Being an immigration attorney, I have met thousands of undocumented immigrants in the United States. Many of them, I can help to achieve lawful immigration status in the United States. However, there is a huge number of undocumented individuals in the United States who deserve an opportunity to legalize their status, and are not given that chance because of the archaic immigration laws currently in effect in this country.
I am talking about the parents of US citizen children.
In November 2014, President Obama announced a new program called Deferred Action for Parents of Americans and Lawful Permanent Residents (DAPA). This program would allow the parents of citizens who can prove they have lived in the United States since January 1, 2010, have good character, and have not committed any serious crime, to apply for valid work authorization. This would allow them to receive a social security card and to obtain a valid driver’s license. This program is NOT a pathway to lawful residency or citizenship, as some critics have wrongfully claimed.
Most of the men and women I have met who would qualify under this program are hard-working, tax-paying individuals who have lived in the United States for a long time. They started and raise their families here. They are involved in their children’s school programs. They coach little league and soccer. They are elders in their church, and volunteer at local shelters. They are your friend and next door neighbor. They have spent more of their lives in the United States than they ever did in their home countries. They are, in my eyes, Americans. However, they don’t have the paperwork to prove it.
The reason they have not yet been able to obtain lawful status, is because of the current immigration laws. Once a U.S. citizen turns 21, he can file a petition on behalf of his parents, requesting the government to grant his parents lawful permanent resident status in the United States. As part of that process, the child must prove he can support his parents financially and his parents undergo an extensive good character, security, and medical background check. This process can be fairly straight forward if the parent can prove that he or she entered the United States lawfully, with a proper visa or other entry document.
However, for parents of citizens who entered the United States without the proper documentation, the process becomes much more complicated. The parent must show that he has a spouse or parent who is a citizen or resident and who will suffer extreme hardship without him. The government does not look at the hardship the parent’s child will face without him. This means that millions of undocumented parents, who have lived in the United States for many years, and who have raised US citizen children cannot meet the qualifications for residency.
Although I understand the policy arguments behind these regulations, it seems blatantly unjust when you meet these hardworking and devoted parents face-to-face. Our immigration regulations, and the dogmas that created them, are extremely outdated. President Obama, through the DAPA program, is attempting to give these parents an opportunity for a bit of legitimacy in the United States, without re-writing the “labyrinth” that is our current immigration code.
I hope that the Supreme Court Justices, in deciding the fate of DAPA, remember these words of former President Lyndon B. Johnson:
The land flourished because it was fed from so many sources–because it was nourished by so many cultures and traditions and peoples.
The diverse backgrounds and cultures that unite together under our stars and stripes are what make this country such a wonderful place. To deny basic documentation to such a huge swath of the population would be gravely disappointing.