The case of an herb farm in Washington state illustrates what's wrong with our nation's immigration "system."
By that, we mean everything.
The law is wrong-headed, transforming otherwise law-abiding immigrants into criminals. Many employers cannot obtain enough legal workers so they go underground to hire illegal workers.
Enforcement is spotty, mainly catch-and-release and ineffective. Because the government can't afford to actually enforce the immigration laws, officials pretend they are being effective, deporting only the worst criminals while more than 12 million -- some estimates are as high as 20 million -- other illegal immigrants remain in the United States.
Members of the public are confused and divided, but more than anything, they are frustrated because laws are not adequately enforced. States that try to help enforce federal immigration laws are dragged into court -- by the federal government.
And politicians at the federal level are too busy running for re-election to do anything about it. Immigration is a hot potato that no member of Congress or president would touch in an election year. What they don't say is no one in the nation's capital has done a thing about illegal immigration in years, certainly not since President Barack Obama was elected.
Congress did spend billions of dollars on a fence and hired more border guards, trapping illegal immigrants in the U.S. with no way to get home -- talk about an unintended consequence. The federal government also has an H-2A program for hiring guestworkers that is so cumbersome and inflexible that it's easier to hire illegal immigrants.
The impact goes beyond businesses. The health care system is a mess and schools are going broke because they are flooded with illegal immigrants who do not pay taxes.
The conclusion is inescapable: The. Immigration. System. Is. Broken.
The perfect storm of immigration ineptitude recently played out at a Duvall, Wash., farm owned by HerbCo. According to the U.S. attorney's office's sentencing memorandum, here's what happened:
Three years ago, Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials got a tip that the company had hired illegal immigrants. It took two years before ICE finally got around to auditing the I-9 forms on file. The forms verify that an employee is in the country legally. The audit found that 214 of 334 of the employee files lacked proper documentation, including those of 86 workers who were still employed and the person who maintained the company's I-9 files.
The company fired the 86 illegal employees and contacted a labor contractor to replace them. The new employees were unable to keep up with orders. Facing the loss of its customers, the company's general manager then rehired some of the illegal immigrants she had just fired, paid them under the table and had them work at night.
Then ICE showed up again and the U.S. attorney threw the book at HerbCo and fined the company $1 million.
The illegal immigrants are still in the U.S., probably working somewhere else, because ICE says it can't afford to deport them.
"Musical chairs would be the best way to describe it," said Dan Fazio, director of the Washington Farm Labor Association. "The worker loses his job; the employer loses a trained workforce. It's devastating small business."
Repeat this message: The. Immigration. System. Is. Broken.
Because ICE is so ineffective, legislators in Arizona decided state and local police should pitch in to enforce the federal immigration law. The U.S. Supreme Court just last week heard the case, in which the federal government actually argued the justices should strike down a provision that requires state law enforcement officials to determine the immigration status of people they suspect are in the U.S. illegally.
The tortured logic employed by the federal government's lawyer did not escape even the friendliest of listeners.
"You can see it's not selling very well," Justice Sonia Sotomayor, who is Hispanic, told the lawyer.
Repeat the message again: The. Immigration. System. Is. Broken.
How to solve immigration problems
The Capital Press editorial board recommends that Congress fix the broken immigration system establishing a pathway to citizenship for all those who seek it. A version of that pathway would include:
* A six-month sign-up period, when any immigrants who have entered the U.S. illegally and who have not been convicted of a felony would agree to pay a $10,000 fine and sign up for a 10-year work visa. The fine would be $1,000 payable annually as part of filing a federal income tax return.
* In addition to paying the fine, illegal immigrants would sign a contract requiring them to become fluent in English and obtain U.S. citizenship within 10 years. It should be noted that anyone seeking citizenship is currently required to speak English.
* During that time, anyone convicted of a felony would be immediately deported.
* At the end of the six-month sign-up, any illegal immigrants who opted not to sign a contract or were ineligible to sign one because of a felony conviction would be deported.
* Border security would be strictly enforced.
* A simplified H-2A program would allow farmers to hire either temporary or permanent workers. Once workers leave the employment of the farm they must immediately return home.