Feathered Bastard

Denver University's "Architecture for Immigration Reform" and the Possibility for Compromise

After a year of debate and study amongst its 20 panel members, the University of Denver's Strategic Issues Program released a final report today titled "Architecture for Immigration Reform," which provides an honest assessment of America's immigration dilemma along with detailed suggestions for guiding U.S. immigration policy.

There's much to like about the report for those concerned about the ethical treatment of the undocumented in our midst. In general, the report regards immigration as a net plus for America, if regulated properly. And it suggests a path to legalization for the undocumented that's linked to a comprehensive approach to the issue. This would require increased border security, a national I.D. card, and a dramatic overhaul of the nation's visa system.

Rejecting the notion of deporting the estimated 10 to 12 million persons in the U.S. illegally as "interesting talk show chatter" that "strains credibility in terms of feasibility and logistics," the report lays out a plan for the undocumented to apply for a time-limited "provisional legal status program." If the undocumented leap all of the necessary hurdles -- including background and medical checks, paying back taxes, learning basic English, and so on -- they could attain permanent legal status within five years.

Past a five year renewal, 10 years in total, if an undocumented person does not meet the necessary requirements, he or she would have to return home. The report foresees this legalization of the 12 million being phased in along with all of its other suggestions for reform and restructuring, hypothetically preventing a rush to the border by those wishing to take advantage of what's essentially a form of amnesty by a different name.

"The strategy proposed by the panel is based upon three premises," reads the report. "First, improved security is making illegal border crossing increasingly difficult and expensive. Second, denying illegal immigrants jobs, through the use of a secure identification card and a database confirmation system such as E-Verify, removes the primary incentive for illegal immigration: employment. Third, existing regulations limiting public services available to undocumented immigrants provide a limitation on benefits for those who choose to remain in an illegal status."

That idea of a national I.D. card, however, will be a huge sticking point. Liberals, conservatives and civil libertarians alike despise the notion, for obvious reasons. And I can't say I'm crazy about it either. However, as the report points out at length, the I.D. card and an improved, permanent E-Verify system is one of the crucial pillars of its reform "architecture." Without it, the imaginary structure they've built will collapse.

Both sides in the immigration debate will find aspects of the report to be unacceptable. I can promise you that the nativist die-hards will reject any compromise on the issue of deporting illegal aliens, just as they did with the proposed 2007 Comprehensive Immigration Reform Act, a bill the bigots helped torpedo.

And while the pro-immigration forces might like the provisional legal status program, and the increase in per-country diversity limits from the current seven percent of the worldwide level of immigration admissions to a ten percent cap, they will object to an enhancement of law enforcement partnerships between the feds and locals, such as with the now-notorious 287(g) and Secure Communities programs.

Indeed, the 287(g) program, which turns beat cops into immigration enforcers, is anathema to the pro-immigration left because of the widespread civil rights abuses therein, personified by our own brown-bashing Sheriff Joe Arpaio. Arpaio retains 287(g) in his vast jail system, though the Department of Homeland Security jerked his 287(g) street authority earlier this year.

Arpaio is not the only rotten carrot in the 287(g) stew. But the fact that the feds have allowed him to continue his anti-immigrant sweeps sans federal authority and to keep 287(g) in his jails is a sign that the protection of human and civil rights is low on the list of federal priorities. Bottom line: local police should not be enforcing federal immigration law. That happens to be a position most police associations share.

Still, what's admirable about the Denver study is its stab at a comprehensive solution and its recognition that immigrants provide a valuable human resource that's vital to the continued success of the U.S. economy and to our society as a whole.

"Global migration," the report observes, "like the new, intertwined global economy, is a fact of 21st century life that must be recognized. It cannot be wished away."

The challenge for the U.S.? Find a way to maximize the potential of new arrivals.

"The question before the United States," the report continues, "is less about halting the flow of global migration and more about managing it to our advantage. To that end, the panel recommends that global migration be recognized as an opportunity to be capitalized upon to our national benefit, rather than a reality to be ignored."

I wholeheartedly agree with this general statement, the proverbial devil being in the details, as always. And I acknowledge that neither side in the ongoing argument can expect to get everything it wants. There has to be compromise. But what I've found in the years I've been covering the issue is that the pro-immigration forces are almost always willing to meet their adversaries half way. The nativists? Sadly, they want nothing short of wholesale ethnic cleansing.

Those seeking compromise on immigration will have to abjure and denounce nativism, just as segregation was once tossed into the trash compactor of history and relegated to the racist dungheap. Yet, the nativists will not go quietly. So even if this report's authors win over the pro-immigration folks to their camp, a donnybrook awaits them when any of their proposals inches close to becoming actual legislation.

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Stephen is a former staff writer and columnist at Phoenix New Times.
Contact: Stephen Lemons