Solving the Immigration Crisis in America
NOVEMBER 29, 2016 – DAN LUMADUE
Our current debate regarding immigration is going nowhere. For years we have heard the same diatribe from both sides of this argument. Those on one side wish to build walls, export illegal immigrants, and tighten the supervision of immigration processes. On the other side of the debate are those who want to grant amnesty to illegal immigrants and establish sanctuary cities. Their concerns over separating families, by returning those who have been raised in America back to a country with which they are unfamiliar, lead to a cry for policies that forgive the violation of immigration law.
Both sides use emotional appeals and anecdotal arguments to assert their cause. One side accuses the other of a reckless disregard for security and law, citing those whose lives have been negatively affected by illegal immigrants. The other side accuses their opponents of being hateful or fearful, citing the stories of children facing separation from their parents. The arguments persist, escalate, and then quickly turn people on each side as they “polarize, adversarialize, and loyalize” their respective adherents. Will we ever have a solution?
I have watched and waited for answers through this political season. I have been attentive to this issue through the primaries and their debates, as well as through the discourses of all the presidential candidates. Now, another presidential election season has closed, and yet the most obvious resolution has not yet been proposed. It is truly a simple solution.
We cannot understand the solution until we can come to the table in order to have a “VALUES-BASED” dialogue on the problem. We must be able to identify what is important to those who are divided on this issue. What values are in play? Let go of the rhetoric and the lambasting of one another for just a moment and ask not what result one wishes to see, but rather, “What value is important to you in this debate?”
As I look at this debate, which still rages unresolved, I see two PRIMARY values that are seemingly at odds.
While not minimizing other issues, and for the sake of working toward resolution, I have boiled these down to two primary values for the purpose of providing an example of how we can think and have dialogue on these issues.
First, there is the value of SECURITY.
This is a highly valid concern. The threats to our security from people being able to freely enter our nation and operate outside of the legal parameters of immigration and citizenship are valid concerns. In fact, one of the primary mandates of the leaders of a nation is to provide for the safety and security of the citizens of that nation. To minimize or reject this value of security causes one to lose all validity in their discussion as this is a non-negotiable, clearly understood, timeless value essential to any nation’s preservation and peace.
The second value is one of COMPASSION.
As a nation, we have been negligent in our enforcement, difficult in our access, and pervasive in our turning of a blind eye toward the millions of illegal immigrants in our country. This is not a new problem. As a result, we have children who have been raised in this nation who consider it to be their home, yet their legal status says otherwise. Families could be broken apart in situations where children, born in the U.S. and thus having United States citizenship, could be separated from parents who do not have legal status if they are forcibly removed from the country. People who have fled truly horrendous situations have done what they could to survive, and now find themselves in conflict with the laws of the nation in which they have found shelter. Others have spent years “under the radar,” but have worked hard, contributed to society, and have not had run-ins with the legal authorities. To negate the compassion one may have for those who are breaking immigration law, but for whom the consequences of enforcing that law now would be significant, is to also show disregard for those who have understanding and compassion toward their plight.
Clearly we cannot as a nation continue to turn our eye blindly away from those who are in violation of our immigration policy, for to do so would be a reckless promotion of lawlessness and a threat to our national security. However, is it morally responsible to rip people from their communities, break apart families, and send people back into potentially hostile situations? How do we begin with the values of SECURITY and COMPASSION and find any resolution?
Before I share what I believe the solution to this impasse may be, let us understand that we live in an individualistic society. That “American Spirit” of independence, self-reliance, and uniqueness has perpetuated itself through our past. We have embraced this independent spirit, but often with a lack of regard for our true history, as well as for the distortions that this idea brings when over-extended into our public policy.
Many cultures around the world have a more “collectivist” culture. Please note that I am not referring to a political ideal, but rather a cultural one. This is not “collectivism” as a base of shared property and wealth via government ownership, but rather as a cultural ideal where a sense of commitment to family, duty to the greater society, prioritization of group goals, and a sense of honor for others pervades the cultural ethos. In these cultures the actions of the individual are always run through the filter of responsibility and accountability to another greater grouping of people, be it their family, workplace, or society-at-large.
I had the privilege of living in one of these cultures for eleven years.
Living in Japan allowed me to experience the nature of a culture that was comfortable with willingly yielding an individualistic right for the greater good of society. Now, as soon as someone reads that sentence, they may begin to think politically and question whether we should really give up our “rights” for the greater good. Sadly, this is a valid concern because the move toward socialism in our national political scene has created this tension. However, I am not referring to this as a yielding of individual rights, but rather as a lens through which we process this issue of immigration, and here is why.
We make our immigration laws from an individualistic point of view. We ask if that person meets the legal criteria to have a visa as determined by the criteria of our immigration policy. There is nothing inherently wrong with this view. However, when attempting to deal with the quagmire of the immigration debate we have today, this lens of individualism becomes only fodder for greater debate. While living in Japan, I was sponsored by an organization based in Japan. My reason for being there was not based upon my own individual validity to be present in the country, but rather by the shared accountability of the sponsoring organization which avowed to the government that I would meet several criteria. They attested to their understanding that I would not commit a crime, that I would not place a financial burden on society, and that I would operate in a manner consistent with the terms of my visa. I understood as a guest in the country that my sponsoring organization was required to report me to the legal authorities if they knew that I was in violation of these terms, and that the host country had a right to verify all of these assertions as a condition of my continuing presence in their country.
We must ask how we can shift the responsibility of verifying the lawful compliance of the immigrant’s ability to provide support for his or her family, and their willingness to operate in a manner consistent with the law and our democratic ideals. We must ask if there is a way to move a portion of this screening and attestation process from the government to some member of the society; a citizen who can validate, hold accountable, and monitor and report the activity of someone whom they sponsor, thus alleviating the government of the impossible task of individually vetting and monitoring any who wish to be a part of our American culture.
I will not attempt to fully explore the current statutes, various status options, or the complexities of the immigration system, for we have multiple visa status options based upon a person’s employment, diplomatic relations, family relations, and other established criteria (See a listing of categories here), yet none apply to the vast majority of the illegal immigrants whose status is the epicenter of our national debate. This proposal is meant to create conversations which will solve this problem. Those who represent us in the political process have the opportunity to appoint committees, concentrate the research into those who are responsible for these areas, and to enact laws which provide the framework for the particulars. So, while these are broad stroked statements, they are intended to give an example of how we can use a “values-based” conversation to bring resolution to issues which are at an impasse. Please consider the following as a step in that direction.
There is currently a visa status which allows a family member to bring in another family member. In doing so, that family member becomes the “sponsor” of the immigrant. However, this is a flawed system with regard to our immigration dilemma which exists in broader terms. One reason is that there are many living here who do not qualify for this family member visa status as they have no direct relatives who are citizens.
Another reason is that this status requires the sponsor to assure that the one being sponsored is not a burden to society by providing for them. The “sponsor” should not be legally liable for the support of the immigrant. Yet, as seen in the United States Department of Homeland Security U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) form I-864, which is an affidavit of support for a potentially sponsored immigrant by family or some employers, the obligation is shifted to the sponsor for financial support.
Here are a few quotes from that form, which is readily available on the USCIS.gov website:
“If an intending immigrant becomes a lawful permanent resident in the United States based on a Form I-864 that you have signed, then, until your obligations under Form I-864 terminate, the U.S. Government may consider (deem) your income and assets as available to that person, in determining whether he or she is eligible for certain Federal means-tested public benefits and also for state or local means-tested public benefits, if the state or local government’s rule provides for consideration (deeming) of your income and assets as available to the person.”
On the same form, under the section entitled, “What If I Do Not Fulfill My Obligations” there is a section which states,
“If you do not provide sufficient support to the person who becomes a lawful permanent resident based on a Form I-864 that you signed, that person may sue you for this support.”
What? Are you kidding me?
Yes, that is what it says, they may sue you to provide the funds necessary for them to stay here since you “sponsored” them. This is a status which is limited to only a few, and which then shifts the support liability to the sponsor should an immigrant be unable to provide for themselves and their family, for which they could take that US citizen to court and sue them! Something is seriously wrong!
So, here is my solution:
Shift the responsibility for support from the sponsor to the immigrant wishing to stay in this country and require them to contribute to our society. Shift the responsibility for ASSURING this takes place from a governmental agency to the citizen sponsor, who will provide another layer of screening, vetting, monitoring, and reporting which will augment the current functions of Homeland Security and Immigrations and Customs Enforcement already in place. Secure the border and stop illegal immigrants from coming into the country as the security concerns are valid. Resolve the CURRENT illegal immigrant situation as follows, but note that this should be a resolution which has a certain period of time attached to the process, such as a two year window in which these applications can be made, and should only be available for those who have been in the country for a set period of time (perhaps three years) prior to the enacting of the legislation.
The solution is for congress to propose a new temporary visa category, a “citizen sponsorship” visa (CS-1 for the primary family member being sponsored, and CS-2 for their immediate family only).
The sponsor must be a US citizen who has not been convicted of a felony and who has been a US citizen for more than ten years. They may apply to sponsor someone who is CURRENTLY in the country illegally, and who has been here for at least three years. This will stop the flood of those who would rush in during the eleventh hour of congressional deliberation on such a law. Additionally, anyone who has only been here for less than three years has not reached a scenario where they have become so integrated into the fabric of this culture that they cannot return to their home country. Many businesspeople, missionaries, ambassadors and others often go to other countries with their families for limited periods of time and are able to return and reintegrate into their home culture, as should anyone who has been here illegally for less than the three year period required for this CS immigration status.
The immigrant they are sponsoring should be free from any felonies (at which point they should have been deported earlier, but sadly many are not), and must be willing to attest to the following:
They will not commit any felonies, nor will they acquire more than three misdemeanors in a five year period of time. They will financially support themselves and their family at 125% of the federal poverty guidelines, with full knowledge that they will also pay all local, state, and federal taxes. They will not be eligible for any government assistance, disability, social security, or welfare. They will work toward learning conversational English in a five-year period of time. They shall willingly submit an annual reporting of their address, place of employment, and household income. They understand that if they commit a felony, or if they become a burden to society by requiring local, state, or federal assistance, or violate any of these terms, that their status will be revoked and they will be deported.
The sponsor will attest to the fact that they will also fill out an annual report certifying their knowledge that those whom they are sponsoring have not committed a crime (not that they haven’t been caught or prosecuted, but that, to their knowledge, they have not committed a crime), that they are self-sustaining and not in need of government financial assistance, and that they are aware of their current address and location of residence. Should the sponsor fail to annually certify this information, the status will be revoked. Should the immigrant commit a crime and that remain unreported for four months, the immigrant will be deported and the sponsor will be obligated to the cost of the deportation of the immigrant.
This legislation should also attach a financial penalty for anyone who does not report properly. It should also attach a potential legal consequence of fine or imprisonment for someone who has knowledge of illegal or subversive activities and fails to report it. There are, of course, already laws to that effect, but should be heightened for someone who is a sponsor and fails to report such activity known to them.
This “citizen-sponsored” visa status will be only for persons directly known to the sponsor. It will NOT be available to sponsor those who currently live in another country, but only those who have been here illegally for at least three years prior to the time of the legislation passing. This legislation will only allow the status to be available for application for a two-year period of time, at which point the program will expire unless re-approved by congress. Those who attain this visa may renew it for up to 10 years, and be eligible to apply for citizenship after five years.
There should also be strict penalties, including immediate deportation, for anyone who is attempting to coerce or bribe a citizen to sponsor them. This is also one of the reasons the citizen must attest to the quality of character and their social relationship to the intended person(s) to be sponsored. The risk for fraudulent use must be minimized by strict adherence to the annual reporting guidelines, as well as the penalties imposed for unreported knowledge of someone’s illegal or societally dependent behavior which would violate the terms of the agreement. Based not upon the actual violation of these terms, but rather the failure to report, the citizen sponsor should face fines and be barred from sponsoring another immigrant for 10 years.
If an immigrant has been here illegally for a lengthy period of time, and has not yet built relationship with someone who is a citizen who would be willing to “vouch” for them in this way, then they clearly have not sought to integrate within our society and should be considered for deportation. The connections that people have with citizens through work, school, religious affiliations, and social opportunities should be a “collectivist culture” means of attesting to the character, work-ethic, and consistency with constitutional ideals which would give them legal immigration status and perhaps provide a pathway to citizenship.
While some may bristle at the idea that someone here illegally can work toward citizenship, they must remember that this could be a limited program, for a limited period of time, with concurrent tightening of security and immigration controls, and an embedded shift of responsibility from the government to the private citizen to assure that the immigrant does not become a legal or financial liability to the nation. If someone has been here for a long period of time and has not cultivated relationships and integrated into our culture, then perhaps they are not a good fit for our nation and may face deportation.
For those who have done so, providing a means of legitimacy which resolves the ongoing debate would not be a compromise, but rather a creative and cooperative solution. For those who are concerned about security, these concerns are addressed in the reporting now being delegated to a multitude of citizens and reinforced by government oversight. Those concerned about the “civil liberties” concerns of this level of oversight should remember that these are not citizens, but sponsored immigrants, and that other visa statuses have stipulations for monitoring based upon their particular usage. Once documented in this way, these are guests in our country whom we should welcome, but for whom accountability should not be considered a burden.
For those who value compassion, it gives them an opportunity to act in accordance with their professed beliefs and sponsor a family and fulfill the obligations afforded to them. In other words, “put your money where your mouth is,” and sponsor a family for whom you can vouch if your concern for the plight of immigrants is genuine.
I offer this as a practical solution to our current impasse. We will not resolve the immigration crisis in this nation as long as we continue to perpetuate our current polarized debate. Meanwhile, the concerns for security are valid as untold numbers of illegal immigrants continue to have no accountability to the nation in which they reside. While most are certainly good-hearted people with the intention to provide for their families, or even to survive, the focus should not be upon them as problematic, but rather upon the system which allows this to continue unabated. For certainly, among these many who are here for reasons which our altruism may support, there exists a very real and present danger of those who come with sinister intentions, and who operate without accountability and offer a risk to our security. We will also find the harmful results of our impasse in the lives of good people who would embrace a solution if one were offered to them. This solution would address the compassion concerns of those who truly are interested in resolving the humanitarian crisis of illegal immigrants in our nation.
However, be aware that there are many in our political sphere who wish to perpetuate both sides of the argument, not from true concerns over security or compassion, but rather as a means of polarizing, adversarializing, and loyalizing their political base. This is the other reason I offer this potential solution; so that those who truly wish to solve the problems may be known by their attempts to bring creative solutions to the table rather than continually decrying the positions of others and failing to solve the problem.
My earnest prayer is that we can find a solution to this problem, and then work toward the healing of our nation as we find creative and cooperative ways to balance the values which are important and not mutually exclusive: the safety of the body of our nation, and the compassion of our national soul.
©2016 Dan Lumadue, Cape Coral, Florida