One of the most disconcerting aspects about the immigration laws in the United States is how the laws and rules change. It is not that they change – it is that the change makes a “documented” immigrant suddenly an “undocumented” one because no US administration wants to deal directly with the dysfunctional immigration system. Case in point is DACA, or the “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals”.
I realize some of you are going to argue that DACA did not make someone “documented” that was already “undocumented” as it was a stop-gap measure enacted by Barack Obama to deal with one of the various immigration issues. The fact is that DACA demonstrates how immigrants have a hard time coming out of the shadows even when an administration is extending an olive branch.
It happened to me.
Back in the 1980’s, Ronald Reagan pushed forth immigration reform. Although I have shared this with you before, there are many new readers that may not be aware of it so I’ll share it again. Out of all the members of my nuclear family – siblings and my parents, I am the only one that is not a US citizen. Both my parents became naturalized citizens and both of my siblings were born in the United States. Even with that set of facts, I could not immigrate to the United States the “right way” because it meant putting my life on hold for about twelve years. What I mean by putting my life on hold is I could not have children, get married or change jobs until my paperwork was complete from inception to finally attaining the “green card” or residency status.
Ronald Reagan enacted the “Immigration Reform and Control Act” in 1986.
My family and my friends encouraged me to apply but I refused. There were two reasons. The first is that I am a proud Mexican citizen and I was not about to admit “guilt” for entering the United States. Although I was not undocumented, there was a gray area of legally being in the United States but not living in it. It was a gray area brought forth by the broken immigration system. One of the requirements for the Reagan legalization measure was providing “proof” of being in the US for an extended period. Through my business activities and education, it was a simple matter for me to provide the necessary documentation for proof. Yes, I paid taxes although I did not “live” in the US and no, I am not a criminal. I could have easily benefited from Reagan’s measure, even though I was not living in the US.
The second reason is that I did not trust the system sufficiently to put my name in only for the rules and laws to change later forcing me into a predicament I did not want to be in. I still do not trust the system and Donald Trump reinforces my distrust. My family and friends accused me of being naïve, fearful or both. For years, they kept reminding me how wrong I was.
However, I noticed how things changed over the years. I noticed how suddenly a criminal offense, like a DUI, was suddenly grounds for being expelled from the country even if the offense had occurred years before and the debt to society had been paid. In other words, the DUI wasn’t an impediment for being “legal” in the country and even though the immigrant had kept out of trouble for many years, their previous violation was suddenly the cause of being expelled from the country.
Imagine, if today, you legally purchase a gun and as part of the process you filled out a form with your address and it was submitted to the government. Suddenly a new administration takes over and suddenly there are government agents at your door step demanding you turn over your gun.
Would you find that fair or even proper?
Part of the problem with the immigration issue is that none of the administrations have wanted to deal with it directly and thus there is a hodgepodge of various laws and rules sometimes contradicting each other that determine whether you processed the “right way” or not.
Today’s DACA holders, who came out of shadows to become productive members of society, are now faced with the fear of the Donald Trump administration knowing where they live and wondering how soon the Trump Deportation Force will be at their door steps ready to throw them out of the country.
Do you know what the immigration lawyers are telling their DACA clients?
Move and don’t tell the government where you moved to. In other words, the lawyers are encouraging their clients to break the law.
Did you know that as a lawful resident, I must tell the US government where I live every time I move? I’m sure the DACA beneficiaries must do the same. So now they are faced with complying with the law or breaking it.
How would you like to have to make that choice? That is the underlining reason why immigrants are fearful of coming out of the shadows and why the immigration system will not get fixed until everyone admits it is broken.