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Create a Path to Work

Hunter Baker, Associate Dean of Arts & Science
Feb 1, 2013

 Immigration is heating up again as a political issue with the second-term president and others discussing possible answers to the low-level chaos which currently characterizes the movement of workers between Mexico and the United States.The basic outlines of plans to address the problem shift to fit familiar lines of argument. I would like to suggest a novel approach which changes the nature of the debate to reduce the role of citizenship.

To state the matter very succinctly, we should deal with immigration in the context of the North American Free Trade Agreement. NAFTA provided for the free movement of goods across the border. The best way to handle the immigration problem is to provide for the free movement of workers across the border, as well. We could accomplish this goal by negotiating a worker addendum to the agreement in existence.
 
It was originally believed that NAFTA would lead to so much investment and opportunity in Mexico that illegal immigration would stop being such a big problem. That view was naive. Mexico has become more prosperous, but its economic engine still lags very far behind what its neighbor to the north can offer.
 
Workers will continue to come across the border. Their labor is often in demand. One of the shortcomings of NAFTA is that it didn’t include a general provision for workers crossing into the member countries. Adding such a provision could alleviate many problems the United States has experienced during the last few decades.
 
How would it operate? Citizens from the countries involved in the agreement would be free to enter the member states to work. All they would need to do is to register as a foreign worker under NAFTA, obtain a proxy for a social security number which would allow for simple payment of taxes and find employment.
 
This solution would simplify matters significantly. Workers would not need amnesty, as they would be here legally. They would not fear reporting crimes or traffic accidents because they need not fear deportation. States could provide driver’s licenses without fear of creating some presumption of citizenship.
 
The argument so far has often revolved around the problem of giving citizen status to people who have clearly broken the law. Rather than creating a path to citizenship, why not take that issue off the table and simply create a path to work? We can give one benefit without giving the other.
 
There would still be the matter of children of registered workers being born in the United States with birthright citizenship. However, those children would no longer be tied to parents living in the United States in a quasi-criminal, illegitimate way.
 
Rather than giving amnesty to illegals in the United States today and setting yet another bad precedent to encourage future law breaking, we can offer current illegals a simple path to living legitimately in the United States as a NAFTA-registered worker.
 
Capital moves freely. Goods move freely. Why not let the workers move freely? We can protect the value of citizenship, while simultaneously ending the problem of a large population of illegals within our borders.
 
This column originally appeared in the Feb. 1st edition of The Jackson Sun