Illegal immigrant problem unrelated to property, fences

The seizures have begun. The federal Department of Homeland Security has begun filing condemnation lawsuits to take property along the Texas border so it can try to fence this country off from Mexico. The first lawsuits were filed earlier this month, beginning with people who hadn’t allowed government workers on their land to plot the fence line.

Even as the surveyors head out to draw the line and presidential and congressional candidates offer their own ideas on immigration reform, we continue to insist that their focus is woefully misplaced. Our immigration problem is not related to property, and it cannot be fixed by seizing land or building walls.

Those who support hiding themselves and their fellow Americans behind a wall often say it’s needed to stave off illegal immigration. This is a nation of laws, they insist.

Sadly, some laws are unjust, and review of those laws is appropriate. After all, our laws once enforced slavery and other segregationist policies.

In looking at our immigration laws, it is fair to ask why an estimated 12 million otherwise law-respecting people would knowingly break U.S. immigration laws, and why so many Americans, including respected business owners, so willingly help them and even give them jobs.

The obvious answer is these people recognize that U.S. immigration policy is woefully broken, beginning with the very laws they try to enforce. Congress has arbitrarily set quotas for the various permits and visas that allow foreign citizens to come into this country. Those visas are then parceled out according to country, based on our national relationship with each.

For example, in 2006 this country allotted 2,500 permanent resident visas, known as “green cards” (they’re actually pink or white, depending on whether they have biometric data). Only 418 were available to applicants from Mexico, our nearest neighbor and greatest source of foreign workers.

The annual allotment begins every April 1 — April Fool’s Day, appropriately enough. The backlog of applicants is so deep, however, that the application window closes on the same day and millions of people find that they will have to wait at least one more year to have their applications considered.

The numbers of permits are far too low if some 12 million, people above and beyond those who got legal documents, have been so easily absorbed into our society and our economy.

Clearly there’s a need for them; millions of jobs have gone to undocumented workers, and yet December’s unemployment rate remains low at 5 percent nationally and 4.5 percent in Texas.

Worse, federal processing of the relatively few applications that are filled is so inefficient, that some people have had to wait more than eight years from the time they got notice that their applications were being reviewed until they actually received legal residency permits.

Liken it to sitting at a stalled traffic light at 3 in the morning. Does it make any sense to sit there until dawn for the light to change? Of course not.

It’s easy to see that much of our immigration problem would vanish if lawmakers set more reasonable standards for legal immigration. Unfortunately, that can’t happen until the bureaucracy is reworked to handle the applications in a faster, more efficient manner.

If, in this nation of laws, the laws actually worked, we wouldn’t see so many people opting to go outside the law just to survive.