What Both Sides Really Mean on 'Immigration Reform'


NEW YORK (TheStreet) -- Silicon Valley's latest cause celebre is the advocacy for immigration reform. All parties in Washington, D.C. are also advocating immigration reform.

The problem is this: What one person means by "immigration reform" is not what the other side means. The people who will actually have to vote on immigration reform mean two very different things.

It's a classic case of two sides using one word -- reform -- to mean two different things. Let me illustrate with an analogy.

If Ron Paul were to debate Barack Obama about "tax reform" both would claim to be in favor of tax reform. Who wouldn't? But what each of them means by "reform" would be the total opposite of the other.

What Ron Paul means by tax "reform" is to abolish taxes and instead fund a constitutional, pre-1913 federal government primarily by voluntary charity or small user fees. What President Obama would mean by tax "reform" is that in principle 100% of all income should be taxed, except for what the government charitably allows you to keep.

In other words, as the two parties both profess their strongest support for "reform" they mean the exact opposite of the other. Same thing with immigration reform, mostly.

Almost every famous person in the Silicon Valley food chain -- from CEOs to venture capitalists -- are pushing for "immigration reform." So what do most of them mean by that?

Most technology companies want to expand their pool of engineers that they can hire -- here in the U.S. as well as around the world. As it stands it's hard to get a work visa for a foreign worker to move to the U.S., especially from countries such as India and China.

A familiar example of how this works is that a graduate of a top U.S. university in computer science either starts a company or takes an engineering job with a Silicon Valley company. However, before long he or she is unable to stay in the U.S., so he or she returns home to China or India to run his or her company or work over there.

The U.S. is likely to benefit from a software or hardware engineer settling in the U.S. in order to work or start a company. This person will likely contribute far more in GDP than he or she will be on the public dole. The education is already paid for. This immigrant is the opposite of a welfare case.

If this were the only part of immigration reform on the table, it would pass tomorrow.

The problem is, this isn't the only part of immigration reform that is on the table. There is also the other part, and it has nothing to do with Silicon Valley's talent shortage.

What is this other part of immigration reform? It's about changing the status of the people who have run across the border from Mexico so they can vote and more easily consume government benefits such as free health care and free education.

The purpose of this other part of immigration reform is to create tens of millions of new voters for the Democrat Party.

First, you make a U.S. citizen out of someone who knowingly ran across the border. Second, you ensure that this person has "access" to all of the goodies of the welfare state: Free schools, health care, perhaps food stamps and government-subsidized housing.

Then, you ensure this new U.S. citizen, totally dependent on government paying for almost everything, can now bring his or her relatives into the U.S. from poverty abroad. For every 10 million people made into U.S. citizens in this "path to citizenship" you could have 40 million new voters within a decade. It would ensure a Democrat majority in most states for a generation or more.

This latter part has nothing to do with Silicon Valley and it's where all the contention is. It is why this bill is being blocked in the House of Representatives.

In order for Silicon Valley to get what it wants on immigration reform it should insist these two completely different parts of immigration reform get split into two separate bills with two separate votes:

  1. Work visas for people who have advanced degrees in relevant areas of engineering, or are otherwise well-recognized computer geniuses. Basically, if you graduate in computer science from Stanford University, you get to stay in the U.S. for -- at a minimum -- many, many years.

    Also, if you bring significant investment capital to the U.S. or are able to attract some minimum level of investment capital, you can get a long-term work (startup) visa. Either way, you will contribute to GDP and employment far more than you drain.

  2. Legalization of those who already made it into the U.S. illegally, almost all of whom have little or no education. This bill would be voted upon separately. It has essentially nothing to do with Silicon Valley.

Why am I even bringing this up? It is important to realize that many of the very prominent Silicon Valley CEOs and other food-chain head honchos generally don't have significant experience in understanding the shadow-boxing game in Washington, D.C.

It is very easy to get the impression that because both parties say they are in favor of the identical phrase -- "immigration reform" -- but don't vote identically on any given bill, that there is a missing piece of logic here. There isn't.

The secret to understanding "immigration reform" is that it is an amalgam of two completely different bills: One -- the Silicon Valley high-tech worker part -- the Republicans favor and probably some Democrats, too. The other -- the "let's legalize all the people who are likely to be on welfare and become life-long Democrat voters" part -- almost only the Democrats favor.

Silicon Valley can get exactly what it wants -- essentially immediately -- if it only understands to de-couple these two very different bills. It's got a most reasonable policy goal, which would have very strong support in Congress, perhaps even by the president. If that's the entire bill, swift victory for Silicon Valley is certain.

The reason the current immigration bill is on track to fail in the House of Representatives is that very few Republican congresspersons are willing to sign their party's death warrant for a generation or more. There is no good argument, in their view, to legalizing more poor people who will be consuming government welfare services and become addicted to voting Democrat.

Who could blame them? Would the Democrat Party be in favor of a bill that read "Only people who pledge allegiance to the Republican Party will be allowed to move to the U.S."?

Of course they wouldn't! But that is, in essence, what the Democrat Party is asking the Republican Party to do. By stapling another bill to it -- allowing Silicon Valley to hire better talent -- Silicon Valley has become universally in favor of this two-part bill, too.

Two completely different issues, two completely different congressional votes warranted. When they are joined together into one piece of legislation, it will not pass and therefore not become law.

From Silicon Valley's perspective, the fix is easy: Separate the two issues into two separate bills. Your part of immigration reform is ready to pass as long it's not burdened by that other part.

This article was written by an independent contributor, separate from TheStreet's regular news coverage.

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