What are the rules?

Fed­eral im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies need cer­tainty

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - EDITORIAL PAGE -

INWA DEMO­CRAT-GAZETTE mag­ine your­self a na­tive of a for­eign land who, years ago, seized an op­por­tu­nity to bet­ter pro­vide for your fam­ily, to re­lo­cate them to a place that’s safer and filled with pos­si­bil­i­ties. Imag­ine you’ve built a new life, vir­tu­ally from scratch. And imag­ine you’ve done it all know­ing your ar­range­ment would never pass le­gal scru­tiny.

Statis­ti­cians tell us the United States is home to­day to more than 11 mil­lion peo­ple who are not legally in the coun­try. That’s down from a peak of more than 12 mil­lion in 2007, but still rep­re­sen­ta­tive of wave af­ter wave of peo­ple since the early 1990s who have en­tered and re­mained in the U.S. il­le­gally.

They’re from Mex­ico. They’re from Asia. They’re from Cen­tral Amer­ica. They’re from Europe. Peo­ple from all around the globe have de­cided they want to live in the United States.

North­west Arkansas ad­vo­cates for peo­ple who are not au­tho­rized to live in this coun­try told re­porter Dan Holtmeyer the un­cer­tainty stem­ming from Don­ald Trump’s im­mi­gra­tion poli­cies has caused anx­i­ety among the peo­ple they’re fight­ing for. On the one hand, the ad­min­is­tra­tion has so far con­tin­ued the Obama-era pro­gram that post­pones any en­force­ment against peo­ple who came into the coun­try il­le­gally as chil­dren.

And yet an in­ten­si­fied level of im­mi­gra­tion en­force­ment has peo­ple on edge.

“You should be un­com­fort­able, you should look over your shoul­der, and you need to be wor­ried,” act­ing Im­mi­gra­tion and Cus­toms En­force­ment di­rec­tor Thomas Ho­man told mem­bers of Congress last month.

That sounds cruel, doesn’t it? It sounds threat­en­ing. And it’s un­for­tu­nate for peo­ple who are not in com­pli­ance with U.S. law if they come into con­tact with en­force­ment agents.

The only so­lu­tion for such anx­i­eties is a well-de­fined, long-term fed­eral pol­icy on im­mi­gra­tion that will be en­forced fully by fed­eral au­thor­i­ties. Un­til that hap­pens, there will be no cer­tain­ties. Peo­ple will con­stantly have to won­der what would hap­pen to them if they were caught and iden­ti­fied. Un­til our pres­i­dent and Congress de­vel­ops a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach to im­mi­gra­tion and its en­force­ment, anx­i­ety is go­ing to be a part of the mix of emo­tions re­lated to this is­sue. As we hear in the busi­ness world all the time, it’s un­cer­tainty and a lack of pre­dictabil­ity that sends the stock mar­ket into con­vul­sions. When it comes to im­mi­gra­tion, it isn’t stocks caught up in the frenzy; it’s peo­ple.

“There’s a cer­tain res­ig­na­tion to a new level of fear and distrust,” said Mireya Reith, di­rec­tor of the Arkansas United Com­mu­nity Coali­tion that helps run a Spring­dale im­mi­grant cen­ter. “This is what hap­pens when you don’t take a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach that’s been well thought-out and an­nounced.”

Such a com­pre­hen­sive ap­proach will not come from peo­ple who be­lieve the United States has no right to en­force its bor­ders, that peo­ple who have de­cided to seek bet­ter lives for their fam­i­lies have some in­alien­able right to come to this land. It also will not come from peo­ple who be­lieve the fed­eral gov­ern­ment can round up 11 mil­lion peo­ple and ship them back to their na­tive lands.

To the ex­tent that tougher en­force­ment dis­cour­ages con­tin­u­a­tion of il­le­gal im­mi­gra­tion, it’s a step in the right di­rec­tion. But peo­ple who take any joy in the prospects of tear­ing fam­i­lies apart are in­ca­pable of fully ap­pre­ci­at­ing the hu­man di­men­sions of this tragic sit­u­a­tion.

Those we send to Wash­ing­ton, D.C., owe more at­ten­tion, not just talk, to this is­sue. It’s not right to leave any­one — cit­i­zen, le­gal vis­i­tor or peo­ple who are here il­le­gally — in a per­pet­ual state of un­cer­tainty. The United States can af­ford more le­gal im­mi­gra­tion that cre­ates more op­por­tu­ni­ties for peo­ple to share in the na­tion’s bounty.

But any real im­mi­gra­tion re­form will also clearly es­tab­lish a line that de­fines who is le­gal and who is not, and some peo­ple will be on the los­ing end of that de­ter­mi­na­tion.

Cries of anx­i­ety and a lack of compassion will al­ways fol­low.

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