*all views expressed below are David’s personal views and are in no way representative of his employer or the organization
The topic of immigration is everywhere in the media these days, with everyone–even those who lack knowledge and any type of substantive understanding–feeling like they need to offer some type of opinion. I believe that one of the (few) things that almost everyone in our country can agree upon, however, is that the immigration system is horrendously broken.
So I decided to go to someone who I consider an expert, Catholic Charities’ Director of Immigration Services David Cooper, to find out what his thoughts were on this controversial system. David spends his days answering questions, explaining systems, helping clients apply to become legal residents, and so much more. David has a wealth of knowledge regarding this issue and is one of the most dedicated and well-rounded guys that I have ever met. The following is an excerpt from an interview that I had with him earlier this week.
Me: “Can you tell me, in layman’s terms, what the problem is with the immigration system?”
David: “So the problem really is that the system itself is broken and so is the implementation of the laws that go along with it. What it really comes down to is that the laws are not designed to let people into our country, but to keep them out.”
Me: “Can you elaborate on that. About the laws being designed to keep people out and why that is a problem?”
David: “Sure, so this shows the broken system by showing us that the ‘American Dream’ no longer exists. You know our country was really built on this idea of coming here [United States] from all different parts of the world and of working for a better life and that by bettering yourself through hard work you could be essentially whatever or whoever you wanted to be. But that is not the case anymore. Immigration restrictions prevent it. Unless you are a refugee or a family member of a U.S. citizen, the American Dream is not for you…and that is a betrayal of American values.”
Me: “Why do you say this is a betrayal of American values?”
David: “So pretty much since after World War II the United States has led the world in allowing immigrants and refugees into our country. I think this is directly related to feelings of guilt that surfaced after we did so little to help the refugees from Nazi Germany…it was like an embarrassment. But with the new administration, this trend of being a world leader on this issue has drastically changed. The travel ban and the blocks are not only anti-refugee, but also break from over 60 years of core U.S. tenants. As a country we have had good and bad, but one thing we have almost always led the way in is immigration.”
Me: “Can you explain to me a little more about the situation of people who are currently living in our country illegally?”
David: “So you often hear politicians and the public say that they just want illegal immigrants to leave and come back with ‘fixed papers’ or come back in the ‘right way.’ But the problem is that there really is no ‘right way.’ Depending on what country you are from, the wait to get a visa is insane. For example if you are from Mexico or the Phillipines you would have to wait on the list for over 100 years to get a visa unless you are able to apply under the immediate family category. Also the process is complicated and expensive and there also is the IIRAIRA.”
Me: “The what now?”
David: “So that was the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility law that was passed in 1996, which has greatly contributed to us having over 11 and a half million undocumented immigrants in our country. So this law basically discourages people from leaving the United States if they are here illegally by putting bans on their re-entry. So if someone overstays their period of authorized stay they are banned from re-entering the U.S for x amount of time–3 years, 10 years, etc.–depending on how long their ‘unlawful presence’ was. So they estimate that about half of the undocumented people who live here actually entered the country with a legitimate visa. It basically punishes people for leaving and trying to ‘do it right.’”
Me: “Have you seen any shifts in trends with the instatement of the new administration?”
David: “We definitely have seen more people with questions and a lot more fear. At first we had to deal with debunking a lot of rumors like that Donald Trump was going to take away everyone’s green cards. But more than anything we have seen an influx in green card holders petitioning to become citizens and a lower number of undocumented immigrants coming in. Maybe because of the rumors and fear…who knows…”
Me: “So why should we, collectively, care about the immigration system and its brokenness?”
David: “Well first of all we should care because immigration is good for the U.S. economy. We have a rapidly aging population with a large economy and we are having less and less children everyday. Immigration allows us to have an abundant supply of qualified workers, which is what we need in order to sustain and potentially grow. And I know that many people use the argument that immigrants ‘steal’ jobs from citizens, but that is not true. Immigrants rarely do the same jobs that citizens do, they almost always are competing with other immigrants. We should use Japan as a cautionary tale–their economy is likely to collapse in the next decade or so because of their aging population and their strict immigration policies.”
Me: “So we should care about immigration from a fiscal standpoint?”
David: “Well, yes and no. Yes, it’s good for the economy, but even more important we should care because it is a part of our national identity, or national consciousness. We are a melting pot. The United States of America is a project that we work on together–individuals coming together to build something amazing. You can see it in our history, in the Statue of Liberty…and if we want to prosper as a nation we will see it in our future.”
People are dying. People are suffering. Our quality of life surpasses that of millions if not billions of people on this planet. People who want to work hard, who want to have a chance to be free from overt oppression, terrorism, and mass murder. And we can help. And make our country richer, both in money and culture, in the process. But will we?
David: “We aren’t making space for those who need to leave their situations–people die…The world today is so connected. The things that we [the United States] do have consequences. And the things that we [the United States] don’t do have consequences.”
I would like to know your thoughts about the issue of immigration and the brokenness of the system. Please share your constructive thoughts and comments below.