May: Border security and immigration made simple

Author: Clifford D. May - May 25, 2017 - Updated: May 23, 2017

Clifford D. May
Clifford D. May

Utilizing market forces and modern technology would serve American interests

The nation-state is a relatively new idea — scholars generally trace it back to the 17th century. It has its flaws but has anyone come up with a better approach to world order? A nation-state enjoys sovereignty over its territory. Territories are separated by borders. Securing those borders may require barriers and controlled points of entry.

During last year’s presidential campaign Donald Trump pledged to build a wall in order to secure America’s southern border. Quite a few voters approved. I don’t think they’re wrong.

But what if we had a way to identify foreigners who want to come to America only to do jobs Americans don’t want to do, differentiating them from foreigners with illicit intentions — as well as those too eager to avail themselves of the entitlements of an advanced welfare state? What if we had a way to distinguish those looking only for temporary employment from those enthusiastic about assuming the responsibilities of American citizenship, such as defending the United States and the Constitution?

The ability to recognize such differences would not obviate the need to secure the border — it would just make the task a whole lot easier. I’m here to report to you on what seems to me a simple and elegant plan to do that and more.

It’s the brainchild not of Washington think tank scholars or members of Congress but of Helen Krieble, a 74-year-old independent businesswoman who a few years ago had to shut down an equestrian farm in Colorado because she couldn’t get the workers she needed.

Ms. Krieble calls her idea the “red card solution.” It requires the utilization of free market forces, the application of technology that already exists and not much else.

In this Tuesday, May 2, 2017 photo, a Customs and Border Protection helicopter flies at a low altitude over the U.S.-Mexico border fence near the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville, Texas. (Jason Hoekema/The Brownsville Herald via AP)
In this Tuesday, May 2, 2017 photo, a Customs and Border Protection helicopter flies at a low altitude over the U.S.-Mexico border fence near the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville, Texas. (Jason Hoekema/The Brownsville Herald via AP)

It would begin with the government licensing private employment agencies to grant non-immigrant work permits to foreign workers in foreign countries. Anyone with a criminal record or extremist links need not apply.

The agencies would utilize a database to match applicants to specific job openings, seasonal or full-time, that employers had demonstrated they could not fill. No job, no permit. How many guest workers are admitted would depend on the law of supply and demand — not on quotas set by bureaucrats or politicians based on guesses about how many workers will be needed in agriculture, construction, hotels, restaurants and other industries.

Those granted work permits would receive a “smart card.” It might be red — so as not to confuse it with the green cards given to those who have permanent resident status in the U.S. Red cards would be embedded with biometric and other information that employers, border guards and law enforcement officers could obtain with a quick swipe as one does with a credit card. Red Cards would cost less than $5 to produce and be paid for with user fees, not tax dollars.

Guest workers would live and labor under the same laws and rules as American workers. They’d enjoy the same protections. They could not be easily exploited as they too often are now. They’d pay taxes. But they would not be entitled to all the benefits that American citizens have awarded themselves. When you invite a guest into your home you owe him courtesy and respect — but he’s not a member of your household.

When jobs end — for any reason — the guest workers go home. They can return — when and if other jobs for which they are qualified become available.

Employers caught hiring foreigners who don’t have Red Cards would face serious penalties. The same for aliens working without Red Cards. That would sharply diminish the incentive for crossing the border illegally. As for the millions of foreigners already in the U.S. illegally, perhaps they could apply for Red Cards and receive them if they have jobs and an otherwise clean record.

What about citizenship? That’s an important issue but it’s a separate issue. Many of those who want to work and earn wages in the U.S. are doing so in order to support families back home. Their goal is not to become Americans.

As for those who do want to be naturalized, they should be subject to a highly selective process. Offers of American citizenship — equivalent to an invitation to become a member of the American family — should not be handed out lightly.

It makes absolutely no sense to give away citizenship via a “visa lottery” as we do now. As for family unification, that should be limited to only the closest relatives. It shouldn’t turn into an endless chain as it does now.

If I have a foreign uncle who is indolent and lacking in skills, why should he get priority over someone who is hardworking and has abilities that could benefit Americans? By what logic would you give a U.S. passport to my cousin the Nazi, communist or jihadist — especially if that means that someone who embraces such American values as liberty and tolerance may not be able to pursue happiness in America?

Members of Congress ought to be taking this idea and running with it — or at least using it as a starting point for a thoughtful effort to find a creative a legislative solution to problems that we’ve been arguing over for much too long.

The new administration’s oft-stated goal is to put American interests first. It seems to me that Ms. Krieble has come up with a plan that would improve border security, benefit American taxpayers, fill chronic labor shortages thereby strengthening the U.S. economy, bring workers who are now here illegally into legal compliance (without granting amnesty), safeguard human and civil rights and open opportunities to friendly workers abroad. Has anyone come up with a better approach?

Clifford D. May

Clifford D. May

Clifford D. May is president of the Foundation for Defense of Democracies (FDD) columnist for the Washington Times and member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF), an independent bipartisan federal body reporting to the president, secretary of state, and Congress.


  • Mike Cappy

    May 25, 2017 at 10:33 am

    Clifford – There are many ways in which we could change the system but the one thing that matters most is the “enforcement” of the plan. Unless there is real enforcement that has teeth there is no plan that will work.

  • Edward

    May 25, 2017 at 3:50 pm

    Before praising a solution, it behooves a commentator to spend the time to understand the reality of the system that exists now. A quick phone call to an immigration attorney or a law professor would not be out of order. The misconceptions about the current system seriously undermine the argument.

  • Edward

    May 25, 2017 at 4:01 pm

    Re: “those too eager to avail themselves of the entitlements of an advanced welfare state,” we are talking about the USA, not Sweden. Non-citizens, including permanent residents (green card) are generally barred from government benefits. Green card holders become eligible for income-based benefits after five years, but their US sponsor (in the case of family based green cards) is contractually obligated to repay the government until the green card holder can be credited with 40 qualifying quarters of Social Security employment (10 years). Only refugees get immediate access to benefits.

  • Edward

    May 25, 2017 at 4:04 pm

    Re: those only interested in working, not becoming citizens. Things change. Working may be the initial plan, but years of residence, starting a family, putting down roots leads to wanting to become a citizen. The “red card” plan is less protective of the immigrant than current visas like the H-1B (i.e. as described it does not allow for change of employers). Further, it is the same kind of guest worker program that is so problematic in the Middle East right now.

  • Edward

    May 25, 2017 at 4:07 pm

    Re: citizenship being handed out lightly. All applicants for US citizenship must show a certain period of residence as permanent residents prior to applying. In general, it’s five years. They must also show that during the statutory period, they meet the good moral character requirements including paying taxes, supporting dependents, and having no serious criminal issues. Some criminal charges are lifelong bars to citizenship (aggravated felonies), others will prevent eligibility for a time but can be overcome through rehabilitation. In addition, USCIS scrutinizes the applicant’s entire immigration history looking for any hint of fraud or other problems in the past, whether that means five years or fifty years. Finally, all applicants must learn English (with some exceptions for long-term residents over age 50 and individuals who can get a health-related waiver) and must pass an examination of US civics and history.

  • Edward

    May 25, 2017 at 4:13 pm

    Re: giving away citizenship by lottery. The merits of the diversity visa lottery are up for debate. It was instituted by ImmAct 1990 as a way to expand the pool of immigrants outside the historical sending countries. It was also a recognition of the legacy of the explicitly discriminatory immigration law up to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. (I would suggest reading John F. Kennedy’s posthumously published “A Nation of Immigrants.”) It is not clear why DV entrants are any less of a benefit to the nation than family-based immigrants. Unlike family-based immigrants, DV immigrants must have at least a high school education or at least two years of work experience in a job that requires at least two years’ experience. Like all immigrants, they are vetted for health issues, criminal history, and security concerns. And, as previously noted, citizenship is not given away. DV entrants must qualify just like anyone else.

  • Ramesh

    May 27, 2017 at 12:03 pm

    Very nice idea

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