5 Requirements for Conservative Immigration Reform

David McNew/Getty Images

2016 is likely the year that illegal immigration becomes a first-tier political issue both in the Republican presidential primary and the general election. The next president will likely be the one who definitively re-shapes American immigration policy following a decade of debate and stalemate. Trying to unpack where most candidates currently stand is not an easy thing to do as positions and particulars have continued to evolve.

We will be reaching out to the campaigns as they get under way to answer important questions. But here are five reasonable items that would be nice to see conservatives fighting for.

Control the Border First

Marco Rubio has it right, now. After initially being part of the group pushing for comprehensive immigration reform - and rightly receiving pushback - the Florida Senator now argues that a comprehensive plan is unworkable and that immigration reform must be done sequentially:

“It has to be a sequence. The sequence begins by trying to get under control the illegal immigration problem. People aren’t going to be willing to do anything else on immigration until they believe illegal immigration is under control. And in my mind that means strategic sensing, cameras, more personnel on the border, that means E-Verify. That means an entry-exit tracking system to find those who entered legally and end up being here illegally because they overstayed visas."

This shouldn't even be up for debate: the border must be controlled first and there must be proof that the border is controlled before considering anything else. This is where Rubio's 2013 immigration reform badly missed the mark. It allowed multiple benefits to start well before there was any proof of the border being secured.

Because the federal government has refused to enforce current immigration laws, nobody believes that new border security measures would be enforced anyway. Securing the border is easily the most agreed upon and bipartisan element of immigration reform. To emphasize it is not only crucial, but the right thing to do.

Discover Who Is Here

When a plan is in place and the border is secured, illegal immigrants must be compelled to come forward. Once legal status is attainable, all illegal immigrants could be given a period of time to come forward and acknowledge who they are, where they live, and why they came here. If there is a certain waiting period to attain permanent legal status, those people must initially sign up and then wait the extended period of time from the time they sign up. The penalty for not coming forward in the initial time allotment should be considered a felony and cause for automatic deportation. No excuses. No loopholes. Since the border is secured, all new acts of illegal immigration should also be considered felonies. People must know that the punishment for not participating in the new system is serious otherwise we end up where we started.

Strict E-Verify Enforcement

E-Verify is an electronic system in place designed to ensure that potential employees are legally able to work in the country by cross-referencing data from the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration. This system should be a nationwide requirement to ensure that only those who are participating in the legal pathway program are eligible for employment. This is a measure that is necessary to ensure that illegal immigrants cannot choose to remain "in the shadows" voluntarily.

Meet Requirements

When the infamous "Gang of Eight" attempted immigration reform in 2013, Obama said of the plan that a pathway "includes passing a background check, learning English, paying taxes and a penalty, and then going to the back of the line behind everyone who’s playing by the rules and trying to come here legally.” The problem was, of course, that most of that wasn't true thanks to the many, many loopholes.

Added the toothless "border enforcement" provisions that were as easy to ignore as ones that are already law, and also ignored, didn't make for a convincing argument. So, after the border is verifiably secure, any pathway to legal status should include the Obama-approved list from above. With no loopholes. No ways to avoid paying the penalties or taxes.

Illegal Immigrants Shouldn't Be Able to Vote for Federal Office

Blanket citizenship should be off the table, with citizenship available in some cases (military service, etc.). There is no solid argument for giving people who broken into the country full citizenship and full voting rights. Citizenship would also limit the ability of the federal government to deport people who become offenders in the future. As a result, we can take another worry off the table: voting. The notion that 15 million people can illegally flood the border and then sign up to vote - and represent up to 10% of the voting population - does not sit well with many Americans. And it shouldn't. A pathway to some form of legal status should be compassion enough. Though I'm not one who believes that legalized voting would have a major impact on national elections, as a matter of fairness, it doesn't sit well.