The promise of America is one immigration policy for all who seek to enter our shores… there must be one set of rules for everybody
– Al Sharpton
In his recent speech on immigration, Obama told us that, “mass deportation is contrary to our character”.
Embracing his new standard for executive action, I have a few questions.
If mass deportations are against our character, is locking up 1% of Americans – disproportionately black men – for hurting no one, consistent with our character? No, so what are you doing about the war on drugs, Mr. President?
If mass deportations are against our character, is recording the most intimate communications of our people consistent with our character? No, so what are you doing about the NDAA, the NSA, and the Patriot Act, Mr. President?
If mass deportations are against our character, is the killing of innocent people in foreign countries, and labeling them energy combatants just because they are adult males, so that we do not have to take moral responsibility for what we are doing – is all of that consistent with our character? No, so what are you doing about the drones and the killing of innocent people in undeclared wars, Mr. President?
Yet, the irony of Obama’s statement about our national character was trumped entirely by his quoting scripture: “We shall not oppress a stranger”.
Whatever is the best way forward on immigration – and I take no stand on amnesty by asking this – are we really going to equate extreme discomfort with rewarding law-breakers with oppression? That is insulting, I am sure, to many Americans. Enforcing reasonable laws concerning borders – which, at least in our century, are part of the basic identity of a country – is not really oppression, is it? Rather, it’s the natural democratic inclination of a people: the means by which the demos (people) geographically delimits the exercise of its kratos (power). Isn’t it a kind of common sense, evident in every single country in the world?
Let me help my President out with the meaning of the word, “oppression”. Locking people up for choosing what they ingest is oppression. Come to think of it, locking people up for any victimless crime is oppression. Seizing the property of people who have not been found guilty of crime is oppression. Killing innocent people in foreign countries with drones, when your country is not immediately and imminently threatened, is oppression. Giving secret state agencies the ability and permission secretly to read and watch the intimate communications of citizens is oppression.
Enough of English vocabulary. What about American immigration?
The current American legal immigration system is a Kafkaesque system with which I am, unfortunately, all too familiar. Several times going through the legal immigration process, I noted that it would have been easier for me as a legal immigrant to have just given up and become illegal. And if that sounds hyperbolic, realize that (based on data from a few years ago), two thirds of legal Mexican immigrants, were once here illegally – so the system has for a long time been telling would-be immigrants that one of the best ways to legal status in this country is to break the law. No illegal immigrant is to blame for that fact.
It took me more than five years and thousands and thousands of dollars – on top of all the taxes I paid along the way- to get a green card. Supporters of amnesty claim their plans are “fair” because they require the payment of taxes, a criminal background check, a fine, and “the going to the back of the line”. In other words, their proposal is that illegal immigrants should get exactly the same deal as a legal immigrant – but with the bonus that the fine will be less than the legal costs that most immigrants have to bear. And don’t think that legal immigrants have a significantly easier time during their journey to permanent residency. During the time it took me to get my greencard, contributing to the economy and paying my taxes all the time, on four occasions I had to make repeated applications, each with inches of paperwork, for permission to stay, under threat of having my legal status revoked and being immediately required to leave within a month or two. In terms of practical and emotional stability, it is no easier to be a legal immigrant for business in the USA than an illegal immigrant.
It seems that under Obama’s amnesty plan, I could have gotten my residency status, including the right to work with any employer, in less time and at much less cost than it took me to do it legally. Moreover, the fact that the illegal immigrant who shall benefit from amnesty will not receive citizenship is no detriment to the formerly illegal immigrant: unless expressly forbidden, this will be a step on the path to full citizenship, putting the illegal immigrant in the same position as the legal immigrant, against at less cost. As a legal immigrant, after the brutal five years of engagement with the legal immigration system to receive my greencard, I have to wait another five years before I can apply for citizenship. So the minimum time it takes a legal immigrant, here for business, to become a citizen is ten years. That’s the line to the back of which legal immigrants go.
The proposed normalization of status of those who have entered under the legal radar seems all the more inconsistent when one considers that we are actually killing people overseas because, Obama tells us, our national security is threatened. You always get more of what you incentivize, so shouldn’t this amnesty be part of a package that at least undoes the obvious incentive to more illegal immigration and enhances border security in a way that allows us to actually monitor who is entering our nation?
Those who are uncomfortable with rewarding illegal activity are not oppressors. They are genuinely concerned citizens, who feel that illegal immigration offends their basic sense of fairness, and they are scared because, if their country cannot even control its borders, with serious consequences in some border states, then what can it control?
This debate is not simply one of compassion vs. oppression. It is one of balancing compassion, fairness (justice) and the democratic right of citizens.
If, as Obama, seems to suggest, our country needs to take a sharp turn toward compassion – a turn that I would support fervently – then let’s do it. Let’s have “amnesty” for the innocent victims of American drones; for the men who, with a Federal conviction for a non-violent crime, lose years of their lives in a cell, only to come out and be unable to find work; for the families who’ve had their assets seized because they have violated some outrageous EPA rule, harming no one; for the victims of state surveillance who are suspected of no crime at all, and so on and so on.
And then, if as part of all of that, we implement this immigration amnesty – if the American people decide that is indeed true to our character – then let’s again be consistent by changing the immigration law so those who would come to America to work are incentivized to follow the rules, rather than break them.
And if you need help designing such a system, ask the one group of people in America who know the most about the immigration system but are listened to the least – the legal immigrants who know the rules because they played by them.
Perhaps Obama is right that this is about oppression, but not for the reason he thinks. The resistance he is meeting on this issue can be largely understood by realizing that many Americans feel oppressed – by a political class that is doing things to them, rather than for them. And immigration, because of the issues of fairness and control mentioned above, is just one area where that feeling is strong.
You see, Mr. President, creating a whole new legal status for millions of people is – by definition – a legislative act, and by legislating in an executive office, ignoring one of the most profound protections of the rights of all Americans, you are perpetrating a very serious oppression indeed.