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Emma Lazarus Redux

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The United States is a country that has been built on immigration and by immigrants. For more than two centuries, people have come from all over the world to be Americans. And for all that time we have taken pride in our ability to integrate people from many backgrounds into one - E Pluribus Unum! Why, we even have a statue in the harbor of our largest city to welcome those from foreign lands: Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses, et cetera.

So it should be no surprise that we wonder how our immigration authorities ever managed to get their work so totally screwed up.

Undoubtedly, illegal immigration has a lot to do with this situation. We can't seem to control our borders, a thing that every nation needs to be able to do. And, especially in times of economic distress, we tend to get maddest at those who have taken advantage of this deficiency of ours.

But a lot of us were mad long before our economy got into distress. Some people just don't like the idea of foreigners flouting our laws. Others believe that these illegals are taking jobs away from Americans. Still others complain that they are driving down the wages of American workers. Then there are those who simply don't like folks who are "not like us" -who they claim are raising the violent crime rate in our country.

Still, wouldn't you think that after a couple of hundred years of immigration, we'd have figured out how to run this system?

Well, there's lots of evidence that we haven't. There are some 12-14 million undocumented workers and their families in the U.S. today. We keep telling one another we can't possibly deport all of them. Yet our immigration authorities keep running raids on the places where these undocumented folks are working, and rounding up hundreds to be deported. Now, we've even got a program that gives local law enforcement officers the authority to arrest and detain suspected illegals.

These people are often whisked away from their families to detention centers, which can be federal facilities built for illegal immigrants, state prisons, or county, town or private jails. These facilities are frequently far from the places where their apprehension took place, so the detainees often have no access to the records they'll need to plead their cases for staying in the U.S. They also have no access to lawyers, to telephones, or to their families. Due process is in pretty short supply in the immigration maze.

Immigration authorities detain more than 300,000 men, women and children every year in a network of some 400 private facilities and state and local jails. Unlike other federal incarceration systems, there are no binding regulations that govern the conditions in those facilities.

And, those conditions can only be described as subhuman - dangerously filthy, and without the most rudimentary sanitary facilities or basic medical care.

Those occupying these hell-holes include thousands of legitimate refugees and asylum seekers - who pose no danger to the United States and who have committed no acts of wrongdoing. They are being labeled "terrorists" and their applications for protection are being denied or delayed because of overly broad "terrorism" provisions in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). More than 18,000 refugees and asylum seekers have been directly affected by these provisions to date.

The detention and deportation issue is further complicated by immigration judges, many of who were political appointees during the George W. Bush administration and who have little or no experience in immigration law.

Most immigrants who appeal their cases to the Board of Immigration Appeals can not afford lawyers, though reliable data concludes that legal representation significantly increases their chances of winning, especially in cases where the immigrant is seeking asylum in the U.S.

While immigration officials are promising to clean up this disgraceful act - and Congress is slowly getting involved to make that happen - we learn of yet another Kafkasque regulation.

Each year, the US government sends officials overseas to interview thousands of people displaced by persecution and conflict, classifies a select number as refugees in need of resettlement, and brings them to the United States. After a year in the United States, every resettled refugee is required to apply for lawful permanent resident (LPR) status, more familiarly known as a "green card," in a procedure known as "adjustment."

The government does not formally notify them of the upcoming deadline and the refugees' limited English, ignorance about the requirement, confusion over the legal process, and lack of resources often keeps them from filing on time.

It will be hard to believe, but some of these refugees are actually jailed and held indefinitely for missing the paperwork deadline. And their detentions continue to be selective and arbitrary, and in violation of international human rights law.

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WILLIAM FISHER Social Media Pages: Facebook page url on login Profile not filled in       Twitter page url on login Profile not filled in       Linkedin page url on login Profile not filled in       Instagram page url on login Profile not filled in

William Fisher has managed economic development programs in the Middle East and elsewhere for the US State Department and the US Agency for International Development. He served in the international affairs area in the Kennedy Administration and now (more...)
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