Mark Franke: Immigration: The dysfunctional reality


This is a sad tale but with a happy ending.

It is also a fairy tale subsumed in the gothic horror novel that is our immigration mess.

It’s about one immigrant who did everything he could legally to become a permanent resident of the United States and was thwarted time and time again until this summer when he finally was granted legal reentry to the United States and reunion with his wife and three children.

Here’s the timeline he faced. He began his application for residency five years ago. A year and a half later, it was approved. One year after that, he was given a week’s notice to return to Mexico for an interview, where he learned a few months later that he had to resubmit his application and be reinterviewed. That was nearly two years ago.

The family retained an immigration lawyer, whom I guess helped, but it still took two more years. Washington, D.C., is horribly inefficient. Just imagine what things are like in Mexico City.

Finally, he received governmental approval to immigrate to the United States. He wisely decided to go to the immigration center at the border town of Matamoros, where he could walk across the bridge and take a U.S. domestic flight to return to Fort Wayne. Except, of course, for a new technical delay that held him on the Mexican side of the border. This time, it was only weeks instead of months, but still.

Granted, originally, he was brought into the United States illegally as a minor. He held a job, married and had children. He chose to submit to the legal process for permanent residency rather than continue to live in an “illegal” or “undocumented” status (choose the terminology your bias prefers).

Think of the thousands who daily cross the Rio Grande and then are subjected to the tender mercies of federal, state and local governmental officials. I wonder if these thousands see the hypocrisy of northern big city mayors who loudly support open borders until overwhelmed Texas communities transport them to the unwelcome arms of these same mayors. The lucky ones get put up in posh Manhattan hotels, while most others get shuffled around.

Welcome to the dysfunctional reality show called the United States of America.

I am fed up with the political circus that is the immigration debate today. Extremists on both sides of the issue have frightened serious thinkers away from proposing and enacting a reasonable solution in line with our republican (small R) ideals. From my vantage point, and I am not alone in this, the two parties appear quite happy with the current state of affairs. It provides campaign fodder for inciting “the base,” which is political obfuscation to mean the most motivated primary election voters. They fear a resolution that would rob them of a 10-second soundbite to use in a campaign TV commercial or an exclamatory headline printed on a postcard.

Meanwhile, legitimate immigrants bear the full weight of the law simply because they believe the law deserves obedience. My friend is not the only one who has suffered for trying to do the right thing. A recent discussion among a small group of friends produced several similar anecdotes.

Am I being unfair? Perhaps, but I don’t think so. After all, the 535 members of Congress were elected to solve problems while protecting liberty. Have you seen much of either lately? And let’s not ask why our current president, who promised to unite the nation, hasn’t shown any unifying leadership on this … or anything else for that matter.

“Give me your tired, your poor, [y]our huddled masses yearning to breathe free.” So declares Emma Lazarus’ poem inscribed at the base of the Statue of Liberty in New York harbor. Of course, Ellis Island is not where the very real problem of uncontrolled immigration exists. It just takes longer there, a lot longer, than a quick dash across a shallow river.

These surely are the times that try men’s souls, but I don’t want to become one of Thomas Paine’s sunshine patriots who shrinks from service to his country when things get difficult. But what can we do? My friends and I developed a comprehensive package of immigration reforms that would establish “a high wall with a broad gate,” as one of our group described it, but it has no chance of passage given the ossified state of Congress.

The Continental Congress of Paine’s day also was every bit as inept as our current Congress, but then it didn’t have any real authority, a problem alleviated only with the adoption of the Constitution. That Constitution, which enumerated significant powers to Congress, still has writ today. It’s time those 535 paladins actually did something positive.

It makes one frustrated enough to support term limits. May I suggest a term limit of 30 days?

Mark Franke, an adjunct scholar of the Indiana Policy Review and its book reviewer, is formerly an associate vice chancellor at Indiana University-Purdue University Fort Wayne. Send comments to [email protected].

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