Alternative paths could relieve immigration issues

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By Sherry Robinson

One New Mexican’s letter to the editor posed a good question recently: Why is Sen. Marco Rubio, a Cuban-American, the go-to guy on immigration reform?
Cubans, largely welcomed into this country, have had a far different immigration experience than Mexicans. And Florida isn’t exactly on the frontlines of immigration issues.
We also have to ask why there are no New Mexicans in the “gang of eight” United States Senators immigration legislation.
We easily have as much at stake as Arizona. Because the gang has yet to reach an acceptable compromise, the door is open for somebody with credibility to have an impact.
That somebody is Gov. Susana Martinez, a Mexican-American who grew up in a border city, a lawyer, and the governor of a border state.
There is no single answer to immigration issues, she said last week during an interview on Fox News.
“There are several solutions, but we absolutely have to secure the border first,” to stem the flow of illegal immigrants. And she reminded listeners that people from all over the world come across the U.S.-Mexico border.
“Children who come here with no say so should be treated differently” from adults who knowingly break the law, she said. And we should encourage immigration of people who will attend our universities and contribute to our economy.
With the proposed pathway to citizenship, Martinez said, “you disrespect the people in the front of the line who’ve been doing the right things to become citizens.” She sees another path, a “legal status,” that allows people to be here “and not be in the shadows,” to hold jobs, go to school and pay taxes but not become citizens. It’s not an original idea, but it carries weight coming from Martinez.
The bill before Congress would allow legal employment of low-skilled foreign labor, and highly skilled workers (translate: engineers and computer jocks) could enter.
The bill also calls for better border security.
Now consider the comments a few days earlier of Martinez’s fellow Las Crucen and legal beagle, federal District Judge Robert C. Brack. He’s earned a distinction he neither sought nor desires: He has sentenced more people than any other federal judge — 7,020 (about 100 a month) between 2006 and 2012, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse.
Not drug dealers or pedophiles, mind you, but undocumented immigrants.
Judge Brack complained that thousands of people enter his courtroom with no criminal background and exit as felons, which means that because they got caught, they will probably never achieve citizenship.
It used to be that illegals caught by the Border Patrol were released in Mexico or given an order to appear in immigration court for civil proceedings, but the Bush administration began prosecuting them, and the Obama administration has continued the practice.
While some of his peers, along with the U.S. Border Patrol, consider the court action a deterrent, Brack told the Wall Street Journal he sees it as a misuse of the criminal justice system.
In going public, he admitted he’s trying to influence the immigration debate in Congress, an unusual step for a member of the court.
“Every day I see people who would never have been considered as criminal defendants two years ago,” he said.
Brack proposes a route to legal residency for people who have been torn from their families and deported. Case in point: Luis Renteria-Terrazas, 75, who came here under a World War II-era guest worker program and stayed. He was later deported and, when he tried to return, was charged in court.
“He was punished and branded a felon for doing the very thing we invited him to do at a time when it suited our needs,” Judge Brack wrote.
Some of those branded felons are criminals and deserve to be kicked out, but a great many don’t.
In its elegant simplicity, the legal path would keep families together.