On March 17, in response to my letter addressed to the White House about my immigration case, President Barack Obama wrote back in an email message: “America’s immigration system is badly broken, and I know many people are hurting because of it.”
Because I am among more than 5 million legal immigrants in pending status, any decision the federal government –either the White House or Congress – makes on immigration will likely have a consequence on my status in the U.S.
In 2011, with a few thousand dollars in my pocket, I arrived in this country seeking shelter from persecution and corruption that forced me to leave my home. I crossed the border legally – I had a valid entry visa to come to the United States. Additionally, although it was tempting, I never accepted illegal employment opportunities and did not take any shortcuts in my pursuit of the American Dream.
Recently, when Obama announced his willingness to bypass Congress and act unilaterally to enforce immigration changes that will offer legal paperwork to as many as 5 million undocumented immigrants, I and many others in my situation felt devastated. And here is why.
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Yes, Obama is right. Our immigration system is badly broken. However, his executive order cannot and will not solve the problem. He offers a short-term solution as any president who is elected to run the Oval Office after him will have a chance to overrule his executive order.
In the past, Presidents Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush also granted amnesty to illegal immigrants. But decades later, the problem of illegal immigration has not been solved by their executive orders. On the contrary, with estimated 11.7 million individuals, the number of undocumented aliens is on the rise.
Moreover, there is another consequence for Obama’s action: Our immigration system runs at its maximum capacity. Try to file an immigration application with the federal government, and you will experience longer waiting times to get your paperwork processed.
For example, more than 40,000 asylum applicants – those who take a legal path to stay in the U.S – live in legal limbo waiting for decisions on their cases. I have personally waited almost two years now because the resources of the federal government to handle immigration petitions are already stretched.
In order to process millions of new applications, the immigration authorities will have to draw tremendous administrative resources, not to mention financial costs associated with it. And this will happen at the expense of other applicants who are already waiting in a queue and are, oftentimes, backlogged in the system.
In other words, by granting paperwork to millions of undocumented immigrants, we treat unfairly those immigrants who come to the U.S. legally: Their paperwork will experience significantly more delays, and any incentives for them to stay here legally will be diminished.
Historically, America has been a country of immigrants. Immigrants fight our wars, they invest in our economy, they start multibillion-dollar corporations and they strengthen our academia. But immigration must be regulated. And any policies in this regard must be long-term solutions driven by our commitment to serve the American citizenry, not by political ambitions of those in the nation’s capital.
Our elected officials should understand that granting temporary relief to illegal immigrants results only in putting a few stitches on the bleeding wound of our “badly broken immigration system.”
Yet we must also realize that there will be no way to prevent the influx of immigrants to the U.S. For as long as America remains one of the best countries in the world, people will come here in their pursuit of happiness. Halting immigration defeats the purpose of the American Dream.
We will be better off if we identify a middle ground in our otherwise radical approaches to illegal immigration. Such a viable solution will include making legal immigration easier and illegal crossings a less desirable course of action.
Otherwise, granting paperwork to millions of undocumented immigrants who cross the border and intentionally violate the U.S. laws sends out the wrong message to potential émigrés.
True, we are a nation of immigrants, and America is a country of opportunities, but these opportunities should be available on a legal basis. At the end, we are also a nation of laws, and it is our system based on law-abiding behavior that makes us so attractive and sets us apart from other nations across the globe.
Geysar I. Gurbanov is a Rotary Fellow at Duke-UNC Chapel Hill Center for International Studies in Peace and Conflict Resolution. His opinion is his own.