In the past few days, republican presidential hopefuls Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney have been talking about what to do with the 10 million undocumented immigrants living in the United States, but policy experts are not very impressed with the scope of their solutions.
"It is difficult to judge because until now what we have heard are sound bite proposals, none of these ideas are very defined yet", said Muzaffar Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute, a Washington think tank known for its serious research on the subject.
"Gingrich at least provides more details on its web page. In the case of Romney, we do not really know what he is proposing," the analyst added.
What are those ideas and to what extent they are feasible proposals that would give a definitive answer to the illegal immigration issue? Can these solutions create real change in U.S. immigration laws and prevent undocumented immigration in the future?
The answer to both questions, according to experts and scholars is that none of the proposals would solve the problem in the short or long term.
Former speaker Newt Gingrich was the first to suggest in a November 23 debate that something should be done with those millions of people beyond deporting them or assuming that their undocumented status makes disposable, as had been the norm in the Republican primary race until that moment.
"I do not believe that the people of the United States are going to take people who have been here a quarter century, who have children and grandchildren, who are members of the community, who may have done something 25 years ago, separate them from their families, and expel them", said Gingrich back in November. "I don't see how the party that says it's the party of the family is going to adopt an immigration policy which destroys families that have been here a quarter century".
However, in a more recent debate, the former Speaker explained that his plan would only apply to undocumented persons who have been here for at least 25 years, which tremendously limits the number of people who would be legalized and "not separated" from their families.
"What is the universe of people who would benefit" asked journalist Diane Sawyer of ABC News in one recent debate. "According to the Pew Hispanic Center, there are 11 million undocumented and only 3.5 million have been here 15 years or more."
"That's not my figure," Gingrich said. "I said 25 years. Also, they will not receive citizenship but permanent residence. "
There is no accurate estimate of how many undocumented people have been here for over 25 years, but most likely it will be a small fraction of these 3.5 million here longer than 15 years. Most undocumented immigrants that are here today came in the 1990`s and 2000´s.
The period of time that Gingrich suggests would take us back to 1986, which was when the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) was enacted by Ronald Reagan and that legalized undocumented immigrants who had come from before 1982.
Assuming that at least half of that 3.5 million have been here 25 years, the "legalization" plan would benefit less than 2 million people.
"The universe of people who could qualify is very small and the benefits they receive are unclear," said a report by the Center for American Progress. "Gingrich envisions the creation of committees of" citizen review that would make decisions about who deserves legal status. The few people who qualify will be prohibited from applying for U.S. citizenship or receive federal benefits. "
This past Sunday, Gingrich actually gave more details on this in a television interview. Appearing on the CBS program "Face the Nation" the former speaker said that he estimated only about 1 million of the estimated 10 million unauthorized immigrants would be allowed to stay, and the rest, would have to go home.
The details of the Gingrich proposal are in his campaign website. It is undoubtedly the most specific among the republican candidates, or perhaps the only detailed plan, but the conditions seem to overly restrict the numbers who could meet all these requirements.
For example, to obtain this "you will never become citizen" type residence, the person would also have to prove that he or she can afford private health insurance and maintain that eligibility or risk losing legal status. They would also have to pay a fine of $ 5000.
"That alone would disqualify many Americans," says the CAP report "Even for those who qualify, this is a program of high risk and low rewards."
Chishti said that never in its history the United States has granted a status of "second-class citizens" to a group of immigrants, having them achieve conditional legal status without the option of citizenship for the rest of their lives. Most legal residents can apply for citizenship after 3 or 5 years of achieving status, if they meet certain other addicional requirements.
"This idea is antithetical to the American justice system, we have never had a permanent class defined by law, this immigrants will die without ever having the chance to become citizens," said Chishti.
In fact, in the history of the United States there was a national group, the Chinese, who for 60 years between the late 19 th and early 20th century were excluded from citizenship even if born here and of course, could never naturalize if they were here as immigrants. That is the only comparable example in US history. That history has been amply denounced and the "Chinese Exclusion Act" is now considered regrettable and antithetical to the tradition of American legal immigration.
As for Mitt Romney, in recent days he has been talking about his proposal for repatriation of illegal immigrants so they can then enter legally by "getting to the end of the line" of people waiting to immigrate to the country.
Mitt Romney supported the comprehensive immigration reform principles of bills discussed in Congress in 2006 and 2007, but by 2008, during his first campaign for the republican nomination for President, he had already reduced his ideas on immigration reform to dennouncing "amnesty and controlling borders."
When Gingrich said he would support legalizing some long time immigrants, Romney reacted that the proposal amounted to a form of "amnesty" and he would not support it. In the most recent debate, Romney spoke of a seemingly different process.
"I think we should give the 11 million opportunity to register and have a transition period to settle their affairs and go home, and go to the end of the line with all those who want to immigrate..." Romney said in the debate last Saturday. "There are millions of people who want to come here and are waiting..."
The line that Romney speaks about would mean waiting times of up to 20 years in the case of countries like Mexico or the Philippines and several years in the case of many other nationals. In addition, without changes in current law, people who spend a minimum of time without status in the U.S. are prohibited from returning to the country for 5 to 10 years anyway.
"This is not a new position," said Chishti. "But it is unlikely to succeed unless there and incentive for people to leave and they know they will be able to return with legal status in a reasonable period of time."
To think that this sending people home to the back of the line, without evaluating the visa quotas, complicated processes and legal impediments that would make it almost impossible for them to come back in any decent amount of time, and present this as a solution to the unauthorized immigration in the United States, it's probably not a bet that even Mitt Romney would want to take.
Neither proposal will actually do much to solve the situation of millions of unauthorized immigrants, many of whom have been here for many years and have families and it will not do much to reform immigration laws in the long term, to address the future needs of the US economy.
(Pilar Marrero´s book Waking up from the American Dream: How Anti immigration Extremism Threatens the USA, will be published next year in Spanish and English)