The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) is a contradictory maze of requirements, exceptions and exceptions to exceptions. The federal courts find that the INA is second only to the U.S. tax code in its complexity. Attorney John Elwood, who argues cases before the U.S. Supreme Court, said “prolonged exposure” to the INA “can actually cause your brain to melt.”
Immigration to the U.S. is a mess because our laws do not do what we need them to do and do not work as intended. Enforcing a bad law will not make the law better or more effective.
Immigrating lawfully to the U.S. is typically a two-step process. The first step is to have a U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder) family member or employer file a petition for an immigrant. Family and employment visas in all categories, except for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, are capped. This means there is often a wait of many years, sometimes more than 20 years, before a visa number is available and an applicant can actually apply for a green card. Once a visa number is available, the applicant is not guaranteed a green card. If the applicant has immigration violations, such as multiple entries without inspection to the U.S., unlawful presence in the U.S. for more than one year or certain criminal records, then they are ineligible for a green card for 10 years or forever. For the majority of undocumented people living and working in the U.S., they did not have a lawful way to immigrate in the first place. There was never a line for them to get in, and there still isn’t. Worker visas (which are not green cards) are also capped and have stringent requirements on employers. The bureaucracy and cost of applying for agricultural visas is so burdensome that often the season for which the farmer needed the workers is over before any visas are processed. The U.S. demands migrant farmworkers and other low-skilled workers come to the U.S., but does not provide a way for workers to do so lawfully. Instead, U.S. policy is to spend time and money on the back end to deport undocumented workers, which only hurts employers, families and communities.
The U.S. only has the resources to put 400,000 people in deportation proceedings per year. The immigration courts are so backlogged that it is common for deportations to take more than four years. Increased deportations do nothing to solve the underlying problem, which is our immigration laws do not — in any way — regulate immigration in a fair or orderly way.
As the Senate’s bipartisan immigration reform bill expired in the House this winter, President Barack Obama took executive action to offer temporary protection from deportation and work authorization to a small number of the 11 million undocumented people living in the U.S. Parents of U.S. citizens or green card holders who have been living in the U.S. for the last five years, who have not been convicted of a felony, three misdemeanors or one significant misdemeanor (for example, a DUI or domestic battery) and who have not been ordered deported in the last year, can apply for this protection. Of course, this protection only lasts three years, is not any kind of real legal status, does not forgive any violations of law and does not lead to a green card. It is not a replacement for sensible immigration reform — something that can only come from Congress.
Instead of working on fixing this broken system, Congress appears only interested in continuing to punish people for not getting in a line that they were never allowed to join in the first place. Congress is so upset about the president’s action to alleviate some of the suffering caused by this infernal system that it refuses to work on overhauling our immigration laws (which would pre-empt any of the president’s actions). Clearly, Congress has a bad case of brain melt with no cure in sight.
Sara Dady is an immigration attorney with Dady & Hoffman LLC, 401 E. State St., second floor, Rockford, IL 61104. Her office can be reached at (815) 394-1359 or online at www.dadyhoffmann.com.
These articles are translated by Armando Tello. Armando works for SWITS, a regional translating service, and he also works as a freelance translator. He is from Guatemala, and speaks English, Spanish, German and is learning Italian. He had a small software service in Guatemala, and he is proud to say he is a “computer geek.” Armando may be contacted at the following email address: firstname.lastname@example.org.
From the Jan. 21-27, 2015, issue