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The Milton Measure

“Activism for Justice in a Digital World” Explores Immigration

by on Friday, May 19th, 2017

Immigration is among the most divisive topics in American politics. How many refugees should the US admit? How should future immigrants be admitted? Should there be a border wall? Much has been proposed and talked about, from an open border system like Europe’s Schengen Area to a point-based system similar to those in countries like Australia or Canada, but many don’t even know the law our immigration system is based on.

The current system stems largely from the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, signed by President Johnson. It removed quotas on nationalities, allowing a broader pool of immigrants access to citizenship. The previous system essentially functioned as a racial barrier to admission: while only a few hundred immigrants from certain Asian countries might be allowed annually, a handful of European countries contributed tens of thousands of immigrants annually. Immigrants as a percentage of the total population reached a low of 4.7% in 1970, rising to about 13.5% in 2015 – still below the average for the period of 1860 to 1920. This system has only been altered significantly on two occasions: in 1986, when President Reagan granted amnesty to about 3 million undocumented immigrants, and in 1996, when President Clinton made it possible for undocumented immigrants to be deported over comparatively minor offenses.

Overall, the US immigration system is relatively strict, and the refugee admission system is much stricter. Background checks on refugees take between a year and a half to two years, and only about 85,000 refugees were admitted in 2016. Furthermore, refugees do not endanger national security according to the libertarian Cato Institute, between 1980 and 2015, only 3 refugees committed terrorist acts, none of them from countries targeted by President Trump’s executive orders targeting immigrants and refugees from Muslim-majority countries.

Many right-wing figures proclaim that America has “open borders,” but this is untrue. An open borders system would let anyone into the country, regardless of previous criminal record or registration with the government, for any period of time. The US has a much tougher system, where most immigrants have a background check performed by either the government or, if undocumented, by a third party like a landlord, and immigrants or travelers are issued visas with expiration dates after which they must leave the country; even the amnesties offered by Presidents Reagan and Obama, the closest thing the US has had to open borders in modern times, were comparatively narrow and only affected those already present in the United States.

Currently, no countries have completely open borders, with the closest example being the Schengen Area in Europe. In the Schengen Area, 26 countries have agreed to suspend border ID checks, but anyone entering from outside the Schengen Area can be subject to checks, and there are provisions in the Schengen treaty itself allowing a nation to reinstate border checks for security reasons. Additionally, law enforcement agencies share information across the Schengen Area, police can cross borders to make an arrest, and the countries engage in a joint effort to combat drug trafficking. Ultimately, while it’s currently the closest thing to an open borders zone operating in the world, the Schengen Area retains key external checks, making it less of an open borders area and more of a porous borders area. One of the main things enabling the success of the Schengen Area is Europe’s tightly interconnected economy as well as a high level of international cooperation and a small but densely populated land area–most areas would be unsuited to such a system.

The idea of creating a points-based immigration system has gained traction in various quarters, but just how different from the current system would this be? Ultimately, a points based system would be both different and similar. A points-based system operates by scoring immigrants based on factors like education and employment experience, but the US already offers various specialized visas for high-skilled workers; in essence, the US already operates a points-based immigration system in tandem with a system designed to admit lower-skilled workers. One of the main problems with a points-based system is also that it risks cutting off a vital source of low-skill labor, especially for farms: Few Americans compete with immigrants for jobs, but under a points-based system, few would be given admittance to work the jobs Americans don’t. Additionally, by cutting humanitarian and refugee visas – another common feature of points-based plans – America’s global reputation would suffer, and potential thousands of innocent people could die. Ultimately, while a points-based system sounds good in theory, it would likely be too restrictive – and potentially immoral – to ever put into practice.

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Posted by on May 19 2017. Filed under More News, News, Recent News. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0. You can leave a response or trackback to this entry

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