Here's an op-ed of mine that recently appeared in the Asbury Park Press Sunday Edition in the Opinions Section (July 8, 2012).
"Is there a middle ground?"
by Paris Lee, Esq.
Is there a middle ground for addressing the problem of the millions of people who are here illegally? There certainly is, but getting there involves a delicate balancing of factors and attitudes that don't necessarily mix, especially in today's politically charged climate. Immigration is one of the most divisive, polarizing topics out there today, as evidenced by the public reaction both ways to President Obama's executive order halting deportation efforts for "DREAMers" as well as the Supreme Court's partial dismantling of Arizona's controversial and restrictionist SB1070 law. Getting to a "middle ground" involves disabusing the public as well as some politicians as to what immigration reform is. Not every proposed law about immigration is an "amnesty," which, simply put, would represent the extreme end of the spectrum: basically, allowing people who have been here illegally to apply for their permanent residence with little restriction beyond showing physical presence in the US since a certain time. The Deferred Action Program for DREAMERS under President Obama's order (young adults under the age of 30 who came to the United States before the age of 16, and who have high school degrees and no criminal record) is not an amnesty, as some believe. It is merely an exercise of Prosecutorial Discretion by the Department of Homeland Security to not actively seek removal of this class of individuals notwithstanding their legal deportability. However, it does not confer or lead to permanent residence, as a more comprehensive plan like the original DREAM Act envisioned. It merely grants deferred status for a period of two years, after which individuals would presumably have to reapply, assuming the policy is still in place in the future.
This is certainly a step towards fixing what almost everybody would have to acknowledge is a broken immigration system. An even better step, however, would be to work towards another legalization program for those who may have entered the United States without inspection or fallen out of status--one in which applicants would still have to demonstrate a basis for permanent residence (or green card), whether it through family relationships or employment. Applicants would still have to wait their place in line, and would not jump ahead of people who are playing by the rules. At the same time, though, they would have the opportunity to legalize their status here in the United States, instead of living on the fringes of society as a shadow citizen. The program would obviously have to have a physical presence cut-off date, i.e., you had to have been here before a certain time, and of course, the applicant could not have a serious criminal record. Penalty fees and perhaps back taxes might also be in order and appropriate. Restoration of Section 245i of the Immigration and Nationality Act would be a step in this direction (Section 245i, which expired in April of 2001, allowed aliens who had applications filed for them before April 30, 2001, to "adjust" their status here in the Untied States on the basis of a family or employment petition, even though they may have entered the Untied States without inspection or failed to maintain their status.) Resuscitating the DREAM ACT, as opposed to DREAM Deferred Action, is another step towards a middle ground. Both of these measures do not absolve illegal aliens of their civil immigration violations. There are certain criteria that have to be satisfied. However, provisions such as these recognize that certain people are here already; they are not leaving; many have settled here peaceably with substantial equities; and many just want to assimilate lawfully into and contribute to a society that they have come to call their home. These generous provisions would have to be balanced, of course, by continued border enforcement as well as fraud recognition and deterrence, but it is possible. Unfortunately, it is not so much measures as attitudes that have to be fixed in order to repair the system.