Thursday, April 13, 2006

No easy answers on immigration problem

Ah, finally my compatriot has recovered from his jet lag and caught up to all his e-mails, welcome back!

First off, I agree with you that the new immigration proposals being discussed in the U.S. are not real solutions. To me they are reactionary measures dependent on who the particular politician is trying to please. None of them really offer far reaching, fair, and comprehensive solutions to the overall immigration picture. So yes, I agree that most of our elected officials in Congress are missing the issue.

In regards to the Fox News article that you linked to, I must say I am in total disagreement. France’s immigration problems stem from a lack of integration in French society. There is little to no upward mobility and France’s immigrants are marginalized and not readily accepted into French society. It is because of this reason that second and even third generation French immigrants more readily identify with their home country and culture than with France. The new proposal by Sarkozy to make it more difficult for poor immigrants to enter the country will only widen the gap between rich and poor. Rather than allowing entry only to the rich, while ignoring the poor, perhaps France should look at its own economic policies that make it difficult for companies to hire and retain immigrants, not to mention French citizens. But then again, France is not really interested in progressive economic policies that would actually encourage hiring and economic growth, thereby reducing unemployment. So I do not think that France gets it. Their immigration problems are not the same as ours and their proposed solution completely ignores the real issue while fixing little.

While finding solutions to the immigration problem is difficult, I believe it needs to be looked at from 2 sides, both legal and illegal, as our legal immigration policies are as much of a mess as our illegal problems. Our current immigration policies and procedures are ridiculously onerous and difficult to comply with. Dealing with immigration is a nightmare of endless paperwork, insolent clerks, expensive fees, and lots of waiting. You have to be a very patient and understanding person to be able to deal with immigration on your own. There is a whole industry of immigration consultants and lawyers who make a living assisting people with the legal immigration process. As with the IRS and our tax laws, our immigration laws and procedures are so complex and confusing that many people would rather pay a consultant or lawyer to deal with the process than do it themselves. I know I did.

My conservative friends in the world who rail against immigration and continually call for a tightening of our immigration policies obviously don’t know anyone who has been through the legal immigration process. My wife is not from this country. When we decided to get married, I had no idea what I was in for. It took almost 7 months just to get a visa for my wife to enter the country so we could get married. Keep in mind this was just a visa to ENTER the country, not STAY in the country. Once in the country, we had 90 days to get married and apply for a change of status to permanent residency. After nearly 1 year, my wife was finally granted legal residency on conditional status for 2 years. The 2 years already went by and we already sent in yet another application for release of conditional status and a permanent green card. After paying $200 for the application fee and sending in all the paperwork, our check was cashed immediately. However, all we received in the mail was a notice from Immigration stating that they were processing our application and that it would take up to 11 MONTHS TO PROCESS!! So they have no problem taking our money up front, but we have to wait 11 months for them to process the paperwork. Long story short, we have been married about 3 years now and still do not have a green card. When I inquired as to what do we do if my wife needs to leave the country and come back, I was simply told to show Immigration a copy of the letter I had received upon arrival back into the U.S. Keep in mind that each step of the way requires mountains of paperwork and numerous fees.

Illegal immigration is a slap in the face to those legal immigrants such as my wife who are STILL going through the very long and difficult process to obtain a green card legally. I know of very few legal immigrants who support any of the arguments in favor of illegal immigration. Granting amnesty to those who broke the law and entered the country illegally renders the effort and money spent by those who immigrated legally meaningless. Rewarding lawless behavior only encourages more lawless behavior. By granting amnesty to the illegal immigrants already here it will only encourage others to attempt to enter the country illegally in hopes that they too will be granted amnesty in the future. Let’s be clear on this: these people are breaking the law. Some of us may not like the law. But regardless, it is the law, and those that break the law should be punished, not rewarded.

I believe the U.S. benefits from a strong legal immigration policy. There is a reason the U.S. is the number 1 destination of immigrants around the world. They know that our open society and free market economy provide opportunities for integration and mobility within American society. We need to make immigration easier for those who want to contribute positively to our country while punishing and deterring those who seek to circumvent our laws. The difficulty lies in how to accomplish both. While there are no easy answers, many of the solutions being proposed are inadequate. The questions are difficult ones to answer, and while I don’t believe the solutions being proposed adequately address the issues, I don’t pretend to have the answers myself.

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