By Heidi Greenfield, Scholarship Winner —
There is so much debate over the immigration crisis. Should we let everyone in who needs help or wants a better life, should it be merit-based, or pay-to-play? What if we did a combination? We should set up a system where all immigrants register upon entry and gain a temporary visa to legally work from day one towards citizenship.
Allow Immigrants to Contribute to Society
We could set a threshold for a minimum number of years paying taxes or a minimum dollar amount of total taxes paid, at which point a person would be eligible to apply for citizenship. This would help placate the arguments that immigrants do not contribute to society or take jobs from legal workers. It would also help offset the additional cost of social services. Even if a person does not make much money, they could continue living and working here legally as long as they pay taxes every year (and have not committed a felony) until they hit the minimum tax requirement.
This method would allow people from all nations to live, work and contribute to the United States. It wouldn’t matter if a person is seeking asylum, trying to make a better life for themselves, or is already wealthy; they would still be contributing. It would increase tax revenue and may even improve working conditions and reduce tax evasion from employers paying under the table. Of course, there will be security concerns and background checks will be required, but a merit-based system would help both with assimilation and acceptance of immigrants. You could even add a language requirement that each person must pass English proficiency or take a mandated language class.
Reducing Animosity Towards Immigrants
The most important thing is reducing the animosity towards immigrants by ensuring everyone is contributing to a better society. Those who are already here could apply for credit for years already worked if they have been paying taxes. If not, they can start from zero like everyone else, but still, work here legally without fear.
The most difficult part for immigrants already in the US will be overcoming the mistrust of the US government and convincing them to register – this will be no small feat after years of mistrust and abuse of the system on both sides. The other major hurdle will be getting US companies on board. After years of exploiting below-market labor, many employers will not be willing to pay legal minimum wage or bring working conditions up to the required standard.
As with any plan, there are flaws and hurdles to overcome, but anything is better than the current system where no one is safe, nothing is fair, and fear and hatred grow daily. The most important thing is to develop a fair process, where people are treated with dignity, but no one is given a free ride. Without these elements, I don’t see the immigration crisis improving.