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Immigration ills

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System in the U.S. punishes the wrong people

By Sherry Robinson

When she was two years old, “Maria” crossed the Rio Grande from Mexico on her mother’s back. She grew up as an American, graduated from high school in New Mexico, married a Navajo man and started a family.

She’s now alone in a rundown apartment in Juarez, one of the planet’s most violent cities, far from her husband and children. Part of the price of trying to obtain legal residency is to first leave the country and wait for the immigration bureaucracy to creak forward. She speaks poor Spanish; to her, Mexico is the foreign country.

Maria’s experience, described in a recent publication of the New Mexico Bar Association, is typical for people trying to do the right thing.  

Our immigration system is a disaster. It punishes the wrong people. It’s so complicated and punitive, it actually encourages people to enter and stay illegally. It’s costly and ineffective, a nightmare of pointless hurdles and paperwork. And it’s cruel.

Some immigrants hire lawyers, if they can afford them, but that’s no guarantee; lawyers are equally frustrated trying to navigate this labyrinthine legalscape.

Immigration reform isn’t that complicated. We need an efficient, equitable way to admit a certain number of immigrants and keep out the rest. It’s part processing, part policing.

While Congress argues, much could be done administratively. In 1990 the General Accounting Office issued a scathing report, saying the Immigration and Naturalization Service was inept and disorganized, its paper pushers ill-trained and rude, its rules arbitrary, its fee schedule a form of extortion.

Nothing has changed except the name, which is now Citizenship and Immigration Services. Regardless of congressional action, the agency still hasn’t learned the “citizenship” and “services” parts of its job. What’s the administration waiting for?

Last week, while the League of United Latin American Citizens met in Albuquerque, the Albuquerque Hispano Chamber of Commerce passed a common-sense amendment to its position statement on immigration, strongly opposing Arizona’s new law because it affects a single group of people.  However, “boycotting Arizona or Arizona businesses would place an unfair burden on all small businesses,” the chamber said.

The AHCC’s position on reform sounds much like the one recently issued by the Association of Commerce and Industry of New Mexico. It calls for an adequate flow of legal immigrant workers, expansion of foreign worker programs, an effective verification system for employers, a criteria-based program to legalize undocumented workers, respectful treatment of foreign workers, and effective border security. ACI and AHCC both insist on keeping families together.

ACI, now organizing a new coalition called Employers for Immigration Reform, also makes it clear that employers shouldn’t bear the burden of enforcing the laws.

What do our candidates for governor have to say? Both candidates would repeal the law that allows illegal immigrants to obtain driver’s licenses.

Democratic candidate Diane Denish’s Web site (dianedenish.com) offers only a terse statement about improving border security.

Republican candidate Susana Martinez (susanamartinez2010.com) talks about both the immigration side and the policing side of the problem, to her credit. She reminds us of her work prosecuting border-related cases and convicting “members of Mexico’s most violent drug cartels.” She opposes providing illegal immigrants with lottery scholarships.

Then Martinez bravely steps away from her conservative base in addressing the human side of the problem: “While it is critical to preserve the rule of law and take reasonable steps to secure our border, we must also never forget that we are a nation of immigrants. We must enhance our security systems along the border and prosecute those who violate our laws, but we must do so while recognizing that legal immigrants who follow the rules come to America seeking to improve their lives and the lives of their family, strengthen our nation.”

It’s an interesting statement – more than Sarah Palin would advocate but less than the business groups are seeking. It’s a step in the right direction.