For decades, the debate on immigration has grown increasingly politicized. 1965 and 1986 mark the last two important changes in immigration law. As politicians discuss — or more realistically, yell at each other — about immigration, it is clear that we are losing common ground. But the recent midterm elections have proven once again that one party alone cannot fix this. Without bipartisan collaboration, it will be impossible to enact positive and lasting changes.
Change is possible: it just requires more understanding, empathy, and willingness on both sides to find solutions. In this month’s issue we decided to break down three areas of immigration that could find some bipartisan support.
Asylum refers to the protection granted to individuals who are already in the United States or those who come to the country who fit the definition of a refugee as set forth in 1951 UN Convention and the 1961 Protocol. The most important element of asylum is fear of persecution or torture. This fear can be based on past persecution or a well-founded fear of future persecution “on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.”
Those granted asylum, or asylees, are protected from being returned to their home country where they may face persecution and danger. Asylees are provided work authorization, and they may apply for a Social Security card, request permission to travel overseas, and petition to bring family members to the United States. After one year, asylees can apply for a green card (which would provide lawful permanent residence). After an asylee gets their green card, they must wait four years to apply for citizenship.
There are various proposals to speed up and clear the backlog of asylum cases. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is facing severe and growing backlogs in processing its cases for legal immigration and asylum. As of April 2022, the agency has 8.5 million pending cases. If both parties agree that greater resources and more administrative independence should be given to border officials to speed up critical decision making, let’s get it done.
2. Immigration Courts
Another major element of the immigration system that needs reform is the immigration court system.
One of the most important things to note is that the immigration court system is under the Department of Homeland Security — an entirely separate entity from the judicial branch of the government. Presidents are free to exert influence on how immigration courts adjudicate cases. Most importantly, there is no obligation to provide individuals with an attorney. Within immigration courts, individuals have the right to a lawyer, but they are not provided one.
Proceedings in immigration courts can often be very confusing. It’s important to note that individuals are notified of their immigration court proceedings via mail; however, these notifications are sent to the last known address — regardless if the individual is still living there. If an individual does not show up to their assigned court hearing, the judge could rule for deportation. As immigration lawyers are not always provided, navigating the immigration court system alone can often be very confusing. For those whose first language is not English, the process becomes even more complicated. What’s worse is that there is no age limit on who must attend, meaning children have had to represent themselves in immigration courts.
Immigration courts courts need reform. Most importantly, each individual should have the right to a court appointed lawyer. And, judges need greater independence and resources to clear years of backlog. Some cases have been pending in the system for over 5 years.
3. DACA and DREAMers.
DACA and DREAMers is perhaps the easiest problem to fix – yet nothing has happened. Why?
In poll after poll, 70 to 75 percent of American voters favor giving young people who were brought to the United States as young children and know no other country as home the chance to stay here, study and work — and ultimately become citizens.
Our country needs Dreamers. We desperately need nurses; since 2005, more than 180 rural hospitals have closed. And public schools are constantly starved of teachers and administrators. DACA recipients often enter both healthcare and education – becoming nurses, technicians, teachers and administrators.
The Migration Policy Institute estimates that 98,000 undocumented students graduate from U.S. high schools every year. Without a legal adjustment of their status, Don Graham, Chairman of Dreamers.US, warns: “No matter how able they are or how well-educated, most will be forced to do the work their undocumented parents do: clean houses or work off the books in restaurants or on construction jobs”.
Unless Congress changes the law, over the next 10 years, about 1 million new high school graduates will never be able to work. The nurses and teachers in our scholarship program won’t staff hospitals or classrooms.
Any bipartisan agreement to fix some aspects of the nation’s immigration laws must include a resolution for DACA recipients.