Every day you hear about the need for immigration reform, but do you understand the problem? I didn't - I thought, just get in line for citizenship. So I did a little research. Turns out it's just not that easy. Here's a summary of what I found...
Immigration Goals and Methods
As with most government policies, the INTENTIONS of our current immigration policies are noble. Their goal is an orderly and mutually beneficial path to citizenship. There are several legal ways for immigrants to come to the U.S. permanently.
As I read through these methods, they all sounded reasonable to me. Certainly we need some orderly and rational control of the gate - we can't just throw it open and say "Come on in!" For a family petition, the legal resident or U.S. citizen family member must demonstrate an income level above the federal poverty line, and legally commit to support those family members brought to the U.S. Someone coming for a job must have a job offer in the U.S. and a sponsoring employer. These are reasonable requirements, and you will find similar policies in many countries.
So, what's the problem?
Ross Perot once said "The devil is in the details", and that pretty much sums up the problem. But let's break it down. One of the largest roadblocks to citizenship is the equal per-country quota system implemented by Congress in 1976, meaning that Mexico is assigned the same annual quota as Iceland or Belgium. The result is that families from high‐immigration countries (eg, India, China, the Philippines, and Mexico) must wait disproportionately longer than families from low‐demand countries. For example, if the married son or daughter of a U.S. citizen is a resident of Mexico, then he or she must wait 16 years for a U.S. green card.
U.S. citizens are entitled to apply for visas for spouses, children, and parents without regard to overall caps, but other close family members, including children over the age of 21, must wait years to reunite with loved ones. For example, an immigrant residing in the U.S. legally with a green card must currently wait at least five years to receive a green card for her minor child. A naturalized U.S. citizen from the Philippines must wait over 20 years before obtaining a green card for a brother or sister.
As in most federal systems, bureaucracy trumps common sense and efficiency. Lack of resources and overly rigid bureaucratic procedures have led to breakdowns in the immigration system’s ability to conduct quick background checks, coordinate visa procedures between the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) and the Department of State, or make common‐sense provisions for family reunification. While U.S. citizens and Legal Permanent Residents wait their turn to get a green card for their family member, it is nearly impossible for that family member to receive permission even to visit the United States. Mothers, fathers, and children therefore face either years of separation or the risks inherent in entering the United States illegally.
EXAMPLE: John D. Park immigrated to the United States with his family from Korea when he was ten years old. His family’s temporary visas were sponsored by a California company. While in the United States, John worked hard to learn English, and by his senior year in high school was a straight‐A student with a 4.55 grade‐point average, finishing at the top of his class. Just before college, he received word that his visa would soon expire, so he pursued the idea of having his U.S.‐born sisters sponsor him for a green card. However, he soon found out that the long sibling backlog meant at least an eleven‐year wait for a visa. By the age of 17, John had become an unauthorized immigrant. Without legal status, John would not be eligible for legal work or higher education. Returning to Korea meant living without his family in a country that he left as a child.
The employment-based polices are equally outdated. Each year there are 140,000 employment‐based green cards available to qualified immigrants. The number was set years ago by Congress, without regard to real labor‐market needs, and has not been updated to conform to current economic realities. In some cases, employers may only be able to obtain visas for temporary workers when they actually need permanent workers. Workers who arrive on temporary visas may find permanent jobs, but are unable to adjust to a permanent visa under the current system. In other words, the current system does not have the flexibility needed to respond to the country’s evolving economic needs. Furthermore, the current visa allocation system leaves few visas for less‐skilled workers. Each year, the number of green cards available for less‐skilled workers (eg, hotel workers, landscapers, and construction workers) is limited to just 5,000 for the entire U.S. The insufficient number of green cards available for these types of jobs is at the heart of the unauthorized immigration problem.
So, in spite of, or perhaps because of, our immigration policies, we currently have quite a few millions of illegal immigrants living and working in the U.S. Many, maybe most, would like to become legal, and would be responsible citizens, but the current policies offer no reasonable path. The fact that so many have been able to successfully evade the current border security is troublesome, and points to a need for improved border integrity. However, there is certainly much room for streamlining the current immigration policies and making them more in tune with our national interests.
Photo: "Sand Dragon"
In the sand dunes between Yuma, Arizona and Calexico, California, the U.S. Border Patrol faces regular attempts by Mexican drug smugglers to enter the US illegally. Til now, fences were constantly buried by dunes, but this state-of-the-art, seven-mile-long fence simply floats on top of the sand. The Imperial Dunes is the largest stretch of sand dunes in the United States, and the U.S.-Mexico border is a mere half mile from Interstate 8. In fact, I walked just a few hundred yards to get this shot of the dragon with my telephoto lens. Looks short in the photo, but it's actually 15 ft high. And oh, by the way, this 7-mile fence cost us $40 million.