The reliable and predictable rule of law is an important part of the foundation of our free and prosperous society. Our immigration laws, which favor extended family members of legal residence, have not met America’s employment needs for decades. As a result, the number of illegal aliens in the U.S. is now estimated to be between 11 – 11.5 million. Most of them entered legally and overstayed their visas. To a large extent, the legal status of most of these illegal immigrants has been ignored, which undermines the rule of law.
A number of efforts to “fix” the immigration laws, in part to provide a pathway to legal status for long time illegal immigrants, have so far failed. For example, the Dream Act (Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act) was first introduced in 2001 and would have provided conditional legal residency for anyone who had entered the U.S. before the age of 16, lived here for at least five years, graduated from a U.S. high school, and passed criminal background checks. After passing additional conditions they could become legal permanent residents (green card holders). Most recently the Gang of Eight (4 Democrats and 4 Republicans) U.S. Senators agreed on a law passed by the Senate but not the House as the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013, which would, among other things, have provided a pathway to legal status for many “undocumented” residents.
Thus for some time the status of undocumented workers and others has been ignored or only lightly enforced in limited cases. About three quarters of the 11 million illegal immigrants have jobs. These exceed slightly the number of unemployed Americans of 7.6 million, which is considered full employment, who are temporarily between jobs. In short, deporting all illegal workers would seriously cripple the American economy; and thus their status has been routinely ignored. Over recent decades this state of affairs might be characterized as having become the customary law but it clearly violates statutory law. This should not go on without adjusting the law to reflect what society is willing to enforce.
The recent wave of arrests of illegal aliens appears to be a change in this customary law without a change in statutory law. “Fear and panic have gripped America’s immigrant community as reports circulate that federal agents have become newly aggressive under President Trump, who campaigned for office with a vow to create a ‘deportation force.’” “Immigrant-community-on-high-alert-fearing-trumps-deportation-force/2017/02/11/”. This is the wrong way to address the problem. Congress should step up and formally adopt immigration reform that enjoys broad support.