Muddling our way through on immigration policies
Time to fix Immigration Reforms
Immigration reforms are long overdue
It’s a situation that’s hard to comprehend – an undocumented immigrant shows up at the office of ICE (US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department) to enquire whether he is on their Deportation list, but is told that the names of only those that have broken some law are on their list – since he has apparently not broken any law, they have no reason to deport him! This is what Jose Antonio Vargas has reported in a recent issue of the Time magazine. Originally from Philippines, Jose came out in the open a year ago to state that he has been in the country illegally – and yet the authorities said they have nothing on record to warrant his deportation! Jose himself states that an immigration advocate told him, “ If you think the American tax code is outdated and complicated, try understanding America’s immigration code”.
Surely we can do better
For a nation of immigrants, one would have expected our immigration policies to evolve with changing times, and meet the requirements of the 21st century. While other immigrant countries like Canada, Australia and New Zealand have a far better handle on this issue, this sensitive issue continues to be embroiled in politics here at home. Thus President Obama’s Executive Order (in June ’12) to prevent deportation of qualified but undocumented immigrants below the age of 30 has expectedly been received with mixed reaction. Many are pleased that some progress is being made, but many others see this as a political maneuver in an Election year, and that the issue of comprehensive immigration reforms has been kicked down the road yet again. And now there is a Supreme Court ruling that allows police in the state of Arizona to stop and question anyone they suspect of being illegally in this country.
The 200,000 odd young immigrants who stand to benefit from the President’s directive are naturally happy that they would not have to meet the same fate as the nearly 400,000 undocumented immigrants that were deported in 2011. Living constantly under the radar must be a harrowing experience, so why then do so many continue leading this existence, and not find ways to legalize their status? Unfortunately, that’s where our archaic laws and the gridlock in Congress provide obstacles – not just for the affected immigrants, but as we saw above, for the enforcement authorities as well.
Why can they not become legal?
Our law only allows direct relatives of citizens, and highly qualified persons to be eligible for citizenship – for others, there is no option. And given the poor state of the economies in many of the developing countries, including those to our south, many legal visitors opt to stay back and take their chances, while even more take life-threatening risks and cross the border illegally, something even Congressman Marco Rubio from Florida said he might do in a hypothetical situation.
Those who choose this route say the rewards of finding a job, even though low paid, makes it worthwhile compared to what they might have earned back in their country. And despite having to constantly stay under the radar, they find ways to get driving licenses and social security cards, and contribute to our economy by providing cheap labor and pay taxes.
It is natural for many to support legislation that creates a path to citizenship for some of the undocumented immigrants. But polls also show that more than 50% of Americans support allowing police to stop and question anyone they suspect of being illegal. The immigrants who follow the legal path to become naturalized citizens (like myself) have reason to question the legal fairness that allows many, who do not follow the legal path, to eventually benefit by acquiring legal status (though I’ll admit the hardships they go through must be enormous).
A law is a law – and must be obeyed
One needs to get to a basic question - in any society, all laws need to be respected and those who break them need to face the music. And if some law cannot be adequately enforced, it needs to be replaced by one that can be. The job of enacting new laws or replacing old ones belongs to Congress, the lawmakers as per our Constitution. Several bills have been proposed in the last decade to amend the Immigration laws (and almost everyone agrees that reforms are long overdue), but we all know that these bills are stuck in the corridors of our Congress. And so we find ourselves in situations where people desperately find ways to beat the system. Admittedly there are many who suffer enormous hardships and deserve our sympathy –which is why so many proposals for reforms have been made. Even after reforms are made, there will always be some situations where the law may not be fair and exceptions may have to be made on individual cases. But that stage is still far away. So until our Congress is given a jolt to come up with something, we’ll see our Immigration reforms evolving by fits and by starts, as they did with the President’s recent Executive order.
Not many are pleased with the status quo – but some are
While a vast majority would like some changes to be effected quickly, a large number are quite content with the status quo. Many employers, particularly the smaller ones, are not complaining about the system since they have gotten used to cheap undocumented labor to remain in business. And our legal system and the smart attorneys make it difficult to enforce laws against those who are undocumented. So until something big emerges on the immigration policies from Washington DC, the more enterprising immigrants will continue to find ways to crash through our barriers with hopes of eventually enjoying the American Dream.