US Catholic Faith in Real Life

The Byzantine ways of immigration law

Father Tom Joyce CMF | Print this pagePrint | Email this pageShare

Something both immigrant advocates and those favoring a more restrictive policy have agreed on is that the system is broken. But they go off in different directions to find a way to fix it. The issue is usually reduced to further restriction or a path to citizenship. But if you look at the system, it's broken in many more ways – for the undocumented and the legal immigration alike. Here are two stories:

The Law is the Law:

A story out of Atlanta tells of a good student, paying her own way through college. She was brought to this country at 11 and is undocumented. She was stopped for a minor traffic violation. When she mistakenly - she says - gave the wrong address of her residence, she was charged with a felony. Her name was turned over to Immigration and Custom Enforcement and now she has a deportation order. ICE will allow her to finish her senior year and graduate, but the order still stands. The grounds for deporting her was meant for “dangerous criminals” and scofflaws – those who had previously been deported but returned without authorization to the United States. The case has created quite a stir in Atlanta (see NY Times.)

She now is an advocate for the Dream Act – a bill in Congress that would grant a path to citizenship to those who were brought to this country as minors, attend U.S. schools, and stay out of serious trouble. On graduating from college or completing military service, they could apply for a green card (permanent residency). Those who support the Dream Act point out that it is unfair to deport young people who had no choice in where to live, but now only or primarily know this country. Also it’s a terrible waste of talent and education paid by American taxpayers.

The Labyrinthine

A different case showed up at Princeton University. A graduate student studied at Oxford University, met a theology student, was married, and brought him to the United States. Technically he overstayed a visitor’s visa – something that was routinely remedied. The couple filled out the paper work, had the advice of an immigration lawyer, and was a assured that a green card would be issued. There was one oversight. Again there were assurances from Citizenship and Immigration Services that the mistake would be remedied. But the courts intervened.

In a case that is still on appeal to the Supreme Court, it was ruled that there was no room for forbearance. So the young theologian must return to England and wait ten years until he can be re-admitted. Now this type of case is rather clear and was usually handled with some sensitivity. But now the rules of deadlines are absolute. Comprehensive immigration reform is necessary not just to resolve the presence of 11 to 12 million undocumented in this country, but also to assist those who have entered according to the rules as well (see NY Times).