Homeland Security Secretary Tom Ridge has called for millions of illegal immigrants in the United States to be given some sort of legal status short of citizenship, a proposal suggesting that the Bush administration might revive an ambitious legalization plan that was sidetracked after the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.
In comments on Tuesday at a town hall meeting in Miami, Mr. Ridge said, “The bottom line is, as a country, we have to come to grips with the presence of 8 to 12 million illegals, afford them some kind of legal status some way.”
[… He] said the government might consider legalizing the status of illegal immigrants already in the country on a one-time basis.
[…] Mr. Ridge’s spokesman, said, “The secretary acknowledges that we have several million people here illegally, and he understands that for homeland security reasons, at some point in time, there needs to be a better way to identify those who may be a threat to our country.”
[… Mr. Ridge] insisted, however, that the protections would not included citizenship.
I am glad someone has finally noticed our big illegal immigration problem. We have to realize that our immigration system needs a lot of fixing. It is clear that having 8-12 million illegal immigrants is a problem. They form about 3-4% of the US population. We have to do something about it for humanitarian, economic and national security reasons.
I don’t think there is the political will to actually find and deport all those illegal immigrants. Therefore, we have to think of alternate arrangements. Giving them some sort of legal status qualifies as a good idea. I am however conflicted on this since it does sort of reward illegal behavior and it would be bad if we got into this cycle where there was some sort of amnesty for illegal immigrants every few years. But a one time measure along with other measures to discourage illegal immigration (border control, punishing businesses who hire illegals, etc.) would work. As Mark Kleiman points out, employer sanctions might be the best route for enforcement.