From the Advocacy Committee
September 24, 2023
Immigration policy in the United States is outdated. The laws governing immigration have not been overhauled since 1965. The system is not a good policy match for the type of immigration regulation we need today. The solution to this problem is to reform the laws instead of demonizing immigrants. Immigrants are struggling through a system that often makes no sense.
We do not have the immigration system we need because immigration policy is frequently held back by fear. Some politicians view immigration as a wedge issue that they can use to divide us. These politicians invent something to fear as a tactic to generate votes for themselves.
What needs to be fixed?
Increase Opportunities for Legal Status
The law currently sets categories of legal immigration and places yearly quotas on those categories. Both the categories and the quotas are out of touch with today’s needs. For example, it is very difficult for a home health aide to obtain permission to immigrate. Additionally, the opportunities for entrepreneurs are limited.
Also, the law insists on deportation instead of pathways to gain or maintain legal status. The grounds for deportation are very broad and the opportunities for relief from removal are very sparse. Minor mistakes made long ago can still lead to deportation, even if the person has completed any obligations imposed by the criminal justice system and even if the individual has a US citizen spouse or child. Immigration law is civil law, not criminal law, and deportation is a severe punishment. Deportation should be used more judiciously and saved for the most serious cases. Others should have a chance to stay.
Asylum and Refugee System
Those who are fleeing persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion will receive protection under US law. There is nothing illegal or distasteful about applying for asylum. The law expressly allows for it.
Recently, however, policies have been implemented that decrease access to the asylum system. Instead of improving the system, individuals are diverted from the system. These diversions include requiring asylum applicants to wait in dangerous conditions in Mexico while their applications are processed, requiring applicants to meet additional procedural hurdles as a means of discouraging applications, and subjecting applicants to abbreviated hearings that discount due process. The US should pursue a system for processing asylum applications that elevates rights and protects the people applying for protection. The federal government also should work to help localities welcome asylum applicants.
Immigrants, Crime, Contributions, and Human Rights
Studies show that immigrants are less likely to commit crimes. Also, immigrants make tremendous contributions to our society. We should not limit ourselves, however, to justifying our treatment of immigrants by referencing what they do for us. We need policies that recognize the dignity of each individual and that promote human rights because that is the right thing to do, regardless of any benefit we receive in return. The next overhaul of our immigration laws should keep this in mind.