Dignity Act combines border security investment, new legal paths

Last week, Rep. María Elvira Salazar, Florida Republican, and Rep. Veronica Escobar, Texas Democrat, announced a promising new immigration bill. Ms. Salazar and Ms. Escobar’s bill is aptly called the Dignity Act. It rightly marries the two components needed for the immigration system to work for America — enforcement increases alongside expanding legal paths. Immigration policy works best when it includes a high wall and a wide gate.

The central success of packages like the Dignity Act is its honoring of the rule of law without forgetting the humanity inherent in immigration stories. Despite immigration law’s reputation as both unnecessarily complex and draconian, it doesn’t follow that it should be ignored or forgotten. These are reasons for reforming and not for sidestepping the problems.

Even if the laws need an update, we can still issue speeding tickets to those who have broken the law. Humanitarian interests enter the conversation here. Those who came here illegally but have proved peaceful and hardworking don’t need to be deported. Instead, the Dignity Act emphasizes that the nation can seek restitution in other ways. In this case, it fuses penitence with aid to those in need.

People wishing to earn the right to stay must pay $5,000 over seven years. Those funds are then available for retraining and helping natives.

As Ms. Salazar put it, “If you feel that you have lost an opportunity because an undocumented person came and took it away from you, then there’s the pot of money for you to be trained.”

Here, the Dignity Act’s proposals will seem like a poison pill to many on both sides. Those in favor of immigration may dislike the idea of charging an entry fee to the huddled masses. On the other side, those who find themselves opposed to immigration may not believe the admission fee is high enough.

Both sides should instead see tying restitution for breaking the rules to helping natives as a success. This addition would make the  immigration system work for natives. At the same time, it communicates the importance of the rule of law and orderly immigration processes.

On top of these fixes that will help natives, the bill includes $25 billion for building up the security systems at the border and requires hiring more Border Patrol agents. These are important ingredients that complement the expanded legal pathways created in the proposal.

Fears about an undefended border should be put to bed in the face of this spending. This is a big commitment to securing the U.S., and it supports Customs and Border Protection as the largest federal law enforcement agency. As CBP notes, it is one of the largest law enforcement agencies in the world.

While the Dignity Act includes the right ingredients for successful immigration reform, it faces a steep climb through the House. Just two weeks ago, House Republicans passed a different immigration bill that is solely about border security.

As a whole, Republicans have said that they won’t pick up any immigration reforms that don’t purely tighten border security. That’s a disappointing political reality in the context of our investments in border security. The U.S. needs to add the kinds of legal path expansions to its policies to manage the border.

The combination of border security investments with new legal paths to earning citizenship will prove a policy success, even if they will not make for an easy political win. Immigration policy hasn’t seen major reform in decades. It’s a field in clear need of an update that remembers the human side of immigration without minimizing the importance of the rule of law.

In that light, the package of policies n the Dignity Act is a step toward a calmer border and a better system.

CGO scholars and fellows frequently comment on a variety of topics for the popular press. The views expressed therein are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Center for Growth and Opportunity or the views of Utah State University.