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Column: Immigration System Needs An Overhaul

This story was written by Jack Millman, The Lantern

One issue overlooked in the recent presidential race was immigration. Like the Iraq War, it went from being a hot-button issue in 2006 to simply falling off the national radar in the heat of the election coverage. One of the major reasons for this was the disastrous 2007 attempt at immigration reform, which nearly destroyed Sen. John McCain's bid for the Republican nomination. Since then both parties have basically ignored the issue.

Although the 2007 reform bill was deeply flawed (being needlessly complex), the need to reform American immigration policies has not gone away.

Illegal immigration has had a habit of popping up on the national agenda, and then quickly burning out. Ronald Reagan had the right idea when blanket amnesty was granted in 1986. The problem was that while immigrants were legalized, a follow through reform of the system was not initiated. Legal immigration was still extremely complicated and highly limited. A new wave of illegal immigrants soon surged in. Now the current wreck of an immigration system needs overhaul.

In addition to legalizing immigrants already here, the process should be significantly relaxed for future applicants. That way, criminals and chronic welfare dependants can be more easily identified and expelled legally in the process of immigration. Meanwhile, the vast majority of hardworking and law-abiding illegal immigrants should be turned into U.S. citizens, so they can be more fully integrated.

Along with this push for reform should be a declaration cementing America's official language as English. Assimilation is not a dirty word in this debate, rather it should be the goal. Immigrants should be encouraged to adapt to American ideals and pursue the dream of a better life. Having English as our official language would be no more xenophobic than France's official language being French. Actual racism or xenophobia is not the goal and should be condemned.

Anyone who wants to have a better life and isn't a criminal or terrorist should have an opportunity. America would be stronger, especially considering the aging native population. English classes and educational assistance should also be provided in order to help with assimilation.

The debate often focuses on unskilled laborers illegally entering the country, overlooking skilled laborers. Current American policy is limited to 65,000 HB-1 visas for skilled workers per fiscal year. The requests for these visas are overwhelming. Politicians resist raising the cap because they fear American jobs will be taken. As one representative put it, "B students deserve to have good jobs and high paying jobs." This goes against the very idea of competition and rewarding hard work. The people who take these visas are likely to be highly productive and valuable citizens. Bill Gates urged politicians to raise the ceiling number, saying the best and brightest people were going to other countries, hindering America's ability to compete.

The current immigration system is both needlessly complex and poorly prioritized. It rewards those who break the law, and punishes the most educated and talented of immigrants. Rather than working toward assimilation and increasing American affluence, it divides Americans and causes a rise in poverty. Massive reforms are not only possible, but practical. The next two years would be as good a time as any to begin those reforms.

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