The Whitehouse has announced that they, Senate Democrats and Republicans have negotiated a comprehensive immigration reform proposal (link). The proposal is considerably better than I expected; it includes a lot of the policy changes that the Cato institute has called for (link). The proposal has four zmain parts: more funding for border security, the creation of a temporary worker program, the creation of a path to legality for illegal immigrants currently in the country, and an increase in the number of several visa types. The proposal has been introduced in the Senate as the STRIVE Act (link to summary).
The temporary worker program is a good idea; first, because it eases restrictions on immigration, putting labor into the set of markets being liberalized, and second because it reflects the nature of immigration from Mexico; the majority of immigrants from Mexico return after some time. Most Mexican immigrants come to work for a relatively short time and then go back to their home country. Harsh border enforcement without a legal avenue for such a work pattern means that immigrants who do make it into the country illegally, tend to stay. Even so, the proposal does include a path to citizenship for temporary workers.
The proposal does not tie temporary work visas to a specific employer which is important because visa tying would give employers leverage over temporary workers and undoubtedly lead to abuses. Guest workers must be free to fully participate in the labor market. The abuses associated with the, guest-worker like, Bracero program which resulted largely from tying visas to employers eventually lead to the demise of the program.
Providing a path to legalization for the 12 million or so of illegal immigrants already in the nited States will also have several positive effects. First, it will stop a lot of resources from being wasted as they are now. U.S. immigration officials will stop using resources to find and deport productive members of society, and currently illegal immigrants will stop using resources to evade those officials. Second, currently illegal immigrants will find it much easier to travel back and forth between Mexico and the U.S. to see their families, which will undoubtedly improve their quality of life. Third, legalization will eliminate the ability of employers to threaten immigrant employees with deportation. Eliminating that threat will improve working conditions and pay for immigrants by improving their bargaining position.
I am somewhat concerned about some of the details of the proposal. President Bush stated that the proposal includes making English the official language of the United States. I don’t think making it official will really change much, but doing so seems unnecessary and makes me very uncomfortable. The proposal will also change the criteria for immigration from family based to skill based; I am not sure how I feel about this.
Overall, this proposal seems to be very good, and would dramatically improve our immigration policy. I have written before (link) about the need to liberalize immigration policy in order to be intellectually honest about pushing for other trade liberalization, and this is a step in that direction; visa cap increases, amnesty for current illegal immigrants and the temporary worker program all reduce migration restrictions. I hope that both the House and Senate enact a plan similar to this.