I cannot say whether the Republican Party will become more enlightened on this issue, but changes in America’s approach to illegal immigration are necessary per se, and also as part of a major overall reform of immigration policy. The ideal approach to the illegal immigration issue would be to provide a pathway to citizenship for the approximately 12 million illegal immigrants already in this country, and for others who will come in the future.
As Posner indicates, the so-called Dream Act is a small step in this direction. Once enacted, this Act would enable applicants to start on a path toward citizenship as long as they entered the U.S. prior to their 16th birthday and graduated from high school, or have other education qualifications. Barring a change in immigration policy, some form of amnesty will be granted to other illegal immigrants who have been in this country for at least several years, although every amnesty program has the obvious problem that future illegal immigrants will also expect to be granted amnesty.
How to handle illegal immigration is only part of the problem with current immigration policies. The U.S. does not encourage enough skilled immigrants to come, and also requires legal immigrants to jump over numerous obstacles before they can enter. No wonder an increasing number of highly desirable immigrants are going instead to Canada and other destinations where they are more welcome.
For many years I have argued that the best way to reform America’s (and other countries’) immigration policy would be to allow all immigrants to enter if they can pay a given monetary fee. For illustrative purposes I have used the figure of $50,000, but the actual fee would be set by the supply of immigrants and America’s willingness to accept immigrants (for details see my short monograph, “The Challenge of Immigration: A Radical Solution”, 2011, IEA). I have shown why this approach would attract young, skilled, and ambitious immigrants who gain a lot both monetarily and in other ways from coming to America, including better opportunities for their children. This approach would also raise a sizable amount of revenue to the government at a time when additional revenue has a huge value.
Loan programs should and would be developed by companies, and also by the federal government, that would allow immigrants to borrow much of the money needed to pay the immigration admission fee. Immigrants would repay these “immigration loans” over time from the higher earnings here compared to their earnings in their countries of origin. There could be scholarships and discounts on the fees for particularly desirable immigrants, but the fee structure should not be made too complicated.
This approach of using immigration entrance fees would not only make overall immigration policy more sensible, but it would also go some way toward resolving the illegal immigration question. Immigrants who have been in the United States for a long time, and have done reasonably well and are raising families, hate living under the cloud and opprobrium of being here illegally. Many, probably most, of them would be eager to buy their right to citizenship by paying even sizable fees, especially if loans are available to help finance these fees. The perverse incentives that accompany amnesty programs would be eliminated since amnesty would no longer be needed or desirable.
In addition, many of those who might be coming illegally in the future from Mexico and elsewhere would now have a very attractive alternative; namely, to pay the entrance fee that gives them the right to come legally and permanently. Many of them would surely choose the legal option that is presently denied to them.
To be sure, the issue of illegal immigrants would not completely go away. Some migrants might still prefer to come illegally and save the immigration fee, especially if they plan only short stays in the United States. In addition, a small number of others who now come legally might decide not to pay the immigration fee by entering illegally.
Nevertheless, a reform toward allowing anyone to enter if they can pay the entry fee would go a long way toward attracting more immigrants. It would also reduce the hostility to immigrants because they would provide needed “tax” revenue, and they could no longer be said to have a free ride after they come. In addition, the illegal immigrant question would fade into a much more minor issue because the number of immigrants in the country illegally would decline by a substantial amount, and the number of persons entering illegally is likely also to decline, perhaps also by a lot.