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Why Don’t They Come Here Legally?

June 6, AD2013

\"Jason

Last week, I had the pleasant surprise of meeting a very well-known figure in Catholic media. We were attending the same conference, and I practically ran into him on my way back from a break. Excitedly, I introduced myself. He very pleasantly told me his name (as if I didn’t know it), and asked, with what appeared to be genuine interest, what I did for a living and what brought me to the conference we were attending. I explained that I represented Kentucky’s bishops in public policy matters. With that, merely two minutes into our acquaintance, we immediately began a heated, half-hour argument about immigration reform.

What is it about this issue that gets people so fired up? I think I understand what motivates some Catholic opponents of reform (as promoted by their bishops), but then again, it doesn’t completely make sense. My new friend’s main hang-up was that the bishops have declared support for the current Senate bill “practically a matter of dogma.” I explained that my work required me to review the policy documents on immigration from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, and their immigration reform advocacy office, Justice for Immigrants. These statements hardly treat the so-called “Gang of Eight” proposal as perfect. My friend rolled his eyes and said, “You know what I mean.” I really didn’t.

Another major problem my new friend saw with the USCCB position was that it did not sufficiently take into consideration the “political repercussions.” When I asked what he meant by that, he said that if this bill passes, the political environment for the next generation will be hostile to the issues of life and family. I assumed he meant that new Hispanic voters will overwhelmingly vote for Democrats (an oft-repeated, but somewhat questionable, expectation) and explained that the U.S. bishops had fought hard in support of President Bush’s immigration reform effort in 2007 (Justice for Immigrants was created during that effort), but that failed primarily because of opposition among Republicans.

How can Catholic bishops change their position on a substantive issue simply because the party it is likely to help has changed? And, with all due respect to my wise and generous employers, does anyone think the bishops are competent to predict the impact of the passage of a major piece of legislation in 2013 on the presidential elections of 2020, 2024, or 2028?

Then we came to the truly contentious aspect of the immigration issue. Why haven’t all these “illegals” come here legally? My new media-trained friend assured me that he has relatives who have applied for visas, waited for a few years, and then been approved. There is no reason anyone else can’t do the same.

I have no doubt my friend is correct about his relatives. But this, dear readers, is where things get complicated. Our immigration system is not simply a line that you get into that is currently 8 years, 10 months long. It treats people radically differently for no rational reason. It keeps families separated for decades. It punishes those who simply want to work hard and try to support their families but can’t do so in their home countries.

There is almost no easy way to migrate legally and quickly to the United States (provided you aren’t a star athlete). To illustrate this, let’s assume you were born in Mexico. Unlike most of your countrymen, you have not only a college degree, but also a PhD. A major American corporation believes you are the only person who can head up their new division that is going to revolutionize American industry. You can’t wait to come to the U.S. and get started. You also hope you can bring your brother along, who isn’t educated but is the hardest worker you know and has no opportunities in your home town.

You are very lucky, because there is a clear legal path for you to immigrate. Your potential employer only needs to complete a mountain of paperwork and spend over $10,000 in legal fees, and you will be awarded a green card. Well, six to ten years from now, that is.

Obviously, your new employer isn’t going to wait years for you to start work. So, they will likely help you apply for an H1-B temporary worker visa. Those are capped by statute, though, so maybe you’ll get one and maybe you won’t. Let’s say you do. Congrats! You can come to the U.S. and start work.

You talk to your employers and they are more than willing to give your brother a low-level job, if he is able to work legally in the U.S. You look into it and learn that there is no legal means for an unskilled worker from Mexico to enter the U.S. legally without family legally residing in the country already. So, he does some odd jobs when he can and you send him some of your salary each month and he gets by until you become a permanent resident. After eight years, you finally do!

Unfortunately, even though you are now a legal permanent resident (LPR) of the United States, there is no family visa category for brothers and sisters of LPR’s. So, he has to wait another five or six years (at least) for you to become a U.S. citizen. But, glorious day, after 13 years of waiting, you finally take your citizenship oath and your brother applies for a F4 Visa (Brothers and Sisters of Adult U.S. Citizens)! It won’t be long now! According to the current visa bulletin (see page 2), applications are currently being processed for those added to the waiting list prior to….September 15, 1996.

So yeah, why don’t they all just come here legally?

[Author\’s Note: Here is a brief statement of the USCCB\’s position on immigration reform.]

© 2013. Jason Hall. All Rights Reserved.

Photography: See our Photographers page.

About the Author:

Jason Hall is an attorney and Catholic convert. After spending some time working in the political world followed by a brief sojourn in seminary, he apparently discovered the value of moderation and now works as a lobbyist for Kentucky's Catholic bishops. In his spare time, he likes to read great books, analyze political and social trends, and cheer on his beloved Cincinnati Reds. Jason's contributions to Catholic Stand primarily focus on the principles and application of Catholic Social Teaching.

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  • Dai Yoshida

    Jason, as a Japanese citizen, life-long legal resident and a father to three US citizens, thank you for the very informative article. A few decades ago Japanese faced the same restrictive immigration policy. It was solved, not by a change in the US policy but because Japanese simply stopped immigrating. I financially support the Republican party for their family value position but I am not blind to their kowtowing to the oil industry.

    US imports as much petroleum from Mexico as we do from Saudi Arabia. American oil industry have the power to change Mexican domestic policies but refuses to do so because it is more profitable to support the status quo. Herein lies the root of the immigration problem. Mexico is a wealthy country with a lot of poor people. America, as the largest investor and customer of Mexican products have a responsibility to the people of that country. “Let them take care of their own problem” should not be the Catholic response.

    Mexicans support the Democratic party because of their animosity to the Mexican/American oil industry, not because they’re all communists.

    I don’t personally support the Democratic party because it goes against Catholic Social Teaching. But the Republican party needs to do more than merely pay lip service to attract Hispanic voters.