Musings on Immigration

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Entering America Legally–Not As Easy As You Think!

In an interview on David Letterman, actor Robert Downey, Jr., talked about a problem he had last year in Japan, when upon entering Japan he was detained and questioned about his past criminal record. Downey said:

I probably should have seen there was a sign that said ‘No Felons Allowed’ in English and Japanese and I haven’t had that expunged yet,” he said. “You can actually get things expunged but I’ve been pretty busy. So I was detained, I was interrogated. It was a blast.

Haven’t you settled up? Haven’t you paid your debts? Letterman asked.

Clearly I haven’t paid my debts to Japan, said Downey.


While I certainly feel somewhat bad for Mr. Downey, this short exchange gave the impression that nothing similar would ever happen in America! Hah!

U.S. Immigration Law contains restrictions that bar entry to people forever, for virtually any youthful indiscretion they have ever had, e.g. simple possession of a marijuana 20 years ago, without regard to whether or not you were actually convicted of the crime! You do not even need to have been convicted; the fact that you admit you did it will also get you barred from entry. Heck you will even be bounced from the United States after overstaying your visa for one day, leaving one day late, and then trying to come back in on that visa. Or, you will be detained and returned because the officer thinks you MIGHT be working.

So, if you were watching David Letterman and thanking your lucky stars that America is far nicer to arriving tourists than Japan–think again!

The New Immigration Reform Bill–And an American Hero

It cannot be said about many congressman or senators, but Congressman Luis Gutierrez is a courageous hero. I say this not because the legislation he proposed today in the Comprehensive Immigration Reform for America’s Security and Prosperity Act of 2009 is perfect. It is not. there are issues that I have with the bill. Rather, he is a hero because he is willing to stand up for what is right. And, it is right to try to fix our broken immigration system now.

That’s right. Now. Not next year. Not in a “second term.” But now. The tatters and ruins of our immigration system cannot be allowed to remain. Everyday we encounter the human toll of what our legal immigration system has wrought, and we see the effects of years of a lack of enforcement of this broken system, AND the effects of years of over-enforcement of that same system. The results are tragically similar, children separated from their parents, husbands separated from their wives, businesses unable to secure their future because of a lack of talent and skilled employment, and an economy unable to nimbly shift from the 19th and 20th century into the 21st century. As a country, we can no longer tolerate what has become a human disaster.

Courage is not something we are used to seeing in Congress. But Congressman Gutierrez has secured 87 other honorable men and woman in Congress to stand with him in this effort. The question now becomes, who else has the courage to stand on the precipice and look into the horizon. Who else can see the future for what it CAN be with a workable immigration system? Political affiliation should NOT be an issue here. The love or hatred of immigrants or immigration cuts across party lines. The tragedy here is that politics will come into play. One party will play games with the other party and the game will be on. Anti-immigrationists will sing long and loud about “law breakers” and “illegals.” There will be, in the words of the Old Testament, much “weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth.”

Over 200 years ago, Thomas Paine (he of “Common Sense” fame), wrote, “these are the times that try men’s souls.” I dare say we are back in those times. Courage is required, Fortitude is a must, and Patience is no longer a virtue. Reform of our immigration system can wait no longer. Congressman Gutierrez–Thank you for having the courage to begin this debate now.

Fake IDs are a Booming Business in a Struggling NC Economy


Wachovia might have packed its bags and Bank of America may be on its way out, too, but, never fear; a new industry seems to be cropping up in the Carolinas in the wake of economic disparity. It is the fake ID business, and it’s not just for under-age kids who want to buy beer anymore.

Consider some of these statistics: In recent years, North Carolina was deemed to be one of the top five states with the fastest growing Hispanic population. A study completed in 2006 commissioned by the Mayor’s Office of Charlotte estimated the number of undocumented immigrants in North Carolina to be over 50,000. North Carolina also became one of the first states to have a handful of counties sign up to be involved with ICE’s 287g program. Put it all together and what do you have? A rapidly increasing population of undocumented immigrants who are being increasingly targeted by local police, even for minor infractions, such as speeding, no operator’s license, or failing to signal, and who have no means of identifying themselves to authorities.

The solution? Fake IDs. Labs have been discovered across the state, and already the number of arrests from January – October of 2009 has far outrun the number of arrests in 2008 for the entire year. And that’s only the folks who have been arrested.

It’s a huge problem, if you think about what you can accomplish with only a driver’s license: cashing checks, procuring another form of ID, boarding an airplane. And it’s yet another reason why immigrants, with or without documents, should be able to obtain some form of state-issued ID. In a sense, immigrants are backed into a corner, with no options but to self-deport (ha!), find a low-paying job that allows them to live below the radar, or obtain some sort of ID, however falsified, in order to lead a productive life. Hey, if I was in their shoes, I’d probably do the same thing.

But it’s a national security issue. Do we really want tons of people we can’t identify? Do we want people flying our airlines and opening bank accounts under false names? Of course not. But given the state of the system, that has become the new reality. Driving is just a means of transportation. It’s no more a privilege than taking the subway, if you think about it. It is so much more important to be able to identify everyone than to worry about granting unnecessary privileges to undeserving undocumented immigrants. Because, let’s face it, you can’t protect the country if you don’t know who’s already here.

Lock Your Doors! Someone Let Pat Buchanan Out!!

Just when you thought it was safe to go outside in the immigration field, someone decided to release Pat Buchanan from the custody of the anti-immigration movement, and actually published one of his anti-immigration screeds in what many consider a legitimate newspaper.

In the San Jose Mercury News, Buchanan’s editorial, “Patrick J. Buchanan: Halting immigration would be an instant stimulus package,” makes the Grand Canyonesque leap from people losing jobs to somehow stopping ALL legal immigration to the United States, and thus actually creating jobs “for Americans.” His only claim for support of this bizarre theory is an analysis by “Middle American News,” whatever that is, of census data, no citation. I can hear John Belushi coughing in the background.
Perhaps Pat Buchanan is so blinded by the anti-immigration crowd he has surrounded himself with for the last 20 years, that he failed to see evidence like this, cited by Vivek Wadhwa in his most recent article in YaleGlobal:

In 2006, immigrants contributed to 72 percent of the total patent filings at Qualcomm, 65 percent at Merck, and 60 percent at Cisco Systems. And contrary to claims that immigrant patent-filers crowd out US-born researchers, emerging research is increasingly showing that immigrants actually tend to boost patent output by their US born colleagues. These immigrant patent-filers emerged from the US university system, where foreigners now dominate the advance degree seeking ranks in science, technology, engineering and mathematical disciplines. For example, during the 2004–2005 academic year, roughly 60 percent of engineering Ph.D. students and 40 percent of Master’s students were foreign nationals. (We don’t know for certain that those who have been leaving are patent-filers but anecdotal evidence suggests this to be the case). . . .

Beyond intellectual contributions, Chinese and Indian immigrants have been key entrepreneurial drivers in the US. According to another survey we conducted, one-quarter of all technology companies in the US have at least one founder who is a Chinese or Indian immigrant. The concentration is even heavier in certain key industries such as semiconductors and enterprise software. Based on this data, we calculated that in 2005, immigrant-founded tech companies generated $52 billion in revenue nationwide and employed 450,000 workers. This revenue total bridges multiple multi-billion dollar sectors including semiconductors, Internet, software and networking.


So, should Congress heed Mr. Buchanan’s call to literally seal America off from the rest of world? You be the judge. Frankly, I cannot imagine a stupider, more recession deepening act.

The Best (and Worst) of 2009

Let’s face it – 2009 has not been a big year for immigration…but that may not be such a bad thing. Immigration advocates have bemoaned the Obama Administration’s lack of action on the issue, but, in the spirit of the holidays, I believe we have a lot to be thankful for as we look back on this past year…

  • Obama’s Inauguration – THE GOOD: Obama has succeeded in driving record numbers of naturalized citizens to the polls with his calls for change and a renewed belief in the American Dream. That’s a positive start. THE BAD: He has not delivered on his promise to address immigration reform just yet.
  • Committee Formation – THE GOOD: A committee has been formed to begin discussing a reform package. THE BAD: It has been pushed to the back burner for the moment, given the state of the economy and healthcare in the U.S.
  • Janet Napolitano – THE GOOD: Janet was an exceptional choice who has more or less met the high expectations the Administration, and the general public, set for her. THE BAD: Pretty much anyone would have been better at being the DHS Secretary than Michael Chertoff.
  • Worksite Raids – THE GOOD: Or lack thereof, should I say? Sure, we’ve seen some action, but nothing compared to the atrocities we saw in Postville or New Bedford a few years back. The few raids that did occur were not only conducted in a much more humane manner, but actually went after bad-apple employers as well. THE BAD: The E-Verify issue continues to crop up and seems to be growing in popularity since the Administration tends to waffle on how they want to handle the enforcement aspect of the immigration issue.
  • Relief for Widows – THE GOOD: In one of my personal favorite highlights of the year, widowed spouses of U.S. Citizens are now eligible to have their petitions reinstated at the discretion of USCIS. THE BAD: At the very least, they can request deferred action.
  • Mass Trials – THE GOOD: For immigrants detained at the border, en masse trials are no longer a viable option and have been overruled. Unlike previously when immigrants caught at the border were rounded up, read their rights as a group and asked to enter group guilty pleas, each person now shall be awarded an individual hearing before the judge. THE BAD: It will probably be much less efficient and a lot more expensive.
  • Lou Leaves – THE GOOD: Lou Dobbs and his nightly rants will no longer corrupt innocent minds across the nation, and Boston-Boy John King and his Magic Map will fill the 7PM primetime spot on CNN. THE BAD: Lou’s considering a Senate run for the state of New Jersey. (I don’t like New Jersey either, but come on!)

Either way, again, 2009 has not been a big year for immigration. We can only hope for good things in the year to come.

All I Want For Christmas Is a Point-System

I think I changed my mind about a point-system for immigration purposes. There, I said it. In my defense, though, I did not come to this decision lightly. No, this comes as a result of years of watching hard-working people from all over the world get the short end of the stick based on some technicality in our immigration laws.

In immigration and in life, it’s often the people in the middle, the ones who go about their work, who mind their own business, who take care of themselves and their families, who go ignored, because immigration, like life, is not fair. As a society, we tend to cater to the “least of these” and to the “most of these,” leaving everyone in the middle to fend for themselves. Unless you’re a superstar or a billionaire with boatloads to invest, or you’re miserably poor and sick without a prayer in the world, this country’s immigration system turns its back on you, and as a result: WE’RE DEPORTING THE WRONG PEOPLE!

Don’t get me wrong – we’re not deporting ALL the wrong people. Laws exist for a reason, and they try to encompass what will be most fair for most people. The issue with immigration law is that it is so discretionary, but discretion seems to be exercised on all the wrong people. A “point-system,” which takes into account things like: a clean criminal record, an impressive academic history and achievements, economic contributions and paying taxes, English proficiency, and likeliness to not make use of public assistance, could be a great way to for the U.S. to keep immigrants who are productive members of society, but who aren’t among the wealthy 1% who can invest their way out of their woes, or down-and-out enough to qualify on a “hardship” claim.

Take Person A, for example. He is a bright young man. One point. He’s bilingual. Two points. He works hard, takes care of his wife and new baby, and has a clean record except for a speeding ticket. Three points. Despite being brought to the U.S. illegally as a young child by his parents, he graduated at the top of his class with especially high marks in math and physics and a strong desire to go to college and study aerospace engineering (which, last I checked, was one of the areas of study deemed as a great need for the future of this country). Ten points. Instead he’s taking voluntary departure because the only thing he did wrong aside from follow his parents to the U.S. when he was nine years old was fall in love with and marry a non-U.S. Citizen and have a healthy baby boy. His child isn’t sick enough, and his wife isn’t poor enough or American enough, so forget about all the points he may have racked up, we’ve kicked this future engineer to the curb.

Person B is a successful businessman. One point. He speaks fluent English and lives happily with his professional, educated wife. Two points. He owns his own company and provides jobs to dozens of workers in his area, even in a time of economic downturn. Ten points. And he’s on the next plane home, to the dismay of even the ICE officers who took him into custody.

Person C is a young woman who can barely read or write in her own language, let alone in English. She has three children, all of whom receive Medicaid, WIC or Social Security Disability. Throughout her years in the country she has openly admitted to using at least three different Social Security numbers to obtain work, but now relies on her son’s Social Security Disability payment for a significant portion of her monthly earnings. Due to the medical conditions of her two youngest children (one has a disability the other is severely autistic) she qualifies for “extreme hardship” and wins her right to stay in the U.S. In person, she’s thoughtful and sweet and her condition merits sympathy, to be sure. But should sympathy and hardship be the only qualifiers? I don’t think so.

I’m not advocating for her removal, or for the removal of anyone subject to extreme hardship, for that matter. I think it is admirable and very humanitarian of the U.S. to consider the plight of the poor. But I am suggesting that it seems unfair, to both hardworking immigrants and to this country as a whole, to “dump” people simply because they don’t qualify under a hardship clause. How many businessmen (or businesswomen), or engineers or scientists have we deported? We are supposed to be a nation that inspires the best in people, yet we’re throwing away some of our most valuable resources and wondering why other countries are emerging more powerful and making strides in science and technology that we are not.

With any luck, a reform package will be discussed in the next year or so. I can only hope it includes some sort of relief for those “in-between” people. Not everyone can buy or marry their way out of an immigration problem, and we’ve got to start keeping some of the smart people.