This is the state of America’s immigration system in 2017: it can’t keep out accused rapists who’ve been deported ten times, but it can drive the fiancees of Americans out of the country for several months just to keep the paperwork straight. As The Wall Street Journal reports, recipients of Deferred-Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), who were brought to the U.S. as minors by their parents and who have been granted two-year work permits and permission to remain in the US during that time, nevertheless are leaving the country temporarily, because:
By leaving and then returning legally, the immigrants can then more easily become eligible for a green card, or permanent legal residence, if they marry an American.[..]
DACA beneficiaries also are allowed to travel abroad for humanitarian, educational or employment purposes and legally re-enter the country, if they obtain “advance parole.”[…]
Without a legal entry in their passport, those unlawfully in the U.S. who marry an American must return to their country of origin and apply for a special waiver at a U.S. consulate, a process that can strand them for several months or longer.
“They are converting their original illegal entry as a kid into a legal entry,” said Randall Caudle, a San Francisco immigration attorney who said he is trying to get advance parole for several DACA clients before Jan. 20, when Mr. Trump takes office.
While the unilateral executive action by which the President created DACA is controversial, virtually everyone involved in the immigration debates believes that in any resolution to the current impasse, these are exactly the kind of citizens who would be allowed to remain legally in the country. What’s more, spouses of U.S. citizens, if abroad, currently are entitled to enter the country legally and remain. So in effect, people are having to leave the country for several months, with all the concomitant effects on work and studies and family life, to satisfy a bureaucratic requirement.
Meanwhile, ABC News reports that:
A Mexican man accused of raping a 13-year-old girl on a Greyhound bus that traveled through Kansas had been deported 10 times and voluntarily removed from the U.S. another nine times since 2003, records obtained by The Associated Press show.
Three U.S. Republican senators — including Kansas’ Jerry Moran and Pat Roberts — demanded this month that the Department of Homeland Security provide immigration records for 38-year-old Tomas Martinez-Maldonado, who is charged with a felony in the alleged Sept. 27 attack aboard a bus in Geary County. He is being held in the Geary County jail in Junction City, which is about 120 miles west of Kansas City.
All the usual caveats apply to this story—notably that the man in question has been charged but not found guilty. Nevertheless, the contrast between the immigration bureaucracy’s ability to make life a pointless hell for the largely-blameless DACA recipients and its inability to keep out an accused criminal who had already had to be removed from the country nineteen times is striking.
Many of those most passionately involved in immigration politics steadfastly focus only on one side of the coin. On the one hand, the Ann Coulters of the world offer what David Frum has called the “reverse valedictorian” spin on immigration: “instead of the usual heartwarming stories of immigrant success, she immerses the reader in incidents of immigrant crime, failure, and welfare abuse.” Those who see only this side of the coin form the constituency to whom Donald Trump was appealing when he said that Mexico was sending its rapists to the U.S.
On the other hand, the Left is commendably aware of the problems illustrated by the DACA story: after a generation and a half of immigration legal and illegal, the lives of immigrants are entwined inextricably with those of other Americans, as fiancees and spouses and parents, as well as as employers and business partners and so forth. It is a matter not only of abstract justice but also of the interests of American citizens to find a fair solution here.
But the immigration-activist Left has taken this insight and reduced it to two positions increasingly held as absolutes: amnesty is the end-all and be-all of immigration reform, and enforcement per se is bad. This emerging dogma ignores the fact that many people, including those who hold generally pro-immigration views, want and have a right to expect protection from the subset of illegal immigrants who are also criminals in the normal sense.
Obviously, there’s a lot middle ground on which most Americans can and do meet. But equally obviously, there’s been a failure to translate that agreement into policy. All signs indicate that the immigration bureaucracy has become deeply dysfunctional. The Obama Administration, despite loud protestations that it has been prioritizing criminal enforcement, clearly spent its energy finding ways around immigration laws, not enforcing them; in the process it sacrificed what little credibility the left still had on that front. Meanwhile, after the center Right and center Left have made multiple attempts to repeat the failed Reagan amnesty (burning through much of the centrists’ own credibility in the process), the restrictionist Right has adopted a hold-the-line approach that provides few answers to Americans with loved ones stuck in bureaucratic limbo for years.
The good news is that the ground is starting to shift on this issue (though the bad news, of course, is no one can be sure exactly where to). As it does, everyone would do well to consider that there’s more than one type of immigration reform. Overhauling the bureaucracy to tighten enforcement while relieving the more deserving from the need to jump through pointless hoops is less grand than a “comprehensive” bargain. But it’s the kind of thing that could restore public trust, while probably making more of an impact on the lives of the average immigrant than pushing for increased future flows or hammering out precisely what exactly legal status will entail in a future amnesty, up front. And it might just lower the temperature in the room enough to make longer-term compromise more feasible.