Legalize the people who are already here, with a permanent guest worker program, but make them ineligible for citizenship.
This gives the immigrants something substantial: they get the right to work, and their children will be citizens. But it doesn’t generate 11 million new Democratic voters in the next ten years. If you’re worried about things like public assistance, phase in a right to various entitlements over a period of years: so many for Social Security, so many for food stamps.
But while it helps immigrants by normalizing their status, it also has something for people who want tighter border enforcement: a penalty. The price of coming here illegally is that you don’t get to be a citizen. You can live here and work here, and retire here and collect the social security benefits you’ve accrued. But you can’t vote, and you can’t have an American passport, because you broke the laws about who can live here.
Most of us opponents of a wall have focused on the idea that the wall is meant to "wall out" immigrants. But we just observed the 50th anniversary of the Berlin Wall, a wall that was meant to, and did, "wall in" residents. I think I remember co-blogger Bryan worrying that a wall on the border with Mexico might wall us in. I think this is a serious worry. If, 20 years ago, you had asked me if a U.S. president would try to persuade the head of a totalitarian country to reinstitute restrictions on residents leaving that country, I would have said "No way." Yet three years later that’s exactly what President Clinton persuaded Fidel Castro to do.
There are a lot of folks who think that a border fence is part of the “solution” for illegal immigration in the US. The problem with fences is that they work both ways. A fence now might seem like a good idea to keep people out; call me paranoid, but at some point in the future, I fear the same fence might also be used to keep people in.
The very phrase “insecure borders” conjures an image of government failing at its most fundamental responsibility—namely, protecting citizens from invading marauders. People see in their minds’ eyes an America increasingly at risk of being conquered by foreigners, leaving Americans at the mercy of invading rapists, plunderers, and murderers.
Immigrants, however, aren’t invaders, much less warriors in a conquering army.
For perspective, ask if America’s borders were insecure until 1921 when, with the Emergency Quota Act, Uncle Sam first began seriously to restrict the number of immigrants allowed into the United States. Were Americans, until just 90 years ago, living in peril of their lives and livelihoods because U.S. borders were “insecure”?
In fact, the security of American borders—if by this phrase we mean genuinely decreased risks to Americans’ persons and property—would almost certainly rise with open borders.