With the on-again, off-again chances of achieving wide-ranging immigration reform, there’s much to be exasperated about. But more frustrating are the smaller, slam-dunk situations that could be settled by other means.
Take the case of Sergio Garcia, who has a law degree and passed the bar exam in California but cannot practice because he is an unlawful immigrant. The state of California is pushing the envelope with a piece of controversial legislation that would allow Garcia to ply his trade even though he’s residing in the U.S. illegally.
A logic-defying law that would allow such immigrants to be admitted to the California Bar is sitting on Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk doing a few things: awaiting the governor’s signature, again challenging the federal government’s supremacy over the states on immigration issues, and antagonizing those who are already against any reform that includes a path to citizenship because it seems to reward those who have broken the law.
What’s needed in this case is not a divisive and ridiculous state-based loophole but a bare minimum of common sense.
For Pete’s sake, can’t someone just grant this guy legal residency?
In the face of a broken immigration system with few prospects for reform, can’t the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services just get their act together and open an Office of Sense and Sanity?
Garcia isn’t some repeat offender who willingly broke the law and is now banking on pity to get him a pass to the front of the proverbial waiting line for citizenship. In addition to having worked his way through college and passed the bar exam on the first try, Garcia has, by all accounts, jumped through every immigration-related hoop he’s been asked to clear.
According to news reports, he applied for citizenship in 1994 on his citizen father’s sponsorship and was approved for a green card in 1995. At that time he was told he would receive a green card as soon as one was available. He is still waiting.
Is there really no one at any of the immigration-related bureaus that has the authority to say, “Someone obviously misplaced this model citizen’s paperwork 18 years ago. Just give him his green card already so that we don’t keep looking like the bozos we clearly are”?
From a simple PR perspective, this seems like a no-brainer — a legally sound instance that could go a long way toward chipping away at the reputation the Department of Homeland Security and all its sub-agencies have of being grievously ineffective.
Then there is the matter of the failed prosecutorial discretion initiative. In June 2010, ICE declared that it would be putting its limited financial and human resources toward removing the unauthorized immigrants who pose the most danger to their communities.
But this is not what has happened.
The Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse at Syracuse University recently released an analysis of ICE information showing that “no more than 14 percent of the ‘detainers’ issued by the government in FY 2012 and the first four months of FY 2013 met the agency’s stated goal of targeting individuals who pose a serious threat to public safety or national security. In fact, roughly half of the 347,691 individuals subject to an ICE detainer (47.7 percent) had no record of a criminal conviction, not even a minor traffic violation.”
Before the ICE policy was implemented, government studies determined — and many law enforcement officials agreed — that “prosecutorial discretion” was the most community-friendly, cost-effective and time-efficient method of dealing with almost 12 million unauthorized immigrants.
But instead of focusing on drug dealers and other vicious criminals, hundreds of thousands of low-risk offenders have gotten the attention that should have been reserved for actual threats to the homeland.
This is yet another example of missing out on a simple chance to pick off the low-hanging fruit. ICE could just follow its stated mandates and focus on the worst of the worst instead of sweeping up corn vendors and car washers. In the process, ICE could gain a measure of respect as purveyors of “smart enforcement” tactics rather than as experts in low-priority persecution.
These examples demonstrate once again the ways our immigration system could be reformed to be more efficient and humane even without a broad overhaul full of difficult compromises. But this would require the one thing that’s missing in all things immigration-related: a modicum of reason.
Esther J. Cepeda is a columnist for the Washington Post Writers Group. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.