Ep. 1-2: Lots of Bills. Also, Immigration.

I’m sorry to say that the second episode fails to live up to the promise of the pilot. A lot is going on, but we’re not let into what any of it is. Some golfers are mad at a joke; Ms. GTA is mad at a bill; CJ is mad at a comment about another bill; Sam’s Fair Lady is mad at Sam, and then not; and Leo is mad at the VP, probably the only conflict that makes any sense in the entire episode. All this to say that there’s not a lot of policy going on in this episode, unless you count “hire a new media director” as policy. The ending sets up plenty of policy for the next episode, but we’re not there yet. Anyway, in the absence of a clear issue from this episode, let’s talk about a more topical one: immigration.

How do you become a U.S. citizen?

The simplest way is to be born to parents who are U.S. citizens. In peacetime, members of the military can also apply for naturalization after one year of service without obtaining a green card. Others must first hold a green card for five years, then pass a naturalization test on U.S. history and government. If you are married to a U.S. citizen, the green card must only be held for three years instead of five. (Source)

How do you get a green card?

It’s complicated. If your parents, spouse, or children (under 21) are already citizens, you can apply for a green card without waiting for a visa. If you are sponsored by a family member who does not meet these criteria, you have to apply for the limited number of visas available (226,000/year). If you have been hired by a U.S.-based company, you also have to apply for one of the 140,000 employment-based visas. Refugees and asylees can apply for permanent resident status after one year in the U.S. (in fact, refugees are required to do so). Many special program also exist, such as the Diversity Immigrant Program (green card lottery), which sponsors 50,000 visas/year for countries with low rates of immigration. Green cards only last 10 years, so if you haven’t become a citizen before yours expires, you have to go through the process again. (Source)

Is a green card the same thing as a visa?

No. Green cards confer permanent legal resident status on the holder; visas are temporary. The U.S. has an entire alphabet of different visas of different lengths for diplomats, students, athletes, temporary workers, tourists, professors, journalists, etc. They also have a visa waiver program for tourists of some countries (such as the EU).

Can illegal immigrants still become citizens?

All illegal immigrants must obtain a legal visa before they can apply for naturalization, but admitting to illegal status risks deportation. As always, there are exceptions. Obama’s 2012 Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Act (DACA) allows those who came to the U.S. illegally before the age of 15, have obtained a high school diploma or GED, and have not committed any serious crimes to defer deportation action for two years (subject to renewal). Immigrants seeking asylum or with other extenuating circumstances are also subject to prosecutorial discretion (deferred deportation action).

Why are we letting illegal immigrants become citizens? Why can’t we just deport them all?

Prosecutorial discretion is based off the reality that ICE (Immigrations and Customs Enforcement) has limited budget and manpower. An estimated 11 million people are currently in the country illegally, and deporting all of them would be a huge strain on resources. ICE tends to concentrate on illegal immigrants who pose some threat to our safety (criminals, individuals with suspected terrorist connections, etc) rather than families who are just trying to build a better life.

DACA in particular takes into account that not all illegal immigrants came of their own will. If the parent commits a crime, should we still hold the child accountable? Additionally, DACA only applies to immigrants with a high school diploma or equivalent, ensuring that would-be immigrants must be educated and able to contribute to society.

Aren’t illegal immigrants dangerous, though?

The evidence that illegal immigrants commit crime at a higher rate than native citizens is specious at best. The majority of undocumented immigrants are causing no harm to anyone. They left war, poverty, hunger, drug wars, gang violence, and numerous other horrific situations in search of a better life, just as the Pilgrims did in the 1600s. Multiple studies (1, 2, 3) have found that legal immigrants are less likely to commit crime than native citizens and that higher immigration rates lead to lower crime overall. Reliable data on illegal immigrants is difficult to obtain, but it’s not difficult to believe they would follow the same pattern.

What about Muslim immigrants? Surely they’re dangerous.

Islam is a religion of peace, and those who practice it in its original form are not prone to violence. ISIS and Al-Qaeda twist Islam into a radical ideology that hardly resembles Islam’s true teachings. Comparing ISIS to true Muslims is like comparing the KKK to true Christians.

If you need some statistics, the odds than an American will be killed in a terrorist attack is 1 in 3.6 million (taking into account data from 1975-2015). The odds of an American being murdered by anyone is 1 in 14,000, 253x higher. During this time period, 28 million foreigners entered the country for every single successful terrorist. Simply put, Muslim immigrants are not much of a threat. (Source, source #2 if you can access it).

I still think terrorism is kind of a big deal. Why is everyone so mad that Trump banned immigrants and visitors from such dangerous countries?

The 9/11 attacks were carried out by men from Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Lebanon, and the UAE. Trump’s executive order bans visitors from Iraq, Syria, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, and Yemen. See any overlap? In fact, no deadly attacks have been carried out by any nationals from those countries on US soil since 9/11 (although at least three non-deadly attacks have been attempted).

Since 9/11, a quarter of terrorist attacks in the US have been planned and carried out by individuals radicalized inside the US. 82% of convicted terrorists since 9/11 have been US citizens, 48% US-born (Source). Cutting off immigration might somewhat decrease the risk of terrorism, but not enough to justify the harm it does to refugees fleeing humanitarian crises.

Incidentally, Trump has not banned visitors from any countries where he has business interests, which include Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and the UAE. Draw your own conclusions.

 

Okay, fine, the ban’s not great, but what are we supposed to do about it?

Turns out, it’s sort of illegal. There are a couple cases for this, and the strongest comes from the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, which bars immigration quotas based on nationality (since updated by the Immigration Act of 1990, which is about the same but now allows homosexual immigrants as well). It replaced the National Origins Act, which set strict quotas on immigrants from countries outside the Western Hemisphere and prohibited immigration from the “Asiatic Barred Zone” entirely. Obviously, this was problematic, so the new act prevented preferential country-by-country treatment by setting a single per-country visa limit. Preferential categories are now based on family relations (immigrants with spouses in the US have preference over those with cousins) and skill sets (Nobel Laureates have preference over office workers) rather than country of origin (see the first entry about green cards).

The ACLU is already suing the White House over detainment of two Iraqi nationals, one of whom worked as a translator for the US military in Iraq. They argue that detention violates fifth amendment rights of due process. A federal judge has already granted a stay on deportation of people stranded at airports with newly invalid visas. Since it appears that legal counsel was not consulted before the order was issued, more legal challenges are doubtless forthcoming. For example, if Congress tries to shore up the ban with a law, it could get sued under the First Amendment (“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”). (More info on legal challenges here)

I’m still not completely sure I’m okay with all this immigration. Why can’t we just keep America the way it is?

Look, this is a country of immigrants. The Pilgrims were immigrants. Alexander Hamilton was an immigrant. Albert Einstein, Madeleine Albright, and Joseph Pulitzer were immigrants. Steve Jobs’ father was a Syrian migrant. Apple pie is American only in that it’s an immigrant, too – the apples we eat today originated in Asia. America is great because of its diversity, because it is a melting pot of a multitude of cultures and ideas and attitudes that have mixed together to form a whole greater than the sum of its parts. If we start shutting people out precisely when they need us most, we are turning our backs on the fundamental principles of this nation.

 

Josh and Donna watch: She loses him $100 (potentially twice), and he isn’t even mad! Probably because he knows love is priceless. On a side note, what kind of office pot starts at $100?

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