This article was first published on Rightly Wired.
In a previous article, I advocated a balanced approach to US immigration policy which combined strictly controlled borders with a welcome to all who want a better life in America. Now I will examine how our current immigration policy compares to the “walls with open doors” approach.
The current immigration rules are more restrictive than many people realize. There are basically three ways to get a green card which permits permanent residency and employment.
First, there is no limit on the number of immediate family members (spouses and minor children) who can legally enter the US in a given year, but this category contains a minority of all those who wish to come to this country. For those who do not have an immediate family member (as defined above) who is already a citizen, there two other options but each has a numerical limit on how many may enter.
The second method is to get an employment based immigrant visa. Special categories are each allotted a certain number of immigration visas (green cards). These visas are for certain types of people who may have special skills or who will invest large sums of money to create jobs. The number of these visas is limited to 140,000 each year.
The third way to get a green card is to enter to win one of 50,000 green cards through the Diversity Visa Lottery reserved only for citizens of countries who have not accounted for more than 50,000 immigrants in the past five years. One’s chances are pretty slim, however, since the 2014 lottery received 14,633,767 applicants.
In addition to all of the above limitations, there is an additional cap on how many immigrants may enter for each country. The result of all these restrictions is a large backlog of applicants. This backlog of would be immigrants who cannot come to the United States because of these quotas is, in many cases, over twenty years.
This policy should immediately be suspect since there is simply no harm done to a country by allowing more immigrants to enter it. Many purported detriments of allowing free immigration are raised, but they all fall apart under the slightest scrutiny (if you do know of a solid argument against free immigration, please let me know in the comments).
The reality is that immigrants are a net benefit to our economy, and allowing an immigrant to enter the US is often a huge benefit to that individual who may come from a desperately poor situation in their home country. Even if Americans don’t want to help poor foreigners, we should at least not actively harm them by taking away their best available option.
Dividing up would-be immigrants into categories and defining a different quota for each is a clear example of government engineering and social planning which we conservatives know does not work. A new policy is needed. The extraordinarily restrictive regulations now in effect, can be remedied in a number of ways, but I think a simple approach of just giving out more immigration visas would solve most of the problems.
We should pass a law today stating that all qualified applicants will receive a green card. We would not need to change the other requirements for a green card (background check, medical exam, etc.); we should simply ensure that no one who would otherwise qualify for an immigration visa is rejected because of a quota.
Making legal entry into the United States easier would also help to assuage the problem of illegal border crossings. If it is easier and cheaper to come through an established, controlled border crossing point than to be snuck across a desert by “coyotes” or crammed under the floorboards of a truck, then people will choose the more comfortable option. Replacing our extremely restrictive immigration policy and opening the doors to immigrants is economically, politically, and ethically the right thing to do.