One of the arguments frequently given in the comments of my most-recent Huffington post is, essentially, that “illegals should apply for entry into the United States and wait in line like everyone else.” In a perfect world, this argument makes sense. Historically the U.S. has been a harbor for “huddled masses yearning to be free.” These masses identified themselves, waited in line, and were eventually admitted and naturalized, ‘mericanized, etc.
However, if there is one consensus in the immigration debate it is that the U.S. immigration system is far from perfect. The system is broken, as it were.
“Immigrants eager to apply for employment-based green cards often find themselves in a Catch 22. There is typically a wait of three to five years for an employment-based green card for a worker with a college degree or two years of experience. But the worker must remain in status or leave the country during that waiting period and, unless he/she has an H-1B visa or qualifies under Section 245(i) of the INA, usually cannot continue to work for the employer in the U.S. and still get a green card at the end of the wait. Most employers don’t want to sponsor someone who can’t work for them for the next three to five years. This means that many immigrants who are qualified to work in the U.S. and have an employer willing to sponsor them still find themselves unable to work lawfully.
If you are poor and unskilled, it is usually much more simple: there is no line whatsoever. Duke from Migra Matters had a good run-down a while back of the miniscule number of green cards made available in 2006 for unskilled workers: 147. The great majority of immigrants from Mexico and Central America fall into this group. Almost none of them can get a visa to come here lawfully in the first place, and they certainly can’t get one if they leave the country after having violated U.S. immigration laws.”
The simple(ton) answer here is, in essence, Well, tough shit! Then they should just say home! Unfortunately, this answer fails to take into account the increasingly-hellish world many Mexicans and Central Americans now call home.
Last October, a report issued by the United Nations Development Program (UNDP) found that the overall homicide rate in Central America “(32 homicides per 100,000 persons) is tantamount to more than three times the worldwide rate, and it exceeds by seven points the rate for Latin America as a whole.”
“To put it bluntly,” the report concluded, “Central America is the most violent region of the World, with the exception of those regions where some countries are at war or are experiencing severe political violence.”
Since the UNDP report was released, narco-violence seems set to put Mexico on course to join Central America in the dubious “most-violent” distinction. On Wednesday, AP reported the mayor of El Naranjo became the third Mexican mayor in a month to be slain by hitmen believed to be working for drug cartels. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has remarked that Mexico is “looking more and more like Colombia looked 20 years ago.”
“How can I explain this,” writes Bennion, “For most undocumented immigrants, there is no line. There. Is. No. Line.”
But there could be, and needs to be, a line. And not just one line, but (at least) two.
The first “line” can be found in the Real Enforcement with Practical Answers for Immigration Reform (REPAIR) proposal released on 29 April of this year by Senators Harry Reid, Charles Schumer, and Bob Menendez. REPAIR offers a framework for a comprehensive immigration reform bill that secures our nation’s borders, reforms our immigration code, and offers a path to citizenship (or earned citizenship, or back of the line citizenship…whatever you want to call it) for undocumented immigrants already living in the United States. One provision of the REPAIR framework is the creation of an altogether new visa category (the H-2C visa) for “non-seasonal, non-agricultural workers to enter the United States” legally. In short, an H-2C visa category creates “a line” Latin America’s average Josés to apply for legal entry into the United States.
The second “line” can be found in the Refugee Protection Act introduced by Senator Patrick Leahy’s office in March. In some sense, those who wish to flee to the U.S. from the hellish violence in Central America and Mexico seek asylum. Unfortunately, not in the legal sense.
In order to qualify for asylum under current U.S. immigration law, an applicant must establish a “well-founded fear of persecution” due to their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership in a particular social group. Julia Preston notes in the New York Times that “American immigration judges, always careful not to open the asylum door to any flood, have made it more difficult for Central Americans running from gangs.” The Refugee Protection Act is designed to address this dynamic.
According to a press release by Sen. Leahy’s office:
“The bill eliminates the one year waiting period for refugees and asylum seekers to apply for a green card. The legislation authorizes the Secretary of State to designate certain vulnerable groups as eligible for expedited adjudication as refugees. The Refugee Protection Act also clarifies the law to ensure that innocent asylum seekers and refugees are not unfairly denied protection as a result of the material support and terrorism bars in law…”
In short, one thing the Refugee Protection Act would do is create a way for Latin Americans fleeing persecution from the violence plaguing the region to legally flee to el norte.
Unfortunately, the Refugee Protection Act remains stuck somewhere in the legislative pipeline and the H-2C visa remains two paragraphs in a framework, a draft, a outline of suggestions, and not somewhere immigrants can yet “line up and wait their turn just like everyone else” to come to the Land of the Free.
That said, until the U.S. immigration code is amended to create places where immigrants — and particularly, immigrants from Latin America — can line up, the argument this blog seeks to address remains, as Bennion noted in 2008, “a fabrication dreamt up by restrictionists to make their odious ideas palatable to an unknowing public.”