Twelve and a half million undocumented immigrants populate the United States today. Some of us want them gone. But really they are here for one simple reason: We invited them, by offering them a job and then hiring them.
We need immigrant labor. So instead of spending money to deport immigrants and build a border wall, we should do what's best for us and what makes sense – create an orderly system to keep the workers we need here.
Americans pay undocumented workers several times more than they earn in their own country to do the work we don't want to do – the work we don't want our children to do.
These workers clean our offices. They take care of our elderly and our children. They help build our homes and roads. They pick our fruits and vegetables. They process the meat and poultry we eat. They do our nails. They do this and more.
Getting rid of them would be easy. All we'd have to do is fire them. In a few months they'd be gone.
But we don't do that. We can't. Why? Because we need them.
Americans have nothing against immigrants, right? After all, we are the nation of immigrants. Still, some of us think today's immigrants are different because so many have broken the law. Of course, we too break the law every time we hire them.
Some of us want to build a new symbol for America for the world to see: A 2,000-mile-long wall to keep immigrants out. Maybe we've forgotten our true symbol – the lady in New York who welcomes them. Did we forget border walls don't send, or bring, good vibes? Do we want our own Berlin Wall?
Doing things that make us look bad to the world doesn't mean we're bad people, we argue. All we want to do is protect our borders and keep our commitment to law and order.
Then why do we send mixed messages and turn our backs on the workers who are doing only what we ask them to do – work for us? Maybe we're practicing what a friend of mine calls "conditional morality."
All we would have to do to decriminalize immigrants is to issue the work visas needed to fill the job vacancies. Instead, we make it almost impossible for them to even apply for a work visa, much less get one.
"We can't make them legal, that's amnesty," we say. Really? In America we grant amnesty all the time. A presidential pardon is amnesty. Plea-bargaining is amnesty.
We can solve this problem. Forget the wall. Set up an orderly process. Use the money it would take to deport workers and build several large centers along the border to screen foreigners and certify only the workers we need.
Workers who are already in the US would qualify first. New ones would come in only after they have secured a job. Day workers such as gardeners, painters, and baby sitters would have subcontractor status – they would be hired through an agency that would send them out to different jobs.
This plan would have firm requirements for those who are cleared to work here. They would have to be employed full time, and their employer would have to vouch for them. They would have no criminal record, either here or in their home country. They would promise to obey US laws and learn English.
Spouses who were not legal or employed would have to stay in their home country. But family members would be free to visit one another because they would all be legal – some with a tourist visa, others with a work visa. Both visas would be easier to get because we would issue more of them, according to our needs. Currently, we need about 3 million new immigrant workers a year. That sounds like a lot, but it's only 1 percent of our population.
This is not the whole solution, of course, but it's better than no solution. It's better than the de facto amnesty we now have. It's better than having people continue to live and work in the shadows of our society. It's better than having millions of workers separated from their families. It's better because it's good for the worker. It's good for Americans. And, ultimately, it's good for America.