September 3, 2016 1:15 PM
but he’s wrong about why.
This is a guest editorial by Tracie Klinke, an immigration attorney here in Atlanta.
After Donald Trump’s speech on immigration many people asked me what I thought about it. After all, as an immigration attorney steeped in the topic day in and day out, I’m bound to have an opinion or two! I think a more interesting question, though, would have been to ask me what I did after the speech. After listening to Mr. Trump’s speech, I went into the office Thursday morning more fired up than usual to get to work. I’m a strong believer that actions speak louder than words and I was anxious to get to action.
I went to work and helped a domestic violence victim from Jamaica get her green card; I helped a family from Congo file for asylum while their husband/father rots in a jail and is tortured there because he supported the opposition; I filed a waiver application for that Honduran man whose U.S. born wife breaks down in tears when she thinks of her husband leaving the country because he’s the one who holds her hand through chemo treatments; I even filed an application to ask that a Mexican mother without any status at all be granted legal status so she can stay here with her young U.S. citizen daughter who was sexually assaulted, near death, and now needs years of physical treatment – not to mention a lifetime of mental care.
Yes, these are the more dramatic stories I hear, but these are my clients and I am proud to be their attorney. Yet, I’m humbled. The grace that they show in the most trying of circumstances, their unwavering belief that the USA will protect them and allow them to become their best selves…well, I’m lucky to work with them.
Mr. Trump’s speech wasn’t about my clients, despite it being about immigrants. It was hardly about immigration law and policy – at least not the law and policy I know. Immigration law is intricate and insane. The mother of the sexually abused little girl – it will take her two years to get her case reviewed, five years of waiting on a list before she’ll be granted status, three years before she’ll be granted lawful permanent residency, and then maybe five years after that she’ll be able to apply for U.S. citizenship, but only if she’s an absolute model member of our community. The man whose wife has cancer – since he came to the U.S. illegally when he was 17 there’s no “line” for him to get in, even though he’s married to a U.S. citizen. His wife’s illness makes it a compelling circumstance for him to return to the U.S. before the required ten years that he’d otherwise be forced to wait outside of the United States before returning to her.
I didn’t hear Mr. Trump talk about fixing the very broken immigration system we have now. Perhaps we have such a high number of undocumented immigrants because the legal system does not do its job and families simply need to be together, regardless of how that happens. How do we keep these families together? How to we protect the families of U.S. citizens?
When Mr. Trump discussed how everyone who is in the country illegally must go home and apply for status, that’s difficult for me to imagine as an immigration attorney. Under the current laws that we have – established by Congress – each of these individuals will need a petition filed for them and they will face decades-long waits abroad to return. If you are the Mexican brother or sister of a U.S. citizen, your wait could theoretically be over 80 years. This is based on the numbers of visas Congress allocates per year, per family-relationship type. In addition, under current laws, many individuals will be inadmissible to the United States because they were in the U.S. for so long and face legal bars to returning. There is no line, no legal way for countless individuals to return – even if they were in the U.S. since they were six-months old, even if they have U.S. citizen children, even if they are married to a U.S. citizen, even if their only infraction was shoplifting a lipstick 20 years ago. Again, it comes back to fixing the legal system and Mr. Trump said nothing of this.
So, regardless of your thoughts on the political candidates or their purported policies, please don’t forget the individuals and the lives tangled up in this. I come to work and am blessed every day to hear these stories, yet so many others don’t have this privilege. Immigrants aren’t soundbites – they real people and they are loved by and needed by U.S. citizens. Immigration is not a Latino issue or an Asian issue. It’s an American issue and one that needs solutions from the inside-out, not merely calls for more enforcement.