The midterm elections are not about “immigration”

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We vote on Tuesday. Campaign ads once again sound a drumbeat on the usual divisive issues: abortion, law and order, and immigration. It’s a shame so much money and energy goes into encouraging our baser instincts, with so little attention paid to honest statements of a candidate’s qualifications and his or her vision for better government and a productive, cooperative society. But truth has taken a back seat to untruth, or so it would seem. People prefer a good story to facts, and campaign handlers know it.

President Trump, always ready to deliver rally his base, is on a whirlwind tour of the country. It’s a disturbing spectacle, to see these crowds cheer his low-blow messages of hate and violence.

Trump employs a rhetorical gimmick that wins every time -- give the people something to fear, a threat to their well-being and security; then blame the other side and call them names; and close by assuring the audience them that only he and his party will stand up for the people. Trump spikes these speeches with unsupported, irresponsible accusations, and with violent language and imagery, and delights in slandering his enemies … and the audience loves it. It’s political theater in its lowest form.

And now we find, no surprise, that the issue of “illegal immigration” is once again being rolled up the hill, like the proverbial boulder, as in elections past. It’s been a winning call from the political playbook for years now. People fear what they don’t (or won’t) understand, and Congress has no interest in making even modest immigration reforms, when these would have the effect of bringing “illegals” into mainstream society and making life better for us all. For those among us who identify themselves as Christians, this is a puzzling, if not repugnant, attitude. It ignores Old Testament precepts of hospitality to “the alien who dwells among you” and turns a deaf ear to Jesus’s parable of the Good Samaritan.

And so a “caravan” of several thousand Central American adult and child asylum-seekers is making its way through southern Mexico toward the US border. To hear Trump tell it, we’re facing a crisis of large proportion, if not a real-life invasion. A more reasoned approach is to explain that this gathering, being so evidently visible, ensures that it will be handled in an orderly manner, albeit by non-immigration military personnel. Asylum-seekers will, by law, be given the opportunity to explain to US border personnel any fear of persecution in their home country, in what is known as a “credible fear interview.” It is a thorough vetting process, and anyone who passes the initial step will be detained for further processing by Homeland Security personnel. Trump’s “bad hombres” -- sources confirm there are gang members and criminals among the group -- will actually be walking right into a trap. Biometrics will be taken and compared to records in the Homeland Security database. Individuals with “priors” will be busted, just like that.

“Immigration reform” assumes that the U.S. immigration system is “broken.” The conventional wisdom is that this is because we have an insecure southern border, on the one hand, and the mechanism for removing the border-crashers doesn’t work. (The president calls for construction of a wall, but it serves him well that it hasn’t been built, as this continues to raise the specter of invasion by lawless hordes, and that helps him to play the “fear” card to his base.) Now Mr. Trump seems bent on artificially heightening the perception of danger, as it were, by challenging the constitutional right of “birthright” citizenship. Not a chance, say legal scholars, but Trump and his followers could care less.

But, for the rest of us, a question to think about. Is this what we really want to be, as a people? Weak, not strong? Overreactive? Eager to blame, and slow to step up and work together, to try to solve our problems?

Then there’s the smug attitude that “my people came here legally.” It makes for interesting talk around the Thanksgiving dinner table, but it has little relevance with our current situation. Many of our ancestors were settlers from Europe 100 to 400 years ago, at a time when immigration laws were practically nonexistent. (Yet slavery was, perversely, legal.) Then in 1924 Congress passed the McCarran Act, which clamped down on legal immigration by setting per-country quotas that favored Europeans and, effectively, shut out the rest of the world. Fortunately in 1965 Congress had the good sense to level the playing field, and put all countries on an equal footing. Thanks to this measure, many Asians, such as the Indian parents of our UN Ambassador Nikki Haley, became able to immigrate to the United States.

The Immigration and Nationality Act, as it is now called, has been amended from time to time since, depending on political and economic realities of the time. Under President Reagan -- a former border-state governor who understood the practicality of a migrant population -- Congress enacted a one-time amnesty to agricultural workers and other individuals, predominantly from Latin America. Their children and grandchildren live among us as productive citizens, fully assimilated into our society. It’s helpful to remember that, the next time you hear someone rant about the dangers of “amnesty.”

We Americans are kept poorly informed about how our immigration system works. In truth, it is very, very restrictive. As for so-called “chain migration” -- which has benefited the president’s wife and her parents -- the limited number of available visas for all but immediate family members of US citizens creates a chronic, and long, backlog of cases. And for individuals who came here illegally, even with American citizen spouse and children, legal status is possible only in “unusual and exceptional hardship” situations.

Let me focus on what I see as the true reasons our immigration system is “broken.”

For a nation that aspires to compete in the world economy, we actually turn away two-thirds of professional-worker “H-1B” visa cases, filed by American employers. This is the result of a low annual quota, and one that has shrunk significantly thanks to Congressional interference and neglect. What a concept -- educate foreign students in our universities, then close the door to employment, with a net effect of creating a self-inflicted “brain drain” to the rest of the world! It seems ironic that the political party that favors giving employers free rein to run their businesses unfettered by government regulation has meekly submitted to this chokehold on jobs, for nearly 20 years running.

Down a notch, employers of skilled and unskilled workers have it even worse -- there’s no temporary visa no program at all, other than for “H-2” seasonal agricultural and non-agricultural work. These require an employer to place classified ads, to give American workers the opportunity to apply. It’s a pretty reasonable concept and one that deserves broader application. But Congress has never passed a law for an employer hire foreign skilled or unskilled workers to fill full-time positions. The result? A “shadow economy” that lets employers pay bottom dollar to foreign workers, as “1099” contractors, off the books. It’s too good a deal for employers to want to change, by reforming the system and creating a guest-worker program.

Millions of undocumented workers keep the U.S. economy humming -- in meat-packing plants, in agriculture, in home-building, in domestic work. Many of them lead productive lives outside of work -- they marry, raise families, enjoy vibrant community life (just pick up a Spanish-language newspaper), attend church, and educate their children. And pay taxes. They simply do not qualify for Social Security or other benefits, as we are led to believe.

All in all, they are net contributors to society.

So, why haven’t we shown a mature attitude toward the “rule of law” and amend the laws, by at least creating a guest-worker program? What does that say about us? That we’re willfully ignorant about “immigration reform.” That we’re all-too-willing to turn our backs on progress and making our society fairer. That’s a shame. It’s a discredit to those who came before us.

If America really wants to find greatness, it can start by treating its guests with the respect they deserve. And by electing leaders who share that vision.


About The Author

Allen Ladd is a senior immigration lawyer, with over 25 years of experience and "AV" peer review ranking. His practice focuses on permanent residence for families, and options for professionals and entrepreneurs. He is a graduate of the University of Virginia and of Albany (NY) Law School. He lives and works in Greenville, South Carolina.

This article © 2018 Alan Lee, Esq.