Wednesday, June 3, 2009


Setting up rules on who to admit to this country is contentious.

There is a dramatic democratic alternative using sortition and participatory democracy. The first phase would be exploratory and competitive. The next ten thousand individuals wishing to enter the country or who are here illegally would be empaneled before juries. The juries would hear their stories and vote to allow three thousand permanent residency. Instead of seeing the situation abstractly--do we give "amnesty"-the jury would compare a family working hard as migrant farmers, albeit undocumented, with a lady being sponsored by an old "geezer" who met her via a "mail-order bride" service. The stories and the outcomes would be publicized. Perhaps, their presentations would be televised.

In recognition that this would be experimental, it would be understand the nation would let them try again as processes are scaled up for the millions who are applying for admittance and the millions who are already here. Each year, our country awards 55,000 immigrant visas by random selection to those who come from countries with low rates of immigration, so there is precedent for using random selection in awarding immigration opportunities.

Based on the first round the nation might set up other panels admit ten thousand of individuals. The nation could be asked to vote on:

  1. Do we have a panel of citizens, randomly selected and required to serve, as juries are today?
  2. Do we have a randomly chosen volunteers
  3. Do we have citizens who recently immigrated from specific nations whose familiarity with the political situations, languages and customs would help them evaluate the stories from those members
  4. Do we have groups to admit those seeking asylum because they fear persecution for their political beliefs o r ethnic identity
  5. Do we have groups representing specific professions or industries to determine those who might countribute to our nation by being admitted temporarily or permanently in these fields?
  6. perhaps young people should have special panels as they might have views on the long term demographics of the nation.

Again, the presentations, results, and possibly even the deliberations would be televised.

Now, it would be time for the American people to decide how many and how each decision would be made. They would get to decide how many would be admitted by each method. How many undocumented but worthy aspirants to American citizenship, how many of those seeking to immigrate to marry American Citizens, how many computer programmers, how many to work temporarily to harvest food.

And probably, the American people would have a general category to allow for those who might be deserving of citizenship or temporary stays but who don't fit neatly into one of the other categories. We are all aware of the great consternation over setting up rules on whom to admit to the country, whether it be for citizenship or to work in a profession such as computer science or as an unskilled job, for those tasks that Americans "won't do." We have seen the question of whether we provide a path to citizenship for those who have come in illegally but have worked hard and have otherwise fulfilled the American dream at the cost of not letting in the person who was patiently waiting on the visa queue for years to join a brother already in the United States. Our system allows all those who marry an American Citizen to become permanent citizens and citizenship in without a numerical limit. However, our current immigration law has specific limits for how many people are admitted for permanent residency to work in professional capacity (third preference). It also has a limit of 5000 people by nation. So there are longer visa backlogs for those from coming from larger countries such as India than smaller nations like the Comorros.

I have personally observed how the H-1 visa program works with those earning Master's Degrees in Computer Science in this country. There is a numerical limit per fiscal year and these visas are given out on a first-come first-served basis. Thus, those who get their application in before a certain date are given a temporary visa while others wait.

The immigration bill last defeated has a point system, which does help alleviate these problems. For example, people get points for skills, for learning English. Note that it has a separate track, a Z visa for those who may already be in the country but are "undocumented." Thus, the nation is still left in the quandary over how to deal with those who are awaiting immigration via the normal channels and comparing them to people who have worked hard and have been model members of the American community except that they entered illegally or overstayed a temporary visa.

I realize my critics would compare the proposal of televising proceedings to reality series such as Survivor. Obviously, we must ensure that it be done with good taste and with an aim to inform and appeal to the best in the viewing audience. In fact, a true "reality show" on which Americans can base extensive feedback to control an important aspect of our national identity, may be a partial antidote to the "vast wasteland" of our current mass media.

Instead of a counting and comparison as we do for candidates or referendums, the votes would be combined as a median. For example, the voting computer would sort each persons number for how many of the undocumented workers to admit next year. The voting computer would determine the number such that half of Americans want more and half want less. Unlike an average, this means means that a person en entering very large number, say a trillion, would not bias the result upward.

I anticipate that some of these numbers would stabilize. For example, we would see that each year the median number selected for the number of family reunifications might be approximately the same. Then, we would allow people to record a vote for five years. Other categories might change dramatically from year to year. For example, the demand for computer professionals recently has been notorious for its ups and owns.

This gets us out of the current gridlock. It allows us to try things on a small scale, see how they work, rather than setting up a system all at once for twenty million people that will inevitably have both intentional and inadvertent loopholes.

But more importantly, it gives Americans a chance to experiment with true democracy as opposed to representative democracy. Every citizen could have an opportunity to serve on an immigration panel. Every citizen will help determine the numbers that drive the immigration system.

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