‘Path to legality’ falls way short

Newt Gingrich introduced a unique concept into the Republican primary debate — an attempt at a quasi-rational approach to fixing our broken immigration system.

While Gingrich has received mostly derisive comments from the Republican right — which almost exclusively calls his idea an amnesty plan — the reality is different. It is not an amnesty plan. Gingrich’s plan will not fix our broken immigration system.

There must be willing participants in Congress to work with any president to solve a problem of this magnitude. President George W. Bush and President Barack Obama have tried comprehensive approaches to immigration reform that failed miserably.

In today’s Congress — with a large contingent of elected representatives who view any law that in any way assists an immigrant as amnesty — Gingrich’s plan is dead on arrival. A recent bill that passed the Republican-controlled House is held up in the Senate by one Republican Senator. This unfortunate anti-immigrant attitude persists despite recent and long-standing polls that show large majorities of voters from both political parties favoring a reform plan that allows earned legalization.

Gingrich’s 10-point plan is long on the big picture but short on solving the biggest problems of all — securing our future with the right types and mix of immigrants, and what to do with all the people in the U.S. without legal papers.

Gingrich’s plan starts where all immigration reform plans must start — on the border. But he fails to recognize the fact that the borders are far more secure today than they have ever been. They are getting more secure each day.

In 2011, the Border Patrol recorded the lowest number of people detained at the southern border since 1974. In fact, Obama can lay claim to being the “Deportation President” because he will have deported more people in his four-year term than any other president in modern times. Fences, patrols, unmanned aerial vehicles and electronics won’t keep everyone out. A rational, legal way into the United States is what really stops illegal immigration at the border.

Gingrich speaks of our needs for a “21st Century Visa Program,” of eliminating “inefficiencies” in order to attract the best and the brightest to come to and remain in America. Even in our current broken system, however, we are attracting the best people.

The problem is that we are quickly losing them when they realize that our legal immigration system has waits of up to 15 years for workers to get permanent residence through employment. Wait times exceed 25 years for family immigration. The answer is simple: Increase the numbers of legal immigrants that come to the U.S. in legal categories to meet not only demand, but also our needs.

The biggest flaw in Gingrich’s plan is not his proposed guest-worker program run by American Express, but rather his “path to legality” for “millions” of people without legal status in the United States. He proposes that only people here 20 to 25 years could apply for his program. A more rational approach would be 10 years, which would cover more than 63 percent of all illegal immigrants.

Gingrich also proposes the idea that local “immigration boards” would meet regularly to determine whether an immigrant could stay. Can you imagine thousands of these boards and the extraordinary inconsistency of their rulings?

Kudos to Gingrich, but his plan has zero chance of passing Congress.

It does not effectively deal with our future need for immigrants. Does not address a real resolution to a temporary worker program. Does not deal with a majority of the 11 million people in the United States without lawful status. It gets us no closer to solving this real national problem than the failed policies of Obama.

Charles H. Kuck is a managing partner with Atlanta-based Kuck Immigration Partners, LLC., and president of the Alliance for Business Immigration Lawyers.