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Legal immigration balances economics with opportunity

Right Angles column published in Glenwood Springs Post Independent on April 16, 2013

The fate of 12 million illegal aliens estimated to be living in the United States is hotly debated in Washington, DC. Unfortunately, the problem is a symptom of beltway politicians’ failure to enforce immigration laws and modernize our legal immigration system. At this point, some form of legal status for many illegal residents is necessary for a practical solution.

But every elected leader has an obligation to ensure America remains the land of opportunity. That means stopping the current tide of illegal entry and residency with improved border security and visa tracking. At the same time, we must reformulate and expedite our legal immigration process with emphasis on American economics instead of border proximity.

Immigration is not a racial issue

Most illegal aliens currently in the United States crossed our southern border. The media gleefully harps that Barack Obama garnered about 70 percent of the Latino vote in the 2012 election. Thus, Democrats see amnesty as the key to a permanent political majority. It starts with legalization of today’s illegal residents and continues with millions that will follow tomorrow and evermore.

The Democrat Party and activist groups like La Raza contend immigration is an Hispanic matter. They are fostering a culture of dependency with public assistance programs and “no strings attached” amnesty, knowing it will bolster their vote count.

In truth, immigration is about people from all nations, races, and cultures. Individuals from all over the world deserve equal treatment in their efforts to live and work in the United States. Legal immigration is vital for the economic sustainability of America. And it ensures that immigrants will have a better future, founded on sustained employment and personal responsibility.

Legal residency requires border security

With this in mind, most conservatives would support some type of green card status (i.e., legal residency) for illegal immigrants, regardless of race, origin or political views. However, this opportunity should require a person to demonstrate years of residency, a history of work instead of public assistance, and a crime-free record. Criteria for a “pathway to citizenship” could then include English proficiency and a citizenship test.

Any legislation to grant legal residency must include comprehensive measures to improve border security. This is important to every facet of American life, from personal safety to the sustainability of Medicaid. It’s not just about halting illegal immigration. Border security, like airport security, is a direct counter-measure to organized crime and terrorism.

Admittedly, border security has tightened since the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001. Still, Homeland Security estimates only 40 to 60 percent of unauthorized entrants are caught. To reduce this number, the U.S. government should install more triple fencing and sensor technology along land borders. It’s also important to pressure Mexico to gain control over drug cartels, which smuggler people and narcotics across the border.

Fixing the legal immigration system

Attenuating illegal entry should coincide with reforms to our legal immigration system. In 2011, around 8 million people applied for immigrant or non-immigrant visas. While this may sound like a large number, the immigration system is unwieldy and unresponsive to domestic demands for foreign workers, skilled and unskilled. Some segments of the American economy, like construction, are labor intensive. Other areas, such as engineering and science, depend on people with high levels of education. Some sort of temporary worker program could couple employer needs with the inflow of temporary and permanent immigrants.

Problems still arise when immigration is legal. Did you know the government has no method to determine whether foreigners leave the country when their visas expire? A fingerprint system to track the departure of foreigners, authorized by Congress a decade ago, was never implemented. This system must be set up, regardless of cost or difficulty.

Legal immigration must become a dynamic process. It makes sense to reformulate our legal immigration system with the flexibility to regulate the influx of people, based on education and work skills. And we need to make sure temporary residents leave when their time is up. This is the only way to balance America’s economic needs with opportunity for immigrants.

The United States needs and wants immigrants. It’s the responsibility of our leaders to ensure that immigration is legal, logical, and ethnically blind. Our nation must remain a place where people can live, work, and prosper. If the rule of law succumbs to political advocacy and racial preferences, American freedom and opportunity will fade for everyone.

James D. Kellogg is a professional engineer, the author of the thriller novel E-Force, and an outdoor adventure enthusiast in western Colorado. Visit to learn more.

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