DACA Should Not Eclipse The Broader Immigration Debate

DACA Should Not Eclipse The Broader Immigration Debate

Virtually everyone in America is aware of the ongoing battle regarding the fate of DACA and young illegal immigrants who were brought to the U.S. by their parents at young ages. They are also increasingly aware of just how at odds Republicans and Democrats remain as the deadline to make a decision draws ever closer.

Although both parties claim they want to reach an agreement, the public is right to be skeptical. Instead of any notable progress on policy, Democrats and Republicans continue to engage in endless finger pointing, insisting the lack of movement is due to the opposing party’s refusal to work with them. The debate has engendered two government shutdowns this year alone, despite the fact that DACA remains overwhelmingly popular among voters.

Amid this political stalemate, however, there is a story that is surprisingly absent from the current debate over immigration in America - the fate of children of legal immigrants. As noted by Hrishikesh Joshi in the National Review, it may be the children of legal immigrants, those who followed America’s immigration laws, which stand to be short-changed by DACA. As DACA is only available to young illegal immigrants, those who jumped through the proper legal hoops only to find themselves no closer on the path to U.S. citizenship should be rightfully upset.

If Republicans and Democrats are serious about fixing the many shortcomings of the current U.S. immigration system, all immigrants, especially legal, ones must be included. Our preoccupation with the fate of illegal immigrants distracts from the very real challenges faced by those navigating the many hurdles of the U.S. immigration system the intended way.

Unfortunately, many United States visas are not permanent. F-1 student visa usually become null and void after an immigrant completes his or her education. The H1-B visa similarly permits legal immigrants to work in America for three years. This visa can then be renewed for a maximum of three additional years. Beneficiaries of these visas are allowed to bring certain relatives to the country and claim them as ‘dependents.’ However, dependents are usually barred from seeking work in America.

As Joshi explains in his National Review piece:

“If a child entered the U.S. before his 16th birthday but was legally present — as a dependent — on June 15th, 2012, she can’t be granted DACA status. That is, she must leave the country when her parents’ visas run out or she becomes too old to qualify as a dependent. Of course, if her parents get green cards (granting legal permanent residence) before she gets too old, they can sponsor her as well.

But that is a big “if,” since it can take more than a decade to get a green card depending on individual circumstances. Due to peculiar features of the law, immigrants born in India and China in particular face extremely long wait times — almost ten years for certain employment-based categories. That is, it can take ten years to receive a green card after being sponsored by an employer — and finding an employer willing and able to serve as a sponsor often adds several more years to the process.”

Based on the above, one could easily make the case that for some, entering the U.S. as an illegal immigrant is more beneficial than coming here legally - especially if wait times from a prospective immigrant’s country of origin are lengthy.

All this isn’t necessarily to say that there ought not be a path to citizenship for children currently covered by the DACA program. However, the sheer amount of emphasis on the program, and the gridlock it has created in Congress are worth thinking about, especially from the perspective of those who are “playing by the rules” so-to-speak, and still being failed by the system. As Joshi argues:

“The commonly cited reasoning behind the DACA program is that those brought to the U.S. illegally as children should get the right to stay because it is the only country they’ve known (though this applies less to children brought as teenagers), and because it was no fault of theirs that their parents chose to bring them. As they work toward a legislative path through the DACA impasse, it is morally incumbent upon lawmakers to apply the same reasoning to children brought by parents who followed U.S. immigration law. If anything, they have a greater claim on staying, because their parents made sacrifices to get them into the country legally as dependents and to maintain their legal status. Indeed, it can often be hard to maintain such status. F-1 visas, for instance, prohibit their holders from working. H1-B holders must find a new job within 60 days of being laid off. And all visa recipients must pay substantial fees to the government every time they request a change of visa status.”

Joshi is right. Legal immigrants should not be jumping through hoops to become citizens while the majority of the government’s time spent debating and crafting policy is centered around those who effectively bypassed the U.S. immigration system.  

Perhaps reevaluating the terms of current U.S. visas for legal immigrants would be a good start on the road to a broader immigration debate. F-1 student visas should not expire the moment a student completes his or her education. H1-B visas also should not expire after three or six years. Dependents who legally enter America should be allowed to work and earn income.

The American dream affirms that hard work, determination, and perseverance will engender success. However, legal immigrants are often unfairly deprived of this opportunity, and a swift change is in order. If Republicans and Democrats continue to prioritize illegal immigrants over law-abiding immigrants, they are sending a message that people who want to get ahead in this country are better off breaking immigration laws as opposed to following them.