The Huge Immigrant Tide — I Have a Plan

My seven years as Colorado governor have seen momentous changes: recession and prosperity, catastrophic forest fires and drought, massive transportation improvements and new state parks, a completely new approach to public education and tax policy. But other more subtle changes have also been taking place. Perhaps the most significant transformation of our state’s economy, culture and character is the extraordinary growth in the number of illegal aliens.

This used to be a problem for Texas and California, largely ignored by the rest of the country. But in the past five years or so, the illegal population in the U.S., now estimated at between 10 million-15 million, has dispersed across the nation like never before. Colorado leads the nation in the growth of illegal residents, now more than 250,000. In fact, half of all foreign-born residents in Colorado are here in violation of the law, and they are no longer confined to the farms. Fewer than 3% work in agriculture, according to the best research. These illegal residents are a colossal drain on state and local resources, especially in education, health care and corrections.

National leaders are working hard to address the profound concern of American voters, because the issue is showing up atop polls across the nation and across party lines. Yet the right solution has yet to be articulated in Washington.

Our citizens are divided almost equally between those who see immigration as a threat to our economy and culture, and those who see immigration as part of our history and a necessary component of a healthy economy. The solution is illusive because both sides are right — and in Washington both sides have to win for such a divisive issue to be resolved. There is a plan that can do just that being circulated by the Colorado-based V.K. Krieble Foundation and endorsed by groups ranging from FreedomWorks to the Heritage Foundation.

The beauty of this approach is its simplicity. It begins with absolute border control, as any successful plan must, as law-and-order conservatives demand. It creates a new legal guest worker program to supply badly needed workers whose labor fuels our economy. But unlike other pending proposals, this new guest worker program actually has more than a ghost of a chance to work, because it relies on the free market.

The plan would allow private employment agencies (licensed by the government for security reasons) to open offices in Mexico and elsewhere, and empower them to issue the new guest worker permits, following instant background checks of all applicants, and most importantly, linking specific workers to specific jobs for specified time periods. A credit card-type permit would include security and personal information in a magnetic stripe on the card, making employer checks and law enforcement easy and instant in any state in the country.

Government simply cannot implement such a program. The millions of illegal workers all have a personal history with a system that didn’t work for them. A new program must involve both border control and a new legal worker program. But our political leaders all seem stuck on what to do with the 10 million-15 million illegals already in the U.S. Some plans would allow them to stay and register, but that seems like a reward for breaking our laws. It sounds like amnesty and Americans simply won’t accept it. Others would send illegals home to apply, but without changing the bureaucratic system that discouraged legal entry in the first place, it won’t work because they won’t go. Government can’t make them leave if it can’t find them.

Most such workers would rather be legal, but two all-powerful incentives keep them illegal and underground: a bureaucratic system they know doesn’t work and an artificial limit on their number. The answer to both has been in front of us all along.

Bill Owens
Governor of Colorado