[vc_row][vc_column][vc_column_text]Published May 19, 2019
I started practicing immigration law in the decade that followed the Reagan era’s 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act, the last large scale immigration amnesty in the U.S. Through this legislation, roughly 3 million undocumented, but otherwise law abiding, individuals were able to come out of the shadows and officially start their lives as U.S. lawful permanent residents. Eventually, the vast majority eventually went on to become U.S. citizens.
Existing statutory avenues toward U.S. residence have allowed for approximately 1 million new permanent residents to the U.S. per year. In addition to these avenues to legal immigration, the 1990’s brought us a pseudo amnesty, known as Section 245(i), a congressionally enacted program to allow hundreds of thousands of undocumented foreign nationals to legalize their status and obtain permanent residence as long as they had a qualifying family or employment relationship and ultimately could pay a financial penalty, as high as $1,000.00. The final incarnation of 245(i) ended on April 30, 2001, although there continue to be many undocumented in the U.S. who still qualify to legalize their status in the U.S. because of this law.
Then came 9/11 and our nation’s mostly positive embrace of immigration began to change, especially when it came to how we view undocumented immigrants. It also changed how we viewed foreign nationals from the Middle East and our nation’s capacity to properly screen prospective entrants. Fast forward to 2019 – and after countless attempts and failures at finding a solution to our broken immigration system, including how to solve the issue of our undocumented population – now estimated to be around 12 million – we have arrived at the Trump era.
The Trump era came to be when our then, aspiring President campaigned on a hard-nosed, zero tolerance approach to immigration enforcement. More importantly, the Trump era came to be because of the words and images he uses to communicate his message to fan the flames of anger and fear in his audiences. Being a master marketer, Trump realizes that image is everything – and through his tweets and town hall rally speeches, he has managed to define immigration and immigrants as a problem. Further, through this strategy, the resulting message is that the distinction between legal immigration and illegal immigration is mostly inconsequential. Additionally, the importance of finding a solution to the problem – other than building a wall and otherwise beefing up our immigration enforcement infrastructure, gets lost in the conversation.
In the Trump era, catch phrases, generalizations and simple succinct messages are king, including: Mexico brings their rapists, drug dealers and murderers; Central American nations send caravans and invaders to infest our country; Immigration means chain migration (as if something is wrong with that when the immigrant is working hard and paying their taxes); Immigrants are drunk drivers, MS13 gang members, non-human, mobs, Muslim terrorists, job stealers, anchor babies, asylum fraudsters, and welfare users and cheats.
But is this the reality? Or is this simply Trump’s reality? Or do the answers to these questions really matter if this is what his constituents believe and want to continue to believe? Well, there are some things that one cannot argue with. The reality is that there are 12 million people living here in violation of U.S. immigration law – and the fact that these individuals broke the law is undeniable. But what comes after this is problematic – that the very small percentage who are criminals or burdens on our system start to define “immigration” as a whole and steer the conversation. That a relatively small number of asylum seekers, some with valid claims, others who do not, become a caravan or an invasion, and something to fear and repel. The culmination of these repeated themes brings us to the conclusion that the days when immigrants in general are seen for their contributions in making this nation great are over, for the moment.
As things stand today, there is no doubt we can find bigger and better ways to enforce our immigration laws. But what about also asking the question of how we ended up with 12 million undocumented individuals in the U.S. and what we are going to do about it? When are we going to stop turning away tens of thousands of qualified, talented and well educated specialty workers looking to contribute to our nation because of severe and outdated limits on our current H-1B work visa program? How can we find more ways for folks to legally immigrate to the U.S., especially when it comes to filling jobs few or no U.S. workers want Politically speaking, these are not attractive topics of conversation for many in the President’s party, including Republican candidates looking to attain or remain in office.
Importantly, the vast majority of the people living in the U.S. in an undocumented status are not in this position because they forgot to file documentation or wait in some line. No, for these individuals no legal avenue, “line” or “right way” toward immigration status exists.
Based on my decades of experience as an immigration lawyer and especially my everyday conversations with company officials, workers and their family members, and spanning all industries and skill/educational levels, I present the following observations – involving issues that get little or no attention when it comes to our nation’s immigration conversation:
- There is no shortage of foreign nationals looking to work and live in the U.S.
- There is no shortage of jobs that U.S. workers are either unwilling or unable to fill
- There is a severe shortage of legal avenues available to foreign nationals and employers to facilitate lawful employment and residence in the U.S. .
- There is a population in the millions (now estimated to be around 12 million) of mainly, otherwise law abiding and hard working individuals residing in the U.S. without legal immigration status, many for more than generation, many with deeply assimilated families, and with some having entered the U.S. decades ago as children and now being covered by the DACA program.
Given this state of affairs, including the fact that our nation’s unemployment levels have reached record lows, I ask these questions –
- Does it make sense to invest billions in amping up a law enforcement initiative to deport millions of otherwise law abiding residents of the U.S., the vast majority of which are tax paying contributing members of our society, and with families?
- Why do we continue to have outdated numerical caps on the annual allotment of H-1B visas, limitations that force our nation to turn away some of the the best and brightest, including ambitious and educated foreign students who have graduated from U.S. universities
- Wouldn’t our society be better off implementing a legislative plan to absorb the otherwise law abiding segments of this population, and to formally integrate them into our tax rolls and accept their down payments on homes and businesses?
- Why aren’t we creating more avenues for folks to live and work legally in the U.S., if there are employers ready and willing to provide jobs at competitive wages?
- Why are we forcing employers to lay off large segments of its work forces after ICE raids have identified problems with worker immigration status or documentation, especially when these workers are being paid market wages and performing jobs U.S. workers are not available to fill?
Yes, a discussion about the state of our nation’s immigration system must involve a recognition of the problems at play, both in terms of the integrity of our laws and borders. Although our President, conservative media outlets and politicians would like you to believe otherwise, there is another important side to the discussion. It has to do with the good that foreign nationals have done and continue to do for our society, ranging from the scientist who is seeking to invent a cure for cancer, to the home health caregiver who responsibly takes care of her sick or elderly clientele.
A discussion that involves only the problems and blemishes is one that is incomplete and dishonest, although it serves a valuable political purpose to advance the cause of anger and fear toward immigrants. It’s time we have a frank discussion to shed light on what is great about immigrants, about coming up with real solutions not just about our border and enforcement, but about how we can find practical answers and make U.S. immigration great again.
PUBLISHED May 19, 2019– “IMMIGRATION LAW FORUM” Copyright © 2019, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois[/vc_column_text][/vc_column][/vc_row]