Under Analysis: Immigration law questions, issues and alternatives

Mark Levison, The Levison Group

It seems like a good time to talk about immigration law and current events. At least everybody else is doing it. George Bush tried unsuccessfully to reform U.S. immigration laws and he considers that one of the failures of his presidency. He blames Congress as having too shortsighted a view and suggests presidents need to have a longer view. President Obama is working on immigration reform and it seems to have some bipartisan support, a rare happening in today’s political climate. The issue of immigration reform used to deal chiefly with Hispanics, laborers, and Mexico. Not anymore.

My grandfather ran in the Boston Marathon. Not the most recent one. He ran about a hundred years ago. Things have changed.

When my grandfather traveled to Boston, the press wrote about him. Known as the Mighty Atom — not a big man — he had Olympic credentials. Nobody worried about gun violence, individual acts of lunacy or terrorist attacks. Things seemed safer. Maybe people were violent then and perhaps history has not adequately recorded the negative events from those days. Nevertheless, it seems like the depravity of today’s meaningless killings such as those of Adam Lanza at Sandy Hook Elementary or the brothers Tsarnaev on the streets of Boston (who appear to have been driven by “religious” beliefs, some other distorted motivating force, and/or perhaps much more personal issues), is more prevalent now than in the past. It makes me wonder about the role of our penal laws, our immigration laws, and their efficacy.

Needless to say, it is shocking to learn that some of the Tsarnaevs collected roughly $100,000 in welfare. It is infuriating that their mother is given television and radio time, a woman who went back to her native land in Russia after running out on bail for a shoplifting incident last summer. Their history falls under the category of “no good deeds go unpunished” — the Tsarnaev brothers were granted quick entry into our country as political refugees rather than through a normal immigration path. Refugee status is granted by America to those who have been displaced and/or may be in danger in their homelands. Our country reached out to help them, and was repaid with mindless violence.

I have been fortunate enough to travel throughout much of the world, and the truth is that even those with the least amount of money here, are generally economically better off than they were there, regardless of where “there” was.

Just after the bombing, I was at a good friend’s house — an American citizen who emigrated from Cuba. He said, “Mark, this is crazy. I know some Hispanics may rob or steal, but they don’t set off bombs.” He said, “American laws should not allow Muslims into this country for a few years until this whole thing gets resolved.” There is stereotype in his statements. Specifically prohibiting a religious group would enrage some, be contradictory to the American ideal, and would certainly infuriate Muslims, but if you replace the reference to “Muslims” with “people from chaotic, war-torn countries” it has a certain common-sense ring to it. When is enough, enough?

My friend’s claim that you can identify the violent propensity of immigrants by their nationality or religion is not quite accurate. Hispanic immigrants have not had a perfect past, and the violence perpetrated by a minority of their group has not been limited to the low-level, “typical” street crime, as he proclaimed. For example, in 1950, in what has been described as “the biggest gunfight in secret service history,” Puerto Ricans Griselio Torresola and Oscar Collazo attempted to assassinate President Truman in an act designed to draw attention to the Puerto Rican independence movement.

Immigration questions are certainly not easy, but America has been, and still needs to be, the directional light for the evolution of the world. We should not underestimate the impact of the modern day Boston Massacre, and we need to understand the sentiment that something must be done. The terror wrought by the Tsarnaev brothers is not only the immediate physical cost to the lives of the three individuals killed, the 264 directly physically harmed, and the impact on all of their families. The more chilling long term effect may be that the brothers Tsarnaev have demonstrated how easy it is to cause chaos wherever groups are assembled — which happens every day in every large city throughout this country.

It is not totally clear why the Tsarnaevs did what they did. It may have had something to do with religion. It may have emanated from the historical rage of a perceived oppressed Chechen people, or the acts may fall into the general lunacy or social misfit category of a Jared Loughner who shot Congresswoman Giffords and others. In fact, all three “rationales” may be present.

My Cuban friend proudly showed me the Certificate of Citizenship he had framed on his wall. He works hard and he sends lots of money to his mother in Cuba. His brother has recently joined him here. He was a doctor in Cuba and is currently doing menial jobs in this country. Despite his job displacement, there is no doubt this is where he wants to be.
Yes, immigration law questions are not easy. We must balance the access to the American dream, which partly makes us who we are, with the need to protect that dream for those who are here. In the balance, it seems like immigration should continue, but the immigration laws ought to be tightened up. Immigrants and perhaps even refugees should be required to either have demonstrable job skills or have sponsors willing to sign their name on the dotted line and take responsibility for them in an “if they get deported, you get deported” buddy system. Perhaps refugees seeking asylum “citing fears of deadly persecution,” ought to be banned from receiving welfare – at least for a significant time.
Shouldn’t asylum and the opportunity to live and prosper here be enough? Once being placed on the CIA’s Terrorist Identities Datamart Environment database, as was the older brother, can’t we expedite deportation, lest innocent Americans suffer “deadly consequences?” Some will say the laws are fine the way they are. They could be right, but they didn’t work out very well in the case of the brothers Tsarnaev.


Under Analysis is a nationally syndicated column. Mark Levison is a member of the law firm Lashly & Baer. You can reach the Levison Group in care of this paper or by e-mail at comments@levisongroup.com.
© 2013 Under Analysis L.L.C.