It is important to remember that immigration isn’t just a political football, as far too many seem to believe. It’s about people. Fellow human beings, each with a story and a reason -- good or bad -- for being here.
Like millions of Americans, I have experienced the immigration system and its bureaucracy first-hand. My husband, Julian, and I spent 7 years and thousands of dollars wading through the legal process required for him to go from being undocumented to his status today as a proud legal permanent resident of the United States.
It wasn’t easy, but he did it.
Immigration policy really shouldn’t be that difficult to resolve, if the politicians would simply stop inflaming fear and using immigrants as a foil for their electoral ambitions. When it comes to the American people, the vast majority actually agree on the basics:
First, as a sovereign nation, we need to control our borders. Secure borders means knowing who is coming across and why they are doing so. Roughly a million people cross the U.S.- Mexico border, both ways, each DAY. Hundreds of thousands more cross the Canadian border or enter the US at dozens of international airports. This LEGAL flow of people across our borders is essential to commerce, jobs and society. We don’t try to keep America safe by stopping that flow. Rather, we focus on border security that is smart, effective and keeps the “bad guys” out. If that means a wall, a fence, technology, or whatever, then so be it. But let us not be fooled into believing that physical barriers alone can produce the security we all desire.
Real border security requires an underlying immigration system that works.
Legal immigration today, and for decades, has been based upon an arbitrary quota system that finds its roots in policies from more than hundred years ago that were literally designed to ensure that immigrants were primarily from northern Europe. They did so by placing quotas on immigrants from other parts of Europe, Asia, etc.
We still use quotas today -- quotas set by bureaucrats in Washington, DC. The result, as we have seen all too painfully, is far too many people trying, and succeeding, to come here illegally or to overstay their visas once they are here.
Today, immigration levels should be set by the marketplace. If American companies, small businesses or farmers need immigrant workers, potential employers and willing workers shouldn’t be obstructed in the marketplace by arbitrary and nonsensical government quotas. A market-based system for efficiently securing work visas would go a long way toward easing illegal immigration -- and would, in the process, be good for the entire economy. Crops should not be rotting in the fields, as they are today, simply because farmers can’t find the labor they need to bring those crops in, all while the government places unrealistic limits and obstacles in the way of willing immigrant workers.
For those millions of immigrants who are in the U.S. today without legal documents, once again, the vast majority of Americans agree that a process is needed by which otherwise law-abiding, productive undocumented immigrants can “get right with the law”. The notion of mass deportations of such immigrants is a figment of politicians’ imaginations. It won’t happen, and could not be accomplished without turning America into a place none of us would recognize.
Undocumented immigrants who have not been convicted of Class A felonies or multiple lesser crimes should be allowed to come forward, apply for a 10-year legal residency, pay a penalty, and be given the opportunity that they deserve to seek more permanent status. If they pay their taxes, stay out of trouble and do not become dependent on welfare, legal permanent residency and even citizenship should be open to them through the normal process.
The penalties they are required to pay can be set aside to partially compensate state and local governments, hospitals, and others who have absorbed significant costs providing services and public assistance to undocumented, uninsured and otherwise dependent undocumented populations.
Adopting a humane, common sense approach such as this will allow our government to focus its attention on the small percentage of undocumented immigrants who are here for the wrong reasons: Crime, welfare, or yes, terrorism. In short, we can use our enforcement resources to keep us safe from real threats.
Likewise, a sensible approach toward undocumented immigrants will render the disturbing growth of “sanctuary” cities and even states moot. I cannot condone the idea of local governments formally declaring their disregard for immigration law. It is dangerous, and should not be tolerated, much less encouraged. Under a federal system by which deserving immigrants can earn a legal status, “sanctuary” will not be an issue.
For the so-called “DACA kids” -- those brought here or sent here younger than the age of 16, there is almost universal agreement, once we get past a handful of politicians, that a fair, humane, and statutory solution is needed. These young people committed no crime. They didn’t make a real choice. In most cases, we have educated them in our schools, they speak English, and many have actually served in our military. The idea of somehow sending them “back” to homes they may not even remember is nonsensical.
President Trump was not wrong, from a legal standpoint, in negating President Obama’s executive “legislating” of immigration law with the DACA program. While frustration over inaction by Congress on behalf of those 800,000 young immigrants is understandable, Obama overreached his authority. Now, the ball is in Congress’ court -- and they must act.
Safeguards must be put in place to avoid “chain” migration that might allow distant family members to take unfair advantage of whatever legal status DACA children and young adults receive. Likewise, these young people, like all undocumented immigrants, must demonstrate over a period of years that they deserve the opportunity to earn permanent status.
With a little common sense and courage from Congress, it should not be difficult to remove the cloud of uncertainty under which these 800,000 young immigrants are living -- through no fault of their own.