America’s immigration system is broken, but it’s not broken in the way that the White House suggests.
President Trump has stated that he will not sign a bill with a DACA fix unless it includes broader changes to immigration and border security. The Obama-era program, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, provides legal residency to undocumented immigrants brought to the United States by their parents as children. To qualify for the program, DACA applicants must undergo an extensive background check to demonstrate that they pose no threat to national security or public safety.
Despite this fact, since the president announced the program’s termination in September, the legal status of DACA recipients has been wrongfully conflated with the issue of national security. In exchange for a DACA solution, the White House has called for an end to so-called “chain migration” and the visa lottery system, as well as $25 billion to fund a 1,000-mile-long wall between the United States and Mexico.Like the president, I am worried about our immigration system. But I do not share his concerns regarding “chain migration,” more accurately known as “family reunification migration,” or the visa lottery system, a State Department initiative designed to bring diversity to the American melting pot. Not to mention, the wall would be expensive and likely ineffective. By one estimate, it would cost nearly $70 billion to build and $150 million annually to maintain. Price tag aside, the border wall would be nothing more than a shameful monument to xenophobia.
However, if the president is hell-bent on comprehensive immigration reform, I have a few suggestions. Here are some areas that desperately need improvement:
Along our southern border, the Department of Homeland Security has implemented a strategy of family separation in order to deter illegal immigration. To separate a minor from his or her parent as punishment is a fundamental violation of humanity. This practice is traumatic for children, many of whom are already fleeing dire circumstances in their countries of origin.
Border patrol agents are wrongfully turning away asylum seekers at points of entry. Asylum seekers are individuals seeking protection as refugees. Most are fleeing gang violence, domestic abuse, or a myriad of other life-threatening problems. They can legally present themselves to authorities and request protection in the United States. Instead of processing the asylum seekers, as is required by international asylum law, some agents are rejecting the individuals seeking protection — or worse, separating the parents from the children.
On Tuesday, the Supreme Court ruled that immigrants can be detained indefinitely, including legal residents of the United States and individuals seeking asylum. No longer do immigrants have a legal right to periodic bond hearings. An immigrant — even one with no criminal record — can be detained until his or her case is heard, which could take months or even years.
From an economic perspective, our outdated visa caps are straining key American industries. This year, the Department of Labor received an unprecedented number of H-2B visa applications, and the first visa cap(33,000) for 2018 was reached before the new year even began. H-2B visas are seasonal, “unskilled” work visas that allow employers to hire immigrants in industries such as landscaping and hospitality. Because American-born workers are increasingly avoiding employment in these industries, employers have grown dependent on immigrants. Instead of restricting “unskilled” labor, as the White House suggests, we actually should be raising visa caps to meet the needs of the American economy.
Last week, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services rewrote its mission statement. No longer does it characterize America as “a nation of immigrants,” reinforcing the notion that “immigrant” has become a dirty word. The social and economic contributions of immigrants, however, cannot be erased.
As the immigration debate continues, I hope that our leaders in government avoid the age-old temptation to scapegoat the immigrant population, enacting symbolic reforms that are nonsensical, expensive and even inhumane. We need comprehensive immigration reform, but we need to do it right.
Mary Gardner is the manager of government affairs and policy at the United States Hispanic Chamber of Commerce. The organization represents over 4.37 million Hispanic-owned businesses contributing more than $700 billion to the American economy annually.