Brown, a naturalized U.S. citizen, is managing partner of Brown Immigration Law. Lerda, also a naturalized U.S. citizen and attorney, serves as executive director of Justice For Our Neighbors of Nebraska.
In recent months, we’ve seen the conversation on immigration reform gain momentum.
This is in large part due to the number of public individuals from a wide range of perspectives who have jumped on the airwaves to suggest it’s time to modernize our outdated immigration laws and create a common-sense system.
This is promising, as the only way to solve a problem is to better understand the problem. The system needs a fair bit of help.
This isn’t just about 11 million undocumented members of our communities. It is about fairness, national security, stability for families and businesses, our agricultural sector, our economy’s need for uniquely skilled people, an adequate future labor force and our interest in supporting new entrepreneurs in this country.
Unfortunately, despite increased dialogue, there are still many immigration myths out there that need a public airing for our nation to move forward. One of the larger myths is that there is currently a legal “line” that those who are here without immigration papers could have or should have used.
From those who rightfully defend the rule of law but also respect and appreciate the value immigrants bring to this country, we often hear, “I’m OK if we do something, so long as the illegals go to the back of ‘the line.’ ”
Unfortunately, people who make these statements misunderstand our current state. There is no “line” for the vast majority of immigrants to get in until we create one by updating our laws.
To be considered for an immigrant visa today, there are five main paths:
>> You have a very narrowly defined familial relationship with someone who is already here and has immigration status. (If this is your line, our antiquated system frequently presents you with backlogs and waiting periods of five to 20 years or more, in addition to thousands of dollars in fees.)
>> You qualify for very specific humanitarian-based paths such as asylum or refugee status.
>> You have a high level of skill, relevant education or are an executive or manager who transferred to a U.S. operation.
>> You are lucky enough to win the Diversity Visa lottery because you come from a country that has very few individuals emigrating to the U.S.
>> Or, you qualify for a semi-skilled position and have an employer willing to sponsor you.
Again, although these lines exist in law, the wait in many of these is so long as to make an application meaningless. It could take a chef more than 10 years to immigrate legally — clearly no employer will wait that long to hire someone. And the number of diversity lottery slots available to Mexicans is zero, because Mexico does not qualify for the program.
These are the so-called “lines” that those now living and working here would be getting into in order to become permanent residents.
This is the crux of where we need to do some serious work — a process has not existed to allow these individuals to get in line, while at the same time demand for their services has been evident. This is why millions of undocumented community members — many of whom have been here for decades — are currently employed.
Were there a reasonable option for employers to do this the right way, and for individuals to do this through legal channels, much of our problem would be solved. Having met people without papers and known their struggles, we find that they overwhelmingly would rather be holding proper status than live in constant fear of deportation or possible reprisals.
So any meaningful reform must include creating a line for the workers we need — both those who are currently working here as well as a modern and workable process for the future. Such a reform also must clean up the unnecessary waiting periods and painful family separations caused in the family line by old visa allotments.
And by creating a sensible legal system that matches our modern world, we also give ourselves the best chance at security by allowing ourselves to use our enforcement resources in a smart and targeted way.
Let’s solve this problem. Congress needs to create a line for those already here and for those individuals we need to support our communities and industries today and in the future.