Tonight during the State of the Union, expect President Obama to make due on his threat to bypass Congress and use Executive fiat to provide more Band-Aids and policy placebos to our immigration problem. Later this week, expect the House Republicans’ outline of immigration “principles” to be an unoriginal and shallow reiteration of the quid pro quo between amnesty/legalization/whatever and border security.
This ongoing immigration debate continues to center on these two conflicting forces. Among the participants are the uncompromising extremes: some on the Left who promote zero deportations and enforcement regardless of an immigrant’s level of criminal activity, and some on the Right who want nothing but enforcement and deportations, again regardless of an immigrant’s level of criminal activity and the practicality of such an endeavor. Between these two extremes lie the victims of a failed immigration system that continues to fester.
Missing from the debate are members of the third voice—those wanting to address the primary causes of the “broken” immigration system. Those who bring up the issues of bureaucracy, lack of judicial discretion in immigration courts, allocations of non-immigrant visas and our visa system in general. This third voice argues that reforming the actual day-to-day process of obtaining legal access into this country is what will cure the future problems of illegal immigration. However, members of this group are rarely heard in articles, television and politician’s press releases.
The problem is simple: debating visa allocations, guest worker programs and judicial rules are simply not politically “sexy.” They do not ignite the heated passions that “amnesty” and “border security” do. What ignites one’s passion more than the idea of someone receiving unfair favorable treatment simply due to political circumstance? Conversely, what ignites one’s passion more than the idea of a parent being separated from his children by 1,200 miles for several years for committing the (arguably) equivalent of driving without a license? Hence the reason why Senator Ted Cruz talked more about his Gang of 8 amendments regarding border security and citizenship than his amendments addressing immigrant and non-immigrant visas. Talking about those amendments are what get the headlines and appearances on TV, not the reformation of bureaucratic procedure. Nevertheless, the policies of both extremes, if enacted, will fail to solve the issues at hand.
Conservative hardliners, in making their arguments against “amnesty” and/or legalization, continually cite the struggles they themselves or their relatives went through to obtain a work, immigrant, and/or travel visa for the United States. Some cite waiting five, 10, or even 15 years before they obtained a green card, much less citizenship. Others cite how US Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) denied a sibling’s travel visa for no apparent reason, or that it took USCIS more than a year to confirm the legitimacy of an immigrant spouse, despite the sponsor being a born US citizen.
These examples only serve to bolster the argument that our current immigration is in fact broken, to use that tired cliché. The hardliners cannot operate under the illusion that the only cause of our immigration problem is merely a lack of enforcement of current law. Even if all of the estimated “11 million” were removed tomorrow, the myriad of problems described above will continue unabated.
On the opposite end, just as some conservatives are eliminating any pretense of favoring even legal immigration, some progressives are eliminating any pretense of actually wanting to address the flaws in our immigration system. Rather, many are becoming more vocally hostile to any level of enforcement and deportation of individuals, regardless of whether the only crime committed was unauthorized entry, or they have a pages long rap sheet of violent crime. Similar to the hardliner’s “solution,” stopping all deportations at once will not solve the problems facing new immigrants or workers applying for a visa for the first time, or reapplying for their second or third.
It would be the height of naiveté to believe that reform of substantive US immigration law can occur without the inclusion of the quid pro quo. Those issues are key to pushing any legislation forward (or backward, depending on what side you are on). It is the hope that the plights of current and future immigrants are not ignored between the salvos.
Samuel A. Rosado, Esq. is an attorney from New Jersey. He served as Executive Director of the Republican National Hispanic Assembly of New Jersey in 2010, and has been a freelance contributor and writer on Hispanic issues and engagement for Politic365, The Daily Grito, and Misfit Politics. Follow him on twitter at @FakeSamRosado.