He's been walking the halls of Congress, calling on senators and House members, Democratic and Republican alike, politely pushing what he calls a “third way” for the immigration debate.

His manner is mild; his demeanor is gentle. His looks -- with a full head of hair and a neat goatee -- suggest that he might be the retired headmaster of one of the better private schools. His relatively untrammeled appearance belies his 75 years.


But do not be fooled: Mark Jason is a man with a mission. That mission is to bring sense, order and humanity to the chaotic netherworld, where 11 million illegal immigrants live in the shadows, fearing deportation and family dissolution.

Jason heads an organization called the Immigrant Tax Inquiry Group (ITIG). He founded the group in Malibu, Calif., four years ago and finances it himself. The group's principal tool for reform is a tax.

He seeks to diffuse the bitterness that divides Democrats from Republicans, the hardliners of the right from the soft immigrant advocates of the left, as well as the immigrant organizations. Jason believes that his third way will avoid the toxic issues of citizenship and amnesty that so bedevil the immigration debate.

Jason proposes that illegal immigrants be granted 10-year renewable work permits, and that employers pay a payroll tax of between 5 and 10 percent of the wages of workers holding these permits. 

The Internal Revenue Service would administer this tax, but the proceeds would go to each state, based on the number of immigrants; and each state would determine the essential services required for each of the communities shouldering the costs of illegal immigrants.

Jason reckons his tax would generate $100 billion over 10 years and would diffuse much of the hostility to undocumented workers who have been using the Social Security numbers of U.S. citizens, burdening hospital emergency rooms, and crowding schools. He wants to use this tax to give these people legitimacy, but not citizenship or amnesty. 

Jason was an IRS special agent, a budget analyst for the California State University system, and a real estate developer in Los Angeles. He was a social friend of Ronald Reagan.

Jason's tax plan isn't only informed by these experiences, but also by his life in Mexico. His parents prospered in the movie business in California, but sought a less demanding life in Mexico. Jason was partly educated in Mexico, and owns a melon farm there.

Jason doesn't care to pay taxes any more than the next man, but he sees them as a powerful tool. He says, “No tax at all is better than a bad tax. But there is nothing more valuable and more effective than an elegant tax.”

Currently, Jason says, bad taxes plague our immigrant tax system. As an example, he cites the “nanny tax” -- the oft-ignored provision in the tax code under which people who employ domestics are supposed to withhold taxes. This tax has tripped up political office seekers and presidential appointees.

According to Jason, “Undocumented immigrants submit fraudulent tax returns that reduce our Social Security and Medicaid funds in excess of $4.2 billion every year, using the ITIN [Individual Taxpayer Identification Number ] system.”

I interviewed Jason on my television show, “White House Chronicle,” and was struck by the originality and painlessness of his proposal, but mostly by the humanity of it.

For me the idea of not being able to leave the country, living in fear of ICE’s knock on the door, or raising children who are doomed to live in the same stateless limbo, would be a special hell. Or worse, the prospect of being forced into crime to eat and provide. 

Deportation is a blunt and cruel instrument. I have my own special view of it because I was born in what is now Zimbabwe. If I were an illegal immigrant (fortunately, I'm a U.S. citizen), I'd be in danger of being deported to Zimbabwe, where I know no one, and where I could expect government hostility and almost certain imprisonment.

That kind of knowledge inclines one favorably to finding a third way in the illegal immigration conundrum. 

Jason is onto something, as 72 percent of Americans, according to the Pew Research Center, believe illegal immigrants should be able to stay in the United States. But remember, as Jason says, not all of them want to do so forever; and all of them might like to visit their homelands sometime. With his proposed work permit, they'd be free to do that -- and free to live a life of dignity: a precious thing.

King is executive producer and host of “White House Chronicle” on PBS. His e-mail is lking@kingpublishing.com.