This Tuesday, El Conquistador met with Congressman Paul Ryan to discuss important economic and immigration issues that affect our nation today. In political circles, Congressman Ryan has amassed a celebrity status for being an intellectual heavyweight and a new face for the Republican Party. And although Ryan's stardom didn't exactly occur overnight, he became a national sensation when President Obama singled out his "Roadmap to America's Future" as serious policy proposal.
Ryan's Roadmap was scored by the CBO and Obama's Medicare Actuary as making our Social Security and Medicare solvent for future generations. It does this by addressing our 76 trillion dollar unfunded obligations - most of which is related to health care entitlement programs.
Currently, the U.S. has the second highest corporate income tax in the industrialized world. Ryan's Roadmap replaces the corporate income tax with an 8.5% consumption tax. By doing this, it gives our companies at home a better footing to compete against companies abroad. Also, Ryan wants to "border-adjust" our taxes, which means removing the tax on U.S. exports while putting a tax on imports. This is exactly what our foreign competitors do to us.
Another facet of his tax proposal is offering an optional simplified individual income tax system with a 10% marginal income tax rate for individuals who make $50,000 or less and a 25% rate for those who make more. According to Ryan, it would clean up the tax code while eliminate loopholes often exploited by the wealthy.
And concerning Medicare, Ryan would provide adults under the age of 55 a $2,300 refundable tax credit (a type of debit card) for health care costs. Such tax credits would be "means-tested" meaning individuals with medical conditions would get larger credits while those who can afford to pay more would get smaller credits. And important to note, the Medicare and Social Security benefits of those 55 and older would stay the same.
If passed, the Dream Act would allow undocumented individuals, who have arrived in the U.S. as minors, an opportunity to gain conditional permanent residency. As a condition of their residency, they must complete at least two years in the military or two years of college education. To qualify, they must have also entered the country before the age of 16, stayed in the country continuously for 5 years and have a clean criminal record.
A few weeks ago, the Dream Act failed to pass in Congress for a number of reasons. First, it was partnered with a Military Appropriations bill, which itself was a political ploy. Second, a repeal of the controversial "Don't Ask Don't Tell" military policy was also attached to the Appropriations bill making the Dream Act less likely to survive congressional passage. And third, Harry Reid's motive for linking the Dream Act to the Appropriations bill was self-serving, meant to promote his Senate candidacy with Nevada's growing Hispanic population.
When asked about the Dream Act, Ryan acknowledged that our immigration system was broken on several fronts.
First, our borders are too porous making us more vulnerable to attacks by dangerous drug cartels and terrorist networks like Al Qaeda.
Second, identity theft is on the rise often victimizing citizens with Hispanic surnames. This would require a workplace verification system to protect our citizens.
Third, our immigration system is also too sluggish often favoring immigrants from preselected nations. For example, due to international quotas, immigrants from India are granted visas more swiftly than applicants from Mexico. Mexican immigrants often wait anywhere from 6 to 10 years for permanent residency or citizenship.
And fourth, we need to incorporate "touch-backs" into our immigration system.
The "touch-back" system is a way to set up processing centers just outside the border where undocumented individuals can visit voluntarily for the purposes of applying for visas, residency, or citizenship. Essentially, they wait there to re-enter the country legally. By doing this, someone from Guatemala doesn't have to return all the way to Guatemala for reprocessing.
And although this system seems unnecessary, it provides an avenue more acceptable to the public because it doesn't reward those that skipped to the front of the proverbial line.
When we mentioned to Ryan that many undocumented children were brought to the U.S. without a choice and wouldn't remember their native homeland, he redirected us to the importance of following a sequential approach to immigration. Ryan believes that if we attempt to pass the Dream Act now without first taking care of the border, addressing identity theft, and expediting the application process, it will never survive Congress in the next session.
In our interview with Congressman Ryan, he recognized the need for entrepreneurial-minded, "self-starting" immigrants. In fact, Ryan noted that economic studies have shown immigrants actually contribute to our nation a "net gain".
Ryan also understands the criticism that "touch-backs" seem like a disproportional response to a low level offense. In the U.S., illegal entry is a misdemeanor, not a crime. Even deportations are civil proceedings. To put it into perspective, most states see a speeding violation to be on the same legal level as crossing the border illegally. So to some, expecting undocumented immigrants to migrate to satellite processing centers over an offense comparable to a speeding violation is a bit overkill.
And although Ryan recognized the criticism, he also observed that the majority of citizens in the U.S. won't accept pathways to citizenship if they fail to recognize the rule of law. Ryan believes that if we follow a sequential approach to repair and improve our immigration policies - first securing our borders, improving employer verification systems, and making visa applications processes more efficient - then Congress may be in a better position to consider legislation like the Dream Act.