Tyrus Cobb: These are the keys to real immigration reform

You've all heard the rallying cry that the nation badly needs "immigration reform." And I agree - we need to dramatically change the way in which we permit immigrants to come into this country and, eventually, become citizens. President Barack Obama was in El Paso this week, acknowledging the problem and proposing a package of measures that partially address the major issues.

The problem is that the term "immigration reform" has been co-opted by the president and those who demand amnesty for the 12 million plus who are now in this country illegally, those who represent more of an economic liability than a benefit to the U.S.

Instead, we need to take immediate steps to radically overhaul the current system as it works in reality, a system that is racist, exclusionary, and fails to provide diversity in our immigrant population.

This is a country built on immigration and we need to encourage the influx of highly talented and skilled foreign born who can enrich our social fabric and stimulate our economic infrastructure. The system in place does just the opposite. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, our current policy leans heavily in favor of giving priority to low-income and unskilled laborers, primarily from Mexico and Central America, many who slip through our porous borders. As a result, more than 75 percent of the illegal population in the U.S. are low-educated, poor transplants from that region. According to Jeffrey Passel at the PEW Center, 80-85 percent of the inflow of Mexicans into the U.S. has been illegal.

This is because of what the Heritage Foundation calls our "permissive attitude toward illegal immigration." Our borders are not secure and are easily penetrated. Further, we award citizenship to any person born in the U.S., even if the mother slipped across the frontier only days before. These "anchor babies" and families can then move their relatives up on the waiting list to get in, since the system favors kinship ("family preference") over talent, skills and education (columnist Charles Krauthammer calls this the "Yemeni chain migration" technique).

Meanwhile, highly skilled doctors, nurses, high-tech workers, and those fluent in English, in countries like India, often wait years for permission to come to America as they follow legal guidelines. Silly them. Worse, our system discriminates against them, since the visa program many would enter under (H-1B) allows so few to receive approval that the annual allotment for these visas is used up in only 7 hours. Bill Gates and other high-tech executives have railed against this onerous restriction, without success.

Here are the keys to devising a new immigration system.

• First, our borders should be secure (as much to deter terrorists as illegals since they are infiltrating by piggybacking on these routes.)

• Second, the system should end the policy of family preference in favor of those with demonstrated skills and language capabilities needed to revitalize our sagging economic infrastructure.

• Third, we do need temporary workers in lower-skill areas, such as agriculture, car washes, landscaping, etc. However, the number of these "guest workers" should be low, they must enter only through official channels, and their visas must be only temporary.

• Finally, children of non-citizens should not be granted citizenship, regardless of whether or not they were born here. In this I believe that the 14th Amendment of the Constitution has been misinterpreted by granting this privilege.

With respect to the millions of illegals here now, I would agree with (Hispanic) columnist Rueben Navarette who said, "We should be tough on illegal immigration. We should speed up deportations, continue workplace raids, stiffen penalties for smugglers, crack down on employers, create a tamper-proof ID card, and give the Border Patrol. ... the tools they need..."

Immigration reform should not mean devising ways to enable those here illegally to gain citizenship; rather, the process should be revamped to enable those our economy and society badly need to enter this country.

Immigration reform is a top priority. Let's just make sure it accomplishes what the country really needs and not what advocates for the illegals want.

• Tyrus W. Cobb is a former Special Assistant to President Reagan.


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