Friday, January 18, 2008

Having it both ways on immigration: Crackdown on illegal immigrants coupled with slowdown on legal ones

With all the money spent on wall building, expanded border patrols and other immigration enforcement to keep people out of this country, according to this AP story ("Lawmakers criticize immigration backup," Jan. 17), the Bush Administration and Congress have underfunded the infrastructure for letting immigrants enter the country legally, adding to pressure on the system.
A deluge of immigration applications in the months preceding a filing fee increase last year should have been foreseen, lawmakers on Thursday told Bush administration officials. ...

Some 1.4 million people applied for naturalization in the 2007 fiscal year, which ended Sept. 30.

More than half were submitted in the summer months, just before Citizenship and Immigration Services, a Homeland Security Department agency, significantly increased applications fees. The flood of applications means people who applied after June 1, 2007 to become citizens won't naturalize in time to vote in November's elections.

"This should not have been a surprise. It was totally predictable," Lofgren said after presiding over a House Judiciary subcommittee hearing on the applications backlog.

Emilio Gonzalez, Citizenship and Immigration Services director, said his agency did anticipate an increase in applications and the increase was manageable. "What we did not anticipate, and I'll be honest with you, is a 350 percent increase in one month," Gonzalez told the subcommittee. ...

Gonzalez said the agency will soon conduct six classes of 48 students each to train workers to deal with the increased workload. Also, the agency is hiring an additional 1,500 workers, about half of whom will be trained to adjudicate files. The agency has asked the White House for permission to transfer money between accounts to address the backlog, [Rep. Zoe] Lofgren said.

But the agency faces the challenge of a backlog of FBI name checks that slow down application processing.

Any real world solution to illegal immigration must include expanding ways for people to legally enter the country. To judge by this story, while the feds have been happy to throw good money after bad on the enforcement side, US policies are functionally tightening restrictions on new immigration - raising fees and failing to timely perform background checks and process paperwork.

This is the first I've heard of the increased naturalization fee, but it logically seems counterproductive. There's no way it can raise enough money to offset the massive expense of militarizing the border with Mexico. The complementary policy to a "crackdown" on illegal immigration should be expanded legal immigration, not policies that make it harder and more expensive to get in.

The sentiment "send 'em all home and seal the borders" may play well as a political slogan, but it doesn't remotely represent a realistic border policy. When you hear folks call to "secure the borders," the caveat is often offered, "I don't mind if they want to come here legally and go through the process to become a citizen." But when higher fees and an underfunded, belabored bureaucracy restrict legal immigration, those same voices are mostly silent.

The United States is and always has been a nation of immigrants and their progeny. Bottom line, when people can't come here legally, they're more likely to come here illegally. Which would you prefer?

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