Nearly every discussion I have with someone who is opposed to immigration eventually includes my opponent saying something like this: “I am not against immigration. I am against illegal immigration. I have no problem if immigrants come here legally.” I have always had a strong skepticism of this particular position. Most anti-immigrant people are unaware how limited the options for legal immigration are. Most anti-immigrant people are unaware of backlogs, priority dates, age-outs, one year filing deadlines, stop-time rules, and the fact that, for many people, THERE IS NO LINE. Most anti-immigrant people do not know that, unless an immigrant has a close family member who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, or an an employer who is willing to sponsor her over a multi-year process costing thousands of dollars and effort, the options for legal immigration are particularly meager. So, I gamely try to explain these concepts. Most people lose interest in the particularities of immigration law pretty quickly and I conclude that they don’t want to understand and really have a problem with immigration per se and not with illegal immigration.
I get why people say that they are not against immigration, just illegal immigration. Posturing oneself as being about the “rule of law” and claiming to love legal immigrants who “play by the rules” and rejecting those who simply refuse “to get in line,” allows a person to believe that he is not against immigrants as a group. Some anti-immigrant folks like Iowa Congressman Steve King have managed to get past that concern and regularly make statements showing that they dislike immigration because of what they think immigrants do to the white Western European culture they think they live in. But most people don’t like to be so brazenly racist. It is not cool. So they cling to this fallacy that they are against illegal immigration but love, love, love, legal immigrants.
I am sorry to say, friends, but the Trump administration has proven to be a great revealer of truth. Not the administration itself. They lie about everything. The administration has forced everyone in this country to reveal who they truly are. And guess what? The evidence strongly suggests that anti-immigrant people are, well, anti-immigrant. Don’t worry, we knew it all along.
For all the tough talk on bad hombres and walls, this administration has pursued a war on legal immigration. The calls to end the Diversity visa (the “visa lottery”), the specious attacks on chain migration (formerly known as family based immigration) and the recent proposed changes to rules for highly skilled professionals (H-1B visa holders mostly from India and China) have shown that the administration is not solely against illegal immigration but is against immigration itself. These moves by the administration have fired up the President’s base, revealing that this movement was always about immigrants and not about illegal immigration.
Take the sudden newly pressing issue of “chain migration.” This is not a term that immigration professionals use. It is a term invented by anti-immigrant groups to give a misleading narrative that every immigrant gets to bring in her cousins, uncles, great-grandparents and best friend. Immigration professionals call this “family based immigration.” For decades, immigration policy has operated under the principle that keeping families together is good policy. Thus, if an immigrant gets a green card through work, her wife and children under 21 will also receive green cards. Also, a U.S. citizen over 21 can bring his parents to the U.S. These rules reflect our social belief that society is better when families are together. The Republican party has long billed itself as a defender of families. Yet, the attacks on chain migration reveal that today’s Republican party rejects this vision. By seeking to end “chain migration,” the administration says that it opposes family unification, which often takes several years, by the way, and is against the entrance of more immigrants into the U.S. These vehicles for immigration have been part of our law for decades. It is “legal” immigration, yet it is under attack by the administration and its followers.
The potential changes to the rules regarding H-1B visa holders and their efforts to get a green cards also show that the administration is against immigrants and their effect on “our culture.” H-1B visa holders work in the U.S. temporarily in professional positions, such as software engineers, architects, accountants and many more. The law provides them six years of temporary visa status. The law requires that they get paid the prevailing wage for their position and receive equivalent benefits to similarly employed U.S. worker colleagues. Many employers, convinced of their value to their workforce, seek to petition for permanent residence for their employee so that they may legally employ her after the expiration of those six years. This process is cumbersome and time-consuming. In addition, processing delays and visa backlogs routinely meant that H-1B employees’ six years of status would expire before they were authorized to work through the green card process. To address this, Congress passed the American Competitiveness in the 21st Century Act in 1998 which allowed H-1B employees waiting in backlogs in the green card process to extend their H-1B status beyond six years, keeping them working in the U.S. as the green card system slowly churned. How slowly does it churn? For an Indian software engineer with a master degree to receive residence through employment today, her employer would have needed to start the green card process prior to November 2008. The 1998 law allows her to keep working while she waits, even though her six years of H-1B status are long expired. New rules proposed by the administration seek to undo this bargain. Again, the administration is taking aim squarely at legal immigration. These are people who followed the rules, got in line, contribute productively to their workplaces, and accepted the government’s process and limitations so that they could receive residence. The administration disdains and dishonors that commitment, laying bare the fallacy of every anti-immigration person that they are only against illegal immigration.
Finally, the diversity visa. The administration has gone to absurd lengths to provide false information about it. The narrative expounded by Trump (and maybe he really believes this) is that foreign governments decide who gets sent to the U.S. visa the visa lottery. They “send their worst people here,” according to Trump. This is not true. The U.S. government, and not foreign governments, decides who gets to come to the U.S. The U.S. government conducts a lottery and submits every single person who applies for a visa to the grounds of ineligibility. Crimes, terrorist ties, previous removals, fraud, serious illness, inability to support oneself, are all disqualifiers. Maybe a lottery is a foolish way to give out visas. That is a legitimate debate. Let’s have an honest debate about it and understand what it is and not rely upon patent falsehoods promoted by the administration. Whatever its flaws, the diversity visa remains a link to the idea that all you need to make it in America is a dream and a willingness to work and fight for it. The diversity visa is a legal immigration program that opens the doors of this country to those who are willing to leave everything behind for the chance to become and American. The attacks on it are dishonest and also undermine the claim of the anti-immigrant folks that they are only opposed to illegal immigration.
So, the next time, you are asked “what don’t you understand about illegal,” or hear someone say “why don’t they just do it the legal way,” feel free to call them out on their obvious anti-immigrant bias. None of the people who claim to be solely against illegal immigration are doing anything to make legal immigration possible. To the contrary, the administration they elected is doing everything it can to undermine legal immigration. It does not take a lot of thought to figure out why that is. At least Steve King says it out loud.