Mero Moment: How the U.S. Should Fix Immigration

Immigration is a hot topic again after the presidential race showed that Latino voters made an impact on Barack Obama’s win and Mitt Romney’s loss. There remain questions about the real impact of that vote but few people disagree that there was an advantage, maybe even game-changing, in favor of President Obama.

Congressional Republicans are scrambling for answers to the Latino question and, the best I can tell, it seems their common sense is still being held captive by their politics.

I was in Washington, D.C., the first week of December and had the privilege to meet with four of our five sitting congressmen. My visit was simply to remind each of these gentlemen that answers to comprehensive immigration reform are right under their noses here in Utah. What Utah accomplished as a state is both unprecedented and a shining example to the rest of the nation on how to get this issue right.

Sound comprehensive immigration reform is actually very simple. First, we must fix legal immigration – meaning get over the idea that foreigners come here to steal our jobs, and lighten up on the current quota system. We need more people, not less people, coming to America. It’s no small irony that as more of the world want to become Americans, it seems more and more Americans want to become Europeans, culturally, spiritually and intellectually. Several years ago, Sutherland Institute found that undocumented immigrants in Utah were more “Utah” than Utahns – they marry more, divorce less, have more kids and work harder than us. We need more of that, not less of that. The best way to mitigate illegal immigration is to fix legal immigration.

Second, as we did in Utah, Congress must agree that accountability for undocumented immigrants is the goal. We must enact policies that serve to drive these immigrants to the surface of society. In other words, we must do what Utah did, not what Arizona tried to do. The objective must be accountability, not punishment. Utah has a successful driving privilege card that incentivizes obtaining car insurance. We have an in-state tuition rate for undocumented schoolkids who only know Utah as their home and we have our innovative work permit requiring complete accountability for any immigrant wanting to stay in Utah legally.

The one thing we need to understand most about immigration reform is that there’s a difference between legalization and naturalization. There’s a difference between holding undocumented immigrants accountable and providing them with citizenship. There is nothing Utah did that would grant any undocumented immigrant citizenship; indeed, there isn’t anything Utah can do about that federal responsibility.

But the United States Congress can legalize undocumented immigrants without giving them citizenship. Congress can do what Utah did. It can bring these neighbors to the surface of society through a series of functional mechanisms such as a work permit. Legalization is not amnesty. Legalization simply means that we recognize that we’re not going to round up or starve out millions of people to the destruction of their families and our freedoms. Legalization means we recognize undocumented immigrants aren’t going anywhere. So why not help them to be productive neighbors who pay taxes and are involved in their communities?

Citizenship is equally easy – let them stand in line virtually to become citizens. Live in Utah but apply through Mexico or wherever for their citizenship. Call it getting at the back of the “online.” That’s what will work.

For Sutherland Institute, I’m Paul Mero. Thanks for listening.