Thursday, February 25, 2016

Ignorance of Immigration Law Abounds, Particularly with GOP Lawmakers

 When I read this article from ABC News on the plight of migrant children who cross the southern border from Central America, I was struck by the quote from Senator Jeff Sessions of Alabama. "It cannot be that every young person from Central America is entitled to asylum or entry into this country," he is quoted as saying. 

The quote, I believe, betrays the true thought process behind many Republican lawmakers and their tea party supporters on immigration issues. Sure, the stylish thing for conservatives to say is that they support immigration, just not illegal immigration. Except that hidden in Sessions' statement is a criticism of the legal programs and processes that exist in U.S. immigration law. 

Let's start with asylum. This is a program to give protection to people who fear persecution, such as the threat of serious violence, in their home country. On one hand, it is difficult to obtain asylum. But on the other, if a foreign born person proves that he or she qualifies for asylum, U.S. law mandates that the Federal Government grant protection and a pathway that could lead to permanent residency and eventually citizenship. 

Yet asylum, despite it being a legal program, is one of the key targets of conservatives' criticism. Indeed, some conservatives complain about the number of green cards the Obama Administration has handed out. Seemingly lost in the criticism is that the green card process is the process to become a legal permanent resident. 

What also seems to escape conservative critics is that there is a legal process for determining eligibility for legal immigration programs. This is a country of laws. Our Constitution requires Due Process. The Government cannot simply pick up a person near the border because they look Hispanic and automatically ship them back to Central America. Let's not forget how many citizens of this country are of Hispanic origin. Fortunately, this isn't like the film caricatures of Nazi German where the Gestapo get to demand to see the "papers" of everyone. Citizens are not required to carry proof of citizenship. 

But the immigration courts of this country are clogged. There are not enough judges and government attorneys to handle the cases already in court. No one seems to be willing to spend the money to create more courts, hire more judges and hire more attorneys. The result is that cases tend to remain pending for years. 

Even then, there are more programs available than simply asylum. I hesitate to list them here, for fear that if GOP lawmakers really did understand the breadth of immigration law would be motivated to repeal those programs. 

Probably most alarming in statements like that of Sessions is the callousness that it betrays. Central American countries such as El Salvador, Honduras, Guatemala and Nicaragua are plagued by gang violence. Yet, many in the United States like to turn a blind eye to that violence and deny the role of this country in creating a situation that the Central Americans governments are unable to manage on their own. 

We as a society are judged by how we protect the vulnerable. An immigration system without compassion erodes our humanity and condemns the helpless to situations they had no role in creating. 

By: William J. Kovatch, Jr.
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