This article was written by Crosscurrents, a small group of liberals and conservatives who convene regularly for discussion of current policy issues. Our aim is finding common ground and reaching agreement on recommendations we can share publicly.
Crosscurrents chose immigration as the next timely topic for a variety of reasons, including:
• There are historically high numbers of immigrants seeking asylum at our Southern border, and this number is expected to increase further once public health restrictions are lifted.
• The number of refugees from Afghanistan, Ukraine and other countries has risen sharply with accompanying increased demand for support services.
• Baby Boomers are reaching past 65 years of age, U.S. deaths are exceeding births, and we are facing the labor shortages characteristic of an aging population.
In developing our statement, we emphasized the use of data and concepts from objective sources rather than opinion or advocacy-driven material.
The evidence on the impact of immigration has been examined in detail by the National Academies of Science Engineering and Medicine in two reports over the past decade. They concluded that immigration has an overall positive impact on long-run economic growth in the U.S., and it contributes to a vibrant and ever-changing culture.
Immigrants who have become Americans serve in its military, foster technological innovations, invigorate the economy, harvest its crops, help build its infrastructure, provide hard-to-find services and skills, and enrich American culture in many ways, from the nation’s cuisine to its universities, music and art.
Our group was quick to point out with pride that the U.S. is a nation of immigrants, and we noted the central role of immigration in our own family histories. Our members have a strong desire for the United States to continue playing its historic role as a welcoming destination for people facing persecution or seeking a better life.
But in seeking to be generous and welcoming to immigrants, we must also recognize that under current law, there is no limit to the number of asylum seekers that we obligate ourselves to receive and support. We believe there are practical limits to the resources – economic, social, environmental, and political – and capacity for assimilation that we can muster for this purpose year over year.
There is widespread agreement that the current U.S. immigration system is seriously broken. Negative impressions about immigration circulate widely on mainstream and social media despite evidence of its positive impact and its being compatible with American values. These attitudes arise because we manage our immigration system so poorly, and we have failed to set needed limits for some categories of immigrants.
Our Crosscurrents group has identified what we believe would be the essential components of a reformed immigration system. They are designed to enhance the positive aspects of immigration and mitigate any negative consequences which may arise. The key components, in no particular order, include:
• A secure border that encompasses all ports of entry and blocks or apprehends anyone seeking to enter the country illegally and intercepts the movement of weapons, drugs, human trafficking, contraband, and people with criminal records.
• A timely and fair processing system for all persons who meet the requirements to immigrate, are refugees, or have rights to obtain asylum within set limits.
• A clear set of criteria for gaining legal entry to the United States based on national goals such as those tied to economic needs and based on our values such as being responsive to humanitarian crises.
• An established annual immigration quota, and a range above/below this quota to deal with urgent circumstances. This quota and range should be established by Congress.
• Limited and well-defined quotas for family immigration to include only immediate family members, to reduce the disproportionate allocation that now grants two-thirds of all visas/green cards to this one category of applicants.
• A formal program to recruit and facilitate immigration for persons with skills and abilities in demand in the U.S. labor market.
• Coordinated actions at local, state and federal levels to implement policies and enforce immigration laws.
• Provision of fair and compassionate treatment for immigrants without proper documents who are already living, working and contributing to U.S. society such as those serving in the military. This group includes eligible immigrants who came to the U.S. as children. This protection should be provided in a fashion that does not encourage future attempts to enter the country illegally.
• Enforcement of time limits on visas to reduce the abuse caused by persons overstaying their visas without approved extensions.
• Strong support programs to meet the needs of legal immigrants who are attempting to assimilate American values and integrate fully into American life, and for existing citizens to help mitigate any negative consequences immigration may cause them.
• Increased private/public partnerships between the U.S. government and U.S. companies to improve economic and social conditions in countries where most asylum seekers originate. Some of these partnerships have already been started in certain Central American countries. We recommend targeting countries where there are good prospects for measurable, positive results.
• Honor and improve existing international cooperative agreements with other countries to share responsibilities for meeting refugee needs.
We recognize that immigration policies intersect with other government policies and the activities of many government departments and agencies (for example, foreign policy and education). Accordingly, Congress, the Department of Homeland Security, and other government agencies need to effectively coordinate immigration reform initiatives.
Five months of conversation, combined with research and data gathering from several sources, reinforced for our Crosscurrents group the inherent complexity of this issue. Legislators have proposed promising and comprehensive reforms in the past, most recently in 2013, which could guide future reforms, but these did not become law.
Over many years, members of Congress have been unable to work in a constructive bipartisan fashion to create the laws and policies which could put these desirable components in place.
Our elected representatives and national leaders of both political parties need to change their overly partisan thinking and re-commit to working together to pass the necessary immigration reform. Our Crosscurrents group’s success in finding common ground, learning from each other, and reaching agreement on potential approaches demonstrates that dialogue is possible and can be productive. Our leaders should emulate our process even if they don’t adopt our specific recommendations.
Done well, immigration will cease to be seen negatively as a four-letter word and will become a “big win” with a renewed sense of pride for Americans.
Our sources for this article include U.S. Department of Commerce, U.S. Census Bureau, Congressional Budget Office, the Department of Homeland Security, among others.
If you can have an open mind, are willing to learn regardless of your political views or party, and would like to join Crosscurrents or learn more about our group, contact Roger Bernier at firstname.lastname@example.org.