The Foreign Service Journal, December 2006

O n the morning of my Foreign Service oral exam back in October 1986, I sat down at my kitchen table with the Washington Post and a cup of coffee. (It’s a good thing I did, or I might not be writing this piece!) The lead story was the passage of the Simpson-Rodino Bill, officially called the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. Later that morning, I sat nervously with two FSOs in an aesthetically challenged Rosslyn office that provid- ed fair warning of my environs to come. One of the examiners asked me, “What can you tell us about recent U.S. immigration reform?” I breathed a sigh of relief and then went over the points of the Post arti- cle. I was off to a good start. In many ways, the debate has changed little in the last 20 years. The two key elements of Simpson-Rodino were an amnesty for long-time illegal aliens and employer sanctions to pre- vent new illegal workers from coming, though the sanctions were never aggressively enforced. Both ideas are still around, but in the post-9/11 era the emphasis is definitely on border security. The Secure Fence Act pass- ed by Congress and signed by Presi- dent Bush, almost exactly 20 years after President Reagan signed Simp- son-Rodino, authorizes a 700-mile fence along the most porous parts of the 2,000-mile border with Mexico — though there is real doubt the struc- ture will ever be built as proposed. But even if the fence does go up, the legislation does not address the plight of the millions of illegal immigrants already living in the United States. Unlike the Senate, House Repub- licans rejected the president’s call for a more nuanced approach to controlling illegal immigration that includes an expanded guest worker program and a path to “legalization” (amnesty having become a “Scarlet A”). By the time you read this, we will know whether their bet on reinforcing their activist base will enable the GOP to hold onto control of Congress. But even if it does, over the long term an anti-illegal immigrant stance looks more and more like a vote-loser — particularly among Latinos, the fastest-growing segment of the U.S. population. The current deadlock suggests that before we embark on grand redesigns of immigration policy along the lines of Simpson-Rodino, it would be wise to develop a limited pilot project that could be tested and evaluated before being carried further. Here are some ideas for such a new approach. The Missing Piece: Development Abroad Conspicuous by its absence from the immigration debate is a focus on reducing the “opportunity disparity” in countries of origin that fuels illegal immigration. The Millennium Chall- enge Account is a study in both for- eign and domestic realpolitik, but it does not target illegal immigration; nor does it focus on problem coun- tries like Mexico. And even if it did, U.S. foreign assistance levels to many countries are going down, not up. So is there no way to fund devel- opment that might help slow illegal immigration? Actually, there is. The simple answer is that the new source of funding would be the intending illegal immigrants themselves. Many poor illegal immigrants somehow raise thousands of dollars for often-dangerous entry into the U.S. to compete for low-paying jobs with no labor protections. Such per- sons willing to play this high-stakes crapshoot would pay even more for safe, certain and legal access to the U.S. job market for a period of time, particularly if they were seen as boost- ing their local communities and would get their money back in the end. I propose to create a new category of legal entry that combines our immigration objectives with our for- eign assistance objectives to control illegal immigration and play a small role in closing the opportunity gap that underlies illegal immigration. More important, the program would immediately deter illegal immigration by raising reasonable hopes for tem- porary, legal entry into the U.S. in a way that is less objectionable to those Americans who want to shut the door on all immigration. 16 F O R E I G N S E R V I C E J O U R N A L / D E C E M B E R 2 0 0 6 Immigration Policy for the 21st Century B Y D AVID S EARBY S PEAKING O UT Before we embark on grand redesigns of immigration policy, it would be wise to develop a limited pilot project.