Opinion: Columnists

Conn Carroll: One sentence that could save immigration reform

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Opinion,Conn Carroll,Columnists

Gallup released a new poll this week in which Americans were asked to prioritize the issues on which they believe President Obama and Congress should focus their time and attention.

Respondents were given 12 issues to choose from. Unsurprisingly, "creating more jobs" and "helping the economy" topped the list. But can you guess which issue finished dead last?

"Reforming immigration."

As passionate as both sides are on the issue, most Americans simply want the debate to go away. And that feeling is strongest among Republicans who are tired of seeing Democrats use immigration as a wedge issue to divide their party.

Fox News host Sean Hannity summed up the feelings of many Republicans this November when he said, "We've gotta get rid of the immigration issue altogether."

The conservative movement is understandably conflicted about illegal immigration.

On the one hand, conservatives want to honor the free market, the right to contract, and America's rich immigration history. But on the other hand, America is a nation of laws. We cannot keep rewarding people for breaking the law or looking the other direction.

So it is completely understandable why many conservatives are anxious to jump at the opportunity to solve the illegal immigration issue by supporting the Schumer-Rubio immigration bill.

Like ripping off a Band-Aid, many believe that creating a path-to-citizenship/earned-citizenship/amnesty is worth the short-term pain for the long-term gain.

Unfortunately, Schumer-Rubio is a fatally flawed bill that will only guarantee the illegal immigration issue will haunt conservatives for decades to come.

For starters, as the bill's authors readily admit, millions of illegal immigrants currently in the country will not qualify for legalization. Only those who came to the country before December 2011 qualify for legalized status.

If you came after, you are out of luck. And those who can't afford the fines, can't prove they've been steadily employed, or who fall below the federal poverty line will also be excluded.

The bill's authors say all those who do not qualify for legalization will be deported. But nobody believes this will happen. As the proponents of Schumer-Rubio love to point out, this country simply does not have the political will, or resources, to round up and deport millions of people.

Those illegal immigrants who do not qualify for legalized status are here now, and they will be with us for years after Schumer-Rubio becomes law.

Next, there is the bill's low-skill guest-worker program, which will bring in up to 75,000 workers every year for the first four years, then allow a newly created government agency, the Bureau of Immigration and Labor Market Research, to set the cap after that.

Not only will these workers be allowed to live in the United States year-round for up to six years, but each worker will also have the right to bring in a spouse with them.

Now imagine a typical hard-working young immigrant who wants to do the best for him and his family. Why wouldn't that worker and his spouse start a family while they are here in the United States?

And, after they have a child, who will be a U.S. citizen, does anybody really believe any administration would want to deport these parents and leave an orphaned child behind? Of course not.

So not only would Schumer-Rubio start out by leaving a sizeable number of illegal immigrants in the United States, the guest worker program would guarantee that population grows every year.

And this all assumes that the bill's other border security and E-verify programs are implemented perfectly. When was the last time that ever happened?

Conservatives who truly want the illegal immigration issue to go away should push for one simple fix to the Schumer-Rubio legislation: Remove the requirement that applicants for legalization must have been in the United States before December 2011.

In other words, make the path to citizenship available to everyone. Then it really would be an "earned citizenship" policy and not a special amnesty available only to those who have already broken U.S. immigration law.

This may not be the most popular way to solve the illegal immigration issue. But at least it's honest. And it would work.

Conn Carroll (ccarroll@washingtonexaminer.com) is a senior editorial writer for The Washington Examiner. Follow him on Twitter at @conncarroll.

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