One of the most controversial issues facing the United States is the topic of immigration. Making the topic so difficult to discuss rationally is the complexity of the issue: Who deserves to get in? Who doesn’t? What do we do with those who are here and undocumented? Should we say “undocumented” or “illegal”? What do we do with the parents of American children? Should citizenship be acquired merely by birth in the United States?
As a whole, Americans are welcoming of those who wish to enter the United States for a better life. It’s hard not to be when these same aspiring citizens are so optimistic about our nation. In a time of bleak financial uncertainty, riots, famine and turmoil, it’s flattering to hear someone say nice things about our country.
Still, there are exceptions to the welcoming attitude of our citizenry, largely against those that “broke the rules” and entered without documentation/inspection. But even within that group, distinctions can be made.
In a poll conducted by the Pew Research Center several months ago, participants were asked how they would like the government to address illegal immigration. According to the poll:
Forty-two percent believe the priority should be to tighten border security and more strictly enforce immigration laws, but at the same time also create a way for people here illegally to become citizens if they meet certain conditions. Somewhat fewer (35%) put priority only on better border security and stronger enforcement, while 21% say the priority should be to find a way for illegal immigrants to become citizens.
With that finding, it would appear a significant number of Americans (42%) see immigration in terms of gray, not necessarily black and white, and 63% support some type of process for validation. This may be because while many are offended by the prospect of someone benefiting from an unlawful entry, they feel it’s unrealistic to have all undocumented individuals deported or removed.
To that end, I’ve heard the following many times: “It’s not fair when someone enters into this country illegally, especially when there are people waiting in line. Still, I know they won’t be able to deport 12 – 20 million people. So, if they’re good people and don’t commit crimes, I say they have a path to getting right with the government — so long as they pay a heavy fine.”
In the poll, participants wanted undocumented individuals to meet “certain conditions.” Although not discussed in the article, a common condition I hear is a person’s criminal history or lack thereof. I’d venture to say most Americans are against the idea of granting people with criminal histories permission to reside in this country — we have enough crime as it is.
Realizing immigration is a minefield that leaves many politically dead or at least horribly injured, President Barack Obama has attempted to balance the concerns of two camps — those that want to crack down on undocumented workers and his political base, a set of voters that desire a pathway to citizenship for undocumented individuals.
I will not offer an opinion on that issue, largely because I tend to believe my clients don’t care to know about my politics — many of you probably don’t either. That notwithstanding, the president has been quoted on several occasions explaining that his administration’s focus is on deporting the most serious offenders.
Obama, in a May speech in El Paso, Texas, stated his administration was focused on violent offenders and not families or “folks who are looking to scrape together an income.” No definition has been provided for “violent offenders,” — although I would offer robbers, murders, abusers, rapists and perhaps thieves fit the description.
So far in my career, I’ve represented several hundred clients facing removal proceedings as a result of criminal/traffic offenses. To mind, less than 20 have been accused of any of the aforementioned crimes. Speaking to other attorneys in the bar, I have found their experiences to similar. Perhaps our experiences are anomalies. Attorneys, what’s been your experience?