I would like to talk
about a new approach to immigration, which we call "Two Paths
to Safety." I'd like to start at the beginning and review some of
the key things that we know about this problem.
Two Problems That Must
The first, of course,
is that we have a national security problem. The security
problem is internal, with 10 million to 20 million people who are
already here illegally. Obviously, that's a broad span of numbers,
and we don't know exactly how many there are. We also don't know
who they are or where they're going. We don't know what they're
doing, when and if they're leaving. In this day and age, that
simply isn't safe, and it isn't smart.
These people are also
no longer confined to one area. We know that of the Mexican
illegals, only 3 percent are in the farming community when
they used to be almost completely in the farming community. Now
they're in all states of the Union, in all types of jobs from
entry-level jobs to high-level jobs.
They also have their
families here. It is sad to say that there are 3 million citizen
children in the United States who have illegal parents, and that
number is growing. People need to pay very close attention to the
14th Amendment and that special clause that says, if under the U.S.
jurisdiction, your children are citizens.
The cost of this
illegal activity is almost impossible to nail down, but it's
estimated at around $45 billion a year, and we know that that's
mostly in education, in incarcerating criminals, and health
We also know that this
problem is growing at a very significant rate because approximately
a little less than half a million people are sneaking across that
border illegally every year. If you don't provide legal means to
deal with this, there are going to be illegal means, and a criminal
element will be very heavily involved.
Second, we also know we
have an economic problem. We know our economy does depend on the
labor that these people provide, and we do estimate that each
laborer provides three and a half jobs in support of the job that
they do. We also know businesses require some kind of availability.
They need to know they've got employees. They need to know how long
they're going to be there, that they can count on them for the
duration of specific jobs.
When there is a demand
like that in the economy, there is always a supply. The market
works. Right now, the most vociferous group of people are demanding
national border security at all costs. That, they feel, is the only
issue that is important, and to heck with the economy or any of the
business-side needs of that second issue.
Why Closing the Border
Is Not Enough
The question is, why
can't that happen? Why can't we just close that border? It's almost
an impossibility right now.
First of all, it's
logistically very complex. We have a very long border with Mexico
where the problem is, and we know lots of people are sneaking
across it. Most of the people, however, who are sneaking across it
are people who want work and would like to be legal, and because
there is no current way of doing that, they can't be. We estimate
that that's between 80 percent or 90 percent of the people who are
sneaking across that border. It is so hard to come in legally. I
have a lot of experience with it because I do use guest workers in
my business, and it is a nightmare.
So if you were able to
take that 80 percent or 90 percent of the people out of the mix
through legal means, the problem would be hugely reduced. If there
were only 10 percent or 15 percent of what's coming across now,
closing that border would be a very, very different issue. We do
not need, under those conditions, a gigantic hi-tech wall, and we
don't need vastly increased armed military at the border. That
would no longer be the requirement.
It's important to
remember that those techniques have been used by the Israelis and
were used by the Russian empire, the former Soviet Union, when
there were enemies on the other side of that wall. On the other
side of any wall that we build is a peaceful nation with whom we
have a free-trade agreement and that is an ally of ours.
I have often thought
that if we build a gigantic wall, I can see Ronald Reagan standing
by that wall, facing America, and saying, "Governors, tear down
In Canada, there have
been a number of security experiments on closing the border. Of
course, they have nothing like the influx of people we have
trying to sneak across the southern border into the U.S., but
in some places it's fairly significant. They have used unmanned
drone airplanes with heat sensors and a communication capability to
the agents on the border, and they found in an experiment done
fairly recently that they caught every single heat-blip crossing
that border that was bigger than a rabbit.
That's 100 percent
border security. The person who told me about this and who was
present at the experiment was Congressman Tom Tancredo of Colorado,
and he was extremely enthusiastic about it. What we have felt in
framing this debate is that perhaps we don't frame it correctly,
and therefore we're not successful in talking about it.
As we've said, most
illegals who come into the U.S. are here to work, and a few studies
suggest that very few of them actually want or intend to become
American citizens. If they are not here to become citizens, they
are not immigrants. If they are coming here to work, they are guest
workers. And that rather redefines the whole thing. Most of them
are also not a security risk.
Quite simply, we
believe that guest workers should be separated from immigrants and
that we should define it as two different paths. One path is for
immigrants, and that's the green card citizenship path, for which
we have a well‑defined program. How to improve that is a
subject for another day.
The second path should
be for guest workers, and these two paths should have nothing to do
with each other. Our problem isn't immigration; it is illegal guest
workers. Being a guest worker should give absolutely no leg up on
the immigration process, and there should be nothing that says
that if you are a guest worker you can't be applying for a green
card. There is no interconnection. You can go through that process
as people who wish to be U.S. citizens do.
We all know what the
political dilemma is that we face: There's a conservative base, and
it's split absolutely evenly between the law-and-order
conservatives who want to close the border and the business
groups who are concerned about growth in the economy. And we know
that the solution should be simple enough: Control your border and
have a guest worker program simultaneously so that you can deal
with both well.
Unfortunately, none of
the legislation that's currently in the Senate deals with both
of those issues. The problem that remains is what Mr. Armey so
eloquently calls the cork at the end of the bottle, and that is the
10 million or 20 million illegals who are already here. We have
given them absolutely no incentive to leave, and they have no
guarantee that if they do leave they can ever get back.
We also know that
Americans, through all polls, will not support amnesty in any shape
or form. Illegal workers invariably answer questions, if they will,
that they do not wish to be illegal. There is no advantage to being
illegal in our society, but their disincentives are way too strong
to have them go home.
First of all, the
bureaucracy just doesn't work for them. I take 10 guest workers a
year. It's an enormous hassle to get all the paperwork done,
and then we go down across the border, get our guys together, and
go to the consulate to get the last step of this done to get the
Two years ago, we stood
in the sun for eight hours in that line, my general manager and the
potential staff. It was blazing hot. We finally got to the front of
the line, and the little girl who was in charge took our paperwork.
She held it up like a dead rat, looked at us, and said, "You folded
your paperwork wrong; go to the end of the line." That's what I
mean when I say the bureaucracy doesn't work for people. It is
almost impossible for a Mexican to get a guest worker
Second, we have limited
their number, and when you limit a number to 60 thousand or 67
thousand or 70 thousand people and there are probably a million
people interested in that job, who feel that they can get jobs when
and if they get into the country, we are forcing the majority of
them to become illegal if they want to work. And once here, I think
it would be a very brave person who would return home, knowing that
he might be the 60,001st person to apply for a visa and not be able
to come back.
Relying on the Private
This is where, perhaps,
our innovation comes in: Our concept is a private-sector
initiative. We feel that the private sector can solve this problem,
and as conservatives, that's the way we have all been taught and
believe we should go.
We believe you should
let private employment agencies licensed by the government open
offices in Mexico and other countries. We believe that you should
empower them to issue guest worker permits with no
If there is a job and
there is a worker who wishes to have that job, put them
together with the profit motive that employment agencies have,
which makes them be efficient and do the job well. Nobody comes in
with a guest work permit if there isn't a job, so they're not
standing on street corners hoping you're going to pick them up to
background checks, as you would in a gun shop, to be sure that
there is no criminal activity in the U.S., and work out a treaty
where Mexico, in particular, would have similar records and share
them. Issue guest worker cards that have a photo, a magnetic strip
on the back that's encoded with all the required information to
make these new cards secure. To eliminate security risks almost
totally, you can have fingerprints on them as well as photos; their
job name, the address of their job; the date of the expiration of
the job; the agency that issued the visa, with all the information
that they would hold. You can track these workers with an
extraordinary level of security that is not in place under the
How to make this work,
from a government perspective, is fairly simple. Private
companies will create the new card system and the background checks
and maintain the databases. There are companies all over the
country that do it for a living and do it exceptionally well. We're
asking professionals to do a job that is a professional job,
The program would be
paid for by user fees and not tax money. I pay at least $1,000 a
person to find a visa and to process it. I'd be happy to pay $500
to have a professional do this and do it correctly with proper
documentation and security for my country. I don't think that huge
tax appropriations are the correct way to work on this.
should be economic, not criminalized. If it costs you $500 to get a
guest worker visa, and if you get caught with an illegal guest
worker and the first time you have to pay $5,000, and the second
time, $10,000, and the third, $25,000 per worker, you're eventually
going to say it's cheaper and easier to just get legal
become easier, and border control would become easier, because most
of the people currently crossing illegally would not be there and
because this provides powerful incentives for workers to
become and remain legal. If they have certainty of re-entry if they
go home to apply or re‑apply, and that there will be fast
turnaround and they can get back and continue with their jobs
unless they have a criminal record, that is a big incentive for
them. They can cross the border at will, back and forth, to
visit their families, to go on vacation. Even today, anybody who's
got a guest worker permit goes through the border a lot easier than
a Hispanic who's got a U.S. passport because the belief is
that, if you have a U.S. passport, it's illegal, it's fake, and if
you're a guest worker, it's real.
The guest worker would
have a chance at better wages and better benefits. He is part of
the American work force at that point, and there would be a
strong, I would hope, financial incentive to return home-namely,
that their employee contribution to Social Security would be
refunded as they cross back over the border.
Breaking the Political
With this approach, the
political deadlock can be broken. Everybody really gets what they
want, and it can unify our base.
conservatives get 100 percent border control.
affordable and available workers.
New workers get good
jobs and the ability to become legal without having to work within
a quota and the fear of being outside the quota if they have to go
back across the border.
Illegals already in the
U.S. get a way to keep their jobs because they can become legal.
They can jump in a car, go across the border, apply for their
visas, and be back. It would take maybe three or four days from
anywhere in the United States, and then they can come out of the
shadows and become regular people in the United States and get
regular benefits that American workers get.
The government gets
national security without more bureaucracy and higher
appropriations. If any of you have read the two major bills in the
Senate, when you get to the appropriations page and a huge
expansion of bureaucracy, it is truly appalling in both of those
And the American people
get secure borders, a strong economy, and a safer
Finally, let me
reiterate why this really does make sense for us, for the
conservative base. If we don't break this deadlock of a split in
our base, we are divided and will be conquered. The solutions we'll
probably end up with are the ones that are currently in
progress: more bureaucracy, which always means less freedom, higher
appropriations, and bigger government; amnesty for lawbreakers,
almost certainly in one form or another-no matter how you clothe
it, it's still amnesty; and possibly even a backdoor approach to
national health insurance starting with illegal
We need to find a
solution to this problem that unites us on the middle ground and is
practical and doable-not utopia, but practical. And the solution to
this dilemma that we face is just as old as America itself:
Let the free market work.
Helen E. Krieble is
President of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation and Managing Partner
of Westwood Enterprises in Colorado.