Tag Archives: amnesty

What international evidence exists for adverse impacts from illegal immigration or amnesties for immigrants?

In the US, California is every restrictionist’s (and fair-minded skeptic’s) example of how badly things can go wrong if you mismanage immigration policy. I have not yet seen someone cite country-level evidence of poor immigration policy’s impacts: given that Italy and Spain have given multiple amnesties to unauthorised immigrants over the last 3 decades, and the current state of their economies, this seems surprising. Does anyone know of a comprehensive analysis that looks at jurisdictions outside the US?

To be clear, I often see specific references to how life in California is now terrible because of illegal immigration. Commonly-cited examples are the problem of the state government’s debt, a dysfunctional state government, soaring crime rates, deteriorating levels of social trust, a collapsing public school system, the high level of unemployment…I could continue on. I often see references made to California as the ultimate end-state for any jurisdiction that permits a large amount of illegal immigration, and would like to understand if this conclusion has been validated or supported by analyses that look at other jurisdictions with large amounts of illegal immigration. A previous post considered this question in the context of comparisons between the US states, but for this post, I’m interested in international comparisons.

I’m fine with somewhat unsophisticated stabs at this analysis: breadth can be just as important as depth, and given the rather poor state of knowledge about the ultimate impacts of high levels of immigration, any research or analysis can prove valuable. My understanding is that France and Germany both have ongoing processes for unauthorised immigrants to regularise their status, and considering the widespread use of discrete amnesties in other European countries’ immigration policies, it would be interesting to see if there are any different impacts, and what people’s thoughts are on the impact of either option has been relative to a counterfactual where these European countries did not regularise any unauthorised immigrants whatsoever.

The US has only implemented one amnesty of note, in 1986. In Europe, amnesties are much more common. Poland for example announced in 2011 its third amnesty since 2003 (though to be fair, Poland has much fewer unauthorised immigrants than the US). Surely there has been some study of the impacts of these amnesties, or even some informal comparison that correlates the number of unauthorised immigrants to various socioeconomic indicators at the country level. And I’m only really somewhat aware of amnesty policies in Europe: I’m not even sure what arrangements, if any, exist in other continents.

And going beyond amnesty, large numbers of unauthorised immigrants exist in various countries. The number of unauthorised immigrants could similarly be correlated to various indicators, as informal analyses in the US often do with California. If we rank countries by the percentage of their population that is present without legal authorisation, how would that compare to the ranking of countries by GDP per capita, or public debt per capita, or rankings in international educational aptitude surveys like PISA or TIMMS? What about ranking countries by the number of previously unauthorised immigrants whose legal status has since been regularised? Here are two charts (from link #3 at the end of this post) which rank EU countries:

EU-27 regularizations through programsEU-27 regularizations through mechanisms

A quick glance suggests that some of the worse-performing Eurozone economies have been much likelier to offer larger-scale regularisations. However I’m not sure what to make of Germany and France coming in right behind four of the PIIGS on this scale, or of Germany and France topping the list when it comes to mechanism-based (i.e. ongoing) regularisations. Moreover within the PIIGS it also seems quite clear that Italy and Spain are performing better than Greece (I am not sure where Portugal stands). So the correlation, if there is one, does not appear to be that strong.

(Something else that may be food for thought: according to the source for these charts, France once insisted that the EU adopt a continent-wide ban on mass regularisations of the “amnesty” type currently being discussed in the US. This idea was dropped because Spain vetoed it. It would be fascinating to learn what’s driving the different approaches here.)

If anyone knows of material that might be pertinent to the issues I’ve raised here, I would love to hear about it in the comments of this post. We can compile a compendium and document it on an Open Borders page about illegal immigration, and/or the regularisation of unauthorised immigrants. This compendium would be a useful reference for future discussions and blog posts on this site.

I’ll start by listing out some documents I’ve been able to find, and will add to this list as people post in the comments:

  1. Why Countries Continue to Consider Regularization, Amanda Levinson (2005) — a good summary of how different countries approach regularisation/amnesty, and where volumes stood as of 2005
  2. Regularisation programmes in France, Amanda Levinson (2005) — a good summary of the French approach, but no contextualisation with respect to how it compares to elsewhere
  3. Regularizations in the European Union, Kate Brick (2011) — probably comes closest to what I’ve been looking for, has excellent comparisons of different countries’ approaches to regularisation

Heightening the contradictions

I hope this becomes law and all…

Report: Senate immigration plan sets deportation timeframe

The bipartisan Senate immigration plan would deport immigrants who illegally entered the U.S. after 2011, a Senate aide told Reuters on Friday.

The plan would give most of the approximately 11 million unauthorized immigrants a way to stay in the U.S. and eventually seek citizenship — but those who entered the country since the beginning of 2012 would have to leave, according to the staffer.

“People need to have been in the country long enough to have put down some roots. If you just got here and are illegal, then you can’t stay,” the aide said.

The bipartisan “Gang of Eight” senators is working out the final details of a broad-ranging immigration reform bill, with hopes to unveil it on Tuesday so the Judiciary Committee can begin to examine it on Wednesday. Sources say major policy differences have been ironed out.

“I don’t see, looking forward the next few days, any major barrier in the way,” Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), who has led the immigration talks, said earlier this week.

Negotiators had hoped to unveil the legislation this week, but it slipped down the Senate agenda following Wednesday’s announcement of a deal on gun violence legislation.

The bill would increase border security, give unauthorized citizens permanent legal status and offer some a pathway to citizenship after 13 years, increase the number of high-skilled visas and create a guest-worker program for low-skilled immigrants. Both business and labor coalitions have been involved in the negotiations and are still on board.

… but it still leaves large, seemingly unanswerable questions about implementation and justice. First, the 2011 date is clearly arbitrary. No one could claim it was OK to immigrate with documents before 2011 but wrong thereafter. Second, how do you check whether people arrived in 2011 and after? Of course, everyone will have a strong incentive to say they arrived sooner. Third, the same compelling reasons of humanity and commonsense which motivate this amnesty will obviously still be around to motivate future amnesties. Indeed, an amnesty now (sorry for the politically incorrect terminology) will only further undermine the strange 20th-century national socialist notion that it’s somehow morally acceptable to seize by force a person who has done no one any harm, rip them out of their family and community, and ship them off to some country they don’t want to go to just because they happen to have been born there and weren’t issue some document by a consular official with whom none of the parties concerned (friends, relatives, landlords, etc.) are even acquainted. Fourth, because this amnesty will surely create greater expectations of future amnesties, it will increase the incentives for more people to come in anticipation of future amnesties. I’m all in favor of that. I support the amnesty as a means of incentivizing the next wave of undocumented immigration, as much as out of humanity and decent hospitality towards those who have arrived already. But at the end of the day, the norms and values and behaviors and assumptions of a decent society just cannot be reconciled with the practical aspect of migration restrictionism, and amnesty won’t solve the problem, but will only heighten the contradictions.

Heritage Immigration Study Fatally Flawed

This post was originally published on the Cato-at-Liberty blog here and is republished with the permission of the author.

There are indications that The Heritage Foundation may soon release an updated version of its 2007 report, “The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayer,” by Robert Rector. That 2007 report’s flawed methodology produced a grossly exaggerated cost to federal taxpayers of legalizing unauthorized immigrants while undercounting or discounting their positive tax and economic contributions – greatly affecting the 2007 immigration reform debate.

Before releasing its updated report, I urge the Heritage Foundation to avoid the same serious errors that so undermined Mr. Rector’s 2007 study. Here is a list of some of its major errors:

  1. Count individuals, not households.[1]  Heritage counts household use of government benefits, not individual immigrant use. Many unauthorized immigrants are married to U.S. citizens and have U.S. citizen children who live in the same households. Counting the fiscal costs of those native-born U.S. citizens massively overstates the fiscal costs of immigration. 
  2. Employ dynamic scoring rather than static scoring. [2] Heritage’s report relies on static scoring rather than dynamic scoring, making the same mistake in evaluating the impact of increased immigration on welfare costs that the Joint Committee on Taxation makes when scoring the impact of tax cuts. Instead, Heritage should use dynamic scoring techniques to evaluate the fiscal effects of immigration reform. For example, Heritage should assume that wages and gross domestic product are altered considerably because of immigration policy reforms. In contrast to that economic reality, immigrant wages, gross domestic product, and government welfare programs are unrealistically static in Mr. Rector’s study. His study largely ignores the wage increases experienced by immigrants and their descendants over the course of their working lives, how those wages would alter after legalization, and the huge gains in education amongst the second and third generation of Hispanics.[3] Heritage is devoted to dynamic scoring in other policy areas – it should be so devoted to it here too.[4]
  3. Factor in known indirect fiscal effects.[5]  The consensus among economists is that the economic gains from immigration vastly outweigh the costs.[6] In 2007, Mr. Rector incorrectly noted that, “there is little evidence to suggest that low-skill immigrants increase the incomes of non-immigrants.” Immigrants boost the supply and demand sides of the American economy, increasing productivity through labor and capital market complementarities with a net positive impact on American wages.[7] Heritage should adjust its estimates to take account of the positive spill-overs of low-skilled immigration.
  4. Assume that wages for legalized immigrants would increase – dramatically.[8]  Heritage did not assume large wage gains for unauthorized immigrants after legalization.  In the wake of the 1986 Reagan amnesty, wages for legalized immigrants increased – sometimes by as much as 15 percent – because legal workers are more productive and can command higher wages than illegal workers.  Heritage should adopt similar wage increases to estimate the economic effects of immigration reform if it were to happen today.[9] 
  5. Assume realistic levels of welfare use.[10]  Vast numbers of immigrants will return to their home countries before collecting entitlements,[11] the “chilling effect” whereby immigrants are afraid of using welfare reduces their usage of it, and immigrants use less welfare across the board.[12]  100 native-born adults eligible for Medicaid will cost the taxpayers about $98,000 a year.  A comparable number of poor non-citizen immigrants cost approximately $57,000 a year – a 42 percent lower bill than for natives.  For children, citizens cost $67,000 and non-citizens cost $22,700 a year – a whopping 66 percent lower cost.  Heritage should adjust its estimates of future immigrant welfare use downward. [13] 
  6. Use latest legislation as benchmark.[14]  The current immigration plan, if rumors are to be believed, would stretch a path to citizenship out for 13 years.[15]  Most welfare benefits will be inaccessible until then, so Heritage’s report must take that timeline into account.
  7. Remittances do not decrease long term consumption.[16]  Remittances sent home by immigrants will eventually return to the U.S. economy in the form of increased exports or capital account surpluses.  Heritage should recognize this aspect of economic reality rather than assuming remittances are merely a short-term economic cost.  
  8. Factor in immigration enforcement costs.[17]  Heritage did not compare costs of legalization and guest workers to the costs of the policy status quo or increases in enforcement.  The government spends nearly $18,000 per illegal immigrant apprehension while the economic distortions caused by forcing millions of consumers, renters, and workers out of the U.S. would adversely affect income and profitability.[18]
  9. Use transparent methodology.[19]  Heritage’s methodology should replicate that of the National Research Council’s authoritative and highly praised – even by immigration restrictionists – study entitled The New Americans.[20]  That study is the benchmark against which all efforts at generational fiscal accounting – including Heritage’s 2007 report – are measured.  If Heritage deviates from their methods, it should explain its methodology in a clear and accessible way that states why they altered practice.[21]
  10. Don’t count citizen spouses.[22]  Heritage counted U.S.-born spouses of unauthorized immigrants as fiscal costs.  Counting the net immigrant fiscal impact means counting immigrants and perhaps their children at most,[23] not native-born spouses who would be on the entitlement roles regardless of whether they married an immigrant or a native-born American.
  11. Suggest changes to the welfare state.  Heritage has elsewhere called low-skill migrant workers “a net positive and a leading cause of economic growth”[24] and accurately reported that “[t]he consensus of the vast majority of economists is that the broad economic gains from openness to trade and immigration far outweigh the isolated cases of economic loss.”[25]  Instead of arguing against low-skill immigration, Mr. Rector should instead suggest reforms that would, in the words of Cato’s late Chairman Bill Niskanen, “build a wall around the welfare state, not around the country.”[26]

It is imperative that the economic costs and benefits of increased immigration be studied using proper methods and the most recent data.  A previous report by the Heritage Foundation in 2006 entitled, “The Real Problem with Immigration … and the Real Solution,” by Tim Kane and Kirk Johnson roundly rejected the negative economic assessments of Mr. Rector’s 2007 study.[27]  Not only does Mr. Rector not speak for the broad conservative movement; it appears that economists who have worked for the Heritage Foundation also disagree with Mr. Rector’s conclusions. 

For decades, the Heritage Foundation has been an influential intellectual force in conservative circles.  Its economic analyses have been predicated on consideration of the dynamic effects of policy changes as opposed to static effects.  Unfortunately, Mr. Rector’s past work has not been consistent in this regard, employing the same static scoring conservatives have traditionally distrusted in other policy areas. 

Many conservatives rely on the Heritage Foundation for accurate research about immigration’s impact on the economy.  Before releasing another study assessing the net fiscal impacts of immigration reform, Heritage should correct the errors outlined above to guarantee the most accurate information on this important topic is available.


[1] Rector and Kim, “The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayer,” Heritage Special Report, SR-14, May 21, 2007, p. 1.

[2] Rector and Kim, “The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayer,” Heritage Special Report, SR-14, May 21, 2007, p. 14.

[3] Fry and Lopez, “Hispanic Student Enrollment Reach New Highs in 2011,” Pew Hispanic research Center, August 20, 2012.

[4] Beach, “It is Time to Include Dynamic Economic Analysis in the Process of Changing Tax Policy,” Heritage Testimony on the Economy, October 6, 2011. 

[5] Rector and Kim, “The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayer,” Heritage Special Report, SR-14, May 21, 2007, pp.19-20.

[6] Kane and Johnson, “The Real Problem with Immigration … and the Real Solution,” Heritage Institute Backgrounder, No. 1913, March 1, 2006, pp. 2-3.

[7] Borjas and Katz, “The Evolution of the Mexican-Born Workforce in the United States,” in Mexican Immigration to the United States¸NBER Book, May 2007, Lewis, “Immigrants-Native Substitutability: The Role of Language Ability,” NBER Working Paper 17609, forthcoming in David Card and Stephen Raphael, eds., Ottaviano and Peri, “Rethinking the Effects of Immigration on Wages,” Journal of the European Economic Association, 2012.  Peri and Sparber, “Task Specialization, Immigration, and Wages,” American Economic Journal: Applied Economic, 2009, Peri and Sparber, “Highly-Educated Immigrants and Native Occupational Choice,” Centre for Research and Analysis of Migration Discussion Paper Series No. 13/08, November, 2008.

[8] Rector and Kim, “The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayer,” Heritage Special Report, SR-14, May 21, 2007, pp. 19-20.

[9] Amuedo-Dorantes, Bansak, and Raphael, “Gender Differences in the Labor Market: Impact of IRCA,” American Economic Review, 2007, Rivera-Batiz, “Undocumented Workers in the Labor Market: An Analysis of Earnings of Legal and Illegal Mexican Immigrants in the United States,” Journal of Population Economics, 1999, Kossoudji and Cobb-Clark, “IRCA’s Impact on the Occupational Concentration and Mobility of Newly-Legalized Mexican Men,” Journal of Population Economics, 2000, Kossoudji and Cobb-Clark, “Coming Out of the Shadows: Learning about Legal Status and Wages from the Legalized Population,” Journal of Labor Economics, 2002, Baker, “Effects of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act on Crime,” SSRN Working Paper, 2011.

[10] Rector and Kim, “The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayer,” Heritage Special Report, SR-14, May 21, 2007, p. 8.

[11] Alden, The Closing of the American Border: Terrorism, Immigration, and Security Since 9/11, New York, NY: HarperCollins Publishers, 2008, p. 74.

[12] Ku and Bruen, “Poor Immigrants Use Public Benefits at a Lower Rate than Poor Native-Born Citizens,” Economic Development Bulletin, Cato Institute, No. 17, March 4, 2013.

[13] See Ku and Bruen, “Poor Immigrants Use Public Benefits at a Lower Rate than Poor Native-Born Citizens,” Economic Development Bulletin, Cato Institute, No. 17, March 4, 2013.

[14] Rector and Kim, “The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayer,” Heritage Special Report, SR-14, May 21, 2007, p. 21.

[15] Bennett, “Senators Agree on Path to Legal Status for Illegal Immigrants,” Los Angeles Times, March 11, 2013.

[16] Rector and Kim, “The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayer,” Heritage Special Report, SR-14, May 21, 2007, p. 30.

[17] Rector and Kim, “The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayer,” Heritage Special Report, SR-14, May 21, 2007, p. 20.

[18] Nowrasteh, “The Economic Case against Arizona’s Immigration Laws,” Cato Institute Policy Analysis, No. 709, September 25, 2012.

[19] Rector and Kim, “The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayer,” Heritage Special Report, SR-14, May 21, 2007, pp. 8-9, 23.

[20] This advice is based on praise of those methods by the Center for Immigration Studies, a restrictionist think-tank in Washington, D.C.: Camarota, “The High Cost of Cheap Labor: Illegal Immigration and the Federal Budget,” Center for Immigration Studies, August 2004.

[21] See Smith and Edomnston, eds., The New Americans: Economic, Demographic, and Fiscal Effects of Immigration, Washington, D.C.: National Research Council, 1997.

[22] Rector and Kim, “The Fiscal Cost of Low-Skill Immigrants to the U.S. Taxpayer,” Heritage Special Report, SR-14, May 21, 2007, p. 9.

[23] Kandel, “Fiscal Impacts of the Foreign-Born Population,” CRS, October, 2011, R42053, p. 8.

[24] Kane and Johnson, “The Real Problem with Immigration … and the Real Solution,” Heritage Institute Backgrounder, No. 1913, March 1, 2006, p. 3.

[25] Kane and Johnson, “The Real Problem with Immigration … and the Real Solution,” Heritage Institute Backgrounder, No. 1913, March 1, 2006, p. 3.

[26] Niskanen, “Build a Wall Around the Welfare State, Not Around the Country,” Cato Institute Blog, June 15, 2006.

[27] Kane and Johnson, “The Real Problem with Immigration … and the Real Solution,” Heritage Institute Backgrounder, No. 1913, March 1, 2006.

An Apology, Not a Fine

During the last week in January, frameworks for American immigration policy changes were unveiled by both President Obama and a group of senators from both parties. Both frameworks propose legalizing the status of millions of undocumented immigrants, which would be wonderful for these individuals. However, both involve the payment of a fine as part of the application for legal status. While legalization with a fine is preferable to the status quo, imposing a fine is inappropriate.  Undocumented immigrants deserve an apology with their legalization, not a fine.

These fines of unspecified amounts are apparently meant to punish immigrants for violating the law by either entering the country without permission or staying beyond the period of time permitted by their visas. Mr. Obama’s framework states that “immigrants living here illegally must be held responsible for their actions by passing national security and criminal background checks, paying taxes and a penalty…” The senators’ framework states that their legalization process would involve undocumented immigrants “… settling their debt to society by paying a fine and back taxes…”

But haven’t undocumented immigrants residing in the U.S. been punished enough? Many have had to endure the expense and hardship of sneaking across the U.S. border, paying smugglers large amounts for their services, and exposing themselves to harsh terrain, weather, and criminals. Once in the U.S., they have faced limited employment opportunities, often having to work for low wages under abusive employers who ignore labor laws. They have had to live with the constant fear of apprehension, detention, and deportation of either themselves or family members. Some have been separated from family members who have been detained or deported.

Moreover, prohibiting their entry or ability to stay was immoral in the first place. The Open Borders site offers a number of arguments showing that restricting immigration is unjust.

Another argument against restrictions which is germane to American policy can be added.  While the argument on its own does not make a complete case for an open borders immigration policy, it does create a presumption in favor of such a policy in which the burden is on opponents of the policy to prove that it would not be not morally correct.  The argument is founded on the concept that a large portion, probably a majority, of today’s Americans are the beneficiaries of largely open immigration policies for Europeans and Canadians which existed before restrictionist laws were instituted in the 1920s. Until the federal government took control of immigration in the late 19th century, colonies and then the states had some restrictions on the immigration of some groups, such as paupers. However, Mae Ngai of the University of Chicago states in Impossible Subjects: Illegal Immigrants and the Making of Modern America that “until the late nineteenth century in the United States, immigration was encouraged and virtually unfettered.” Even after the federal government assumed control of immigration in the late 19th century, Ms. Ngai notes that “as a practical matter mass immigration from Europe faced few legal impediments in the late nineteenth and early twentieth century… Despite the growing list of excludable categories, the Immigration Service excluded only 1 percent of the 25 million immigrants from Europe who arrived in the United States from 1880 to World War I.” Before the 1920s, immigrants did not face the maze of requirements that exist today, such as having family in the U.S., particular skills, or a job offer, nor were there annual limits on the number of immigrants.

How many Americans today are U.S. citizens because their European or Canadian ancestors were able to easily immigrate before the 1920s? Probably a majority. About 63% of the current U.S. population is non-Hispanic white. It is difficult to precisely determine the percentage of this group whose ancestors came before the 1920s, but some estimates can be made. In 1920, before the restrictive immigration laws, about 95 million out of the about 106 million people in the U.S. were counted as “white,” which one can safely assume were the immigrants or descendants of immigrants who benefitted from the open immigration laws. While about 13 million European, Canadian, and Oceanian immigrants have arrived since then, it is safe to conclude that a large majority of today’s European Americans, perhaps about 90%, are the descendants of the 95 million “white” Americans from 1920. European Americans are still the largest demographic group in the U.S. today, and most of them (myself included) are citizens today due to the much more open pre-1920s immigration systems.

There are other fortunate European Americans who owe their citizenship to ancestors who broke the immigration laws of the 1920s or the restrictionist laws that replaced them. Attesting to the fact that many European immigrants have been illegally in the U.S. since the 1920s, the Immigration Policy Center states that about 200 thousand Europeans illegally present in the U.S. received amnesties from 1925 to 1965. One illegal entrant was the grandfather of Frank Bruni. Mr. Bruni, a columnist for the New York Times, writes that his Italian grandfather entered the U.S. illegally in 1929 and that “… for a long time, like the estimated 11 million illegal immigrants at the center of our current political debate, Mauro Bruni wasn’t supposed to be here. He was trespassing in the country he came to love more fiercely than the one he’d left, the country in which his children and their children would lead highly productive lives, pay many millions of dollars in taxes over time, and get to be a small part of the decision, as voters, about how we were going to treat his spiritual descendants, who traveled here as he did: without explicit invitations or official authorization but with such ferocious energy, such enormous hope.” While not advocating for open immigration, Mr. Bruni adds that “more Americans than admit or even know it have roots like mine and are the flowers of illegal immigration… it must inform our understanding of the people whose tomorrows are in the balance.”

The Immigration Policy Center notes that “many people assume that their family immigrated to the U.S. legally, or did it ‘the right way.’ In most cases, this statement does not reflect the fact that the U.S. immigration system was very different when their families arrived, and that their families might not have been allowed to enter had today’s laws been in effect.” Most of today’s Americans should recognize that their citizenship is due to the good fortune that their forebears entered when America was mostly open to immigrants or that when the gates were later mostly closed their predecessors broke the law to get here. The implication is that the imposition of harsh immigration laws by these Americans on today’s immigrants may be unjust, and, in cases where the ancestor broke the law, hypocritical.  Unless there is strong evidence that an open immigration policy is not morally correct (other arguments show that an open borders policy is indeed the only moral policy), current immigrants should be allowed to move as freely (or more freely) into America as did the ancestors of most European Americans.

Almost twenty years ago, after undocumented immigrants from China arrived on a ship named the Golden Venture that ran aground off Queens, New York, A.M. Rosenthal of the New York Times wrote in a column entitled “Give Them a Parade”: “Let them in, those heroes from China, those men and women who sought the beautiful land, let them out of detention as swiftly as possible and then treat them with the courtesy, dignity and respect their brave hearts merit — that is what America should do for its own soul’s sake…we can show we remember who we are — a city that was made in large part by immigrants and refugees — by opening ourselves to their spiritual descendants, the Chinese of the Golden Venture.” A parade for the millions of undocumented in the U.S. today might not be feasible. But legalization without fines would be. So would an apology, for unjustly imposing immense suffering on a group that came to America with the same dreams as immigrants of past centuries.

Unlawful Presence Waivers Are Not Amnesty

The post was originally published at the Cato@Liberty blog here and is reproduced with permission from the author.

Under current law unauthorized immigrant spouses or children of U.S. citizens can gain lawful permanent residency (LPR) status if they return to their home country to apply at a U.S. consulate or embassy. The Catch-22 is that unauthorized immigrants who have lived here are barred from returning for up to ten years once they leave the U.S. The immigrant has to apply for an unlawful presence waiver to remove the bar, a process that could take up to 28 months, including appeals, separating the immigrant from his U.S. family in the mean time. Consequently, many unauthorized immigrants who could regularize their status do not take this opportunity.

The government is now asking for comments on a proposed rule change that would close part of that administrative Catch-22. Under the proposed rule an unauthorized immigrant could apply for and adjudicate the waiver before departing for interviews in consulates abroad, shortening the separation time between the immigrant and his family. Half of waivers are approved in seven days at the American consulate in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico. The other half can take years.

The waiver removes the bar on returning if the immigrant can show that “being separated from their U.S. citizen spouse or parent would cause that U.S. citizen relative extreme hardship.” Extreme hardship only applies to the migrant’s U.S. citizen spouse or parent, not to the immigrant himself or his U.S.-citizen children. Extreme hardship is determined by USCIS bureaucrats where relevant factors include the intensity of family ties, health, age, financial impact, and country conditions. Financial problems and the normal hardship of familial separations are not, by themselves, sufficient reasons to grant a waiver.

Even with those strict legal requirements, thousands of people could have their immigration status legalized. Continue reading “Unlawful Presence Waivers Are Not Amnesty” »