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A Temporary Immigration Solution: Making Lemonade Out Of Lemons

by Robert Gittelson

The events of the past few months have led me to an epiphany of sorts, in that I have an idea for an immediate compromise on our immigration impasse that could benefit the security of our nation, the right, the left, our economy, and the undocumented immigrants in our society. I know, it sounds impossible, but I beg your indulgence for a moment to hear me out on this, because I just might be on to something here.

The way that I see it, as things stand now, nothing substantial will be accomplished by Congress on immigration reform, because both parties seem content to leave our current stalemate in place until after the next election cycle, which effectively means that nothing will measurably change for at least two more years, if then.

The funding of our fence seems to be in limbo right now, leaving our borders at least partially unprotected against anyone determined enough to sneak through them. Our economy is on the precipice of a recession, and as things stand now, the "enforcement only" approach will slowly serve to further erode our workforce, at a time when we should be doing everything that we can to promote our economic recovery. The 20,000,000 or so undocumented economic refugees in our country are being forced further into the shadows, slowing the assimilation process that the civility of our society is desperately crying for, and partially disrupting the full tax revenue that our counties, states, and nation require to function as we would all like them to.

I have a simple temporary solution, and it's actually something that we are already doing on a smaller scale. What would happen if we offered all undocumented aliens to apply for TPS, (Temporary Protected Status), such as what we now offer to certain El Salvadorian nationals, and had previously been available to certain Hondurian nationals? This would be a TEMPORARY fix. The applicants that can pass a background check, (we won't offer TPS to criminals), would be required to pay reasonable fees, (currently $50 for the application and $80 for the fingerprint/background check totaling $130), plus I propose that each TPS applicant pay a penalty of $500 for each 18 month TPS period, (which is the length of the current TPS period). This TPS will allow the applicant, if granted, to live and work here for a set temporary period of 18 months. I anticipate that each applicant will probably need to apply for TPS at least twice before any new laws by congress could be enacted and in effect. The penalty would total $1,000 for three years of TPS, (about $333 per year). Assuming that as many as half of the undocumented immigrants would be willing to take this opportunity to step out of the shadows and live in legal status, albeit temporarily, that could result in revenue of approximately $10,000,000,000, (10 Billion dollars). Maybe more? Pragmatically, by tacitly allowing these 20 million +/- undocumented people to remain in our country while nothing is done pro or con to decide their fate over the next couple of years, we are wasting the opportunity to collect any penalties from them during this "down time". Why not acknowledge that there are here working anyway, so we might as well regulate it temporarily, until Congress can get their act together. In the meantime, we'll be able to collect about $10 Billion dollars that we wouldn't have collected due to the inaction of our government.

I would further propose that half of the money, $5,000,000,000, should be directly earmarked for construction of the border fence, while the other $5,000,000,000 should go directly to the counties of the applicants. In other words, in a small town with about 1,000 undocumented residents that apply for TPS, their county would receive $500,000 over the next 3 years to help with social services such as hospital emergency rooms or local schools. This puts money into the hands of the local agencies that actually need the money.

As part of this proposed TPS program, all applicants would get a Federal Taxpayer Identification Number, (NOT a Social Security Number - ie: no Social Security Card), under which they must pay taxes and file returns. This differs from the current TPS program, but I feel that this change would help to counter the inevitable argument that the TPS recipients could use their Social Security Cards to get other non-mandated or false ID's. This would ease our nation's ability to implement workforce enforcement, without disrupting our economy.

As things stand now, all additional aliens that sneak into the country are banking on a future reform or "amnesty" that will allow them to stay here. I suggest that by making the cutoff date 12/31/07 for being in this country, it would further serve to as a deterrent for illegal entry, as it won't do them any good to come now, after the cutoff date, at least not if they intend to stay, or if they intend to work, as without legal papers or legal TPS they wouldn't be employable.

This is not, I repeat NOT any kind of amnesty. It would only offer illegal aliens that are already here a temporary period of 18 months at a time to work and live here. There presence under TPS would NOT be applied toward the 5 years of U.S. residence required for their eventual pathway to citizenship, should congress ever pass legislation to that effect.

The purpose of this program would be to jumpstart our economic recovery, and to provide funds needed to build a border fence on our southern border, as well as to provide funds to areas where they are needed to fund social programs that are currently under-funded due to the presence of undocumented people.

Also, by tracking where the TPS applicants are living, (as this program would), we would be able to correct data from our latest census, enabling the Federal Government to more accurately apportion funds to the areas that are entitled to them.

I realize that this is not a permanent solution to the problem of comprehensive immigration reform. It is not meant to be permanent. However, it certainly would be beneficial to all concerned. It would help us to build our border fence and implement workforce security. That would be an economic as well as a homeland security benefit. It would help to heal the societal tensions that have disrupted our national harmony. It would help our over-burdened counties to balance their budgets and meet the needs of their residents. It would be fairly easy to implement. It would increase tax revenue on federal and state levels, as more workers would be brought out of the shadows to pay taxes and file returns. It would discourage further illegal immigration, as we would have established a hard cut-off date for entry, as well as to make it more difficult for workers to work under false ID's, (as we could more easily implement and enforce the Real ID Act). And it would do all of this without any kind of amnesty.

Furthermore, it would open up the opportunity for many millions of newly legalized residents to join the military. I WOULD propose that any of the TPS applicants that choose to serve in our military should get credit for their time in service towards eventual citizenship if they are honorably discharged, or wounded in service. We certainly could use these able-bodied men and women in our military, as our current armed services are overburdened and stretched thin. Again, this is a national security issue.

Also, our nation's farmers have been begging for an AgJobs bill, as they are seriously short of labor to work in the fields of our heartland. The AgJobs legislation went nowhere last year, and prospects look bleak for any kind of relief for our desperate farmers this year either. The problem can be seriously alleviated if we enact this approach. It won't be a permanent solution, but even a temporary solution is much, much better then nothing. Do we really want to see higher food prices right now, as we are on the verge of a recession?

I see this as an opportunity. No matter whether one is a Democrat, Republican, or Independent voter, it is in our national best interest to at least start repairing this problem. In all honesty, has any serious problem ever somehow mysteriously solved itself if we simply ignored it, as we are with immigration?

Furthermore, while it is absolutely true that President Bush is a lame duck President, would it be so terrible for our nation if under his tenure we jump-started a solution to our immigration crisis? Wouldn't it send a positive signal to the rest of the World that while our President will soon be leaving office, we, as a nation, are not powerless to heal our internal conflicts? Would it be so terrible for our nation if President Bush were able to salvage something positive out of his domestic agenda before he left office - even something temporary such as this proposal? Are we that polarized as a nation that we are rooting for failure if a good idea were to be implemented during the term of someone from a party other then our own? Also, our congressional leaders could certainly use something positive to happen on their watch. The implementation of a temporary fix to our nation's immigration crisis is arguably much better then sitting on their hands for another year and lamenting lost opportunities.

When I was growing up, there was a saying in this country that made a lot of sense. It was, "What is good for General Motors is good for our country." Times have changed, and unfortunately GM is no longer as relevant as it used to be. However, the principal still applies, which is, "What is good for our economy is good for our country." Furthermore, while the outsourcing of American jobs is a reality of the 21st century, and the competition from overseas is stronger now then it has ever been in our nation's modern economic history, it doesn't mean that we have to roll over and beg for mercy. We have to compete. We might be in a war against terror, but we are most certainly in an economic war against foreign competition. We have 20,000,000 hard working economic refugees in our arsenal, just waiting for the chance to be utilized to their fullest and most effective extent. Doesn't it make sense to face the facts, and use this labor source in a legal and efficient manner? We won't increase our GNP by just hoping that we can get more business. We have to proactively develop that business, and then ramp up our economic engine to produce it!

In any event, I wanted to put this proposal forward. There is nothing wrong with us, as a nation, continuing to debate and work through an eventual solution to our immigration crisis. However, while we wage this debate, doesn't it make sense to move forward on securing our borders? Doesn't it make sense to recognize that we have a multi-million person workforce that is being under utilized, so we might as well squeeze every ounce of productivity out of that workforce while we have it? Doesn't it make sense to strengthen our exhausted military, while we wage difficult multi-year wars against terror on several far away fronts? Doesn't it make sense to temporarily help our nation's farmers to produce as much food as possible, especially since our agricultural products are our nation's largest export category, and we need to do everything that we can to lessen our nation's negative trade imbalance, and to strengthen the dollar abroad?

I am realistic enough to recognize that there are some people on the right that will read everything that I just wrote and still call this temporary solution another attempt at "amnesty." I also know that there are some people on the left that will say that a temporary solution weakens their ability to enact an overall solution that will earn citizenship for all of our undocumented immigrants. Therefore, I am appealing to the middle. I know that there is no simple solution to this problem, and the final answer won't be black or white, but rather some shade of gray. I'm simply suggesting that while we wait for that future solution to be hammered out, we should be pragmatic enough to act as a nation in our own best self-interest, and temporarily make the best overall use of the 20,000,000 people that are already here in the shadows. It seems to me that the cat is out of the bag, because everybody recognizes that these people are here. We might as well temporarily make the best of the situation until we decide what to do about it. As comedian Robin Williams said back in the '70's, "Reality…..what a concept!"

About The Author

Robert Gittelson has been a garment manufacturer in the Los Angeles area for over 25 years. His wife, Patricia Gittelson, is an immigration attorney with offices in Van Nuys and Oxnard, California. Robert also works closely with Patricia on the administrative side of her immigration practice. Throughout his career, Mr. Gittelson has developed practical, first hand experience in dealing with the immigration issues that are challenging our country today.

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.