The U.S. Immigration Debate – A few perspectives

Many anticipate that the U.S. immigration laws will change after the 2008 elections in November. With candidates Obama, Clinton and McCain talking about a variety of issues, Immigration being paramount, it is clear that they will say what they must in order to get elected, which is the nature of politics. In what way the Immigration field will change is unknown as many political leaders are reluctant to make the necessary changes that will actually benefit the greater society. Many of the political leaders are crippled by their ignorance about the true impact of immigrants and immigration on the U.S. society, culture and economy; and many still pander to special interests who wish to create an environment without compromise.

There are two sides to the Immigration debate. There is the enforcement side and the legalization side. The enforcement side consists of conservative Republicans, gun toting “minute men” militia groups, and right wing television talk show pundits who harp on the perils of immigration. The only reform they promote is one where the door to American is shut tight. These individuals believe that immigrants ruin the country economically and provide cultural and ethnic divisions which threaten the fabric of American society. They are motivated by fear and sometimes hate, and believe immigrants take “Americans” jobs, refuse to speak English, and live and work in the U.S. without paying taxes. The enforcement oriented zealots want the number of immigrants reduced by increasing deportations and making it difficult or impossible for businesses to recruit and employ immigrants.

The other side which is pro-immigration is consistently filled with advocates who understand that the United States was built by immigrants for immigrants. These individuals believe that the current system is broken because of the myriad of policies and sometimes inconsistent procedures that make up the immigration system. They encourage lawful behavior and the legalization of immigrants through an application or benefits process. They push to reduce the abuses in the system that occur in the Immigration courts and with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement branch of the Department of Homeland Security. They are aware that America is a nation of Immigrants and no cultural group has monopoly on the American cultural identity.

Regardless of the perspective or side of the debate, the arguments are baseless without an understanding of social, historical and geopolitical context in which Immigration occurs. Neither side will completely get its way regardless of the outcome of the 2008 elections. Immigration, legal or illegal will never stop. There is too much of an incentive for people to desire to become Americans. More mechanisms should be in place to reduce the most egregious criminal offenders, obviously, but immigrants, for the most part, are law abiding and have contributed so much to this society. What people are most concerned with is the illegality or abuses that occur. Unfortunately, illegal immigration is a product of failed political policies and unworkable procedures.

What causes illegal immigration? First, American propaganda, or marketing around the world promote this country as the land of paradise: great entertainment and sports, big homes and fancy cars, and who would not want to enjoy the luxuries available? We see the “American Dream” promoted in American movies and music, which is sometimes the only exposure and only basis a people will have to this society. Thus, many will desire to come legally and when the opportunity is unavailable, will try illegal means through visa fraud, smuggling, and visa overstays. Second, there is the current immigration system that states it is based on family unity or reunification, but many families are fractured and separated by the long waiting periods for visas. Many abroad get impatient or so love sick for relatives, spouses, and children that to be closer; they evade immigration procedures to make immediate contact with family. These individuals feel compelled to make the journey and commit unlawful acts because they cannot unite with their loved ones. Third, world economics promotes illegal immigration. America offers good salaries for the educated and well skilled; whereas in many other countries, education and skill comes with social status but not necessarily high income. Our education systems offer programs not always available overseas and thus, many decide to study in the U.S. and then build professions here. For many unskilled or lower skilled workers there is such an incentive to be here, as well. Many poor countries in this hemisphere and in others are lured by the prospect of getting a decent wage, which by American standards may be at or below the minimum wage; yet far exceeds the wages an immigrant could earn in their own country of origin. Since poverty and starvation are not appealing ways of life, many will risk life and limb to come to the US illegally to earn in a month what they couldn’t even earn in a year because of no employment in their country of origin. Still many are recruited by American companies overseas for short term contractual work and either are misinformed or self-deluded about what American will offer and how long they can stay.

Lastly, illegal immigration is a consequence of past political practices and social policies. Many western industrialized countries including America reaped the economic rewards of the colonial and post colonial economic era; taking from the resource rich “third world”: people, gems, and crops resulting in a wealth producing economy that put them far ahead of everyone else, so much so that all that was left in the “third world” is a legacy of poverty, social inequality, and dependence that is perpetuated even today. Thus, the brain drains from the east and south and the drain of resources as well, make it almost insurmountable for the developing world to be stabilized enough that its own people will invest in building up its own society to create a different dream, rather than chasing the American Dream.

Illegal immigration should be abated, but how, is the question. Increasing deportation and making visa requirements more strict is not the answer because our immigration courts are already overburdened. Creating blanket amnesty is also not the answer. A comprehensive reformed system where violent criminals are expelled and desperate and separated family is reunited is what will work. Refining the current rules as we already know what works and what does not is the key. Visa allotment systems must and should be re-evaluated and revised and industries should be analyzed to broaden visa categories for not just skilled but more unskilled laborers, which is where most illegal immigration occurs. The system should inherently operate with a set of specific rules and on procedure with less discretion given to officers as quite a few immigration officers have specific political or personal agendas.

Attorney Nadine A. Brown practices Immigration Law in the Greater Orlando, Florida area. She has practiced Immigration Law for approximately 8 years, 3 of which was as the supervising attorney for the Catholic Charities Immigration & Refugee Services and the last 4 in private practice. Her firm was established in 2002 and her cases involve issues relating to asylum, citizenship, consular affairs, deportation, residency petitions, student and business visas, and visa extensions or changes of
status. She handles all cases personally. Questions can be sent to [email protected]

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