The sad tale of immigration
June 1, 2015
By Mia McCaslin
NNAF News Fellow | Frostburg State University
Mistreated by their own government, terrified foreigners huddle together. Having tried other options for asylum, the tired and hopeless immigrants have had no luck. The worn-out refugees must continue their search for a better life. Hearing of a mythical land of promise, the group sets course for America.
This is not the tale of a modern Central American immigrant. This is the story of the pilgrims—the founding fathers of this nation.
The similarities between these two groups, however, end at their journey. When the pilgrims arrived in America, they were shown the ropes of local agriculture and colony keeping by Native Americans. When immigrants arrive in our country today, they are greeted with constant fear of deportation and the everyday reality of prejudice.
The U.S. was built on immigration. Seeking a better life, poor and persecuted people came to this country, just as many Central Americans are doing in today’s society. By closing the borders of this nation that was established as a melting pot, Americans are turning their collective backs on the refuge from which this country was built.
Meet Farhed Idris. A professor at Frostburg State University for 15 years, Idris and his wife are immigrants from Bangladesh.
Idris first came to the U.S. in 1987 as a student, studying English at Clemson University. He continued his graduate education at the University of Arkansas, after which he accepted a position at FSU.
“The process is long and complicated,” Idris said. “I had to switch from student visa to work visa. Then both my wife and I applied for permanent residency.” After applying for a green card, Idris estimates that it took at least a year to process, and he was already established in the country.
Idris explained that “a lot of paperwork was involved in each stage of the process,” and each document was difficult to locate. Records are not kept meticulously in many other parts of the world, so it was not a matter of simply mailing back a request for documents.
“Copies of documents can be secured only through lots of trips to the respective officers,” Idris explained. “Because we were living in the U.S., we had to rely on our friends and relatives to get the documents for us.”
Legal immigration in America is a lengthy and painstaking process, so many of them seeking instant reprieve from oppressive regimes enter this country illegally.
According to the White House website, the official stance of President Obama’s executive action is to “secure the border, prioritize [deporting] felons, not families, hold undocumented immigrants accountable by requiring them to pass a criminal background check and pay their fair share of taxes, and modernize the legal immigration system.”
Similarly, according to Greg Dolan, the communication representative for Sen. David McKinley, R-WV, the Republican stance focuses on securing the border and addressing the immigrants already inside the country.
These viewpoints are nearly identical. Both parties focus on three main points: increasing border security, keeping track of immigrants/visas, and creating a better legal immigration system to assist those already in the country.
Although the two parties agree on basics, they have refused to compromise. In 2013, a comprehensive immigration reform bill called the Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act was passed in the Senate. The bill mandated more resources be implemented to secure the border effectively and had a plan to legally integrate those who are undocumented in the country.
After the bill passed in the Senate, it moved on to the House, where Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-OH, tabled the discussion until the bill died.
Sen. Ben Cardin, D-MD, was an advocate of the bill. He believes that a pathway to citizenship for immigrants currently in the country as well as reformation of the existing legal immigration system is needed; both of these topics were addressed in the bill shut out of the House in 2013.
To avoid this situation in further congressional classes, Cardin is in the process of proposing new legislation that will require Congress to thoroughly vet a suggested bill for a minimum of 10 hours if the bill has not been passed with a two-thirds majority vote.
When prompted to comment on the current immigration discussions in Congress, Cardin replied, “I don’t know why we’re having it,” clearly frustrated. “(Boehner) refused to even bring the bill to debate because he knew he would lose.”
In light of the dead bill, President Obama took executive action.
Obama introduced the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals during a news conference June 15, 2012. This action was intended to kick-start immigration reform discussions in Congress, and it was received with little malice from opposing parties because it was to protected children. Representatives act on the will of their constituents, and many believed they were unlikely to be re-elected if they fought to send helpless children back to the horrific conditions from which they had escaped.
DACA allows those who were brought to the U.S. as children and have been in the country for five years to apply for “deferred action.” This does not provide immunity to the immigrants—simply a three-year grace period from deportation. Those who receive deferred action can apply for a work permit during their amnesty period. There are many stipulations for who can qualify for DACA—also known as the DREAM Act—including age and criminal background checks.
It is clear that this act in itself is not a pathway to citizenship, but Obama stated in DACA’s introductory press conference that “if your parents brought you here as a child, if you’ve been here for five years and you’re willing to go to college or serve in our military, you can one day earn your citizenship.”
“It makes no sense to expel talented young people, who, for all intents and purposes, are Americans—they’ve been raised as Americans, understand themselves to be part of this country—to expel these young people who want to staff our labs or start new businesses or defend our country simply because of the actions of their parents—or because of the inaction of politicians,” Obama stated in justification of his executive order.
After the comprehensive 2013 bill was dismissed by the House, the president took further executive action and extended his earlier mandate to a new policy: Deferred Action for Parental Accountability.
DAPA, unlike DACA, has been met with much controversy.
Focused on the undocumented parents of American citizens, this action has even stricter requirements than its predecessor. According to immigrationpolicy.org, “The Deferred Action for Parental Accountability is a prosecutorial discretion program administered by USCIS that provides temporary relief from deportation (called deferred action) and work authorization to unauthorized parents of U.S. citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents.”
Even though every president since Dwight D. Eisenhower has implemented executive action to address immigration, Obama’s recent efforts have been greatly debated.
In late 2014, 26 states—led by Texas Attorney General Ken Paxto—filed a lawsuit against Obama’s executive orders. There have been a myriad of rulings, appeals and injunctions made in this messy attempt to hold off deferment, and, as a result, the orders have been stipulated. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services’ website reads as follows:
“Due to a federal court order, USCIS will not begin accepting requests for the expansion of DACA on Feb. 18 as originally planned and has suspended implementation of Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents. The court’s temporary injunction, issued Feb. 16, does not affect the existing DACA. Individuals may continue to come forward and request an initial grant of DACA or renewal of DACA under the original guidelines. Please check back for updates.”
Those who oppose Obama’s executive order attempted to block DACA again by refusing to pass the Department of Homeland Security’s budget in late February 2015.
The budget included increased and more knowledgeable protection of America’s southern border. Although this action falls within the reform most politicians wish to make regardless of party loyalty, those who oppose its implementation are attempting to halt any changes made because of Obama’s executive orders.
The opposing congressional members admit that, although they support what would be the result of these policies, they simply believe the president acted outside his legal authority.
“Conservatives are going to say that immigrants are draining resources, but are all too happy to put those same resources towards arbitrarily patrolling the border,” Laura Vazquez, senior immigration legislation analyst from the National Council of La Raza.
Conn Carroll, a former White House correspondent for Townhall.com, advocated the safeguarding of borders rather than dealing with those inside the country, but later admitted that securing the borders was “kind of a ruse.” “There will never be a secure border,” he explained. The containment is merely something all politicians can advocate instead of addressing the “bigger-picture.”
The semantic debate about the origin of reform that is generally agreed on highlights the pitfalls of the American bi-partisan system.
The electoral system requires that politicians be staunch in their polarized views to be elected, and this expectation creates an “us vs. them” environment when it comes to reform of any sort. This problem has been growing in recent congressional sessions, but refusal to compromise on immigration reform brings the competition to its climax.
Idris has faced many obstacles, even as a legal immigrant. Aside from prejudice, Idris has recently had difficulty renewing his green card, and has had to drive two-plus hours to Pittsburgh for bureaucratic semblances.
Immigrants to America, legal or not, are in a state of limbo; they do not know where they stand with this bickering government.