America is a nation of immigrants, but the process of assimilation has broken down. Although immigration provides economic benefits, it also affects America´s cultural and national identity. Immigration reform must begin with securing the border. Our primary obligation is to protect American citizens.
The United States has been enriched by immigrants from around the world. Free immigration remains an attractive ideal, but is impossible with the expensive and expansive nanny state that we´ve created.
What long made immigration work so well was America´s famed melting pot—and the absence of any welfare state. People who came to America wanted to become Americans. They came for economic opportunities, not government benefits. The result was a stronger America.
Today, however, the U.S. government has lost control of its borders. While too many people come illegally, we accept too few legal immigrants. Rather than consciously decide who should be welcomed as new citizens, citizenship is bestowed on anyone who happens to be born in the U.S. Current policy is a mess.
The federal government first must regain control over the nation´s border. Only then will the U.S. be able to deal with threats of terrorism and infectious diseases, as well as implement a consistent immigration policy. Effective enforcement is more important than a physical fence.
Next, we must eliminate government benefits for immigrants. As economist Milton Friedman observed, “It´s just obvious that you can´t have free immigration and a welfare state.” Early immigrants to America expected no government support. Although Congress has restricted eligibility for illegal immigrants, it´s difficult to control access to expansive public programs.
Moreover, a mistaken 1982 Supreme Court case, Plyer v. Doe held that states and localities must pay to school the children of illegal residents. Those who drafted the 14th Amendment would have been astonished by this conclusion.
No one wants to punish children for the sins of their parents, but Plyer unfairly burdens American citizens and creates a powerful draw for illegal immigrants. The policy should be challenged again in court, and a constitutional amendment proposed if necessary.
Federal law requires hospitals to provide care irrespective of ability to pay, so emergency rooms across the American southwest are filled with Mexican citizens. Pregnant women come to have their children born in American hospitals. Both California and Texas spend substantially more than $1 billion a year to treat illegal aliens. Obviously, it is hard for a compassionate people to say no, but those who come illegally should not be allowed to abuse America´s hospitality. If they still come, they should be forced to rely on charity care. The message would soon go forth that the free ride was over.
We must reconsider birthright citizenship. The result of another poor interpretation of the 14th Amendment, citizenship is conferred upon anyone born in the U.S., even if here illegally. This peculiar policy demands no connection or commitment to America in exchange for citizenship. Congress should address the issue, though a constitutional change might be necessary. Americans should choose upon whom they want to confer citizenship, rather than have the choice determined by an accident of birth.
Another imperative is to strengthen the forces of assimilation. For instance, English should be America´s official language. It is not the government´s business what people speak at home. But government business should be transacted English. Congress should scrap bilingual ballots. American citizens should learn enough English to vote. A common language is an important national foundation.
While sharply reducing the number of people who enter the U.S. illegally, we should expand legal immigration, especially of those who would contribute the most to America. The unskilled workers and their families coming from Mexico illegally assimilate more slowly, and remain poorer and more dependent on government assistance than past immigrants. Even legal immigrants and their children from the same circumstances use more welfare than native-born Americans.
In contrast, there is a perpetual shortage of H(1)b visas for high-tech workers and other skilled professionals. These people create new businesses, generate patents and strengthen leading firms. We should expand the number of such visas issued, and reverse the preference now granted to relatives of U.S. citizens.
Finally, there should be no amnesty. While there should be no intrusive round-up of illegal immigrants, anyone hoping to get a green card or citizenship should have to register and get in line with everyone else. To provide for citizenship without consequence for past law-breaking would encourage continued illegal immigration, in the hopes of winning a similar, future amnesty.
Immigration policy helps determine what it means to be an American. We must control the nation´s borders. Only then can we effectively address the question of immigration, and its impact on economics, culture and nationhood.
Bob Barr, a former Republican congressman from Georgia, is the official candidate for president of the Libertarian Party.
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