THE BLOG

Keeping Families Together Isn't Pandering, It's an American Value

01/14/2012 09:20 am ET | Updated Mar 15, 2012
  • Arturo Venegas, Jr. Former Sacramento Police Chief, Director of the Law Enforcement Engagement Initiative

The Obama Administration announced a rule change last week in their labyrinthine application process for legal permanent residency. It will help keep the spouses and children of U.S. Citizens together. Under current rules, a person can apply to USCIS for a waiver to be united with their family while the application process moves forward. Here's the catch, these individuals must leave the United States and apply in their home country. The new proposed rule change allows the applicant to file for the waiver while here in the United States. If the waiver is granted, they still must return to their home country and complete the residency application process, which may still take some time, but hopefully not years.

Today, under current rules, the family member that applies for the waiver and exits the country in order to apply is prohibited from re-entering the United States for up to 10 years. Even though many are eligible for a waiver, they don't currently apply because leaving will cause lengthy and sometimes devastating separation. According to the White House, about 80% of the waivers are granted and 20% are denied. It scares a lot of families into not taking the risk.

So the new policy will encourage people who are qualified to get legal status here to go ahead and apply for it. What a sensible move--maybe even obvious! But unfortunately, the waiver process the White House just fixed was hardly the only part of the system that ends up working against what the government says it's trying to do. So if the White House really wants our immigration policy to stop shooting itself in the foot, the next announcement it should make is that it's shutting down the 287(g) program and suspend Secure Communities. These programs target the law-abiding immigrants the Administration says should be "low priorities" for deportation, while making it harder to catch the violent felons the Administration says are its highest priority--a contradiction just as big as forcing family members of U.S. citizens to leave the U.S. for Ciudad Juarez to find out if they get to come back in the country or not.

The White House has taken a series of administrative steps, like last week's announcement, to improve immigration policy, since Congress' "my way or the highway" mentality has kept them from doing anything to fix it. ICE has written a series of memos telling agents to stop hauling every DREAM Act-eligible teenager, mother or father of a U.S.-citizen kid, and other law-abiding, long-resident undocumented immigrants into deportation proceedings. But while they're figuring out how to implement that policy, local police are still authorized, under the 287(g) program, to keep rounding up those same "low-priority" immigrants and turn them over to ICE to get deported. And even though ICE keeps claiming that the Secure Communities program only catches serious criminals, the facts prove that most of the people Secure Communities catches and deports either have committed low-level crimes like traffic offenses or are innocent of any crime at all. The good news is that since ICE leadership created these programs and pushed them onto local law enforcement, they can roll them back. Sounds like another common-sense administrative move toward a less backwards immigration policy.

Ending these programs has the added bonus of not requiring cooperation from the ICE union, which is trying to block the other administrative fixes. ICE offices don't have a bottomless budget, nor work in a vacuum. Immigration courts are buried under an unsustainable workload and the costs are going through the roof. Even though last year's memo directed agents in how to prioritize their work, in the end it leaves every decision up to the discretion of local agents and offices. In other words, here's what we would like you to do, which makes sense, but you can use your discretion to continue doing what you do, which makes no sense at all. As of today, the policy has not really changed as the ICE union continues to battle DHS leadership on how business should be done, and the union is using the Republicans, in the form of Lamar Smith, to fight back. One has to wonder who is running the shop.

As in the past, the administration immediately came under fire from Republicans and the right wing groups as pandering to the Latino voters in an election year. Maybe like the Republican candidates all taking super anti-immigrant positions pandering to the conservative right, or Mitt Romney's Spanish commercial in Florida, pandering for Latino votes?

Everyone agrees that the country, and most of the rest of the world, is in an economic mess. Everyone agrees that having millions of people live in the shadows of society is not good for them or the country. Everyone agrees that labor forces over time have created displacement of people and that jobs are going unfilled even as unemployment is still at an unacceptable level. Everyone agrees that fixing immigration has been a can kicked along from administration to administration, of both parties. We can't deny that American policies and business has contributed to the economic mess here and abroad. We can't deny that consumption of drugs in America and exportation of American money and guns has contributed to instability and increased violence in other countries causing people to move to safer ground or seek a better way of basic living. And, unfortunately, we can't deny that even if we agree on sensible solutions, we can't rely on Congress to pass them. So why can't we, at least, agree that the White House should do what it can responsibly to fix policies that do the opposite of what they're intended to?

The President has got to know that the politics in Washington today will not allow him to build the consensus that he searched for when he took office. Meeting halfway was a dream killed by that mentality of "our way or the highway." And guess what Mr. President, it's personal. In a CBS interview with Bob Schieffer and Norah O'Donnel, former Speaker Newt Gingrich called Mitt Romney an outright liar. After being reminded of a prior statement where Gingrich said that a candidate who would lie on the campaign trail would lie to the American people as President, when pressed, he said he would still support a liar like Mitt Romney because, "Barak Obama is tearing the country apart...(Romney) is less destructive than Barak Obama." The Republicans in Congress and the Senate are saying the same thing. Mr. President, you won't get their cooperation on anything short of their agenda.

So, here's some advice, is there any other rule that can be acted upon under Presidential order that can right many wrongs and put the country in a path to sanity and economic recovery. If there is, do it. The majority of the American people will support you. The abyss of our immigration system is destroying lives and hurting our economy. End 287g, put Secure Communities on hold and go after violent felons. Help DREAM kids become American kids. Please, make some sense out of the nonsense.