Saturday, November 22, 2014

Immigration, Obama, Democrats and the GOP: We're all stuck in the process

It's simple: American immigration system is broken and has been for the longest while. I don't think I could be called a " liberal" by any stretch of imagination except for on social issues and still I say changes are long overdue. President Barack Obama made headlines over the last few days by deciding on an executive action that will suspend some deportations and alter in one way or another the position of some who are here without a lawful status. While I take an issue with how he has done it, the scale of the move and the Constitutional implications the one thing I feel it may accomplish is forcing us towards a real debate on who gets to stay and how. Yes, apparently they were working on it for nine months and yes, it seems political  I hesitate when it comes to using the word "illegal" as it's both not a term found in the language of the statutes and also while I find that  while what a person does and their position might be illegal, calling a human being that just sounds inappropriate.  A status is something you acquire. You may go out of it sometimes, be out of status between fillings and it's even fine to be without one while still in the country if you had one before for a limited time.

 I'm not as personally involved in this issue as you may think- My path to citizenship ends early next year after 5 years on a green card - with the filing of the form N-400. I've been to hell and back to get where I am, it was not a quick and stress free process. And for the longest time we didn't know that we'd be successful, although I've never broken the law or entered the country without authorization. I came in on a student visa for law school. There's two points that I wanted to make. The media seem to frame immigration as an issue of migrant Mexican workers facing deportation. I think those who came in like  me, always following the rules, subject to a lot of restrictions, have it much worse. Until I become an American, if I move I have to report it to DHS within ten days. They need to know where I live at all times. And it's been so long, I can hardly remember what port of entry I came through last time. I must carry my green card on my person at all times. And talk to any international student center official at any school. The amounts on restrictions, paperwork and requirements on those who came in to study only increased in the last ten years. My friends  who deal with foreign students often vent to me with frustration about how the government is forcing some limiting interpretations of rules that never existed before. If you study here, you work hard, you're in the system, you're in the plain sight, you're transparent- it only gets harder on you.  I'm sorry- but I keep hearing that you can come here or be here already, get in the back of the line and file for something- as an argument that pops up on a lot of the debate shows. And I want to know- who do they think  can file for and what? In order to be eligible for a green card you need to qualify for a set of unique conditions like- you got married to an American, or somebody offered you a job and the quota for an H1B visa wasn't yet filled and your employer got in, or your skills are so high end, rare and unique and your workplace is so determined on having you that they are willing to go through 9 months of the labor certification process to show that isn't anybody else they could hire in your place. When I say the system is broken I'm  less concerned about people who have low skills and jumped the border, because you could make an argument that they know what they're signing up for  (although I understand humanitarian considerations, that everyone wants to make a living and offer its family security. I say that the system is broken because it doesn't offer a lot of reasonable paths to citizenship to  people regardless of whether you're here legally or not. The system is geared towards not letting them stay - even if they are educated in high end professions and lived here for 10 years. Commentators seem to think that there's a lot of readily available waivers that you can go in and just pick one. That is not the case. And I chuckle quite a bit when I see a person who migrated with their parents decades ago under a different law and in a limited circumstance  sounding off on an opinion show as if everyone could do the same today. Well they can't.  And as with any fillings you have officers hidden behind their numbers deciding whether someone meets some other restrictive criteria, often in very arbitrary fashion. For the most part, from what I've seen unless you're the best of the best you don't get to be here and the Government has no interest in keeping you although American schools gave you skills that the could use here. For the waivers that we do have there's not that many that apply, and famously the one that we've attempted to try on me evolved from an obscure  case about a New York Department of Transportation looking to hire someone for its system.  This is what they work with to decide people's future. Their needs to be comprehensive reform that accomplishes two things: Attracts people with advanced degrees to stay in the country instead of forcing them out. And in the age of global economy, electronic media and ever present outsourcing companies should be allowed more leeway in hiring whoever they wish and be able to bring workers here. Employees may be more interchangeable when it comes to purely physical labor like picking tomatoes, but when it comes to jobs based on creativity, communication, thinking and interaction, a business owner should be able to decide who can forward his mission best without being bogged down by a paper intensive process with the odds stacked against him. For example: if I'd like to hire a Creative Director from France I want to be able to do so on the strength  of his or hers portfolio even though he or she while good hasn't been featured in  the Louvre or was peer reviewed in 17 publications. I definitely wouldn't want to  wait a year to be able to offer an accomplished European marketer a job and be in turn forced to get a graphic designer from Interlachen. Another thing: H1b Visas: the work visas that most employers (unlike say universities that are exempt from quotas) that are hard to get because there's only so many of them, tie the workers to their jobs for many years. They don't have an option to look for better positions or ask for better compensation and in fact keep the wages down, because the companies know that workers hoping to become permanent residents are in a bit of a bind.

The problem with immigration is simple: it's growing bigger and bigger, more and more complex with more and more regulation. It's hardly user friendly, people, lives and corporations are stuck in the process and many immigration lawyers (and lawyers in general, but it's even less clear cut here) offer you their best "theory of the case" based on their understanding which may or may not be successful. The anonymous officers have a lot of power interpreting the facts and the rules as a daily routine without giving you as little as  a name, it's harder more painful and longer than it needs to be. There needs to be a clear process that allows businesses get access to a pool of the world's elite. Otherwise they can just outsource or even move elsewhere. People need to know their fate so they can focus on their futures and settle on a life somewhere. Being afraid to open the mailbox for many years is probably not the lifestyle that anyone imagined especially if they've done nothing wrong. And there needs to be more understanding- of why this system doesn't keep up with the times and the needs and that being a Democrat or with the GOP has nothing to do with it.

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