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The 1.8 Million Solution

A simpler, better immigration plan

(Page 2 of 2)

And raise it for good. The Senate's bill included a temporary-worker program under which low-skilled workers could come in for two years, leave for one year, come in for two more years, leave again for one year, come in for two more years, and then leave forever. This was just silly. People who come here to work or learn tend to put down roots; allowing them to do so gives them incentives to follow the law and connect with communities.

Even in principle, there is no "right" number of immigrants, but the kind of plan I describe here has the advantage of squaring with marketplace realities. According to CBO, in 2006 almost 600,000 immediate relatives of citizens got green cards; under the Rauch plan, that would not change. In 2006, an additional 222,000 more-distant relatives came in under family-sponsored visas, and about 160,000 workers came in with employer sponsorship; those almost 400,000 extended-family and work slots would become more than a million work and education slots. That would make room for more legal workers at both ends of the skill spectrum; it would leave room for some extended-family members to come in with either jobs or college degrees; and it would sop up much of what is now illegal immigration.

Not least, tying visas to jobs and diplomas would let employers and universities choose American immigrants. Their choices, however imperfect, will surely be better than the ones made by the Senate's cumbersome, arbitrary, and finicky point system, which amounted to an industrial policy for labor. (Why eight points for completing a Labor Department-registered apprenticeship program, but only 10 points for five years of actual work experience? Why a maximum of 47 points for employment versus 28 for education?) Think, too, how many more young men and women in the developing world might go to college in hopes of qualifying for a permanent U.S. visa.

What, you're not sold on my reform? You can think of 887 objections? I can answer them all, but, sorry, I seem to be out of space. Suffice it to say that writing a perfect immigration bill is impossible, but writing a better one than the Senate's is a piece of cake. Whatever the numbers or fine print, the principles are these: adequate numbers, pathways to permanence, and rough cuts instead of micromanagement. That bird will fly.

© Copyright 2007 National Journal.

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