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Immigration Reform News: House GOP's KIDS Act is Smart Politics

The House of Representatives is taking a piece-by-piece approach to immigration reform. One of the bills under consideration, possibly named the KIDS Act, is similar to the DREAM Act, which intends to provide legal pathways to citizenship for illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. as children.

While different versions of the DREAM Act failed to pass Congress multiple times, the KIDS Act should help create a youth immigration program that is fair, reasonable, and selective. By placing an annual cap on both legal and illegal immigrant children combined, this new immigration law should help regulate future flows of immigration more effectively.

The House version of the KIDS Act should consider implementing a few basic standards:

1. Age requirement: The KIDS Act should intend to help those children who came to the U.S. before they turned 10 (or at least before starting middle school). They typically have to go through their elementary and secondary school continuously in the U.S. These youth, who grew up in the U.S., speak English as their primary language, studied American culture throughout their entire childhood, and do not have many good options other than fighting passionately to obtain their legal status. 

In comparison, the DREAM Act would potentially nationalize anyone who came to the U.S. under the age of 16. However, children of 14 or 15 likely already formed strong identities before coming to the U.S. It is therefore difficult to assert that “these kids do not know another country other than the U.S." There are also concerns about dual citizenship procedures for immigrants who spent most of their childhood in another country..

2. Language skill: America is a nation of immigrants, but being fluent in English should be an essential qualification for future immigration. It helps break down language barriers, helps immigrants assimilate to American culture, and encourages dialogue among different ethnic groups. It could save a tremendous amount of effort and tax money, by not forcing us to hire multilingual translators everywhere for schools and other public services. If a child does not speak English well, how attached is he or she to American society and culture? 

3. Good behavior: Immigrants kids in the U.S. who are able to stay out of trouble throughout their childhood and adolescence are less likely to be involved with drug trafficking, gang violence, and many other criminal activities.

4. A minimum of two years of college education, such as an associate's degree.  An educated person will likely be more successful in our society. Or military service only if there is a tremendous need for additional military personnel.

5. No chain-family immigration: The KIDS Act should try to avoid chain-family immigration as much as possible. Lawmakers should be careful not to reward those who broke the law and brought their kids to the U.S. illegally, since this only encourages further illegal immigration. Overall, an excessively generous kids’ immigration program could lead to fraud, and overwhelm the existing system. 

One way to prevent the KIDS Act from turning into a large-scale amnesty bill is to integrate the KIDS legalization program into the current immigration system. If legal and illegal immigrants are treated alike, then illegal immigrants will not be able to ask for special treatment that is better than what legal immigrants are entitled to receive. For example, to deal with the massive push for amnesty based on family unification, GOP lawmakers should model family-unification programs for illegal immigrants after the steps that legal immigrants have to take when sponsoring their family members. These immigrants must first obtain a decent job, with an income that is at least 125% above the national poverty line. They need to make a legal promise that the applicants that they are sponsoring will not become a public charge on taxpayers. They also have to wait patiently for a number of years before their applications are approved, as each country has its own immigration quota. 

This is how the American immigration system usually works, and there's no reason illegal immigrants should get better treatment than those who have followed the rules and waited their turn.  The United States brings one million legal immigrants to this country every year. However, there are now more than 11 million illegal immigrants living in the U.S.  Having an annual quota on qualifying children of both legal and illegal immigrants combined can be one step in the direction of setting immigration numbers more wisely, based on the economy, unemployment rate, and population growth.

Many Americans have soft spots in their hearts for immigrant children, but they worry that the new immigration law making its way through Congress would eventually work to encourage illegal immigration instead of stopping it. The solution to this is to design immigration policy fairly, in a way that does not treat illegal immigrants better than legal immigrants. A reasonable KIDS Act will help those young people who barely know the country of their birth, without legalizing all 11 million illegal immigrants already here. The KIDS Act would also dissuade illegal immigrants of the notion that the assumption that as long as they cross the border and stay long enough, they will eventually be entitled to receive amnesty. We already spend billions of dollars every year on border security. It's time for a more cost-effective way to discourage future illegal immigration to the U.S.

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