Today I was watching the immigration protests on my preferred news network, CNN (I know what many of you think of CNN, but I still enjoy them). I do think they are generally a good news source, even if they are left leaning. This is an emotional topic, and as such, feelings are hard and many people are unable, or unwilling, to open their ears to the opinion of others.
Anyway, the protests today really kind of got under my skin. While the protests were focused on the separation of children from families (which, for the record I find disturbing), I don’t think we can separate this issue from the larger issue: illegal immigration.
Illegal immigration into the United States is a problem. Let us be clear of one thing, it was not a problem started by President Trump, and he is trying to solve the problem. While I may not agree with his tactics, he is trying to solve a decades old problem. For clarification, let me give the definition of an “illegal alien.” An illegal alien is anyone who enters the U.S. without authorization, or who has unlawfully remained once their authorization expired. Let me be clear: undocumented = illegal.
Before we can even begin to conquer this issue, we have to know HOW we have come to our present situation. I suggest you read “The Birth of ‘illegal’ Immigration” by the History Channel. A few of takeaways from the article:
- Immigration to the US didn’t start until after we were an independent nation. Africans entered the country as enslaved peoples, and Europeans entered as settlers.
- Settlers are not immigrants – they are there to disrupt the current system and implement their own laws.
- Groups of one form or another have not been welcomed into America.
- First were the Irish and Catholics who were not welcomed, opposition to Catholics finally ended upon return of WWII vets from the war.
- Then it was the Italians and Chinese turn to be frowned upon.
- 1882 officially banned most Chinese. Those that did migrate legally had to carry a proof of citizenship. Also, if you were a prostitute, polygamist, anarchist, or had a contagious disease, you were not welcome.
- 1924 introduced quotas based on the country of origin, effectively chocking off the in-stream of immigrants.
- 1965 saw a replacement of the 1924 law. This restricted the percentage of people from each nation per year. This was the first time the US restricted immigration from Mexico.
Another fantastic article around immigration, is “History of U.S. Immigration Policies,” which was written by the Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR) group. FAIR estimates there were 12.5 million illegal aliens in the U.S. at the end of 2017. In Virginia for example, the Pew research center estimates there were 300,000 illegal aliens in the state, about 480,000 if you include children.
Currently, there are roughly 328 million souls living in the U.S. of A.
How do our neighbors, Canada and Mexico, deal with immigration?
- In Canada, Sanctuary cities work with law enforcement, and law enforcement is expected to help the Canada Border Services Agency (CBSA) enforce Canadian law. One thing Canada offers their illegal population, more paths to citizenship.
- Mexico on the other hand has taken a different approach. With rampant corruption, Mexico decriminalized illegal immigration in hopes of reducing human trafficking. Mexican police do not ask about immigration status unless they have probable cause or the person commits a crime. Regarding sanctuary cities, Mexican police are expected to cooperate with immigration policy. Corruption notwithstanding. Now, what about their borders? As it happens, Mexico has a fortified border to the south (Guatemala and Belize). Guatemala depends on Mexico for trade, and Mexico has problems with them, as we do with Mexico. I encourage you to read a report from the Wilson Institute which addressed some of these issues, and gives introspect from the researchers. Want another take on Mexico’s immigration policies, read Ruben Navarrette’s article for CNN>
Now that we have a brief history, and have a real basic understanding of their policies, what shall we (the U.S. of A.) do? Do we take the militarized approach of Mexico? Do we force our sanctuary cities to cooperate with immigration? How should we solve this problem, in a fair, and humane fashion?
Keeping in mind that I am not a policy expert, but I do have some opinions (as everyone does) and some insight from my friends who have migrated here from other countries, let me give my two cents:
- It is not mandatory to become a U.S. citizen. Just because you obtain a green card (become documented, i.e. a permanent resident) you are not required to file for citizenship, but your green card is only good for 10 years before you have to renew it, and there are limitations on coming and going from the USA. So if you want to be ham-stringed, go for it. I know several people who have chosen not to become citizens; for one reason or another – but they all pay their taxes and are law abiding. If you are a temporary visa holder, you can request a “removal of conditions on residency” to stay in the US and eventually become a citizen. Being a visa holder has challenges of its own, as spelled out by Mr. Han in this essay about his being deported, after working legally in the U.S. for 15 years.
- We have to make it more advantageous to immigrate legally. By this I mean, those who have followed the law, migrated to our land, passed the citizenship test (yes, they take a test!), became citizens (or green card holders) in compliance of our laws, and have assimilated to American society, should be held above illegal immigrants.
- Read this for a good review of the immigration system.
- Generally speaking, you need to be a green card holder for 3 – 5 years before applying for citizenship. For the record, it took my wife 7 years to become a citizen.
- It takes 8 – 12 months to process citizenship paperwork (N400 form).
- Before any of this can begin however, the person must get to the U.S. of A. That process can take upwards of five to 10 years, depending upon the visa being requested.
- Illegal migrants CAN become legal migrants. What did you say, yes, there are currently 5 common paths for current, illegal immigrants, to stay in our country, and all of them are difficult, at best.
- Marry a citizen. This may have a bucket load of unintended consequences.
- Join the military, certain conditions apply. This is, bar none, the fastest route to citizenship.
- Request a “Cancellation of removal” (get a lawyer if you try this) from the judge.
- Apply for Asylum, once again, restrictions apply.
- Apply for temporary protected status. Currently, if you are from one of the following countries, you can apply to stay in the US for up to 18 months: El Salvador, Haiti, Honduras, Nepal, Nicaragua, Somalia, Sudan, South Sudan, Syria, or Yemen.
So how do we fix this? There was a good article in the USA today on Feb 16, 2018 entitled “Here’s a new, compassionate idea for dealing with illegal immigration.” Let’s take a look at what Mr. Plaat’s has to say. He says that the effort needs to community based, and recommends a “sponsorship” type program, similar to the one used for legal immigration for work.
- Create a formalized “sponsorship” program that would allow U.S. citizens to sponsor illegal/undocumented individuals, currently living in the US. Some suggested measures for success:
- Must learn to speak English and integrate into the community.
- Keep a clean criminal record.
This just might work. Why, because it is a local effort requiring our citizenry to become engaged, not just outraged at what a president, or an agency did, or did not do. The more I think of it, the more I like it. I would add a time requirement that is longer than that of lawful immigrant. I would think the sponsorship should have a “waiting” period of say, 10 years (sound familiar) before their sponsor can aid them in getting their green card and they can begin the citizenship process. From the time the illegal immigrant is sponsored, they should be issued some sort of documentation (work visa?) to officially start their 10 year clock.
No matter how it comes to pass, there are a few things we, as a country, need to accomplish:
- We need to encourage legal immigration, and a good start would be to reduce the amount of time it takes to legally migrate and become a citizen.
- Allow more paths to permanent citizenship for those here on a working visa (we, as a country, want to retain good talent).
- Create a sponsorship program, which involves local citizenry, to bring illegal immigrants out of the shadows and into the fold of the community.
- Support law enforcement, while holding them accountable, so they do not overstep their bounds.
Going back to my opening paragraphs, are illegal immigrants actually settlers? What say you? Click to see my other writings on immigration.