Friday, September 30, 2022

A Proposal: Immigration


A few years back I started this blog as a way of venting my spleen to the roughly three people who even looked at this thing. When trump was elected, posting here became nearly a daily occurrence by virtue of the seemingly unending deluge of vitriolic, malevolent, corrupt stupid emanating from the Republican Party. And when Biden won the election, I breathed a sigh of relief, thinking that the worst was over.

Unfortunately, I was wrong in many ways. However, rather than descending into vitriol and invective over January 6th, the politicization of the Supreme Court, etc. I'm gonna change tack here and start making suggestions as to how we can get this right.

The United States of America is at its best when it has a common goal. Think about the times when the American government was at peak functionality ... maybe not in all areas, but at least in enough of them to give the impression of competence. World War II and the defeat of fascism. The eradication of polio. The space race and landing Neil Armstrong on the moon (or a sound studio in Van Nuys, depending on your particular conspiratorial preference).

This shared vision started to fray when Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980. Touting a message that the Federal government was the source of all that is wrong with America, and espousing economic policies1 that, in retrospect, have only served to further divide us, the Republican Party began dismantling everything that had given America its unique character over the previous 200 years.

I'm not here to bitch and complain about everything that was done wrong over the last 40 plus years. Let's face it, I could write a book on that ... but countless others already have done that, and more eloquently that I could. I am here to start looking forward, and to maybe suggest how we regain that sense of national unity.

Rather than focusing primarily on individuals, I will be focusing on ideas ... things that, in my view (and hopefully enough people will agree to make an actual difference), will make America better. In order to do that, it is important to lay out some basic principles of what, in my opinion, America is all about.

It comes down to this idea that all people are created equal, and are entitled as human beings to certain rights (not a complete list):
  • The freedom to worship, or not worship, as they please, free from governmental interference.
  • The freedom to marry regardless of gender or sexual identity.
  • The freedom to voice their opinions without government interference or censorship.
  • Freedom from unwarranted search and seizure.
  • The understanding that religion has no place in government, even to the point of removing references to any deity in invocations, oaths, currency, etc.
  • All people, regardless of citizenship status, are entitled to medical care, with the only regulations being that the procedure must be safe and medically ethical, and that the patient and doctor have agreed that it is appropriate.
  • Any person who is working a full time job is entitled to earn enough to support themselves and meet their basic needs of food, shelter, clothing, and transportation.
  • The freedom in the workplace to organize and practice collective bargaining.
In addition, I maintain that we need to introduce the following concepts:
  • Civic responsibility. Some suggestions:
    • Two years of public service between the ages of 18 and 26. This is not limited to military service but also encompasses the following (again, not a complete list):
      • Teaching in distressed school districts.
      • Fire/EMT.
      • Legal services for low-income people.
      • Medical services in underserved communities.
    • Participating in elections, even if that is the bare minimum (voting).
  • Congressional and Presidential elections are to be publicly funded. Private contributions will only be allowed into an election fund administered by the Federal Election Commission and distributed equally to all declared and balloted candidates.
I will be going into more depth on all these things in future columns (unless, of course, real life intrudes), with an eye toward maybe generating some grassroots support for these ideas. If we can motivate enough of the electorate, we may actually be able to make things better for everyone.

But why wait? Let's dive into ...

Immigration

This has been a hot button issue for both Republicans and Democrats for decades, and has become sort of a political third rail ... touch it at your peril. It doesn't have to be, though; it's just another issue requiring a solution, so rather than try to score points by playing a game of "who can beat up the immigrants more," I will try to articulate a way forward.

Completely open borders are untenable. This is just a basic fact. They are not workable, if for no other reason than we have to keep track of people (for tax purposes, law enforcement, etc.). Some people have advocated a zero-tolerance policy regarding illegal immigration, others have pushed for amnesty for all, and the vast majority are wading through the murky swamp between the two extremes. So I'm gonna make this simple.

The United States of America is a humane nation. Everyone is welcome, and nobody will be turned away until they have had a legitimate opportunity to make their case. The entire process will operate from the assumption that any application for immigration into the United States will be approved unless just cause for denial can be shown. The burden will be on the United States to show why they should not be allowed entry.

People wishing to immigrate into the United States will progress through the following classifications:
  • Applicant: An applicant is someone who applies for a visa -- immigrant or non-immigrant -- for entry into the United States.
  • Non-immigrant visa holder. In this case, a U.S. consular officer at an American embassy or consulate has reviewed the application, and has determined that the applicant is eligible to enter the United States for a specific purpose. However, the applicant must proceed through the same admission process as an applicant for citizenship.
  • Provisional immigrant: A person whose application has been accepted, but not adjudicated. Provisional immigrants are entitled to most of the rights of American citizens; however, they are not eligible for all services (Social Security, unemployment insurance, etc.) and are limited in their movements within the United States.
  • Provisional citizen: A person whose application has been adjudicated, and who has been granted entry into the United States. Provisional citizens are entitled to all the rights and responsibilities of full citizens, but must adhere to more stringent criteria for a short time. A person may be granted provisional citizenship for a period of no longer than one year, after which they are administered the oath of citizenship unless the have failed, through no fault of their own, to meet all the criteria for citizenship.
  • Citizen: A person who has passed through all stages of applying for entry into the United States, and who has taken the oath of citizenship. Citizenship may only be revoked for Constitutional causes (i.e. treason, insurrection).
Anyone who wants to immigrate into the United States without a plea for asylum must meet the following criteria:
  • The ability to read, write, and understand English. Not necessarily fluently, but enough to be able to get a job, deal with public officials, etc.
  • Applicants must pass a basic (high school level) civics test. They must demonstrate that they have a clear understanding of  how government in the United States works, their rights as migrants, what is required to obtain citizenship, what is expected of people once they attain citizenship, and how to navigate American government. This requirement is waived for minors age 16 or under.
  • Applicants cannot be "bail jumpers." Applicants cannot, under any circumstances, use immigration into the United States as a means of avoiding lawful prosecution for crimes committed elsewhere. Any applicant who is found to have attempted this will have their home country notified and extradition proceedings begun unless they convert their application into a plea for asylum.
  • Applicants cannot be criminals. Any applicant with a criminal record from his or her home country is subject to be pulled aside for further evaluation. In cases like these, applicants with convictions for any offenses in their home country which correspond to either a class A misdemeanor or any class of felony (defined under 18 U.S. Code §3559), will be denied entry and returned to their home country.
    • The applicant will be provided adequate opportunity to appeal the decision and to make a case for amnesty, describe mitigating circumstances, etc. If this route is taken, the applicant will be held in provisional custody (described below) until the case is adjudicated.
    • If the applicant's petition fails on appeal, the applicant may request asylum subject to the same provisions described below.
  • Applicants must maintain a clean criminal record in the United States. Conviction for any offense above a class B misdemeanor (defined under 18 U.S. Code §3559) committed by an applicant, provisional immigrant, or provisional citizen is grounds for deportation.
  • Minors handled separately. Any migrant under the age of 18 who is traveling with a parent or guardian, or under age 16 if traveling alone, will be approved automatically for citizenship on a provisional basis, provided there is no criminal record as discussed above.
Persons seeking asylum must meet the following criteria:
  • They must demonstrate proven hardship or a genuine fear of consequences should they return.
  • Any applicant with a conviction for any offense in their home country which correspond to either a class A misdemeanor or any class of felony (defined under 18 U.S. Code §3559), will be denied entry and diverted to another country that is willing to provide sanctuary. If another country is not found that will provide sanctuary, the applicant will be returned to their home country.
    • The applicant will be provided adequate opportunity to appeal the decision and to make a case for amnesty, describe mitigating circumstances, etc. If this route is taken, the applicant will be held in provisional custody (described below) until the case is adjudicated.
    • If the applicant's petition fails on appeal, the applicant will be denied entry as stated above.
  • Applicants must maintain a clean criminal record in the United States. Conviction for any sort of offense above a class B misdemeanor (defined under 18 U.S. Code §3559) is grounds for deportation.
Once an application has been accepted for review, that person becomes a provisional immigrant. Provisional immigrants have the same responsibilities as citizens, but are not eligible for some services (unemployment insurance, Social Security, etc.). All complete applications must be accepted for review no later than 7 days after the initial application. Provisional immigrants will be liable for the following payroll taxes:
  • Federal income tax withholding.
  • State and local income tax withholding (where applicable).
  • Medicare withholding.
Provisional immigrants will be exempt from FICA withholding.

Provisional immigrant applications will be acted upon (not necessarily completely adjudicated, although that is desirable) within 30 days. At the very least, a determination will be made as to whether or not the immigrant is eligible for further scrutiny.

Provisional immigrants may be detained for up to 30 days, known as provisional custody, while their cases are pending. If they are to be detained, it is not going to be a prison-like situation; provisional immigrants will be housed at facilities comparable to a budget motel -- clean, secure facilities, adequate food and water, not overcrowded, freedom of movement (subject to certain restrictions), etc.

Any provisional immigrant whose application requires more than 30 days to adjudicate will be released into the community of their choosing with the following restrictions:
  • Their movements are restricted to the municipal borders of that community.
  • Travel outside the community for anything not related to immigration matters (court hearings, etc.) or health reasons must be approved in advance by a caseworker.
  • Provisional immigrants will not be allowed to locate within 25 miles of the border of any sensitive governmental facilities (either state or Federal), nor will they be allowed to accept employment at any facility located within this radius. This includes, but is not limited to, military and National Guard bases, Federal and state prisons, or Federal and state administrative offices (not including state police stations).
  • Provisional immigrants with a valid driver's license from their home country will be issued a provisional immigrant driver's license from the state in which they choose to locate while their case is being adjudicated. This document may be used both as proof of identity and as proof of immigration status (similar to how a passport is used to prove both identity and citizenship).
Upon completion of adjudication, the provisional immigrant becomes a provisional citizen. Provisional citizenship will last for a maximum of one year. Provisional citizens have all the rights and responsibilities of naturalized or natural-born citizens, with only the following caveats:
  • Provisional citizens are not eligible for any government clearance above Public Trust.
  • Provisional citizens convicted of any offense above a class B misdemeanor (defined under 18 U.S. Code §3559) will be subject to revocation of their provisional citizenship and deportation.
All applications must be adjudicated completely within five years of the date of the application, unless explicitly extended for cause by a Federal judge. Some examples of valid reasons for extension:
  • The applicant suffered health setbacks that delayed processing significantly.
  • Natural disasters.
  • The applicant is involved in the prosecution of any offense above a class B misdemeanor as defined under 18 U.S. Code §3559. In this case, adjudication is paused until the case in question has been resolved. If the applicant is a witness, or the applicant is a defendant and is acquitted, the adjudication process will merely resume from its pause point. If convicted, the applicant, provisional immigrant, or provisional citizen will be subject to deportation.
  • Active full-time military service.
There are multiple pathways to entry:
  • Family emergency. If an applicant is applying for entry to care for a family member who is a) in the United States legally, and b) is unable to care for themselves without assistance, the applicant will be issued a caretaker visa. This is a special visa that allows for entry to a specific locale for a set period of time. Either of these conditions may be altered and/or expended based on medical necessity.
  • Employment. Applicants may apply for a non-immigrant employment visa. An employment visa requires sponsorship from the employer.
  • Standard Immigration/Asylum. Applicants may be issued an immigrant visa. This is an interim visa that allows the applicant to remain in the United States as an applicant, a provisional immigrant, or a provisional citizen. Immigrant visas must be renewed every four years until the application has been completely adjudicated, at which point it is no longer valid.
  • Military service. An applicant may apply to enlist in the military once they have attained "provisional immigrant" status. Any applicant who enlists will be granted full citizenship upon meeting the following criteria:
    • The applicant must have no formal disciplinary events on their service record. If there are disciplinary events, the applicant will have a full and equitable opportunity to defend their case.
    • Either an honorable discharge after at least one complete tour of duty, or a medical discharge provided it is not the result of intentionally self-inflicted injury.
  • Public service. A provisional immigrant may apply to work in specific public service fields. Upon completion of five years continuous, uninterrupted employment with no adverse actions, the provisional immigrant will be granted provisional citizenship. Public service includes:
    • Teaching in a distressed school district.
    • Police officer in inner city neighborhoods.
    • Firefighter.
    • Emergency medical technician.
    • Nursing in geriatric facilities or urban hospitals.
    • Medical provider (physician, etc.) in inner city neighborhoods/hospitals.
The underlying concept here is that the main focus of immigration policy becomes less about arresting people and more about helping people who need it. Granted, there will always be those who try to make an end run around US immigration policy. Those people are criminals, and must be handled accordingly. But when agents come across a group of 25 migrants trying to cross the desert, 40 miles from any civilization, with a single gallon jug of water and straw hats to block the sun, our default position should be to find out why they are there and see if, just maybe, they were misled intentionally about US policy by traffickers before we throw them on the ground and point guns at them.

That's not who we are. We are the "shining city on the hill," as Ronald Reagan2 said, and our immigration policy must reflect this.

I gotta lie down.

1I was 15 the first time I heard about trickle-down economics, and even at that tender, innocent, politically ignorant age I could see this was a bullshit argument intended to make the rich richer.

2Look, I know I portrayed Reagan as pretty much a monster in the past, but let's face it ... the man knew how to turn a phrase.

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A Proposal: Immigration

A few years back I started this blog as a way of venting my spleen to the roughly three people who even looked at this thing. When trump wa...