US Immigration Policy

I’m hoisting this valuable comment from Roger Algase in response to my column last week on immigration up to the main page.

The last paragraph of this article, about the need for executive action in favor of liberalizing the immigration system is especially apt. However, few people who do not deal with the immigration system on a day to day basis, which I do as an immigration lawyer, realize how much executive action on immigration there has been since Obama took office. The problem is that almost all of it has been in the direction of making the immigration system harsher and more punitive, with regard to both legal and illegal immigration.

In a speech last week and at a series of other events, President Barack Obama renewed his call for comprehensive reform of a US immigration system that everyone agrees is broken. He called it an “economic imperative”. He is right – more right, perhaps, than he knows.

The prospects for legislation before the next election may be minimal, but it’s good that President Obama is making the case for comprehensive immigration reform. One can question his sincerity, of course. Since he knows that nothing is going to happen, he can aim to build support for Democrats among Hispanic voters, an increasingly significant group, without much risk of offending too many others. But his position on immigration reform happens to be right. Mending the immigration system is, as he said, an “economic imperative”, both to meet shortages of skilled labor and to bring the illicit migrant economy on to the books, thus helping to repair the tax base. Republicans richly deserve to be punished for their obduracy on the issue.

The US economy’s long-term prospects are most seriously jeopardised, I believe, by the failure of its schools system and by a remarkably stupid immigration policy. The first is a complicated problem, not easy to solve. The second is a simple problem, and could be solved at a stroke if Congress only chose to do something about it. The difficulty on immigration, however, is convincing a doubtful electorate that a more intelligent policy makes sense.

Washington is so bitterly divided these days that the US government is paralysed. So goes the standard complaint. Think of the looming fiscal disaster. Think of energy policy or financial regulation. But the immigration debate, if you can call it that, is a notable exception.

Continue reading “A great pretence that crosses borders”

Recommended reading: “The Closing of the American Border” by Edward Alden, which I reviewed in the newspaper earlier this week. I’ll paste the review after the jump.

A friend sends me this, which I urge you to read in full (the point of the story is in the details).

Ex-UI researcher faces deportation

Katarzyna Dziewanowska grew up in the “gray communist life” of Poland. But it was in America where she found a truly nightmarish experience with a bureaucracy. After nearly 14 years as a researcher at the University of Idaho, Dziewanowska has been denied permanent residency by U.S. immigration officials, who say she worked without authorization for eight months. She did that, she and her attorneys say, on the advice of the UI, and she quit working for a time when the university advised her to do so.

But her appeals have fallen on deaf ears with immigration officials. She’d like to take the case before an immigration judge, but that could take months or years. In the meantime, she can’t work and has no legal residency status. Because it is a family application, her husband – a UI researcher studying a promising treatment of retroviruses – can no longer receive grants. Her son can’t apply for a free-tuition program through his employer.

“She has no legal status,” said Michael Cherasia, her former attorney. “She’s not able to legally work. Certainly she can’t continue to do her research. (Agents) could come to her door any morning, arrest her, detain her and ship her out of the country.”

As I say, read the whole thing. Look at what she was researching. Look at her standing in her field. Look at why she now faces deportation.

One thing to say, no doubt, is that Dziewanowska broke the rules. By their lights, the authorities did nothing improper. Also, it seems odd to me that she and more particularly her employer did not see fit to hire a lawyer until it was too late. This is America. You do nothing without a lawyer. But this does not subtract much from the insane disproportion of the outcome–from her point of view, from her family’s, and not least from that of the US. What made me groan out loud was the meaningless glitch that ordained it: an application was rejected twice because a photo was not up to specification, in the second case because of glare on a lens of her glasses. From this, the rest followed. Two “rejections”, no appeal, life squashed. You have a problem with that?

Clive Crook’s blog

This blog is no longer updated but it remains open as an archive.

I have been the FT's Washington columnist since April 2007. I moved from Britain to the US in 2005 to write for the Atlantic Monthly and the National Journal after 20 years working at the Economist, most recently as deputy editor. I write mainly about the intersection of politics and economics.

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