Solution to immigration reform is in the details
The US can stop 'making do' with the broken status quo by not letting interest groups direct policy with grand concepts.
(Page 2 of 2)
The disputes over legalization and secure identification have not changed much since Congress stalemated on comprehensive immigration reform in 2006-07. On migrant workers, employer advocates know that the dismal job market makes it hard to pass the large temporary worker programs they want. Perhaps a commission – if employer advocates could shape its composition – could achieve the same thing administratively.Skip to next paragraph
Subscribe Today to the Monitor
In the end what matters is not the concept, but the detail. One obvious example: What would prevent employer or other interest groups from finding ways to dominate a commission empowered to set numbers of migrant workers?
The United States immigration debate has been in a similar place before. It was the details that ensured that the comprehensive IRCA reforms of 1986 failed to reduce unauthorized migration.
In concept, IRCA prohibited the knowing employment of persons unlawfully in the US. But the perverse details imposed by some of the same interest groups active today invited the pervasive fraud that made this concept unenforceable. IRCA required employers to examine workers' documents but prohibited them from checking the documents' validity.
The key to successful comprehensive immigration reform is to ensure that the details support, rather than detract from, its goals.
Obama's administration can start by requiring that any legalization plan be evaluated by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) before it is implemented, to ensure that the government can legalize those eligible but prevent the widespread fraud that occurred under IRCA.
Washington also should require the GAO to certify that an effective workplace enforcement system has been implemented before legalization kicks in. And any truly independent commission would need safeguards against being dominated by the most interested interest groups.
Change is clearly needed, but as the president sets out to restart dialogue on immigration reform, he must not allow interest groups to push through another round of "comprehensive" reform that promises one result with grand concepts but whose details take us in another direction.
Not paying close attention to these critical details will only further exacerbate public cynicism and disenchantment. And that would leave us right where we started, with a still-broken policy.
Philip Martin, professor of agricultural economics at the University of California, Davis, was a member of the US Commission on Agricultural Workers. Michael S. Teitelbaum, a demographer, was a member and vice chair of the US Commission on Immigration Reform.