Immigration Bill: Better, Not Best

This afternoon the Senate voted 68-32 to pass its sweeping immigration reform bill. The bill is a solid improvement over the current immigration system. It legalizes most of the unlawful immigrants here and provides larger pathways for legal immigration in the future.

The bill does have flaws – many of which I’ve written about in detail. It doesn’t increase lawful immigration enough. The guest worker visa programs for lower skilled workers are too small, restricted to certain sectors of the economy, and governed by confusing bureaucracy. Under today’s immigration rules, very few of our ancestors would have been able to immigrate here legally. The Senate’s immigration bill takes us a small step closer to our traditionally more open immigration policy.

It shovels gargantuan amounts of security resources toward the southern border in an attempt to halt future unlawful immigration that could otherwise cheaply be halted with an expanded guest worker visa program. The border “surge,” as many are calling it, is truly embarrassing, especially for a country with such proud immigrant traditions. There are certainly legitimate security concerns, but the extra enforcement will just drive up the price of smuggling and marginally decrease unlawful immigration of peaceful workers at enormous cost.

Worse, the bill creates a mandatory employment verification system called E-Verify. Those seeking work here will have to use this proto-national ID system to ask the government for permission to work. Government audits of the system find that its inaccuracy rate hovers at around a quarter of a percent. Independent audits, the most recent carried out in 2009, found error rates 3 to 4 times as high as that. As the system is expanded it will place an unfair burden on American businesses, saddling them with costs, and incentivizing illegal hiring without even a cursory I-9 form as has happened in states that have already mandated E-Verify.

Even with those flaws, this bill still does a lot more good than bad. Millions of new Americans will finally be able to live and work openly without fear of deportation. Millions of more highly skilled workers, merit-based immigrants, and their families will be able to become Americans. Americans will have more freedom to hire whom they want and more buyers for their goods and services. Our economy will grow more quickly, wages will increase, and the fiscal state of the federal government will improve over the medium-term.

Despite all of these benefits, this bill will face an uphill battle in the House of Representatives. The first round of a major political brawl has been concluded; time for the toughest round to begin.