Our Editorial: Immigration must meet U.S. needs

The Detroit News

The national discussion over immigration policy has taken a lead role in this year’s presidential race. Immigrants built this country over centuries, and there’s a moral impetus to continue to be the great melting pot. That means welcoming hard-working, skilled immigrants who want to contribute to the economy, while at the same time deporting those who break our laws.

And it is vital to create a legal framework in which the 11 million immigrants here illegally can become normalized.

On the Republican side, the conversation has brought out some of the country’s less attractive qualities, driven by fear and suspicion.

Front-runner Donald Trump reignited the immigration debate essentially by announcing his candidacy, but his policy stances on illegal immigration from Mexico and on refugees from Muslim countries are offensive, representing an extreme end of the political spectrum.

He’s suggested banning all Muslims from entering the country, at least until the government can “figure out” what is happening with terrorism, a proposal that insults the religious liberty on which this nation was founded. In addition to being unconstitutional, it’s highly impractical.

Trump has also declared he will build a wall on the southern U.S. border, and Mexico will pay for it. While certainly border security can be strengthened, and should be, a wall is costly and highly unfeasible, and Trump has yet to explain how he’ll get a neighboring country to pick up the bill.

Perhaps Trump’s least empathic idea is that the federal government should deport, by force if necessary, 11 million illegal immigrants working and raising families in the U.S. today.

Florida Sen. Marco Rubio has the most pragmatic and comprehensive approach to immigration of the remaining GOP candidates. The son of Cuban immigrants, he also stands the best chance to win Hispanic voters to the Republican Party.

The Gang of Eight compromise bill he worked on in the Senate included a path to full citizenship after a waiting period, but under the intensity of the campaign, he’s since backed away from that position. He now supports smaller measures that would legalize many immigrants, but only after the border is strengthened.

Rubio proposes hiring 20,000 new border patrol agents, deporting immigrants who commit crimes, cutting funding for sanctuary cities, finishing walls in vulnerable stretches of the southern border, implementing an entry-exit visa tracking system as well as a mandatory eVerify system for workers, and installing billions of dollars of new border cameras.

The tracking systems could ease public concerns about terrorists entering the country on legal visas.

Rubio also supports doubling the number of H-1B “guest worker” visas for foreign tech workers and some foreign students, which would also increase permanent immigration. There is a shortage of workers to fill many skilled jobs in the U.S., and qualified immigrants are needed.

Sen. Ted Cruz boasts that he “poison pilled” Rubio’s immigration bill by stripping out the path to citizenship.

He, too, would strengthen border security and install surveillance and biometric tracking systems. But Cruz’s position that undocumented immigrants will never be normalized is impractical.

Gov. John Kasich supports a path to legalization, and has perhaps best expressed the positive impact immigrants have had on the country’s economy. He’s rightly attacked Trump for arguing immigrants should be forcefully deported from the country.

Democratic front-runner Hillary Clinton says she’ll defend President Obama’s executive orders to keep immigrants from deportation, and that she’ll work to keep families together. That’s certainly the right spirit, although Obama’s executive order has been ruled illegal by the federal courts.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders says he would further cut Congress out of the immigration solution, an approach that would make the issue even more divisive than it has become.

Special series

This is one in an occasional series examining issues in the upcoming presidential primary election. Find the other editorials in this series at detroitnews.com/opinion.