Here's how I would manage the current national immigration situation if I were charged with developing a new and rational public policy approach to the complex challenge.
Step one: Begin to regard the border with Mexico as "open," in the same way that we regard our border with Canada. Everyone coming and going would need a passport or some sort of new, official documentation to travel back and forth across the border. Conversations would need to begin as soon as possible with the Mexican government and our Department of State in order to work out a mutually agreeable approach. Security could then be strenghtened to concentrate on the border and on workplace enforcement. The relationship between the U. S. and Mexico should be special and, like our connection with Canada, mutually beneficial. A great deal of attention needs to be given to this crucial aspect of any future solution to our immigration challenges.
Step two: Create a new universal identification documentation process that would provide all foreign laborers with legal, accessible and easily recognizable, but impossible to counterfeit, identification. Without such identification a person could not remain in the country or seek employment. Employers who hired workers without this form of identification would be fined much more than the current $10,000 per employee.
Step three: Acknowledge the benefit of Mexican labor on the U. S. economy. Making it easier, safer and legal for Mexican nationals to come and go in the U. S. to take advantage of work opportunities would benefit and strengthen both nations. Why is it that we accept the current corporate practice of placing jobs and industry "off-shore," but we want to block abundant and needed, low-skilled labor from entering the country? Providing a legal way for Mexican immigrants to work in the U. S. would mean an increase in the number of taxpayers and in American jobs, many for U. S. citizens, and in overall national economic growth.
Step four: Work out a reasonable approach to taxation for non-citizen residents. Payroll taxes would be automatic, possibly including Social Security contributions that could be turned into a benefit, if and when an individual became a U. S. citizen. Lower-income foreign workers could be given an option to enroll in public health benefits for which they would be expected to pay a modest payroll deduction. Public education, emergency health services, public safety and government services would be paid for in sales and property taxes, as is largely the case now. For immigrants desiring citizenship, a new "naturalization levy" should be considered, so that by the time a person is ready for citizenship, he/she has paid a national "membership fee."
Step five: Allow the children of long-time immigrant families (here longer than 5 years) who have come to the U. S. with their undocumented parents to stay in the country and seek legal identification, citizenship and higher education, if they choose. The provisions of the "Dream Act," currently being considered in the U. S. Congress provides just what is needed in this regard.
Step six: Create a process for identifying and certifying the "good moral character" of immigrants who have been in the U. S. for over 5 years. This knowledge should be factored into the initial round of new certification and identification of legitimate Mexican nationals who want to register for work in the U. S.
Step seven: Educate the nation about the realities of immigration relative to education, labor, economics, class, American history and national security. Set aside the hatred. Begin a new process with a view to what might be possible if everyone reframed the current stalled and unproductive standoff. Set in place a permanent national and international process that would make words like "amnesty" irrelevant to the discussion.
It is past time for new, creative thinking on one of the toughest challenges facing the nation and especially our large urban areas.