The nation-state is a relatively new idea — scholars generally trace it back to the 17th century. It has its flaws, but has anyone come up with a better approach to world order? A nation-state enjoys sovereignty over its territory. Territories are separated by borders. Securing those borders may require barriers and controlled points of entry.
During last year’s presidential campaign, Donald Trump pledged to build a wall in order to secure America’s southern border. Quite a few voters approved. I don’t think they’re wrong.
But what if we had a way to identify foreigners who want to come to America only to do jobs Americans don’t want to do, differentiating them from foreigners with illicit intentions — as well as those too eager to avail themselves of the entitlements of an advanced welfare state? What if we had a way to distinguish those looking only for temporary employment from those enthusiastic about assuming the responsibilities of American citizenship, such as defending the United States and the Constitution?
The ability to recognize such differences would not obviate the need to secure the border — it would just make the task a whole lot easier. I’m here to report to you on what seems to me a simple and elegant plan to do that and more.
It’s the brainchild not of Washington think tank scholars or members of Congress but of Helen Krieble, a 74-year-old independent businesswoman who a few years ago had to shut down an equestrian farm in Colorado because she couldn’t get the workers she needed.
Ms. Krieble calls her idea the “red card solution.” It requires the utilization of free-market forces, the application of technology that already exists and not much else.
It would begin with the government licensing private employment agencies to grant non-immigrant work permits to foreign workers in foreign countries. Anyone with a criminal record or extremist links need not apply.
The agencies would utilize a database to match applicants to specific job openings, seasonal or full-time, that employers had demonstrated they could not fill. No job, no permit. How many guest workers are admitted would depend on the law of supply and demand — not on quotas set by bureaucrats or politicians based on guesses about how many workers will be needed in agriculture, construction, hotels, restaurants and other industries.
Those granted work permits would receive a “smart card.” It might be red — so as not to confuse it with the “green” cards given to those who have permanent resident status in the U.S. Red cards would be embedded with biometric and other information that employers, border guards and law enforcement officers could obtain with a quick swipe as one does with a credit card. Red Cards would cost less than $5 to produce and be paid for with user fees, not tax dollars.
Guest workers would live and labor under the same laws and rules as American workers. They’d enjoy the same protections. They could not be easily exploited as they too often are now. They’d pay taxes. But they would not be entitled to all the benefits that American citizens have awarded themselves. When you invite a guest into your home you owe him courtesy and respect — but he’s not a member of your household.
When jobs end — for any reason — the guest workers go home. They can return — when and if other jobs for which they are qualified become available.
Employers caught hiring foreigners who don’t have Red Cards would face serious penalties. The same for aliens working without Red Cards. That would sharply diminish the incentive for crossing the border illegally. As for the millions of foreigners already in the U.S. illegally, perhaps they could apply for Red Cards and receive them if they have jobs and an otherwise clean record.
What about citizenship? That’s an important issue but it’s a separate issue. Many of those who want to work and earn wages in the U.S. are doing so in order to support families back home. Their goal is not to become Americans.
As for those who do want to be naturalized, they should be subject to a highly selective process. Offers of American citizenship — equivalent to an invitation to become a member of the American family — should not be handed out lightly.
It makes absolutely no sense to give away citizenship via a “visa lottery” as we do now. As for family unification, that should be limited to only the closest relatives. It shouldn’t turn into an endless chain as it does now.
If I have a foreign uncle who is indolent and lacking in skills, why should he get priority over someone who is hardworking and has abilities that could benefit Americans? By what logic would you give a U.S. passport to my cousin the Nazi, communist or jihadi — especially if that means that someone who embraces such American values as liberty and tolerance may not be able to pursue happiness in America?
Members of Congress ought to be taking this idea and running with it — or at least using it as a starting point for a thoughtful effort to find a creative legislative solution to problems that we’ve been arguing over for much too long.
The new administration’s oft-stated goal is to put American interests first. It seems to me that Ms. Krieble has come up with a plan that would improve border security, benefit American taxpayers, fill chronic labor shortages thereby strengthening the U.S. economy, bring workers who are now here illegally into legal compliance (without granting amnesty), safeguard human and civil rights, and open opportunities to friendly workers abroad. Has anyone come up with a better approach?
• Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies and a columnist for The Washington Times.