March 31, 2013

Immigration should be a solvable problem

The national debate over a more rational immigration policy is bellicose and vexing. I wonder why.

We can all agree on a policy that allows a nation to move forward. It should begin with a few premises.

The first should be whether the policy satisfies the evolving ideals of our nation. We are a people who believe in hard, innovative work. In this increasingly competitive global economy, moving forward also means innovating locally.

The second principle is that we are privileged to live here, as are those who wish to come.

We also have a capacity for compassion that can help protect those who are ostracized in their own nation. We welcome those who seek refuge from oppression and abuse, but citizenship remains a privilege and not a right.

If one accepts these principles, an optimal immigration policy should be relatively simple.

Most countries have adopted such a policy. The United States is unique in placing the desire to unite families as a primary criterion. Other countries place paramount the needs of the nation’s economy. Countries such as Canada create a much easier path to citizenship for those with exceptional expertise and those highly trained in their adopted country.

While these goals are often economic, an enlightened country also sees value in diversification to enhance its ideas and culture. These are the elements of the creative class that will allow us to compete in a global economy.

Little of our national debate seems fixed on the need to create and attract more scientists and engineers, more mathematicians and technologists, and more entrepreneurs and innovators. These should be the primary conversations.

Instead, the debate either voices the concerns of those who believe, not incorrectly, that a law is a law and illegal immigrants ought not be rewarded, or to those who argue families deserve to be reunited and made legitimate voting members of our country.

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