If there’s one thing Republicans and Democrats should be able to agree on, it’s that our country’s immigration system is badly broken.
There can be no reasonable debate over the need to fix things. When it takes 14 months for someone to legally immigrate after marrying an American citizen, something’s wrong. And that’s just one case that we know of. Others could well be taking longer.
We’re not looking for instant immigration, but more than a year? That’s ridiculous. If there are no valid concerns about abuse of the process or reasons to suspect the marriage is designed to evade the law, the process simply shouldn’t take that long.
Despite being a foundational aspect of our country, immigration has always been a politically fraught issue. One of the first laws focused on the subject was the Naturalization Act of 1790, which allowed people who had lived in the United States for two years or more to apply for citizenship. The catch: you had to be a white person “of good character” to apply.
Some efforts to restrict who could immigrate to the United States were openly bigoted. Between 1820 and 1860, Irish immigrants made up something like a third of all of those coming to the United States. The backlash against their arrivals, along with smaller numbers of German immigrants, led to the creation of the Know Nothing Party. It voiced explicit opposition to immigration in general — especially from Catholic areas of Europe.
In 1882 the Chinese Exclusion Act suspended Chinese immigration for a decade. Those who were already in the country were not eligible to become citizens. The act was later extended by the Geary Act of 1892, which required Chinese residents in the U.S. to carry certificates of residence from the Internal Revenue Service. Being caught without the papers was a criminal offense.
Immigration peaked in the early 20th century. When people think about immigration, that’s often the time frame they think of. It was when Ellis Island was often the first land new immigrants stepped on to. On the other side of the country, a deal between the U.S. and Japan saw the Japanese government suppress immigration to the United States. Exclusion of Asian immigrants was not formally brought to an end until 1952.
More recent events show both the potential and the concerns about immigration. Eau Claire’s Hmong community adds a vibrant and welcome aspect to the Chippewa Valley. It shows how communities can prosper thanks to the arrival of new people and the addition of new cultures to the mix. That’s the upside.
Opponents of immigration often point to the Simpson-Mazzoli Act, which granted amnesty to those who had come to the country illegally. Signed in 1986, it affected more than 3 million people. It did not, however, result in the kind of controls or capabilities that would result in declines in illegal entry and residency. The consensus view today is that there are far more people living in the United States today without permission than there were in 1986.
Immigration has been, and must remain, a vital part of American life. The vast majority of the people here owe their presence to their ancestors’ immigration. It is a source of strength for our nation.
At the same time, nations do have the right to control entry and to sanction those who fail to follow the required procedures. We see fixing the current system as a step toward that enforcement. It removes the argument, which has more than a little truth, that people who want to come legally are effectively punished with unreasonable delays.
Immigration isn’t a new issue, nor is the call for fixing a broken system new. Congress has failed, over and over, to enact any meaningful reforms or make the needed improvements. They instead bog down in bickering, with members insisting that if they don’t get what they want, they’ll block anyone else from getting anything. It’s childish, and it’s not leadership.
What this country needs from its Congress more than anything else is leadership. Members have mastered the art of finger-pointing, but continually fail to progress beyond recriminations. They’re more apt to assign blame than embark of the difficult work of compromise.
We believe the majority of Americans want immigration fixed. We believe most understand the value of sound immigration policy. And we wish Congress would, too.