11.28.2005

Bush Must Regularize Border

Robin Hoover writes: Bush has been to the border, and many late-to-the-conversation ideologues are riding their news cycles around the national media. As the former governor of Texas, Bush generally knows what needs to be on the table, only he usually has them ranked in reverse priority: security, workers, regularization.

As a matter of justice and security, we should first find out who is here, not by sending them home, but by having them register for a legal status that may or may not lead to citizenship. As many as a million migrants would probably go home for a visit if they had the freedom to travel. Second, we must get the migrants out of the dangerous and delicate desert through participation in a legalized work program that includes the input of the Mexican government, organized labor, and
human rights monitoring. Third, work with "sending" countries through economic development. It must be recognized, though, that economic parity will not stop the migration.

With these three major changes, the number of agents on the border would be enough to handle port inspections and to police the areas between the ports of entry. Then, adding personnel would increase security instead of pushing migrants further into the desert. If 98 percent of the migrants crossing the border were to cross at ports of entry documented, inspected, etc., the assumptions of the agents in the field would automatically change.

Comprehensive reforms include not only attention to these pressing matters but also to asylum law, laws concerning unaccompanied minors, lengths of detention, removal proceedings, including expedited removal, repatriations, and migrant safety issues. Anything less than comprehensive reform would be a disservice to the peoples of the Americas.

What all proposals currently lack is an incentive for visa compliance. In 25 years, the average length of stay for a migrant has quadrupled because of increased border enforcement and the high costs associated with crossing the border. Since many migrants are "trapped" here, many send for their families, placing them at risk by having them cross the desert with coyotes. Far too many, forsake their families and start new lives with new loves here in the US. Any serious attempts at immigration reform must address these social costs of migration.

An economic incentive for visa compliance should be created. Some 43 percent of the persons who are in the US without permission and proper documentation are persons who have overstayed their visas. Authorities cannot track the whereabouts of these persons without changes in law.

I propose a rather simple way to do this. When a migrant comes to the port of entry to enter the US with a new visa, he or she puts up a bond at the port of entry. The amount of the bond should be tied to the average cost of crossing the border. Clearly, migrants can and do spend money crossing the border. A legal visa and a bond would take money out of the human smuggling rings. Employers would be required to pay the migrant a modest hourly stipend. The stipend would be at least higher than the minimum wager to keep unscrupulous employers from paying migrants less than the minimum wage or from breaking covenant with those sheltered workers and minimally paid persons in our society with whom we have a collective social contract.

The amount of the stipend, and perhaps some of the wage, accrues by electronic transfer to the migrants' bond account every pay period. Since an average wage earner works some 2,000 hours each year, simply multiply 2,000 times the hourly stipend or total contribution, and the annual contribution to the bond can be calculated. At the end of the visa period, the migrant is compelled to make a choice: go back to the port of entry, pick up the bond which is now worth thousands of dollars, and leave the US, or go underground. If the migrant does not comply with the visa and pick up the bond within the specified time, the money is forfeited to law enforcement.

Since the migrant does not enjoy the full benefits and legal protection of citizenship, law enforcement would for the first time have access to the IRS records that would lead law enforcement to at least the last reported employment and residence of the migrant so that visa compliance could be obtained.

While this may seem harsh, the social costs of the migration could and should be addressed, visa compliance would certainly increase, the smuggling of humans could be diminished, deserts could be protected, and the necessary return to the migrant's country of origin would significantly enhance economic development and education there. Proposals that do not consider law enforcement components and funding proposals will not meet general public acceptance.

Humane Borders is deeply involved and profoundly engaged with public leaders, activists, and various players in the migration policy discourse. We offer many substantive ways for volunteers to do something about the circumstances that migrants face and many substantive ways to work toward comprehensive immigration reform. As from our founding, we invite all persons of good faith to join us in this work.

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