OPINION: Solving Illegal Immigration Isn’t As Hard As Heritage Thinks

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The February spike in people crossing the border to legally turn themselves in to border officers to apply for asylum is allowing the Trump administration to complain about the border “crisis.” The Trump-alleged national emergency allows the president’s supporters to manifest unwarranted fear to new heights. Still, however, Trump has put nothing forward to solve the problem.

The Heritage Foundation’s James Jay Carafano has now proposed more silliness to solve the problem. “Compromise is no way to cut through intractable divides such as this,” Carafano wrote in a recent analysis. He maintained President Reagan compromised in 1986 with the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) and that it didn’t work.

Of course, there was no explanation of why it didn’t work. That would hinder the argument. It didn’t work because of a failure to pursue border enforcement; it didn’t work because it didn’t pursue work permits for foreign workers. That omission caused IRCA to fail, because the country absolutely needed certain workers for jobs fewer and fewer Americans are willing to do, no matter the pay. A 2013 study from the Partnership for a New American Economy illustrated the problem:
In 2011, there were on average 489,000 unemployed people in North Carolina and approximately 6,500 available farm jobs offered through the North Carolina Growers Association. Despite the fact that each of these jobs was in or next to a county with over 10 percent unemployment, only 268 of the nearly 500,000 unemployed North Carolinians applied for these jobs. More than 90 percent of those applying (245 people) were hired, but just 163 showed up for the first day of work. A month in, more than half had quit. Only 7 native workers … completed the growing season.

As a result, hundreds of thousands of farm-workers are working illegally. That does not count those working in construction and the hospitality industry.

Numbers are just educated guesses by people of good will. Immigration critics claim the number of illegal entrants may be much larger.

Pew Research reports “the U.S. civilian workforce includes 7.8 million unauthorized immigrants, representing a decline.”

In January, 2019, estimates indicated 128 million American workers were classified as full-time workers with another 28 million part time workers, for a total of 156 million. Add in an unemployment rate of four percent for the total number of American workers.

What we have is a full employment crisis that is being patched by illegal migrants. If up to 70 percent of the farmworkers that feed us are working illegally, what would we do for food without them?

In construction nationally, there are shortages of labor that benefit existing workers with better pay but housing we need isn’t being built. For immigration critics who vehemently object to illegal alien workers, word from Texas should sober them up. The Texas construction industry is locked down and limited in the work it can do. There simply aren’t enough workers to fill the need. The Mexicans who were always on hand to construct anything — from residences to high rise buildings — aren’t coming now. There is work in Mexico, and the border is harder to cross without papers.

Conservatives argue that while every single illegal alien can’t be found, as many as possible should be rounded up and deported. They suggest more enforcement officers, more detention facilities and more immigration judges need to be hired to handle the massive deportation.

Carafano suggests migrants who self-deport should be allowed to reapply for legal reentry within a year instead of the 10 years required now, saying the policy would create “a culture of compliance.” He adds that any “temporary relief from deportation,” such as President Obama’s executive order for people brought here as minor children illegally, should not be made permanent through amnesty, saying “no program should include an automatic pathway to citizenship.”

Heritage is as wrong on immigration reform and how to solve the immigration crisis as it was when it created the foundation for “Romneycare” and “Obamacare.”

What solving the immigration crisis really requires is recognizing America’s need for hundreds of thousands of workers to fill critical jobs needed to feed us, to house us and to staff the entire hospitality industry. President Trump annually hires foreign workers from Europe for his Florida property because, he says, no one here wants the work; other businesses should be allowed to do the same.

We also need to create an employer-based work permit system that allows employers to hire vetted foreign workers. Work permits would cost a fee, be renewable and available to all foreigners, including those here already. The permit would allow ingress and egress to the U.S. during the life of the permit, thus eliminating permanent residence and any need to bring families.

We also need a more efficient employer check system to verify eligibility to work, a real “E-Verify” system run by contracting companies capable of running a large number of transactions. E-Verify should be required of all employees.

Americans should also recognize the need to legalize all who were illegally brought here as minor children. If they follow the rules, they could apply for a Permanent Resident Card and then, if they qualify, apply for citizenship.

If no one here present in the U.S. illegally could work without a work permit and a thorough E-Verify check, Heritage’s self-deportation might work for the remaining few. Then again, the problem may solve itself, because demand for labor could be less intense in the years ahead — thanks both to a changing workforce and developments in technology.

Raoul Contreras is the author of “The Armenian Lobby & U.S. Foreign Policy” and “The Mexican Border: Immigration, War and a Trillion Dollars in Trade.” He formerly wrote for the New America News Service of the New York Times and was a member of the International Seafarers Union in the 1960s.

The views and opinions expressed in this commentary are those of the author and do not reflect the official position of The Daily Caller.