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Commentary: How to fix our broken immigration system

  • Story Highlights
  • Immigration system needs to have employer sanctions with teeth, Navarrette says
  • ID card needed for all U.S. workers to tell employers who is eligible to work, he says
  • Navarrette: "This isn't brain surgery"
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By Ruben Navarrette Jr.
Special to CNN
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SAN DIEGO, California (CNN) -- In a recent commentary, I spelled out what bothers many Hispanics about the immigration debate. In response, many readers demanded to know -- for all my criticisms -- how I would go about fixing our broken immigration system. I thought they'd never ask.

Ruben Navarrette says Congress doesn't have the appetite to reform the immigration system.

First, let's keep it real. Congress doesn't have the appetite to reform the immigration system -- no matter which party is running the show. It's always the same story. After all the huffing and puffing, any workable solution needs to have two components: employer sanctions with teeth and a tamper-proof identification card for all U.S. workers to tell employers who is eligible to work. Republicans won't allow the first; Democrats won't allow the second. Game over.

But, if it were so inclined, here's what Congress should do:

1) By way of enforcement -- stiffen penalties against employers with a "three strikes" law (first offense, a warning; second, $10,000 fine; third, 10 days in jail); revise the 1996 Immigration Reform and Control Act by removing the word "knowingly," as in employers only face punishment if they knowingly hire an illegal immigrant; create an identification card; instead of adding more border patrol agents (the agency can't meet hiring goals as it is), give the agents already on the line better tools, including tunnel detection equipment; extend the deployment of the National Guard on the border, now set to expire on July 15; continue workplace raids but, for heaven's sake, arrest an employer every once in a while; and speed up deportations.

2) By way of legalizing the undocumented -- make it contingent on meeting enforcement goals, or "triggers"; establish a cutoff so that only those who can prove that they've been in the country for five years or more are eligible to apply for legal status and deport more recent arrivals; require applicants to learn English, pay a $5,000 fine, undergo criminal background checks, return to their home country to be processed, and take their place in the back of the line behind all those who are trying to enter the country legally; and, for those who are eventually given legal status, institute a lifetime ban on receiving welfare, Medicaid or food stamps but allow them to collect what they've contributed to Social Security.

3) By way of reforming the system for those who immigrate legally -- increase the allotment of green cards and work visas, including H1B visas for highly skilled workers; triple the number of legal immigrants currently admitted from 1 million to 3 million, or 1 percent of the total U.S. population; abandon the current system of using family reunification as the main criteria for admitting new immigrants but don't adopt the silly and offensive idea of a point system that rewards education and skills; instead, let the market drive the process by making labor demands the major criteria so (how's this for radical?) we always have jobs for those who come here instead of admitting engineers and doctors if what we really need are teachers and nurses.

This isn't brain surgery. But some of this will take courage and common sense. The bad news is, those can be scarce commodities in Washington.

Ruben Navarrette Jr. is a member of the editorial board of the San Diego Union-Tribune and a nationally syndicated columnist. Read his column here.

The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the writer.

All About Immigration PolicyHispanic and Latino Issues

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