Immigration: what might work?
Let's go back to the original list of policy alternatives:

1. Let everyone in.
2. Let everyone in but terrorists and the infectious.
3. Let many people in but try to control their behavior ex post.
4. Try to keep as many people out as possible.
5. Try to influence who gets in.
6. Create new and differential legal categories, as the Bush plan would do, or as the Germans have done.

I am skeptical about 1-3 and 6, for reasons already outlined. #4 would be an economic catastrophe, whereas #5, taken alone, does not apply to illegal immigrants, the biggest potential problem. What then to do?

I suggest the following:

a. Significantly increase legal immigration
b. Apply significantly harsher penalties to the hiring of illegal immigrants
c. Change who gets in legally

In short, substitute legal for illegal immigration. Let us put the pieces together as follows. A legal immigrant is better for the country than is an illegal immigrant. It also is better for the immigrants. So by substituting legal for illegal immigration, we can keep or extend the benefits of immigration, while preventing economic catastrophe for American businesses. At the same time we can keep the humanitarian benefits of immigration.

Can we reduce illegal immigration? Yes. There is considerable scope for tougher enforcement of current immigration laws concerning employers. After all, if a non-English-speaking Mexican immigrant can find an employer, the INS can too. We can lower the demand for illegal labor quite easily, if we so wish. Lowering the demand for such illegal labor will lower the supply. We do, however, need to resolve to follow through on such penalties. If we can promise American business that total immigration will go up, this might prove politically acceptable.

The problem, of course, is one of political trust. I do not want to cut illegal immigration without also raising legal immigration. Others may not wish to increase legal immigration without first cutting back on the illegals. In politics it is often difficult to achieve two ends at the same time. Immigration quotas would be changed by law, but the strength of enforcement is a more bureaucratic decision. Perhaps the two cannot be bundled together so easily.

A second problem is what to do with current illegals. Amnesty might be ideal but it is politically infeasible and creates credibility problems the application of future penalties. Alternatively, we could wait for many to leave the country, following the application of tougher employer penalties.

Some people think that immigration law should put American interests first. Others think we should be more cosmopolitan and humanitarian. I like to think that my proposal makes sense under either view. Furthermore the anti-immigration crowd might be willing to accept more immigrants if there is greater control over who comes in, and if the entire process is brought under the law to a greater extent.

I haven't finishing outlining the proposal for reform. Tomorrow I will consider how we might change the standards for who gets in. In the meantime, thank you all for writing with your ideas and suggestions.