As California knows better than any state in the country, getting immigration policy right boils down to a simple proposition: Let the good people in and keep the bad ones out. We want the scientists at Stanford, the software engineers at Google, and the thousands of men and women who staff the hotels and restaurants and do the hard work that makes California's farms into the nation's breadbasket. We don't want the Salvadoran street gangs in Los Angeles or the al Qaeda terrorists who lived quietly in San Diego before carrying out the Sept. 11 atrocities.
But since 9/11 and the creation of the Department of Homeland Security, we have been focused mostly on keeping out those we don't want, and that single-mindedness has come at a high cost. For all the threats that openness can bring, it is the lifeblood of this country's economy and a pillar of our reputation in the world, and restoring a balance will be one of the critical challenges facing the new Obama administration.
In my book, "The Closing of the American Border," I tell many stories of good people who got caught by Washington's post-9/11 effort to secure the borders against terrorists. Faiz Bhora, a young Pakistani, had trained as a doctor in the United States for a decade and was hired by UCLA as a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon to perform the most delicate and life-threatening operations on children. But when he returned home in 2002 to renew his visa to work in the United States, he was kept out of the country for almost a year as a result of an ill-considered Bush administration response that resulted in lengthy security checks on nearly everyone coming to the United States from Muslim countries.