2006/03/31 Letter to McCain and Kyl about immigration reform

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31-March-2006

I'm concerned with some of the ideas regarding immigration reform that are afoot. I wasn't paying much attention to this but noticed the 20,000-strong protest march in Phoenix one day on my way to work.

This is a tough problem and one that requires some serious thought, not a knee-jerk reaction.

The idea to which I'm most opposed is that of making illegal immigration a felony. I think the effect of it would be to fill up prisons with people who are not criminals, but just poor - like the debtors' prisons of old. And we are already short on prison space (and there are some other stupid reasons which I think are contributing to that problem). The last thing that you or any party of government ought to be doing is finding more behaviors to criminalize. It's against our principles of freedom. And there are cases where it would tear apart families too. I do not want to see that happen, and do not want to rouse the Mexicans who are hard-working and basically content these days, into some kind of angry mob. We have enough enemies in the world. I live in a mixed neighborhood and I don't want my upstanding Mexican neighbors to become my enemies either, just because of a dissatisfied national sentiment. France provides us an example of what that situation is like.

Stronger border controls have some appeal, as long as we do not start evoking images of the Iron Curtain by being too militant about it. And if immigration was easier, I think stronger border controls would be easier to justify.

There is also some appeal to the idea that this country was built on immigration - you and I are descendents of immigrants after all. It is true that so far, even illegal immigration doesn't seem to have hurt us so much; it just means there is plenty of cheap labor available for the jobs that you and I don't want to do. So this is another reason I don't think it's a good idea to be too much more strict. We need to continue to uphold our good example of civil rights to the rest of the world, as much as possible, without being too socialist, or allowing a huge influx of poor people to overwhelm our economy. So I think I am in favor of making legal immigration just a bit easier, but continuing to exercise some control over the numbers. And once they are here, they ought to pay their taxes and pay for everything else the way we do.

I do not buy the usual argument that American jobs are at risk from immigrants, for a lot of reasons. One is that the immigrants become Americans, and they become consumers too, so as the whole economy grows, so does the number of jobs that are available. Another is that those of us who are well-educated always have an advantage over the palm-tree-trimmers and the hotel cleaning staff; and everyone (including them) should be striving to achieve more, and to be better educated. This is what makes us a strong nation, not grinding away at the same old job for an entire lifetime. As technology is moving faster nowadays, we all need to learn to be more agile.

An ACLU email which I received has pointed out the following problems with the current reform bill:

  • Section 202 - The indefinite detention (possibly for their entire lives) of undocumented migrants who cannot be returned to their countries of origin.

Detention is expensive to us, a terrible waste of human potential, and I think it's to be avoided at all costs. There has to be a better solution, and you need to think about it.

  • Section 301 - Requiring employers to verify the eligibility of all citizens, lawful permanent residents and visa holders to work. Using everyone's most personal information and interlinked databases, this proposed expansion of the Basic Pilot Project would set the groundwork for a national ID.
  • Sections 701 and 707 - Stripping the U.S. Circuit Courts of Appeal of their jurisdiction to hear immigration appeals and requiring that all appeals be sent to the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals in Washington, DC.

If Section 701 is added back into the bill, approximately 11,000 cases per year will be sent to the 12 judges on the Federal Circuit Court of Appeals. This would be quite a load on them, and also amounts to a transfer of power from the states to the federal government. This is against the spirit of this country. States should have control over all issues which have not explicitly been placed under federal control.

We need a reasonable bill from the Senate, not an unrealistic bill based on anti-immigrant sentiment.

I look forward to your response.

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