There were two things last week that clearly showcases how the U.S. immigration legal system is designed to be gamed. It doesn’t matter where the reader is on immigration – too much or not enough – because the legal framework is designed to serve two opposing public agendas.
“Do it the right way.” Everyone can agree that immigrants should follow the law. Even immigrants, like me, and pro-immigrant advocates would agree that the law must be followed. Anti-immigrants use that as the reason to argue against immigration.
The little dirty secret is that the immigration laws in the United States are a hodge podge of fragmented laws intended to create the illusion that the United States has laws to control immigration. The reason the laws are so convoluted is that part of the country understands that immigrants are essential to the economy of the country while another part of the country fears the erosion of their culture and the changing demography of the country.
Then there are others that are just plain xenophobes.
Trying to cater to all the diverse and fragmented immigration viewpoints are laws that try to serve the opposing needs at the same time.
For example, the law makes it illegal to hire undocumented workers, but it is not properly enforced. The law says employers must gather proof that their employees are legal workers. Yet, the law makes no provision for a national registrar of legal workers. The law forces the employers to use documents that are easily faked. The law makes a provision for an online verification system that the federal government ignores for the most part.
In other words, the law requires verification to control immigration while at the same time the government ignores the legal requirement to keep the economy humming along.
Whether the reader is for or against immigration it is important that they understand that the legal framework is unable to cope with immigration because it is designed to serve to competing interests – pro and anti-immigration.
Last week, it was reported that a U.S. citizen was detained and held for almost a month because of a paperwork mix up. On one hand, the teen held a tourist visa that indicated he was born in México while at the same time he held documents proving his U.S. citizenship. Obviously one set of documents are false.
On one hand, a tourist visa is issued to foreigners visiting the country. U.S. citizens do not need nor should be issued a tourist visa. However, the teen was issued a tourist visa. Was it the failure of the parents, the teen or the government for issuing the visa?
All can be blamed. Technically the U.S. citizen should not have applied for nor accepted a tourist visa. But at the same time, the government should not have issued a tourist visa to a U.S. citizen because under the enhanced immigration security the United States is under currently one would expect the U.S. government to know the true identity – including citizenship – of who it issues travel documents to.
All can argue that everyone is wrong in this scenario. But the underlining issue is that the law allowed this to happen.
The second thing is what Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) did last Saturday at the U.S.-México border in El Paso, Texas. A pregnant Mexican citizen woman, her husband and their child approached two immigration officers at the bridge and requested asylum. The officers told the family that they were “full” and turned them away.
There are many things playing at the same time in this event. Number one is that the family are Mexican citizens and thus asylum has a much more difficult threshold than for Central Americans because México, although marred in violence, does not come close to a failed state. Second, as Mexican citizens it is easier for the U.S. government to deport them back to México as the U.S. officials simply drop them off at the nearest international border. There is not the expense associated with deporting Central Americans back to their countries of origin as there are not travel costs associated with the deportation.
That is why there is a streamlined deportation process in place for Mexicans.
Third, a senator was involved in the process from the beginning. Wyden followed the family to the border for political purposes. Wyden encouraged the family, directly or indirectly to apply for asylum. Even if he did not coach them on what to do, or say, Wyden followed them to the border officials.
Sen. Wyden gamed the system for the Mexican family.
Some readers will argue that this is wrong while others will point to the failed immigration laws that allow the system to be gamed.
Neither side of the debate is the point here – the point is that the system in place can be gamed.
When the family was refused entry, the senator intervened and told the immigration officers that Mexicans are exempt from the “metering” program put in place by the Trump administration. This according to the Washington Post.
After a supervisor was called, the Mexican family was allowed to enter to make their asylum claim.
Wyden is exposing part of the problem. The Mexican family, under the current law, should have been allowed to make their claim. But the immigration officers refused to allow them to do so. With Wyden’s intervention the law was applied as required. Had Wyden not intervened that would have been the end of it.
The border agents clearly violated or ignored the law. Had a senator not played political games with the broken immigration system, the public would not have further proof that immigration agents do not apply the law as required.
How many other government officials violate or ignore the law when legislators are not present to the make sure they follow the law?
But the most important point that this event demonstrates is that everyone, the Mexican family, the border officials and the politicos are playing games with the immigration system.
The reason that the immigration system can be gamed is because it is designed to be gamed. Many U.S. citizens do not want immigrants in their midst, or they fear the erosion of culture or jobs because of immigration. There is nothing wrong with that sentiment.
However, there are also many U.S. citizens who embrace and want immigrants in the country.
Neither side can come to an understanding, so the immigration laws are created to serve both sides of the equation – pro or anti-immigrants.
That is why “doing it the right way” is impossible.
Not only are immigrants not able to immigrate without gaming the system but they are also pawns in the political games of the country.