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 There Is No Line - Deporting immigration ignorance.

Deporting immigration ignorance.

“Do you think we should tell them it’ll take 165 years?” (Senators John McCain, Charles Schumer, and Marco Rubio at today’s press conference)

Today’s announcement from the bipartisan “Gang of 8″ was an exciting step forward toward meaningful immigration reform. They have released a basic four-page working framework which summarizes their intentions for legislation to be shored up within a few months and possibly enacted by the end of the year.

There’s a lot to unpack here, but the most controversial (but least surprising) provision of this framework would provide a path to lawful permanent residency and citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently in the United States.

How long will this path be?  Today’s announcement did nothing to help answer that question:

“Individuals who are present without lawful status… will only receive a green card after every individual who is already waiting in line for their green card, at the time that this legislation is enacted, has received their green card.”

This sentence is so problematic that it is not even wrong.

(1) There is no line. I think we’ve been pretty clear about this. Perpetuating this unhelpful metaphor invites those with only a casual understanding of our system to ask the same old stupid questions about why these people weren’t already “in line” or otherwise “doing it the right way,” and otherwise reinforces the fallacy that there is something that undocumented residents could have done before which they were simply choosing not to. It allows the anti-reform crowd to continue their standard line that we are “rewarding lawbreakers” who could have “done it the right way” without having to acknowledge that there never was a “right way” for upwards of 99% of the people now here undocumented to have done it.

(2) There are several visa-specific “lines,” none of which these new prospective “probationary” immigrants would clearly fit into. I assume that Congress would be creating an entirely new “line” for this process, but, as with everything else in this framework, we’ll have to wait to see what that looks like.

(3) Reading this sentence literally, the first intending immigrant to file under the new proposal would find her application prioritized behind the last person in the slowest visa line, with temporary status assigned in the interim.  However, through the whims of Congress, the State Department, and the arcane formulae which govern global immigrant visa availability, the slowest of all of the “lines” is the one reserved for Mexican siblings of United States citizens. Siblings are the lowest priority (“fourth-preference”) visa category, and Mexico is one of a handful of countries which is “oversubscribed” and has its own separate lines for most visa categories. (It is very important to understand that these “lines” move so slowly not due to red tape or bureaucratic indifference, but because visas to any family members who are not “immediate relatives” (including a US citizen’s spouse, parent, or children under 21) are doled out annually in a carefully-formulated trickle in order to minimize the specter of “chain migration.”)

(4) Someone who is much better at math than I am has calculated [PDF] that at present rates a petition for a fourth-preference Mexican family member will not be approved and leave the sibling eligible to immigrate to the U.S. for 165 years. So barring a complete overhaul of the visa allocation system (which I don’t see anyone proposing) or massive advances in health care which radically extend the human lifespan, I have been advising Mexican clients for some time that there is no practical reason to file for a sibling under the current system. (This is not to say that you might not want to just file a petition just in case things change someday, but I have to take the law as I find it.) Frankly, you might as well buy your brother a square mile on the moon, as he’s more likely to be able to permanently reside there than with you in the U.S. (Especially under President Gingrich, apparently.)

(5) The “Z visa” proposed in 2007 (a similar, but not identical provision) included a measure to fast-track all pending family visas (including the fourth-preference category discussed above) within eight years before making immigrant visas available under the new program.  While this might carry its own set of challenges, I would definitely support this if it had been proposed this time. It is notably missing here, though.

Requiring the undocumented to go the “back of the line” is tough talk. But I will be maintaining a vigilant Linewatch on this one until we are told exactly what this legally meaningless phrase actually entails.




“With those parts that were upheld, we have the strongest immigration law in the country,” [Alabama Gov. Robert Bentley] said.

–”Alabama Wins in Ruling on Its Immigration Law,” The New York Times, 9/29/2011

What’s up, Alabama! Congratulations? I guess?

Thing is, you might as well brag about your state having the best postal service or air force in the United States, or having issued more patents than those layabouts in the Nebraska Patent Office. “State immigration law” is a flat contradiction in terms–by definition, we all have to handle immigration together, or not at all–and the Supreme Court has been pretty clear that determining who is and isn’t here legally is nobody’s business but the feds. I know you hate it when we bring up Neil Young, Alabama, but he kind of had a point when he sang that “you’ve got the rest of the Union to help you along…”

Anyway, best of luck recovering the state resources this law will require to enforce, as well as dealing with the angry, uneducated, hopeless underclass of kids rejected from public schools it will create.

Nos vemos en la corte!

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In what I assume was a sensible cost-cutting measure during tough times, the Boston Herald quietly rolled out the world’s first computer-generated weekly opinion column many years ago. The algorithim is a trade secret, but it appears to be designed to process and regurgitate the week’s news as if it were being explained to you by a bitter old man who hates everything. It also seems to have a built-in quota for a short list of words which will resonate with the Herald’s demo: “moonbats,” “hacks,” “freeloaders,” and, of course, the perenially-popular “illegals.”

Think Ed Anger, without the laffs. I’ve been reading it for years.

To humanize the whole experiment, the Herald has attached the column to a stock photo of a grimacing manchild they’ve affectionately nicknamed “Howie.” (I’ve always thought this was a sly hint to the “author’s” true identity: really, what adult human male would ever go by “Howie”?)

It’s all kind of adorable, really. Most of the time.

“Howie Carr” still has some bugs to work through, though, especially when it comes to trendspotting. Take this week’s big steaming memory dump:

Read more…

The easiest way to win a debate is to get the other side to accept your terms before it’s even begun. Even mentioning, say,death panels,” a shadowy “axis of evil,” a “government takeover of healthcare,” “clean coal,” or “illegal immigrants” is to assume without further discussion that these things exist at all.

They do not.

The phrase “illegal alien” is as inaccurate as it is dangerous, and should be recognized for the slur that it is. “Illegal” is not only demeaning and potentially harmful to the very large population of very real people it slanders, but to the immigration “debate” (such as it is at the moment) as a whole.

We would like to see “illegal” replaced throughout all public discourse with the more accurate “undocumented.” Here’s why.

Immigration violators are not criminals.

Unauthorized presence in the United States, in and of itself, is not a crime.

Although the words “illegal” and “criminal” are all too often combined in the same sentence by those who would like to have you forget this, the national conversation about immigration will never move forward until we can agree that “illegal” immigrants are not “guilty” of anything.

Criminals, by definition, violate our criminal statutes. Undocumented individuals are in the United States in violation of certain provisions of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the civil code which governs American immigration law.

This may all sound very lawyerly, but it is an absolutely critical distinction. Perhaps the easiest way to remember it is to imagine two cars on the highway: one being recklessly driven by someone who has spent her evening drinking heavily, and the other being driven 15 miles over the posted speed limit by an otherwise careful driver. The former is committing a crime for which she may well be facing jail time and a criminal record if convicted, while the latter is merely committing a civil infraction which will result in nothing more than a fine and a bump in her car insurance payments.

Immigration law is not concerned with criminal concepts of guilt or innocence, but merely the administrative classifications of “inadmissibility” and “deportability.” Immigration violators are “charged” with civil offenses such as “unlawful presence” under INA 237(a)(1)(B). They are not subject to criminal sentencing, but rather to administrative punishments such as deportation and/or exclusion from future admission to the U.S. The only point at which they become subject to criminal penalties is upon re-entry after deportation.

It is worth noting that House Republicans briefly attempted to rewrite federal immigration law to criminalize the mere physical presence of undocumented individuals during the 2005 debate over H.R. 4437, but this didn’t get too far. It’s one thing to call people “illegal,” but even Congress could see the idiocy of actually criminalizing their existence.

Which brings us to:

Immigration violators are people.

Stigmatizing the undocumented as “illegal” does nothing but actively encourage abuse and neglect of an already-vulnerable population. It needlessly criminalizes the very existence of an entire class of human beings, and gives us license to ignore, exploit, and abuse our neighbors, employees, and fellow taxpayers.

Would you describe a speeder as “criminal,” “felonious,” “illegitimate,” “illicit,” “lawless,” “bad,” “evil,” “immoral,” “shameful,” “sinful,” “unethical,” “wicked,” “wrong,” “reprehensible,” or “unprincipled”? Read more…

The following was emailed to earlier today. If you agree with it, please be sure to let him know!

Rep. Fattman:

Fun fact: Rep. Fattman's name means "one who kicks rape victims in the stomach"!

No doubt your office has already been made aware of this, but I wanted to be sure to let you know that you were egregiously misquoted in the Worcester Telegram & Gazette in a story published Wednesday, 6/8/11. Regarding your views on victims of violent crimes who happen to be undocumented, the T&G published the following:

“My thought is that if someone is here illegally, they should be afraid to come forward,” Mr. Fattman said. “If you do it the right way, you don’t have to be concerned about these things…”

Wow! I have to assume that this is either a ridiculously unfortunate typo, or someone at the Telegram & Gazette really has it in for you. No doubt what you actually said was that anyone, anywhere, who has been raped, beaten, abused, trafficked, or otherwise exploited in any way “should NOT be afraid to come forward”–ever, for any reason. After all, no reasonable, conscientious, thinking member of a civilized society (most especially an elected official in my Commonwealth) would *ever* publicly take the opposing view. The Telegram & Gazette has obviously juxtaposed these two quotes (leading with the misquote) to portray you as someone who believes that certain people deserve whatever they get–including violent rape–simply because of a civil immigration violation.

Now that this has been brought to your attention, I expect that you will be demanding a correction. I didn’t know much about you before I came across this story, but you seem to have a real commitment to public service and as much of a promising future as a Republican can expect to have here in Massachusetts. It would certainly be unfortunate to be remembered as nothing more than the once-promising state rep who publicly took a stand against rape victims halfway through his first (and only) term.

Then again, if this is what you actually said–or, far worse, as will very occasionally happen when elected officials speak in public, what you actually believe–then I must respectfully suggest that you are completely unfit for any public office, anywhere in the Commonwealth or beyond. Your constituents deserve to know just how little you care about victims of violent crime and the hardworking police and prosecutors who are doing everything they can to protect them; for that matter, so does anyone who casually Googles you. As a public service, I will be posting this letter on my Google-friendly immigration blog ( until you have publicly retracted your statement and issued a sincere apology to the many, many people your stated position will harm–including the law enforcement officers who are unable to bring unknown numbers of violent offenders (some of whom might even go on to hurt people who don’t even deserve to be raped!) to justice thanks to the attitude you have endorsed.

As an immigration attorney, I have had the opportunity to work closely with undocumented individuals who have been victimized beyond any human understanding by people like yourself who believe that their immigration status justifies anything that could possibly be done to them. I’d be happy to introduce you sometime! Perhaps you would like to meet with the 19-year-old trafficking victim who does not know which of the hundreds of men who violently raped her during her excruciating six-month imprisonment in a Texas hotel room is the father of her child, and take the time to explain to her why this was really all her fault because “if you weren’t here, the crime wouldn’t happen.” (After all, she did pay good money to the same traffickers to help her make a dangerous border crossing in a desperate attempt to escape a violent ex-boyfriend–who could possibly say she didn’t bring this all on herself?) Maybe you’d like to sit down with the woman who was trapped as a prisoner in her own home by the older man who seemed so nice before they moved in together, but then kept her captive with threats that he would report her to Immigration; I’m sure she’d be interested to learn why she should have been more afraid to go to the police than she already was. Or–although I suspect you care even less about this scenario than any of the others–the young Brazilian man violently abused into submission and kept as a personal servant and sex slave for years by a wealthy older man who found that occasional threats of reporting him to ICE were easier than paying him for his 60+ hours of work per week. No? That’s probably for the best, since they all continue to have serious problems interacting with men.

If you happen to find yourself looking for a job in 2012, I gather from your résumé that you are perfectly qualified for any number of positions which don’t involve enabling rapists on a state salary. I’m sure the Klan could use a fresh new face for its latest anti-immigrant message… or there’s always the Romney campaign, I suppose.

Minimal regards,

Matt Cameron

The recent tragic murder of Border Patrol Officer Brian A. Terry by bandits while on patrol near the U.S.-Mexican border was a harsh reminder of the daily dangers of the southern border and the courage of the men and women who are risking their lives every day to protect it. Officer Terry was a military and police veteran who was deeply committed to his mission, and his killers (three of whom are now in custody) deserve whatever they get.

But where everyone else saw tragedy, incoming House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-TX) saw opportunity. In a statement issued almost immediately after the sad news became public, he complained that “[t]he Obama administration’s lax enforcement of immigration laws, coupled with calls for mass amnesty, only encourage more illegal immigration,” and asked “[h]ow many more Americans will die before the Obama administration wakes up and starts taking illegal immigration seriously?

Mr. Smith has spent too much time in Washington. Read more…

This headline is so ridiculous that it was just crying to get called out.

For a minute, we shall, as Fox News does, accept the ludicrous premise that foreign-born mothers by the score are having babies on U.S. soil so that about 21-31 years hence, the slowest anchor known to man will finally drop.   If Javier Bardem and Penélope Cruz do want U.S. Citizenship, there are far less convoluted ways to go about obtaining it than scheduling to be in Los Angeles on Ms. Cruz’s due date.

In fact, I’m pretty sure that if the Bardem-Cruzes were so inclined, they could apply tomorrow for a green card, which they would receive relatively quickly.  U.S. immigration laws allow for individuals of international renown (Nobel Prize winners, Olympic medalists, and the like) to obtain green cards awarded to “persons of extraordinary ability.”

Read more…

Today, Senate Democrats took the DREAM (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors) Act off the table, conceding that though the Act passed the House yesterday, there were not enough votes to pass it in the Senate. Had it passed, the Act would have provided undocumented individuals who were brought the United States as children and who have no other pathway to legalization an opportunity to receive legal permanent resident status after attending college or serving in the military for two years.

Sen. Jeff Sessions (R-AL) was one of DREAM’s biggest detractors. In a letter to his colleagues in the Senate posted by Politico, Sessions accuses the Democratic leadership of attempting to pass a “reckless” and “irresponsible” piece of legislation.

Though the DREAM Act is off the table once again, it is worth addressing what its opponents assert will happen if it passes, since the purported content and consequences of the bill color much of the debate surrounding it.

For now, however, I will address only Sen. Sessions’ first objection in his letter.

Read more…

Don’t you love it when a YouTube video’s title gives you a preview of the intelligence of its content?

There are too many lies, glosses, red herrings, prevarications, half-truths, and weird misrepresentations mixed into this lumpy pabulum to possibly pick through in one post, but here are some of my favorites:

1) “These children have all the legal rights that you and I do!” (:08)

Despite Fox’s strained attempts (to be further discussed in this space sometime soon) to ignore nearly 150 years of judicial interpretation of the plain text of the 14th Amendment or write its proper application off as a “loophole,” jus soli (“right of soil,” a.k.a. “birthright”) citizenship is as American as the First Amendment and the seventh-inning stretch. It is, despite what Glenn Beck might try to tell you, also the law of the land throughout the rest of North America and in dozens of other nations.

2) “…as opposed to the usual immigrants who have to wait in line!” (:18)

Which line was that, again? Read more…

There is no line.

Immigration to the United States of America is, as in most developed nations, nothing like a visit to the post office or the DMV. There is nowhere for potential immigrants to walk up and rip off a pointy slip of paper with a number on it while CNN blares into a crowded waiting room. There are no bored clerks behind dusty plexiglass, no uncomfortable wooden benches, no bowl of complimentary mints on the counter. There is no line.

Yet the lie—as with so many of the immigration myths which will be explored in this space—lives on. Both candidates in the 2008 presidential election repeatedly referenced a so-called “amnesty” plan for undocumented immigrants which would include a requirement that previously undocumented immigrants “go to the back of the line” before receiving residency. Both our current President and the army of right-wing media demagogues who oppose him continue to frame the conversation in terms of “the line.” But there is no line.

It is our position that continuing to discuss immigration into the United States in terms of a “line” does nothing to move the conversation forward. This anachronistic shorthand is, at best, factually inaccurate and, at worst, ethically irresponsible when used by anyone who should know better. The image of “the line” presumes that anyone in the world who is willing to wait it out should be able to immigrate to the United States “the right way,” where the simple truth is that upwards of 99% of the population of the Earth simply has no legal ability to do so. It provides haters with more fuel (“why can’t those line-jumpers just wait their turn?”), policymakers with a flawed and incomplete perspective, and citizens and immigrants alike with a way of thinking about immigration which has no grounding in reality. There is no line.

Perhaps a better way to think about current U.S. immigration policy would be to imagine an unbelievably exclusive after-hours nightclub. Read more…