water under the bridge now. We are talking here, as I say. of children rightfully here because they were born here and no one can take away their right to citizenship, however dastardly were the ways their parents got here to have these American citizens.
So the moral or legal basis for a program of licensing illegal aliens to remain in the country is clear. We are providing for their children, not for them, and so not punishing or rewarding people for anything, unless you think people will come here and deliberately have children just so they can stay. People have children for all sorts of reasons, some of them having to do with universal motives like lust and affection, and sometimes more practical, like keeping a father out of the World War II draft. Whatever the motives, having a child once in the United States is an indication that the family regards having come here as a permanent move rather than as a temporary one to raise a little cash before going back. Families intending to support their children are likely to be more stable and law abiding than single people, who you may well want to deport if you catch them.
Now look at the consequences of this policy. First of all, those illegals licensed to take care of their own children are subject to scrutiny because they have come forward to get their licenses and have to get them renewed. That means you can look into their employment and so bring some light onto whether they are being exploited in the workplace. Remember, they donít have to leave until their children are, let us say, of majority age, and you could all them to remain for life, pensioned off as ex-child carers, that an incentive for doing the job well for up to eighteen years, which is longer than the time it would take for people to qualify for citizenship under any of the amnesty plans.
Keeping tack of this large body of illegals also allows for providing the public health and other services that are useful if the children are to become productive citizens. Remember, they already are citizens; you are not giving them anything they arenít entitled to as a matter of right. That means a population that may have within it a large number of families subject to the strains of poverty are going to get services that may alleviate those strains. Remember, again, that the government would not be supporting these families; being self supporting is a condition for the caretakers to remain in this country. All it means is that the families would be available for the supplementary services, such as day care and health insurance, which are not available to Americans who are relatively poor. The per capita cost of dealing with the at least relatively poor would be much less if you were covering neither the cost of maintenance (which was the case under welfare) nor the cost of residential facilities (what would happen if you opened up orphanages or foster care for the children left behind by deported illegals).
These illegal immigrants cum caretakers, never to be considered for citizenship, can live out their days here without the ability to vote or avoid scrutiny, not a bad trade off for people who want economic security more than anything else. That may satisfy conservative critics who rightly think that citizenship is not something to be bestowed lightly but a privilege to be earned if you are not born here. It may not satisfy liberal critics who think it is a bad idea to have a body of people living here who can never qualify for citizenship, but it will provide them with many of the perks of citizenship, such as a driverís license or a medical insurance card, measures that are both humanitarian and in the public interest. Illegals with tuberculosis can infect citizens, and is being illegal a sufficient reason to allow people who have not even committed a felony to suffer? Whatever you think of the illegals, though, the terms of the debate would shift from punishment and reward to what we owe to those youngsters who are, after all, American citizens.