THE BLOG
03/01/2013 02:14 pm ET | Updated May 01, 2013

Immigration Reform -- Not Amnesty

The "path to citizenship" is not for everyone.

Some knee-jerk immigration advocates would have the American public believe that nothing less than a speedy "path to citizenship" for 11 million undocumented immigrants is the only just and humane solution to our dysfunctional immigration system.

Nonsense.

As a Spanish-speaking immigration lawyer for 18 years, I have met and counseled tens of thousands of foreign nationals, most of whom sneaked into the United States through the southern border. I have also represented thousands of family members who jumped through all the legal hoops and endured years of separation to be united with their loved ones.

I have yet to meet an immigrant -- documented or undocumented -- who decided to come to the United States so that he or she could vote in a presidential election. Most immigrants come to the United States because it is the land of freedom and opportunity where they can escape poverty, discrimination and rigid class structures. My great-grandparents escaped the pogroms of Eastern Europe; the Mexicans and other Latin Americans vote with their feet to create a better future for their children.

The first generation of immigrants always faces tremendous hurdles and hardships. But somehow they overcome, and enrich this country through their work ethic, family values and entrepreneurship.

Thanks to the 14th Amendment, their U.S.-born children will have the same rights as the rest of us. So while not all first-generation immigrants will become citizens, their descendants will. That in no way creates a "permanent underclass," as the pro-amnesty crowd would have you believe.

Here's another dirty secret: The reason most immigrants become citizens is so they can sponsor their family members to immigrate legally to the United States. One reason our immigration system is so dysfunctional is that it encourages "chain migration" of low-skilled workers rather than attracting the best and brightest foreign scientists and entrepreneurs to strengthen our economy.

Our immigration system makes it easier for the brother of a U.S. citizen to enter the United States as Legal Permanent Resident -- with his wife and minor children -- than to provide a Green Card to a brilliant scientist from China, India or Brazil. In contrast, Canada and Australia base their immigration policies on needed job skills, not family ties.

Incidentally, siblings of U.S. citizens are at "the end of the line." They have the longest waiting period to legally enter the United States. The State Department is now processing visa applications from Mexicans who are the beneficiary of petitions filed in 1996 -- more than 16 years ago. Some Filipinos have been waiting since 1989.

So the "Gang of 8" has promised the American people that any "comprehensive immigration reform" will put beneficiaries "at the end of the line" for Green Cards. No amount of euphemism will hide the fact that the pro-amnesty crowd wants illegal immigrants to cut into line, ahead of the millions of foreigners who have been playing by the rules and patiently waiting for to join their loved ones or enduring bureaucratic nightmares to obtain LPR status.

Some special-interest groups like to toss off surveys showing that the majority of the American people support "common-sense immigration reform."

That is true. But the devil is in the details.

Should immigration reform treat a young, unmarried dishwasher who sneaked into the country last year and was caught driving while intoxicated (and unlicensed) the same as a law-abiding, hard-working, tax-paying couple with three U.S.-born children who fled dire poverty and gang violence in their home country 10 years ago? Of course not.

The 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States are not a monolithic mass. More than 9 million come from "mixed-status families" -- meaning that at least one member of the nuclear family is a U.S. Citizen or has a Green Card.

There is one simple remedy that will address the inequities of any proposed "comprehensive immigration reform." That is to move forward the "registry date."

For more than 70 years our immigration laws have included a provision that gives those people who have continuously resided in the United States since the "registry date" an opportunity to obtain legal status.

Under the current system, any foreign national who can prove continuous presence in the United States since 1972 can apply for a Green Card, regardless of whether they entered legally or illegally. Of course, they have to demonstrate good moral character and other prerequisites for the discretionary grant of LPR status.

Why not simply move that date to 2001? In that way, we can legalize a large number of undocumented immigrants already in the country, and dramatically shorten the line for legal immigrants.

Most undocumented immigrants just want to stay in the United States with their families, and not get deported. A well-regulated guest worker program would serve both humanitarian needs and our national interests. For those immigrants who illegally entered the United States as children, through no fault of their own, just pass the DREAM Act. It's a no-brainer.

And unauthorized immigrants with deep roots in their communities and clean records -- people that we would want as our neighbors -- should have the chance to apply for a Green Card, and eventually to earn U.S. citizenship. That's the American way.

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