American Immigration Policy: Problems & Solutions

By Michael Alan Prestwood

The issues at the core of immigration, the caravan scare, and Trump's wall are not that complicated. You may disagree with one solution or another, but it's clear that Democrats and Republicans can solve this problem quickly and easily once the political will is there.
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In the stretch leading up to 2010 and beyond, it’s like American immigration policy became the ultimate political football. On one hand, we had folks genuinely trying to tackle the issue head-on, ready for some real talk and solutions. On the other hand, well, it seemed like some were more into keeping the ball in the air for the sake of the game itself. But let’s step away from the emotional high-kicks and political sidestepping, and take a closer look at the field.

Digging beneath the surface of the heated debates and partisan cheerleading, the core issues of American immigration are not as convoluted as they might first appear. It’s not about finding a silver bullet; it’s about finding common ground on the facts. With a bit of political will and some honest-to-goodness dialogue, I’m convinced there’s a path to patching up this divide.

At the heart of the matter, we’re circling around four key issues that keep coming back into play, each one a crucial piece of the puzzle:

  1. legal immigration policy, the rules,
  2. controlling undocumented residents (e.g. overstaying a legal Visa),
  3. controlling non-violent illegal immigration,
  4. fighting violent criminals within illegal immigration.

Bringing these topics into the light isn’t just about scoring political points; it’s about moving the ball down the field towards a solution that respects the dignity and worth of every player involved. By focusing on these areas, my hope is to encourage a deeper understanding and a more philosophical discussion on what immigration policy can and should represent. It’s time to shift from playing political football to building bridges, where principles of justice, fairness, and empathy are the name of the game.

Before diving deeper, it’s only fair to lay my cards on the table regarding my stance on immigration. Personally, the specifics of the policy matter less to me than ensuring our approach is consistent and actively combats racism. I’ve always had a bit of a soft spot for the vision of the Founding Fathers, who, in many ways, championed the concept of open borders. Yet, I acknowledge the practical need for regulations and structure in our modern world.

On a side note, and not that it sways my opinion, but to give you a sense of where I’m coming from: my Prestwood ancestors set foot on this land around 1670, nearly a century before the United States was even a concept. I’m also directly descended from Roger Williams, who arrived in 1632. While these historical footnotes don’t shape my views, they’re shared in recognition that discussions around immigration can touch on deep-seated notions of belonging and tribal identity for many.

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1a. Legal Immigration Policy

At its core, America thrives on legal immigration; it’s not just a matter of cultural enrichment but a cornerstone of our financial policy. So, let’s start this conversation with a nod to the invaluable contributions of immigrants. It’s well-documented that immigrants not only create more jobs and commit fewer crimes but also contribute significantly more to our society than is often recognized. Their impact is profound, enriching the fabric of our nation in countless, immeasurable ways.

Now, weaving into this narrative the diverse tapestry of American heritage, it’s crucial to remember our collective journey: Most of us trace our lineage to lands far beyond these shores. Whether your ancestors were here before the United States was even conceived, whether you share Native American ancestry, or whether your lineage was tragically marked by the horrors of slavery, we are united by a common pursuit of the American promise. This intricate mosaic includes those who have arrived in recent years, drawn by the same beacon of hope that guided countless generations before them. The only real distinction lies between those whose roots were planted here before this country’s founding, those with Indigenous heritage, and everyone else. For the vast majority, our stories are woven from threads of migration, whether our ancestors arrived in 1805 or we ourselves are the latest bearers of our families’ dreams, having arrived in the recent past.

Those that don’t like our immigration policy, and are not racists are mostly concerned with illegal immigration. In essence, they are protecting the legal waiting line, garding against people cutting in line. They may want to tweak immigration law too, but their focus, as it should be, is on illegal immigration. After all,

“…immigration law can be changed through Congress.”

One of the few problems with legal immigration are the attacks on immigrants themselves. To sow hate, some call them dirty disease carrying criminals that are a tax on our economy. If this fear is true, then we should allow very few immigrants.

That accusation begs the question:

Are Immigrants Generally Good or Bad?

This is an easy question to answer and the facts are settled. All the statistics indicate immigrants create more jobs, commit fewer crimes, and contribute more to our society than American born citizens. It’s a lie to say they bring germs, diseases, crime, and strain our economy. The exact opposite is true.

Where did this stereotype come from?

This stereotype is rooted in racism, but it also has a foundation in reality. Disease ridden Europeans including Pilgrims and Puritans immigrated and invaded Native American lands and introduced smallpox and other diseases. Newly introduced diseases killed 90% of Native Americans before 1700. If the worst plague in the history of mankind had not wiped out 90% of Native Americans, the battle for the territory that is now the United States would have unfolded much differently.

The personal hygiene of Europeans was foul smelling. Europeans at the time thought bathing made you sick and were amazed by the Native Americans interest in personal cleanliness. Native Americans viewed Europeans as dirty and smelly. Contrary to common misconceptions, Native Americans were cleaner, stronger, more athletic, and better looking than Europeans. Native Americans thought Europeans were physically weak, sexually untrustworthy, atrociously ugly, and dumb compared to themselves.

Today we know better. Land-locked humans with unknown diseases do not exist anymore.

Moral Obligation

A poignant meme floating around social media that seems appropriate at this point of this article. This bible verse is from Leviticus 19:33,34.

While the specific passages of religious texts and the historical nuances of how our ancestors arrived on these shores may diverge from the central issue at hand, the moral imperatives shared across many religious traditions cannot be overlooked. It’s intriguing to observe that, despite the diverse interpretations of religious doctrines, a common theme emerges—especially among those who look to the Torah, Quran, and Bible for guidance—underscoring a profound duty towards kindness and hospitality to strangers and those in need.

In the Christian tradition, for instance, the Bible offers clear directives on the treatment of strangers and the vulnerable. Consider the passage from Matthew 25:35-40 (New King James Version):

“For I was hungry and you gave Me food; I was thirsty and you gave Me drink; I was a stranger and you took Me in; I was naked and you clothed Me; I was sick and you visited Me; I was in prison and you came to Me.”

This passage vividly illustrates the call to see and serve Christ in every person, particularly those in dire straits. The message is unambiguous: acts of kindness and welcome to the “least of these” are, in essence, acts of service to the divine.

Such principles are not exclusive to Christianity. Similar sentiments are echoed in the Torah and Quran, where hospitality and compassion towards strangers and those seeking refuge are esteemed virtues. This collective wisdom suggests that for many adherents, embracing a welcoming stance toward immigrants and the less fortunate is not just a matter of policy preference but a profound moral obligation.

By viewing the issue of immigration through this lens, it becomes apparent that many religious teachings advocate for what might today be termed ‘open borders’ or, at the very least, a much more compassionate and welcoming approach to those who arrive at our doors, seeking shelter or a new beginning. This shared moral foundation offers a powerful reminder of our interconnectedness and the universal call to extend kindness and protection to all, especially the most vulnerable among us.

1b. Asylum Seekers

The power to change immigration law resides with Congress, though the President can lead and advocate for changes, without dictating them.

What about asylum seekers, then? First off, it’s mandatory for border officials to listen to those claiming asylum. This requirement is anchored in international law, specifically the Geneva Convention, and is also fundamentally the right thing to do. American law aligns with these international conventions. While we can modify our laws, border officials are bound to follow them as they stand. After assessing claims, they may accept, detain, or turn back the claimants.

“Border officials are obliged to consider asylum claims due to international law mandates, including the Geneva Convention, and because it’s the morally correct action.”

Sometimes, administrations attempt to alter the laws governing asylum through executive orders. For instance, one such order might allow asylum requests only at official ports of entry, potentially excluding those who enter by other means. Personally, I’m neutral about these specific changes. If we, as a society, decide to adjust our immigration policy, such adjustments must undergo the Constitutional political process.

A notable modification in recent years involved the laws surrounding domestic violence victims seeking asylum. I believe victims of domestic violence should have the opportunity to apply for asylum, acknowledging that such circumstances, while severe, may not present the same level of immediate danger as threats from warlords or cartels. However, societal consensus would likely support legislation addressing this issue, just as it might for individuals threatened by smaller local gangs.

Credible Fear Test

Delving into the Credible Fear Test within immigration…

Upon arrival at the border—whether at a legal port or illegally elsewhere—border officials conduct a ‘Credible Fear Test.’ Should individuals pass, they’re permitted entry to the U.S. to formally apply for asylum. The proportion of a caravan’s members applying for this test varies, with typically 25% to 75% opting in. Those not applying are directed to the standard immigration queue. About 75% of those who undergo the Credible Fear Test are found to have a legitimate fear and are allowed to proceed with their asylum application in court, though less than half ultimately receive asylum.

Concerns have arisen that too many are granted asylum, prompting suggestions to toughen the Credible Fear Test criteria, such as excluding claims based on domestic or gang violence under the premise that such issues could be managed by the country of origin. While assumptions exist about support for asylum from those fleeing large-scale gang or government persecution, this remains a topic for further discussion. American policy currently recognizes threats from gangs, cartels, and government persecution as valid grounds for asylum.

Discussions about domestic violence victims and their eligibility for asylum continue to ebb and flow. My stance is in favor of allowing these victims to seek asylum, recognizing that while their situations are dire, they may not always be perceived as immediate threats like those posed by warlords or cartels. If societal change is desired, it should be pursued through legislative means. The primary responsibility of the U.S. President is to enforce existing laws or to seek their amendment.

Strong Border Wanted By All

Interestingly, about 63% of voters are against the construction of a wall, citing its high cost and questionable efficacy. The consensus among immigration experts is that a wall would do little to deter professional criminals or undocumented residents, underscoring the lack of broad political support for such a measure.

2. Controlling Undocumented Residents

An undocumented resident is someone who entered the country legally, but overstayed (e.g., overstaying a legal Visa). More than 40% of those considered illegal or undocumented are actually undocumented residents who overstayed their Visa. While this does not constitute a criminal violation, it is a civil violation of U.S. immigration laws.

The term ‘illegal alien’ more accurately applies to individuals who enter the country without legal permission, violating U.S. immigration laws. It’s essential to uphold the law, ensuring that those who break it face consequences. However, overstaying a visa falls into a complex category—it is not classified as a criminal offense but is a civil infraction that can lead to deportation and restrictions on re-entry. Thus, while non-citizens who have overstayed their visa are not subject to criminal penalties, they do face civil consequences, including potential deportation and a ban on re-entry.

“An undocumented resident is someone who entered the country legally, but overstayed…The term illegal alien is more appropriate for when someone illegally immigrates here breaking our laws.”

Careful what you ask for!

We can pass a law to punish non-citizens without a current Visa, but please think hard about this before you advocate for this.

Right now, ICE authority extends 100 air miles from all borders including the coasts. That encompasses about 2/3 of the population. They can question anyone. They have guidelines in the form of reasonable suspicion for detaining and questioning you, but their authority is not part of the follow-up immigration status hearing. Right now, ICE officers do not need probable cause to detain you and hold you over for an immigration status hearing where the only question is are you an American citizen, or do you have a current Visa.

If we want a law for undocumented residents and illegal aliens, we can pass one, but I think it’s correct now. If we had such a law, you would need reasonable suspicion to detain and question someone. You would need probable cause in order to make an arrest. During the trial, reasonable suspicion and probable cause would be adjudicated. The arresting officer can either prove probable cause or not. If we change the law to make undocumented residents illegal, a police officer would have to have reasonable suspicion that a crime was committed.

E-Verify: The Undocumented Residents Solution

Most agree that undocumented residents should not be allowed to legally work. That will be fixed with eVerify Enforcement which is something both parties say they support. Once the political will is in place, eVerify enforcement will pass easily. Many believe the time for eVerify is coming. Gradually pressure is mounting and perhaps will be passed in coming years.

I personally believe you’ll know politicians are serious when they implement eVerify enforcement either by itself or as part of comprehensive immigration reform. That’s the ONLY thing needed to fix the undocumented resident problem. And, it’s not very expensive. Think about it. If someone arrives legally, overstays their visa, or comes here illegally, they cannot work! You might have a young child, aunt, or grandmother living in the home of legal Americans, but so what. No harm, no foul. And, they are still an undocumented resident subject to deportation if they get caught. For example, if they break “any” law at all.

Nearly all politicians on both sides know eVerify enforcement would take away all incentive for illegal immigration. Remember 40% or more of all undocumented residents here right now and historically came legally, then overstayed their visa, then slipped into the shadows. Many by plane and boat too. If we do eVerify enforcement, they have very little reason to stay. Problem solved. Taxes collected. No competition for jobs from the undocumented.

“Nearly all politicians on both sides know eVerify enforcement would take away all incentive for illegal immigration.”

You can verify this just by reading about the history of eVerify. For example, because farmers use undocumented workers and their politicians represent them, those politicians, Democrat or Republican, fight against eVerify. Because farmland is mostly represented by Republicans, it appears that Republicans don’t like eVerify more than Dems, but I think it’s more about who they represent and less about the party.

3. Controlling Non-Violent Illegal Immigration

To those looking in from the outside, America is a beacon of hope, a place where the prospect of a better life far outweighs the shadow of death they’re trying to escape from back home. Most of these folks are running from real nightmares, not coming here to start trouble.

Now, let’s talk turkey about a couple of things that might surprise you.

First off, this whole idea that we’re swamped with problems at our borders? Not exactly the case.

Here’s something to chew on: Did you know that under Obama’s watch, more undocumented individuals were sent packing than under any other president before him? And here’s another kicker—Canada, our neighbor to the north, welcomes more immigrants than we do, both in terms of their population percentage and in absolute numbers. Now, this final thought comparing Obama, Trump, and Biden should remove emotion from the debate. The immigration policies implemented during the Biden administration have resulted in a level of deportations that is comparable to both the Trump and Obama eras. In fact, when examining certain data perspectives, it appears that Biden may have even surpassed his predecessors in terms of deportations. And get this—since 2015, the U.S. has actually seen a net negative immigration flow. That means more people are leaving than coming in.

Now, onto the hot topic of crime and safety. The narrative that paints all illegal immigrants as dangerous folks couldn’t be further from the truth. Let’s lay down some facts. Studies and stats show that illegal immigrants are actually less likely to commit crimes than the native-born population. You heard that right—less likely. When it comes to violent crimes, the numbers are even more stark. There’s this pervasive myth that illegal immigrants are a source of increased violence and crime, but the data just doesn’t back that up. In fact, areas with higher populations of undocumented immigrants often see lower crime rates than you’d expect.

So, what’s the real scoop? These individuals, even those who’ve entered illegally, are overwhelmingly not the villains some make them out to be. They’re people seeking safety, opportunity, and a chance at a better life. The narrative needs a serious overhaul. If anything, the discussion around immigration should pivot to how we can manage this humanely and effectively, acknowledging the contributions and potential of those who’ve come here, often leaving behind everything familiar, to build a new life in our shared home.

4. Fighting Violent Illegal Immigrants

Now, onto the part of the show that gets everyone’s heart racing: tackling the issue of violent criminals within the realm of illegal immigration. So, if the big picture isn’t a chaotic border crisis, do we still have a problem on our hands? Absolutely, but it’s more of a precision issue than a broad-sweep one. Instead of dropping a cool $25 to $50 billion on a wall—a solution our more creative criminal minds will simply sidestep—why not funnel a fraction of that, say a billion annually, into directly combating gangs like MS13? It’s a targeted approach that many believe could be both cheaper and more effective.

The Solution — American Agreement!

And what’s the people’s choice solution to this tangled web we’ve woven? A whopping 79% of us are on the same page, craving a comprehensive immigration reform that tackles the real issues head-on.

Imagine a plan that looks something like this:

  1. E-Verify: This could slam the door on unauthorized employment, keeping jobs in the hands of those legally allowed to work here.
  2. Smarter Border Security: Think beyond the old-school, ineffective wall concept. We’re talking about advanced, efficient measures to keep illegal crossings in check.
  3. A Clear Path for DACA Recipients: Let’s stop wasting resources on an overly aggressive enforcement stance and instead, offer a pathway to citizenship for those brought here as children. It’s about fixing the system, not breaking families.
  4. Deal with the Rest: For others without documentation, the reality remains: no work permits and deportation upon detection, especially if laws are broken.

This approach isn’t just about tightening the screws; it’s about crafting a system that’s fair, effective, and acknowledges the human element. We’re at our best when we face challenges not with fear, but with smart, compassionate solutions. And that, my friends, is the heart of the American Agreement.

By Mike Prestwood
Natural Philosopher

Mike’s throwback title simply means he writes about philosophy, science, critical thinking, and history with a focus on exploring boundaries and intersections. While his focus is on our rational ideas about empirical observations, he does enjoy dabbling in the irrational. His exploration of the empirical led him to develop his Idea of Ideas which allows him to understand what is empirical, rational, and irrational as well as to easily understand what is empirically true, rational true, and irrationally false.

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