Setting Priorities for Immigration

The Obama administration has a backup plan for immigration reform to be proposed in the event that Congress cannot come up with its own reform measure. [1] Given the divisiveness that has characterized the national legislature in recent years, one should not be too sanguine about the prospects of Congress working out a proposal that will have sufficient support to obtain passage.

Of course, there is little hope that the president will be able to get his measure through Capitol Hill. Indeed, resentment has been expressed that he has even come up with a plan while Congress is in the process of developing its own legislation on point, calling Mr. Obama’s proposal “dead on arrival.”

The president’s plan would require undocumented immigrants to get in line behind existing legal applicants and begin their path to citizenship eight years after the legislation is enacted, or 30 days after the last visa is given to legal applicants, whichever is earlier. There would be a shortened time period for undocumented immigrants who were brought to the United States as children.

In the midst of this latest manifestation of the uproar over immigration to the United States, let us propose the application of an idea that obtains little political currency these days: having compassion and doing the right thing. Indeed, let us propose that our nation’s immigration law be a means of addressing human need.

Notwithstanding our nation’s current economic woes, the fact remains that the United States is a highly prosperous country. It is true that there are citizens of the United States who enjoy none of that prosperity, and that is a wrong that should be addressed. But that does not relieve the nation of its obligation to welcome foreigners who come to the U.S. in search of the security and means of livelihood that they cannot find in their own countries. [2]

Here, then, is a ready made criterion for prioritizing requests to come to the United States: priority should be given to those who seek entrance through our boarders in order to meet their basic human needs. This is not an idea that finds much advocacy amongst our political class, but, surely, in our more lucid moments, it must be clear that this is the path to take.

This does not mean that the nation should do more than it is able; we have no obligation to bankrupt ourselves. Moreover, there is nothing that forbids a requirement of social assimilation, such as learning English, as well as the Constitution and history of our country, for those who are capable of doing so.

But that the nation’s immigration policy should first and foremost be addressed to human need is something that only the most faithless can cogently oppose. It should trouble us that doing the right thing sounds so revolutionary in our time. But doing the right thing should direct us in the development of our immigration laws, just as it should direct us in everything else.

Jack Quirk