Fee-based legal immigration

Time for another of Eric’s Wacky Public Policy Proposals!

People pay smugglers thousands of dollars to get smuggled into the United States. This generates revenue for criminal operations, and puts people’s lives at risk. The presence of illegal immigrants in the United States also leads to employers paying low wages to people who can’t legally complain about it, lower tax revenues from wages being paid off the books to illegal immigrants, unreported crime, etc.

So, let’s have fee-based legal immigration in addition to our current legal immigration. Instead of people paying a smuggler $2K to $10K each to be smuggled into the United States, let’s allow them to pay a fee to the U.S. Government. Let’s price it at $5K each. The number of illegal immigrants each year is about 300,000, although it has been more than double that at some points. So that would bring in about $1.5 billion to $3 billion each year — which is about 25-50% of the annual U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement budget. Plus, there would be a one-time windfall of about $50 billion from illegal immigrants already in the U.S. paying to become legal.

Now, of course, you might point out that the $5K price is higher than the $2K for which someone could get smuggled across the border, so there would still be some people who prefer that option. But there are some ways to address this problem. First, along with making it possible for anyone who pays the fee to immigrate legally, we make employment eligibility verification mandatory, and raise the penalty for knowingly hiring an illegal immigrant to the point that few employers will risk it. That reduces the incentive for illegal immigration. Second, to discourage people from entering illegally and then only paying $5K after they’re caught, let’s make it $10K to legalize for those who come in illegally after this policy goes into effect. And, last but not least, we allow people and organizations to sponsor immigrants by assisting them with their fees: companies could pay to bring in legal immigrants to work for them, families could pay to bring in their relatives, charities could pay to bring in refugees or others who can’t afford the fees on their own. So why would anyone pay $2K to a smuggler to get across the border as an illegal alien when some charity will pay for them to immigrate legally?

Total charitable giving in the US is close to $400 billion, so on an annual basis this would involve less than 1% of the charitable donations even if charities paid all of the fees for the immigrants.

If the fee-based system were extended to cover all immigration, not just currently illegal immigration, then the fees for the current legal immigration of one million people per year would bring in an additional $5 billion each year, which would more than cover the current ICE budget.

 

 

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