When conservatives argue against full integration of illegal immigrants, those on the left like to warn against creating “second-class citizens.” Leading Democratic figures from Hillary Clinton to Mayor Bill deBlasio of New York to HUD Secretary Julian Castro have all used the phrase with derision.
But why not second-class citizenship for illegal immigrants?
American voters and their elected representatives alone get to decide whether to change the status of those who aren’t already citizens by birth or naturalization. If we feel wholesale deportation would be too massive and expensive a project – but we don’t want to reward bad behavior and encourage future law-breaking – we can create any kind of status we want. So I’m proposing a new status literally called “second-class citizenship.”
Any American resident who skipped the legal system for immigrating would be eligible to apply for second-class citizenship. Those with spotless criminal records who demonstrate a facility in English and pass the regular citizenship test demonstrating familiarity with our history and laws would be exempt from deportation as long as they commit no felonies. But they would not be able to vote; serve on juries; obtain a U.S. passport; or receive government benefits like welfare, food stamps, Obamacare, federal housing, and Social Security. Each state could set its own rules regarding employment, driver’s licenses, and in-state tuition.
Second-class status wouldn’t be the same as having a green card, because of the restrictions on work and government benefits. Second-classers would still need to apply to get green cards if they wish to take another step toward first-class citizenship. Those who do not even qualify for second-class citizenship would be deported.
Illegal immigrants, in their arrogance, have shown they believe our immigration rules do not apply to them. They have jumped the line – basically stealing a chance at a better life from millions of people around the world who would like to live in America. The idea they would be granted full citizenship essentially so the Democratic Party would gain millions more votes is obscene.
And yes, I include the “Dreamers” in that category. Children whose parents smuggled them into the United States outside normal channels are not personally at fault, but neither are we. The blame lies squarely with their selfish parents. If Dreamers feel their lot is unfair, their anger and resentment should be aimed at their mothers and fathers. The rest of us – as well as legitimate would-be Americans abroad – should not be punished for their parents’ malfeasance.
One might object that calling various Americans “second-class” would be a scarlet letter, a mark of shame. Well, good. I want them to have to say, “Actually, I’m second-class” when asked to apply for an off-limits job, sign a legal petition, or vote for a candidate. They (or their parents) have cheated a system that offers great promise to citizens of foreign countries but must turn away masses of people who played by the rules.
Those advocating a one-time amnesty should check their history books. Illegal immigrants were already granted what was widely called a one-time amnesty thirty years ago in the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control, also known as the Simpson-Mazzoli Act. Should we have “one-time” amnesties every thirty years? Why not every ten years? Even better, how about an annual amnesty every Fourth of July?
Under this system, we could begin to step up deportation of illegal immigrants, because we shouldn’t continue to host people who choose not to apply for second-class citizenship – or whose applications have been rejected.
The trouble and expense to taxpayers is the only good reason not to deport all illegal immigrants. But they don’t deserve better treatment than other citizen-hopefuls at home or abroad. Creating a second-class status would allow first-class citizens to sift through those we don’t want and those we’re willing to tolerate. It’s the best way out of a problem with lots of bad options.
David Benkof is the Senior Political Analyst at The Daily Caller. Follow him on Twitter (@DavidBenkof) or E-mail him at DavidBenkof@gmail.com.