Out of Left Field: Immigration reforms — Start deciding

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How do you feel about the H1B visas for high-skilled foreign workers? What about the H2B visas for seasonal workers?

When we move to other considerations of policies and practices, the complexities increase geometrically. How many immigrants should we admit each year? What should be the criteria for admission? How should we address distributions among nations and ethnicities?

Last week’s hearings in the House spotlighted real, mounting emergencies on our Southern border, showing them to be humanitarian family crises, not invasions of terrorists. The U.S. chief executive has declared a national emergency to build a wall: Is that the best approach?

The large global issue of refugees and asylees is seldom adequately explained or understood. Both the folks granted asylum and those accorded refugee status must prove that they have a “well-founded fear of persecution” if they remain in their own nation, but the process and places for U.S. acceptance evaluations are hugely different.

How should our nation respond to the nearly 11 million unauthorized immigrants (critics refer to them as illegals)? Should DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) initiated by President Obama be sustained to protect undocumented people who were brought to this country as children? How do you feel about such a decision being reached by executive order?

Your own views and values on these enumerated issues can be more significant than you may realize. This list for immigrant decisions is far from complete. As indicated in my previous column, Hofstra University plans to be part of national conversations that bring citizens into the immigration deliberation process, using guidelines from the Kettering Foundation for National Issues Forums.

It has been more than three decades since President Reagan and Congress agreed on some major actions. Then in 2013, the Senate mustered 68 votes for comprehensive immigration reform, but that bill was blocked by the Republican Freedom Caucus in the House.

We currently admit 1million immigrants a year, the majority of them guided by the landmark 1965 Immigration Act, which emphasized family reunification. Donald Trump has derided this as chain migration; he calls for new criteria seeking immigrants who can bring skills needed in the United States.

The president also surprised many listeners by saying in his State of the Union Address that he favors an increased number of legal immigrants. His only elaboration so far is emphasizing that approved immigrants should benefit the United States.

Numbers of Americans who are supporters of Trump believe that we already have too much “pluribus” and not enough “unum” in our nation. Any new legislation will need to address their argument that reductions in numbers and in diversity (even pauses in annual immigration) are necessary to reclaim our cultural unity. Reducing numbers, they argue, should be accompanied by more explicit efforts to Americanize newcomers, including emphasis on use of English and ending bilingualism in schools.

Do these advocates have a racial subtext in their cultural anxiety? Could they be comforted if standards are set so more immigrants will be white, not people of color? Some immigrant opponents also call on the United States to deport everyone who is here illegally. They contend that people who operated outside the law should not be advantaged over those who have followed the process of waiting their turn in line.

The nationalities of newcomers in recent decades have been determined by their relatives who preceded them (many were refugees and asylees in the 1960s and ’70s). The unanticipated ethnic consequences of the still prevailing 1965 family legislation mean that the overwhelming majority of newcomers are people of color.

Congress has the power to legislate annual numbers and criteria for admission. When will our elected officials be inclined to act on issues that have gone unattended for decades? These unsettled matters continue to polarize our politics?

The bipartisan 1986 immigration act during Reagan’s presidency sought to resolve the unauthorized problem by granting amnesty and a path to citizenship for three million people.

It seems more likely now that 11 million, currently here unauthorized, are likely to experience a two-step process (with lots of debate and efforts to place restrictions): first, legal permission to stay and work in the United States but with no guarantee of citizenship (the key early trade-off).

More than 60 percent of those who entered without legal authorization have been living in the United States longer than 10 years. They have children born here, now U.S. citizens. Empathetic advocates say those migrant families should not be blamed for U.S. immigration policy failures. If they have obeyed laws in the United States, paid taxes, not committed crimes, it makes no sense to disrupt their lives and those of their children.

Several surveys indicate that most of the unauthorized will welcome the chance to be more secure by accepting legal status in the United States even if there is an explicit declaration that they will not be granted citizenship.

Immigrant leaders and American elected officials are sophisticated enough to recognize that major direction shifts need to be accomplished in gradual stages in order to minimize resistance. The second step will be granting citizenship that follows legal status; the big question is how long it will take, especially as politicians calculate what voting directions newcomers are likely to take.

Another compelling factor in acceptance of the undocumented is recognition of nearly 1 million youngsters who were brought to the United States by their parents while they were under age 18 (the DACA Obama and Trump executive orders are proceeding through the courts).

It is worth noting that President Obama took executive action, granting temporary protected status, only after years of expressing his public frustration with a Republican-controlled Congress that did nothing on immigration. Significantly, Obama made his DACA announcement on June 15, 2012, the 30th anniversary of Phyler v Doe, the Supreme Court decision barring schools from charging illegal immigrant children tuition.

Considerations such as those in this column quickly illustrate complexities of our immigration challenges. We need to reflect on directions for our nation, but we must also be ready to examine trade-offs when we seek comprehensive legislation, especially because many others in our large, pluralistic society will weigh in with their goals and values.

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