Slate's Reihan Salam diagnoses
The idea behind comprehensive immigration reform is that we ought to combine three separate things. The first and most politically contentious part is granting legal status of some kind to some share of the 11 million to 12 million unauthorized immigrants currently living in the United States. The second and least politically contentious part is welcoming a larger number of skilled professionals, entrepreneurs, scientists, and the like. The third and most underappreciated part is welcoming large numbers of less-skilled workers, whether through a guest-worker program or some other mechanism.
Martin Ruhs of Oxford University compiled a handy index of migrant rights. And he found that countries that grant migrants the most expansive rights, such as Sweden and Norway, where migrants can access social welfare benefits of all kinds and are given a lot of freedom, tend to accept very few economic migrants. Those that grant them the fewest rights, such as the Gulf states, welcome enormous numbers of them. When I say enormous, I mean enormous. In Qatar, for example, 94 percent of the labor force was born abroad, as was 86 percent of the 2 million people who live there in total. If you’re a migrant worker in the Gulf, you’re not going to be treated nearly as well as you would be in Stockholm, but the Gulf states are far more likely to let you in and to let you work. To show my cards a bit, I’ll call the Scandinavian strategy “high road” and the Gulf strategy “low road”...
The Gulf states have no intention of integrating poor migrant workers into their societies. They want them to come, work for a while, go home, and leave it at that. The Scandinavians, in contrast, spend a heck of a lot of money to see to it that migrants can be full participants in society. They don’t always do a great job, but they certainly try. And they try because they reject the idea of a two-tiered society, in which privileged natives live cheek-by-jowl with migrants who have no hope of living alongside them as equals. Perhaps the Scandinavians are just naive. If these migrants weren’t living alongside them, they’d still be living somewhere, and they’d almost certainly be a lot worse off. Other views, however, are that migration can never be as good a solution for fighting global poverty as improving governance in poor countries and that all countries, including rich countries, have the right to pursue their vision of the good society—including one in which you accept a small number of migrants and treat them extremely well.
Recognizing "right now, the United States has a weird mixture of both," he prescribes granting
.... legal status to most of the unauthorized immigrants who currently live in this country. Then let’s face the fact that granting legal status to this population means taking moral responsibility for its members as members of the broader American community. The unauthorized immigrant population is extremely, extremely poor. In 2011, 51 percent of unauthorized immigrant children lived in households below the poverty line, and 78 percent lived in households below 200 percent of the poverty line. Even under a best-case scenario, granting members of the unauthorized immigrant population legal status won’t vault them into the middle class. Actually integrating these women and men and their children into the American mainstream will be an expensive, arduous process that will take decades. We need to be sure that future immigration does not reduce the wages of these workers by subjecting them to competition from workers with very similar skills. Instead, we should welcome skilled immigrants who will bid up the wages of less-skilled workers and a small number of less-skilled immigrants we intend to treat humanely and with respect, fully recognizing that their children will be as American as our own. In short, let’s take the high road.
Yes, let's. Finally there is someone with the interests of both immigrants and the American public at heart. "The left," Slate reader "Korean Kat" remarks, should "stop and wonder why their open business/amnesty mentality is shared by the Koch Brothers, Wall Street Journal, Jeff Bezos, and other doyens of the 1%." Those moneyed interests support substantial immigration- but not citizenship, which would increase the market power of workers, whether immigrants or native-born. (Would that make them native Americans?)
The left, significantly, is not pushing for "amnesty" but rather for a 13-year process that proposes illegal immigrants jump through hoops and eventually (providing a later Congress doesn't change the law) grants citizenship (photo below from David McNew/Getty Images). But without citizenship- promptly, not down the road- immigrant workers lack both credibility with the American people and bargaining power with employers. Salaam concludes "What we need is an immigration policy that will help rather than hinder our efforts to integrate the millions of struggling immigrants who already live and work in this country into the American mainstream and keep them from becoming a permanent underclass."
Needed, but not likely. As one reader (a Miguel de la Colina) comments, "Republicans are some of the biggest supporters of large scale immigration. They want to drive down wages. Democrats want to increase the size and power of their constituency. The losers are Americans, both native born and immigrant." The danger, then, is that in the quest to increase their constituency- and be humane to individuals and families eager to come here for a chance at the American dream- Democrats will acquiesce to GOP efforts to grant legalization, but not citizenship (or citizenship at some distant point in the future).. That "compromise" would increase the Democratic base, give the GOP corporate base an additional workforce to drive wages down further, and promote the permanent underclass Salaam fears.