America is a nation of immigrants. This has always been our national narrative. America has always been seen as a melting pot with its gates wide open. Our communities consist of many faiths, background, skin colors and languages and we are stronger because of our diverse backgrounds and communities. In recent weeks, we saw an inept American government separate young children from their families. This sad excuse for immigration policy (zero tolerance) was quickly created and incompetently administered. But thankfully Americans revolted and rose up against the incompetence of such a policy. This is why we must create and enforce immigration policies at the legislative and judicial levels that are based on age old American values/rights of equality, respect and fairness.
Immigration policy should strive on every level of government to value the rights and equality of ALL people. In Mae Ngai`s book titled “Impossible Subjects, Illegal Aliens and the Making of Modern America, she talks about how immigration policy is a sovereign and humanistic right. Ngai argues that recent and past immigration policies have “allowed Congress to create rules that would be unacceptable if applied to its current citizens.”(Ngai, 12). Ngai asks if these policies are unacceptable for American citizens why they would somehow be acceptable for immigrants.
On an administrative level, the struggle is real. Before the 2016 election, applications for citizenship would take four, five or six months to process. And now they are taking six months to a year. The wait is even longer in cities like Washington DC and New York. It can take up to sixteen to twenty-one months in these cities. (Continetti,1) According to Diego Iniquez-Lopez, a spokesman for the National Partnership for New Americans, “this is, in the best situation, a form of ineffective bad government.” (Continetti,1). Adding insult to injury, immigrants (many who are poor) are also required to pay 725 dollars for the application and fingerprints. Furthermore, they are required to know the answers to the most minute questions regarding American History; most of these answers not even know to American citizens.
Of course, the marginalization of immigrants is nothing new to the United States. Ngai adequately tests the validity of America being the land of inclusion in her book “Impossible Subjects.” Her book examines the transformation of immigrants into aliens and shows how restrictive immigration laws produced new categories of racial difference- hence the title “Impossible Subjects.” This theory is based on American immigration policy in place between 1924 and 1965. Ngai argues that policy during this time period increasingly revolved around and helped to constitute a new category of “non-citizen.” (Ngai,4). The passage of the 1924 Johnson-Read Act also helped in framing illegal immigrants as subjects and was deeply steeped in a process of race-making and changing the conception of the nation-state based on stricter enforcement of national sovereignty (Ngai,23). It also ended a period of relaxed immigration policies and created a system of national quotas. These restrictive immigration policies reinforced a foundation of restriction and rigid border portals that presented the illegal alien as an oppositional entity.
To start solving the problem, we need to go back and rethink the premises of US immigration policy by thinking outside the box about other kinds of policy options. The problem with our present system is that it’s based on a core paradox: Our system of allocating Visas for the admission of permanent residents is based on equality and fairness; yet this very system has generated an even larger caste-population of unauthorized immigrants. (Ngai,22) All countries have quotas with regards to immigration, yet visa demand varies widely. The same countries (China, India, Mexico and the Philippines) year after year max out on their quota caps. This in turn leads to long waits (some ten to twenty years) and increases pressure for unlawful entry. It’s basically a system of visa quotas and lotteries that virtually ensures illegal immigration and an even larger caste population of unauthorized immigrants. Ngai believes these immigration laws create new race categories aimed at maintaining whiteness.
Immigration reform should be based on shared values and rights. The starting point for reform is to reject the lie that illegal immigrants are criminals and to accept the fact that immigrants are essential to our prosperity. We will never resolve our immigration issues by treating it as a criminal problem or utilizing a nationwide search to rectify it. We should choose to see immigrants as good people longing for the freedom and the equality America offers and has promised for many years.
Congress has been unable to reach an agreement on comprehensive immigration reform for years, effectively moving major policy decision into the executive and judicial branches of government. This gives members of the highest groups the right to define the way things are. In the end, the community is then morally bound to accept the decisions of those groups. The executive branch of government then tries to remain invisible while, at the same time, displaying sovereign enforcement. As we see from the influx of recent caravans, the result has been disastrous. Counteracting the executive branch expansion is the judiciary branch which claims a rule-of –law stand on immigration that protects the erosion of human rights. Both sides, the executive and the judiciary, take a moral stand by being lawful and protecting communities. Each attempt on the executive level to reform immigration is met by an attempt from the judiciary to overrule it. Although executive and judiciary branches of government appear in a constant state of tension, it should be this tension that allows the powers to meet and generate effective and humane policies for immigration reform.
When asked if and to what extent immigration policy should reflect values and rights, I believe we must be fully committed to fair and compassionate reform. Together, we can create an immigration system that includes a real roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants, a rational visa program, humane treatment in detention centers and effective border control measures. As a nation that values equality, respect and fairness, we must immediately terminate our current immigration practices that separate children from their families and criminalize and exploit our foreign neighbors.