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DACA and a Broken Immigration System

Sep 27, 2017
by Christopher Kerosky, Kerosky, Purves & Bogue, LLP, Sonoma County Human Rights Commissioner

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The cancellation of the DACA program by the Trump Administration has prompted widespread support for young immigrants who were previously given deferred status by the Obama Administration. Their reprieve from deportation will begin expiring on March 5, 2018. Sonoma County alone has an estimated 4,000 young immigrants who will lose their DACA status soon. There are over 800,000 persons with DACA nationwide. All could soon be subject to deportation.

The DACA announcement has also caused a renewed debate about what to do with the 10 million or so other undocumented immigrants living among us, including about 38,500 in Sonoma County. 

Why does our country have so many undocumented immigrants? Why don’t they immigrate legally? Some people think that undocumented immigrants actually want to be here illegally. Others think they simply haven’t “bothered to file the papers” or that they don’t really want to become American citizens.

In fact, those are all myths. The reality is there are no options to immigrate legally for the vast majority of undocumented immigrants here. The system is broken, as many national leaders have said. Sadly, most young people with DACA will also have no way to legalize without a change in the law. It’s even more difficult for immigrants from Mexico due to the inherent anti-Mexican bias in the laws. Here’s a few facts:

1. Absurd waiting periods. Our legal system allows a U.S. citizen to sponsor their close family members and that is the primary way people immigrate to the U.S. However, the waiting periods involved usually make this unrealistic. A Mexican who petitions to immigrate through their U.S. citizen sibling waits 20 years for his green card; if he or she applies through a U.S. citizen parent, the wait is 23 years. That means a parent filing for a son or daughter today can expect their child to immigrate in 2040. While the application is pending, he or she is not allowed to live in the U.S. and often cannot even visit legally. And these waiting periods are twice as long for Mexicans as for citizens of almost every other country in the world.

2. A job is irrelevant. Our laws provide no practical system for employers to petition immigrant workers, either skilled or unskilled, from any country. There are 66,000 temporary visas set aside for unskilled workers every year – and yet we have millions of undocumented people with jobs Americans don’t want to have. How sensible is that?

3. Penalizing the Mexicans. Even for those who navigate the Kafkaesque procedures and wait decades to get their application approved, they will face an additional 10-year penalty if they are currently here without status. Those who re-entered here after returning to their homeland for a funeral, family illness or other reason are subject to a “permanent bar”—even if they are married to a U.S. citizen. This permanent bar applies almost exclusively to Mexican citizens.

4. Double-Standards in the law. A European doesn’t need a visa to come to the U.S., while Mexican citizens and persons from developing countries do. A European who comes here without a visa as an adult and spends years here working illegally, he can simply marry a U.S. citizen and get a green card in about 6 months, without penalty and without leaving the U.S. Yet a Mexican who came as an infant with his parents crossing the border illegally has a serious penalty imposed; he must apply for a discretionary waiver if he marries a citizen and, if granted, must leave the country to get his green card. If the waiver is denied, he spends 10 years outside the U.S. How fair is that? The absurd waiting periods and bias in the law are facts rarely discussed by politicians or the media, but an everyday reality for our immigrants.These impediments also apply to most young people with DACA. So there will be no easy path for them, absent a change in the law.The best of several proposals in Congress to help those with DACA is the Dream Act of 2017.To learn more about this law or sign a petition supporting it, go to: sign the petition.

The big picture is that our entire broken, biased and bureaucratic immigration system must also be reformed. Only then will the words on our Statue of Liberty ring true again:“Give us your tired,your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free.”

Immigrant Stories by Christopher Kerosky

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