What Both Sides Really Mean on 'Immigration Reform'

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

The problem is this: What one person means by "immigration reform" isnot what the other side means. The people who will actually have tovote on immigration reform mean two very different things.

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

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

What Ron Paul means by tax "reform" is to abolish taxes and insteadfund a constitutional, pre-1913 federal government primarily byvoluntary charity or small user fees. What President Obama would mean bytax "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 strongestsupport 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 -- fromCEOs 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 thatthey can hire -- here in the U.S. as well as around the world. As itstands it's hard to get a work visa for a foreign worker to move tothe 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 anengineering job with a Silicon Valley company. However, before longhe or she is unable to stay in the U.S., so he or she returns home toChina or India to run his or her company or work over there.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then, you ensure this new U.S. citizen, totally dependent ongovernment paying for almost everything, can now bring his or herrelatives into the U.S. from poverty abroad. For every 10 millionpeople made into U.S. citizens in this "path to citizenship" you couldhave 40 million new voters within a decade. It would ensure aDemocrat majority in most states for a generation or more.

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

In order for Silicon Valley to get what it wants on immigrationreform it should insist these two completely different parts ofimmigration reform get split into two separate bills with two separatevotes:
  1. Work visas for people who have advanced degrees in relevant areasof engineering, or are otherwise well-recognized computer geniuses.Basically, if you graduate in computer science from StanfordUniversity, 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 areable to attract some minimum level of investment capital, you can geta long-term work (startup) visa. Either way, you will contribute toGDP 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 bevoted upon separately. It has essentially nothing to do with SiliconValley.

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

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

The secret to understanding "immigration reform" is that it is anamalgam of two completely different bills: One -- the SiliconValley high-tech worker part -- the Republicans favor andprobably some Democrats, too. The other -- the "let's legalize all thepeople who are likely to be on welfare and become life-long Democratvoters" part -- almost only the Democrats favor.

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

The reason the current immigration bill is on track to fail in theHouse of Representatives is that very few Republican congresspersonsare willing to sign their party's death warrant for a generation ormore. There is no good argument, in their view, to legalizing more poorpeople who will be consuming government welfare services and becomeaddicted to voting Democrat.

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

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

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

From Silicon Valley's perspective, the fix is easy: Separate thetwo issues into two separate bills. Your part of immigration reformis 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.

More from Emerging Markets

Markets Look Confused After Latest Beating

Markets Look Confused After Latest Beating

China Central Bank Governor Says Stay 'Calm and Rational' After Market Free Fall

China Central Bank Governor Says Stay 'Calm and Rational' After Market Free Fall

China-Focused Stocks Hit Hard as Beijing Responds to Trump Tariff Threats

China-Focused Stocks Hit Hard as Beijing Responds to Trump Tariff Threats

Emerging Markets Get Pounded by Trade War Concerns

Emerging Markets Get Pounded by Trade War Concerns

Here's Your Markets Playbook to Weather European Volatility, Trade Talks & More

Here's Your Markets Playbook to Weather European Volatility, Trade Talks & More