- The Washington Times - Thursday, August 3, 2006

Perhaps the most difficult problem of immigration policy is how to cope with the 11 million to 20 million illegal aliens already in this country. This number includes not just unattached working age males but millions of spouses, children and aged relatives. Some have been here illegally for decades, either on false documentation or simply in the shadows beyond the reach of the law.

Deporting illegals apprehended within the country is difficult. The courts have held that apprehended aliens have due process rights, and legal aid organizations are ready to provide assistance. Since apprehended illegals not wanted for a crime (other than illegal entry) cannot in practice be detained until the legal process plays out, they are commonly released on their own recognizance, quickly to disappear from view.

What the debate so far lacks is a proposal that will expeditiously reduce the illegal alien population at modest expense to American taxpayers. For instance, why not require illegals who want to remain as guest workers to pay for other illegals to depart? Think in terms of the Civil War practice of draftees paying for a substitute.

Conservatives believe every would-be guest worker must first return home — the country of origin — before seeking legal immigrant status. This idea unfortunately can not be made to work. We simply can’t locate, catch, process and deport millions of illegals already inside the country.

But consider this: International law has long recognized that buildings, offices or even mobile units designated under a consular agreement serve as an official outpost of a foreign state. In fact, Mexico has already four times made use of a mobile consular office to assist Mexican nationals working on Vermont dairy farms. So, using Mexico as an example, let’s require that a Mexican illegal desiring guest worker status need not physically return south of the border but merely present himself at a convenient Mexican consular office within the U.S.

Once there, the aspiring guest worker would identify himself, pass an background check for criminal charges other than illegal entry, perhaps pass a communicable disease test, settle back taxes (if known), and pay an exit payment to another Mexican illegal who in return for the payment voluntarily agrees to return home.

How does the aspiring guest worker know how much to pay? At a similar office, the prospective departees have registered on the Internet-based Departure Exchange. Administered by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the Exchange would be sort of an eBay for exit. Departees need not provide verifiable identification, but only obtain a code number and post their bid for departure.

The Exchange would then match the guest worker applicant with the lowest departee bid. The applicant pays that price, plus a transaction fee to defray the cost of the Exchange. The market would work just like those for plywood futures, carbon emission credits and gold.

The departees with winning bids report to a designated departure point, provide biometric identity information, receive their payment in Mexican pesos, and board the provided plane, bus or train back to Mexico.

What about the departee who agrees to go home, no questions asked, pockets the pesos, and then sneaks back into the U.S. to do so again? Part of the departure agreement is a waiver of due process if the departee is subsequently apprehended for illegal re-entry. Since the departee/re-entrant’s biometric identity information will be on record with ICE, establishing his identity will be all that is necessary to send him off to a mandatory two-year hitch in a low-stipend conservation corps, followed by deportation. Repairing the environmental damage to ranchlands along our southern border would be a useful project for this corps.

Once this Exchange transaction is completed, ICE would give the conditional guest worker biometric documentation, a criminal background check, and an Individual Tax Identification Number. After one or two more years working and paying taxes in the U.S., he would report to ICE and demonstrate a working knowledge of English. Upon this confirmation of good faith and good behavior, the temporary guest worker could then apply to a U.S. Consular Office within the U.S. for a regular work permit through the normal immigration process. This special privilege would be available only to an applicant who paid for a departee to return home. He would remain here in the U.S., working, paying taxes and reporting — probably for years — until his work permit came through. Once that happens, the guest worker could in due course seek U.S. citizenship.

Employers found using illegals would be required to go to the Departure Exchange and pay for the departure of, say, twice as many illegals as the employer has been found to have hired (Full Time Equivalent) over the last five years. Hence an employer who hired 12 FTE illegals for three years would have to accept the 72 lowest Exchange bids (2 times 12 times 3) from prospective departees. The existence of this penalty should encourage employers to push their good workers into the conditional guest worker program as quickly as possible, and help finance their exit payments.

The Departure Exchange proposal doesn’t solve every problem associated with illegal immigration, notably those of border security, birthright citizenship (“anchor babies”), and social services for illegals and their families. It does not attempt the impossible task of requiring illegals to return to their home country before legalizing their presence in the U.S.

But by making would-be guest workers finance a reverse flow of illegals to their home countries, the proposal promises to reduce the number of illegals inside the U.S. We have the technology for biometric identification and for managing electronic markets. We have plenty of illegals. We just need to put it all together.

John McClaughry, a senior policy adviser in the Reagan White House, now heads the free market Ethan Allen Institute in Concord, Vt.

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