Foreign Policy Blogs

Resolving America’s Immigration Issues One Policy At A Time

The Arizona-Mexico border fence is seen near Naco, Arizona, March 29, 2013. REUTERS/Samantha Sais/File photo

The Arizona-Mexico border fence is seen near Naco, Arizona. (Samantha Sais/Reuters)

No one really knows the exact number, but with an estimate of between ten and twenty million non-status immigrants in the United States, resolving America’s immigration quagmire is nearly impossible. For a legal system based on individual rights and consequences to apply justice in its intended manner, the millions of non-status immigrants that are in the United States must be acknowledged and processed as identifiable individuals.

Without a new and innovative path to legal status and a method for removing those who could be potentially harmful to communities in the United States, there will be no resolution without a massive political fallout and a human rights tragedy upon the application of traditional immigration policies.

The current language on immigration reform is not as inventive as many on both sides of the political spectrum may perceive it to be. During the last months and transition from the Bush to Obama Presidency, there was bipartisan support for a significant barrier on the southern border of the United States. While the barrier had some support from both parties, the cost of building such a barrier was not justifiable at the time. The 2008-2009 economic downturn that came about in the same time period affected immigration to such a great degree, that non-legal immigration to the United States from Latin America fell considerably.

Since the 2008 economic crisis, illegal immigration to the United States never recovered in any substantial way to its pre-2008 levels and the idea of building a wall on the southern border was shelved until the 2015-2016 election campaign. Even with the idea of the barrier being proposed by the Trump Administration, the application of a new immigration policy is still hampered with traditional limits to resolving the larger issue.

Some agreeable perspectives from both sides of the issue should be acknowledged if any resolution will become reality. It should be acceptable that the United States should have control over its own border, and be able to apply this control when required as a nation state with a contiguous southern border. It should also be acknowledged that a policy to remove illegal immigrants from the United States without strict guidelines based on human rights and the rule of law would most likely lead to an abuse of administrative powers by authorities who may ignore individual rights of citizens and non-citizens alike.

A path to citizenship must exist for non-status immigrants that satisfy the rule of law and the needs of the United States, but also be developed in a manner that creates confidence and trust in the process against abuse and against a lack of fairness in its application. A new approach is needed for a resolution to take place, one that develops and promotes confidence on both sides of the issue.

For a new immigration process to work, it must be based in reality. It will be almost impossible to remove ten to twenty million individuals from the United States in a simple manner, and this large number of people, often with American born children and relatives, are an integral part of the culture and economy of the United States. To begin, an initial smaller group of people should be self-identified and have their contribution to the US economy, community, employer and family reviewed by officials of the United States to determine their contribution to American society, and if deemed a productive part of their community and society, be given a path to full citizenship within a four to six year time frame.

Self identifying by non-status immigrants without the threat of deportation allows for individual identification of productive members of American society and brings those who already are in American communities into the larger fold. This will allow millions of the best contributors of the formerly unknown group to fully integrate into the communities they have been building for years. With an initial group being integrated with respect to individual rights and the needs of the American public as a whole, the confidence in the process would allow for it to be rolled out to the larger non-status community and produce a path to citizenship for those who wish to become permanent parts of the larger community.

For those who are not seen as contributors to their American communities, they can return to their country of origin and apply under a work permit or as an immigrant through the normal process. For those who are linked to crime or are deemed a threat to the United States, they can be deported without permission to return.

While there will always be a great debate on how to handle the issue of illegal immigration, the acceptance of a path to citizenship that is a benefit to the United States would be a toughly sought win-win for the best contributors to American society. Without a realistic solution based on the current immigration policy approaches, all policies will be protested against by those who will not be able to achieve the policy approach that most benefits their perspective on the immigration issue.

Millions of non-status immigrants will remain in the United States no matter what policy approach is applied, and that reality must be accepted and worked upon to come up with a resolution. The only option is either maintain the status quo, or accept the impossibility at resolving the current issue using current policy tools and attempt a new and innovative approach.



Richard Basas

Richard Basas, a Canadian Masters Level Law student educated in Spain, England, and Canada (U of London MA 2003 LL.M., 2007), has worked researching for CSIS and as a Reporter for the Latin America Advisor. He went on to study his MA in Latin American Political Economy in London with the University of London and LSE. Subsequently, Rich followed his career into Law focusing mostly on International Commerce and EU-Americas issues. He has worked for many commercial and legal organisations as well as within the Refugee Protection Community in Toronto, Canada, representing detained non-status indivduals residing in Canada. Rich will go on to study his PhD in International Law.

Areas of Focus:
Law; Economics and Commerce; Americas; Europe; Refugees; Immigration