Why Don’t Immigrants Just Become Legal? And Do They Get All Kinds of Public Benefits?

Sad child on black background. Portrait depression girlI am not an immigration lawyer; I am no expert in immigration. But I know that we cannot resolve our immigration crisis without dealing with actual facts rather than just making up stuff that fits with what we already believe. And we do need to fix this, because abusing children is just not acceptable.

So here is a blog by Eric Pavri, who is an immigration lawyer. He studied law at the University of Arizona (bar #44591 on the Supreme Court of Colorado website if you want to verify) and is currently Director of Immigration Services for Catholic Charities of Central Colorado. He wrote the following to “simply provide correct information so that people can decide for themselves what is right and best.” So:

Why Don’t Immigrants Just Become Legal?

“First, I want to acknowledge that asking why people don’t just become citizens, or whether people without legal status can get public benefits that U.S citizens cannot, are legitimate questions. If they are asked in good faith, no one should mind you asking them.

“Therefore, let me answer your questions.

“First, as to why young people who have DACA haven’t just become citizens: To become a U.S. citizen (other than by birth), one must first become a Lawful Permanent Resident (“green card” holder). Only after five years as a Permanent Resident can you apply to become a citizen. Thus, the obvious next question: how does a person become a Permanent Resident? There are three primary options to do so:

  1. Family-based petitions. This means that a U.S. citizen or Permanent Resident parent, spouse, adult child, or sibling files a “petition” for you. Depending on the category that you fall into, the wait will be anywhere from 1 – 22 years (yep) before you can use that petition to take the next step – applying to become a Permanent Resident (background checks, medical exam, more fees, etc.). That works for people living outside the U.S., but for those who have been here, it may not be possible if they entered the U.S. illegally, even if they were minor children when they did so.
  2. Employment-based petitions. A U.S. employer can similarly sponsor you, but generally only if you are in a profession requiring an advanced degree or unique skills (doctors, software engineers, world-class athletes to coach professional sports teams, etc.). Even then, the potential employer must generally also prove that they made good-faith efforts to hire a U.S. citizen for the position, but no qualified applicants applied.
  3. Diversity visa lottery. Every year, the U.S. government selects 50,000 people worldwide who enter a lottery and pass background checks to come to the U.S. as Permanent Residents. This lottery, however, is only available to people from countries that traditionally send few people to the US – so, for example, people from countries such as Mexico, the Philippines, China, Guatemala, India, El Salvador, and other countries that send larger numbers of immigrants to the U.S. do not have this option.

“Extra note: The current Administration has actively sought to eliminate or dramatically limit Options #1 and #3. The new term being used in the attempted re-branding of Option #1, family-based immigration, which has been the basic principle of U.S. immigration law for over a century, is “chain migration”. If those two options are in fact eliminated or curtailed, legal immigration to the U.S. will be significantly reduced.

“The KEY POINT to all of the above: If you do not qualify for one of these 3 options, then there is no “line” to get into to legally become a Permanent Resident and eventually a U.S. citizen. So, if you are not fortunate enough to have, say, a U.S. citizen spouse or a graduate degree in computer science, you very likely can never become a citizen of the United States.

“Second, one commenter above asked why President Obama, when he established DACA in 2012, did not just create a path to citizenship for these young people at that time. The answer: earlier that year, Congress had for the 11th year in a row failed to pass the Dream Act, which would have done exactly that. The President acting through his authority as head of the Executive Branch cannot create a path to Lawful Permanent Residency (and eventual US citizenship). Only a law, passed by Congress and then signed by the President, can accomplish that. So President Obama on June 15, 2012 created the more limited DACA program through Executive Action – which is why President Trump, as the new President, was able to end the program, also without an act of Congress, last fall.

Do They Get All Kinds of Public Benefits?

 

“Finally, as to the question of immigrants receiving public benefits, only a U.S. citizen or a Lawful Permanent Resident (green card holder) can receive almost all types of public benefit – including Medicaid, Medicare, SSI disability, Social Security payments for seniors, TANF, and food stamps. The irony: most undocumented immigrants work under made-up Social Security numbers and so receive a paycheck from which Social Security, federal income taxes, and state income taxes are withheld, and of course they pay the same local sales and property taxes as anyone else through retail purchases, pass-through costs of apartment leases, etc. Same of course goes for the 800,000 current DACA recipients, who are authorized to legally work in the U.S. But none of those employees, despite paying IN to the system, will ever receive those public benefits listed above, that are paid for by the money withheld from their paychecks. So they are propping up our federal and state government entitlement programs because they pay in but won’t ever take out.

“The following are the public benefits that undocumented immigrants can receive in United States:

  1. Public education for children in grades K-12. This was definitively established by a 1982 Supreme Court case, Plyler v. Doe. The Supreme Court in its reasoning explicitly stated that it would not serve the overall public good of the U.S. to leave many thousands of children uneducated.
  2. Emergency room services, but only to the point where the patient is considered “medically stable”, at which point he/she is released. These services are not free, however, as in my job I meet hundreds of immigrant families who sacrifice over years to slowly pay off high emergency room medical bills.
  3. WIC assistance. This is for milk, food, etc, and available only to pregnant mothers. The rationale is that the children in the womb will be U.S. citizens when born, and therefore it is in the long-term economic best interests of the nation to ensure that they receive adequate prenatal nutrition to improve their chances of being productive citizens in the decades to come.
  4. Assistance from police if they are the victim of a crime and call for help. To their credit, the vast majority of our Colorado Springs law enforcement officers take their duty to protect all people seriously. Chief Carey of the CSPD and Sheriff Elder of the EPCSO have made clear that their officers can’t do their most important job – keeping us safe by getting dangerous criminals off our streets – if a whole class of people (undocumented immigrants) is afraid to call 911 to report crimes that they witness or are victim to.
  5. Assistance from a fire department. Rationale, besides the obvious moral one: If your house was next to that of an undocumented immigrant family, would you want the firefighters to let that house continue to burn, putting yours at risk of catching on fire too?

“And that’s it. Those, to the best of my knowledge, are the only public benefits that an undocumented immigrant can receive in just about any part of the United States. As someone who directs a small office that works with hundreds of low-income immigrant families per year, know that when I see the precarious economic situation of many of these families, I’d help them access other benefits if they could. But they simply can’t. Now, children of undocumented parents, born in the U.S., are U.S. citizens under the 14th Amendment (the one that declares that all human beings born on U.S. soil are citizens – this was passed immediately after the Civil War to forever end the legal argument that African Americans were not U.S. citizens). As such, those children can qualify for the same public benefits as any other U.S. citizen, if they qualify through economic need or disability. But their parents or undocumented siblings cannot.

“I hope that this information has been useful to those willing to read through this long explanation. Please know that even this long summary leaves out a ton of detail — there are tens of thousands of pages of statutes, regulations, internal federal agency procedures, and court decisions guiding how all of this is interpreted and implemented. But please take my word that I honestly believe that no detail I omitted for conciseness changes the basic points above. And I’d be happy to answer questions if you have them. Like I said, I don’t mind honest questions, and I believe that legitimate questions asked in good faith deserve well-informed, accurate answers. If all of us in the U.S. would be willing to actually listen to each others’ sincere concerns and do our best to answer each others’ questions, instead of just yelling at each other or retreating to our corners of the internet (left OR right) where everyone already agrees with us – well, I think we’d move our nation forward a lot more effectively.”

What’s the Deal with Family Separation?

Why Pediatricians Worry about Family Separation:IMMIGRANT-CHILD-CRIES-06-18

Sadly, we have lots of data about the damage done to children when they are separated from their families.

  • In Romania during his tenure as communist leader Nicolae Ceaușescu felt that the Romanian economy would improve if there were simply more Romanians, and so he pushed people to have children that they did not have the resources to care for. As a result, there were many Romanian children who grew up in orphanages.
  • In Australia, about 1 in 10 Aboriginal children were removed from their families to be raised by white Christians between 1910 and 1970.
  • In China right now many children, known as “the left behind,” live in outlying villages while their parents move away to work.

When children are separated from their families, their bodies suffer a stress response and secrete cortisol and adrenaline. These molecules initially damage and in the end can kill brain cells. Brain cells cannot repair themselves, so this kind of toxic stress can destroy both the white and gray matter in the child’s brain, resulting in permanent brain damage and lower overall brain activity.

Kids who are separated from their parents at a young age – those Romanian kids, the Aboriginal kids in Australia – have lower IQs, suffer the long term effects of PTSD, and their fight or flight response can be permanently broken. Their brains have trouble distinguishing what is safe from what is dangerous, so they will be scared of things that they should normally know are safe.

Those stolen Aboriginal kids have twice the rates of criminal arrests and gambling, and 60% more alcoholism.

Separated kids have more aggression, tend to withdraw from normal relationships, and have significantly higher rates of anxiety and depression. They are more likely to have high risk behaviors, get pregnant as teens, and commit suicide. It can affect their emotional development, which can lead to less resilience and adaptability later in life.

They are also at higher risk for long term physical problems including hypertension and cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and obesity.

To quote Dr. Hansa Bhargava at WebMD,  it can even potentially change their DNA, “affecting how their body and brain function for the rest of their lives.”

There is no doubt that separating kids from their families is as much child abuse as beating them, even before you add in how they are treated while being held in cages in constant light, noise, and cold, without the watchful eyes and comfort of their parents.

How Did This Happen So Suddenly?

First, some background. Entry into the US without a visa was perfectly legal (with an entrance fee) until 1929, when it was made a misdemeanor. Thousands of Mexicans were prosecuted for illegal entry between 1930 and the beginning of WWII (85-99% of the inmates in the booming border prison business were Mexican). Mostly white people got a pass.

World War II hit and suddenly we desperately needed those Mexican agricultural workers. We said “come on in!” and didn’t prosecute much again until 2005.

In the early 2000s life is places like El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras became a lot more dangerous. Gangs proliferated, and people came to our borders in increased numbers seeking a safer life for their families. Between 2003 and 2005 the number of illegal entries at our southern border went from 4000/year to 16,500/year; in 2010 it was 44,000; it peaked in 2013 at 97,000.

Recently the numbers overall have gone down but the number of families coming through has increased.

The immigration crisis is here.

So we reacted. A 1997 court had ruled that the government is must release children from detention in not longer than 20 days (Flores vs Reno) to either the parents, an adult relative, or a licensed program. In 2015 they expanded this to apply to children arrested with their families, not just unaccompanied minors.

Since we did not have enough beds for so many, this resulted in the practice of “catch and release.” Immigration aimed at prosecuting people who were dangerous to our national security, gang members, and criminals who had committed felonies rather than simple misdemeanors, and let families go.

On 4/6/2018 Attorney General Sessions announced a new policy of “zero tolerance.” This required every adult crossing the border illegally to be arrested and prosecuted for the misdemeanor offence of illegal border crossing, leaving their children stranded alone.

Not wearing a seatbelt is a misdemeanor. Do we expect to lose our kids forever if we are caught not wearing a seatbelt?

These kids – more than 2300 as I write – are now being housed in cages. We’ve seen pictures only of the older boys; the government will not allow any photos other than the ones they release themselves. The babies and toddlers are apparently being housed in “tender care” facilities, where the staff care for them but are not allowed to touch or comfort them. Hitler did this to babies as an experiment, to see how babies would do with food and care but no love. They all died.

They currently have no plan for returning these kids to their families. Some parents have been told they will never see their kids again. Some have already been deported to their home country without their children; other parents have been looking unsuccessfully for their children for weeks.

So when the head of HHS says we are not separating families, she is lying. When our president says he is merely following the Democrat’s laws, he is lying. There is no law, just a new policy that he could reverse with one order. When Sessions defends this with the Bible… I just can’t.

Session’s says he hopes that knowing this will happen will keep people from coming – an experiment, on babies. Trump says if the Dems sign his Immigration Bill (fund the wall, disavow the Dreamers) he will end it.

Yesterday the UN’s Human Rights Council criticized the practice of family separation, saying “The thought that any state would seek to deter parents by inflicting such abuse on children is unconscionable…People do not lose their human rights by virtue of crossing a border without a visa.”

So today we left the Human Rights Council.

So What Can We Do About  It?

First, we must stop separating families now. There is a bill in the House right now – S.3036 – to stop it. 100% of the Democrats have signed it, 100% of the Republicans have not. Our reps are playing political games while children suffer. Call your rep and let him know you want this stopped. Here in Alabama that rep is Senator Shelby at 202-224-5744.

Donate to KIND (Kids in Need of Defense).

What can we do long term?

  • We can help South American countries to become safer places, so families can stay in their homes.
  • We can aim better. Prosecute the people who have committed felonies, who might be a danger to our national security, and who are gang members.
  • we can require that employers who hire foreign agricultural and construction workers get the proper visas, pay reasonable wages, and don’t allow child labor.
  • We can allow asylum claims for domestic violence and gang violence.
  • We can streamline the path to citizenship so that it is accessible to all.
  • We can better fund our court system so that it does not take 2-3 years to work through an asylum claim.
  • We can use ankle bracelets to make sure the adults show up for their court dates, but can work and care for their children in the interim.
  • We can get big brains who know a lot more about immigration than I do to work on a bipartisan solution, instead of using these kids as pawns in a political game.
  • We can work together, Democrats and Republicans, to solve problems instead of acting like toddlers fighting over a prize.

We as Americans are abusing and damaging children to win political points. It must end. We have to be better than this.