Saturday, January 10, 2009

Immigration Reform Or Death!

Few can dispute that current immigration policy is outdated and undermining to the national interest. Yes, small practical improvements have been made after 9/11, as we are more thoroughly screening and identifying our international visitors with state of the art technology. However, there has been a negligent lack of attention paid to our Immigration and Nationality Act. The current law reflects the needs of a bygone era. Part of the reason for the lack of reform is a persistent national fear of being branded elitist, fascist, and exclusionary. But the bigger reason involves a lack of realization that there can exist an immigration policy that reflects both American ideals of fairness as well as the national interests of the United States.

To understand American immigration policy, it must be clear that official permission to come into the United States comes on the form of a United States visa. The two chief types of visas are the immigrant visa, issued to those seeking permanent resident status, and the non-immigrant visa, issued to those seeking to temporary visitor status. Although these two types of visas are different in purpose and scope, they both have profound impacts upon the nature of our society.

Immigrant visas are currently issued under the three major categories of professional capability, family unification, and national-origin diversity. Historically, these three categories have benefited America by welcoming legions of honest and productive immigrants of from many backgrounds and persuasions. However, today’s immigration needs are vastly different from those of the time period when the Immigration and Nationality Act was written. We are, without a doubt, a most pluralistic and diverse country which has been seasoned with an international richness envied the world over.

However, enough is enough. Our national character is now sufficiently broad and diverse that we have the wherewithal to be most choosy with regard to whom we grant immigrant status. I submit that American immigration policy be changed to reflect entirely need-based criteria. The family unification and diversity categories have lived fruitful and beneficial lives, but they should now be curtailed if not ended outright. Who could be against a policy that welcomes sorely needed physicians, teachers, nurses, physicists, linguists as well as farm hands, factory workers, and menial labor workers; we need them all. Regardless of national origin, race or religion, so long as they fulfill needs of the American labor market, we need them all.

As for the non-immigrant visas, current American policy grants temporary visitor status to those who can demonstrate they don’t plan to permanently stay in the United States. This policy is sound in concept but poor in administration as many “temporary visitors” immediately seek to adjust their temporary status to immigrant status once they reach the United States. They do this because the Immigration and Nationality Act explicitly permits them to do so. This provision of law should be abrogated in all but the most emergent of circumstances. Since each of these temporary visitors was required to demonstrate an intention to not remain in the US, status adjustment flies in the face of the initial weeding mechanism for temporary visitors. In case you’ve ever wondered why hundreds of people line up each day outside Citizenship and Immigration Services offices (formerly the Immigration and Naturalization Service), many of them are seeking to adjust their temporary visitor status to immigrant status. Most of these temporary visitors are indeed denied permission to adjust to immigrant status, but according to the Federation for American Immigration Reform, an estimated 40 percent of the 10 million illegal alien residents in the United States, entered our borders with legitimate temporary visitor visas. Who can blame them given the naive permissiveness of our current law?

That immigration reform is considered a mantra of bigots, fascists and right-wing ideologues is understandable. European demagogues have injected the issue with so much political venom, its very mention gives ordinary people slight pause. Unfortunately, this perception renders it a complex issue to confront. Such is all the more reason American policymakers should take a bold leadership role in formulating a new immigration policy that reflects the present-day national interest. Perhaps then, the rest of the developed world might have the political courage to follow suit without fear of being characterized by the dreaded X word, xenophobia.

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