Should states decide on immigration?

By Steve Brawner

Should immigration be more of a state issue than it is now? Ken Hamilton, Libertarian candidate for Congress in the 4th District, says it should be. The federal government sure can’t seem to solve it on its own.

Here’s how immigration would work if Hamilton, 58, an El Dorado accountant with Murphy USA, got his way. The federal government would continue to enforce border security and decide who gets to come into the country, but it would do so based on requests from the states. Some states would want a lot of immigrants, others not so many.

So say California decides it needs 10,000 farm workers. The federal government would grant that many visas to work in California only.

Then California would take it from there. Immigrants could work wherever they want within that state’s borders – unlike today’s employer-based visas, which force them to serve a particular boss who is regulated by the federal government. Immigrants could travel to other states, but they couldn’t work in them legally. However, certain immigrants such as migrant farm workers could receive visas allowing them to travel between states based on growing seasons. California could offer permanent state residency to those immigrant workers who follow the rules. It also could allot visas to members of its current illegal immigrant population. Eventually, immigrants could earn U.S. citizenship. In the meantime, states could determine what benefits they receive.

“The states can tailor the program to what they need,” he said. “If they need high-tech, they can do it. If they need farm workers, they can do it. I think that’s the best way to do it rather than a top-down, one-size-fits-all program out of the federal government.”

Hamilton says a state-based approach would break the logjam in Congress. Democrats typically favor a path to citizenship. Republicans, meanwhile, are split between two factions. Establishment Republicans want a more open policy because employers need the workers and because the party needs to better appeal to Hispanics, a fast-growing minority that is siding with Democrats in elections. On the other side, a large faction of Republicans say a path to citizenship amounts to awarding amnesty to lawbreakers. Secure the border, they say.

The result has been a sometimes ugly debate that hasn’t solved anything. We all know the current system inadequately controls the border. We all know it’s resulted in millions of illegal immigrants living here as part of a shadowy underclass without a real stake in society or an opportunity to achieve the American dream. We all know this situation provides a lot of cheap labor but also hurts certain American workers. But, election to election, little changes.

Hamilton, of course, almost certainly won’t be elected. The United States remains staunchly a two-party system despite voters’ unhappiness with what’s happening in Washington.

But picking winners and losers is not the only reason we have elections. It’s also a chance to have a national debate about the issues. The two major parties, whether they are promoting a path to citizenship or favor just closing the border, haven’t gotten us anywhere.

They can’t even figure out what to do with illegal immigrants who were brought here as children by their parents and have much-needed technical skills. American taxpayers pay for an undocumented child immigrant to go to public school, sometimes from kindergarten through the 12th grade, but then it’s difficult for them to go to college and nearly impossible for them to fulfill their potential in the workforce. We won’t even give them a chance to earn their citizenship by serving in the military.

So now someone else is offering another option: If Washington can’t solve the problem, let the states take charge.

Got a better idea?

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