Border Wait Lists

In this Tuesday, April 30, 2019, photo, migrants seeking asylum in the United States wait at an encampment near the international bridge in Matamoros, Mexico. (AP Photo/Eric Gay)

President Donald Trump’s new proposals for immigration reform are selective rather than comprehensive, but his commonsense ideas should become the foundation for a set of broader reforms to fix a broken system that defies rational management.

Unfortunately, the odds are against that happening this year or next. Democrats have their own ideas and rapidly dismissed Mr. Trump’s proposals. But the issue is not going away — indeed, it should have been dealt with years ago — and will play a major role in the coming elections.

With a historically low birth rate, the nation needs immigrants to contribute to American society and help support our troubled safety nets of Social Security and Medicare. The United States is unique among developed nations in its ability to absorb and benefit from immigrants. Indeed, we are a nation of immigrants.

With lower taxes and greater opportunity than other developed nations, we should be able to attract talented and ambitious immigrants. But a profound misjudgment by Congress in the 1960s has made it very difficult to structure an immigration system based on merit.

The key mistake was to broaden the definition of relatives of legal immigrants entitled to preferential treatment in applying for residence. As a result, immigration has increasingly been dominated by “chain migration,” a process that heavily favors immigrants from Central America.

The problem of chain migration hangs heavily over the question of how to integrate more than 10 million illegal immigrants into society, given that in theory each one, if legalized, could bring in spouses, sons, daughters, parents, grandparents and other relatives.

Mr. Trump’s main proposals are to narrow the definition of a family member to reduce the potential for chain migration and to increase the number of immigrants who qualify on the basis of skills and other measures of merit. This is not overturning American immigration rules. It is a question of changes at the margins, because there still will be substantial numbers of family members eligible for preferential immigration.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., in dismissing Mr. Trump’s sound proposals, said she remains interested in comprehensive immigration reform, by which she apparently means measures to integrate illegal residents into society.

Solving the immigration crisis is like putting together a jigsaw puzzle. The critical pieces are secure borders, better asylum procedures, a solution to chain migration, the encouragement of skilled immigrants and the integration of illegal immigrants.

The pieces are coming together, but getting them in the right order is critical. Mr. Trump has campaigned on improving border security and has now introduced his ideas for dealing with chain migration and merit-based immigration.

U.S. Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., also recently introduced legislation to help address another key issue — the problem of asylum procedures. His bill would improve the process by requiring applicants to stay outside the border and by increasing resources to deal with the recent overwhelming flood of applicants who are pouring across from Mexico.

If Democrats are willing to accept these framing pieces of the puzzle, they could form the outline of a solution to the question of illegal residents, and true comprehensive immigration reform would at last be possible.

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