An issue proffered by Donald Trump for his 2016 presidential campaign — our national immigration policy — as illustrative of the futility of our recent Congresses and presidents has been thrust into our attention. It does seem that despite his Republican pledge, the Donald has launched what amounts to an independent’s campaign against both Republicans and Democrats.
Time is not on our side on this issue. The immigration control problem is one that is growing and with each passing year its correction becomes more difficult.
To resolve the policy questions two issues must be faced; (1) gaining control over the entry into our country of persons who want residence here and (2) determining the appropriate course to take as to those who have entered or remain in our country illegally.
Fortunately, there is a general recognition that the question of who may be allowed to enter a nation needs to be determined by the citizens of that nation and not be those who are seeking entry.
This determination requires setting standards as to admissibility and enforcing them. The standards in America now existing for permissible immigration need serious re-examination and the enforcement of the standards is a massive failure.
We do not even know how many persons are now illegally in our country, but estimates of more than 11 million have been made. Similarly estimates of the number of persons illegally entering each year are vague but may be in up to 1 million.
Mr. Trump has said that he believes the bulk of the illegal immigration is occurring on our Mexican border and he proposes erection of a border length fence of sufficient quality to stanch the flow. This huge bulwark with an estimated cost of over $20 billion dollars might not be necessary.
It seems likely that electronic technology could be used for identifying intruders and border guards could be instructed to intercept them, if necessary, using such force as a householder might be required to take to stop a trespasser into his home. Trump has not specified how he would control other means used for access.
There is a generally bipartisan sentiment favoring entry control but there is no unanimity about how it is to be achieved. In practice, a program to control illegal entry should be our first priority.
There is, however, a major disparity of views as to the appropriate course to take regarding those who are now residing in the United States illegally or, as it is said with more political correctness, undocumented.
At the outset I would observe that our constitution clearly contemplates that the authority to regulate naturalization is given to Congress and we should avoid efforts to circumvent that authority by presidential proclamations.
While I recognize the argument that many of these immigrants are depriving American citizens and legal entrants of employment, I am not inclined to support and do not find practical Mr. Trump’s plan to deport to their country of origin all undocumented aliens.
As there are important political consequences, candidates from both parties for president have, except for Mr. Trump, been less than candid about the immigration proposals they would make. As time goes by the candidates must be more forthcoming about their views. The American public deserves to know the position of all the candidates on this important matter.
Let me offer some modest guidelines as to the treatment of those who are here without compliance with our laws. The first step, I think, is require registration of all such persons. As best as can be done the registrants should be assured that, if their conduct in America has been lawful, the registration would not be used as a basis for their deportation. This step would provide a reasonably accurate sizing of the problem.
It would also serve to aid the identification of those who are the undesireables as they would not register. Then I would suggest the establishment of a bipartisan Congressional commission charged with recommending the criteria for processing the registrants for work permits and a pathway to a legal status. Having a bipartisan commission would tend to defuse the political component of the decision making required and minimize showboating and disruption.
Because of the legal impasse as to President Obama’s proclamations it seems that nothing is likely to be done until we have a new president. But it is to be hoped that immigration policy will receive early treatment in the next administration because after an extended period of neglect its importance critically merits attention and resolution.
Walter Lewis is a retired attorney who lives on Kauai and writes a regular column for The Garden Island.