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home : opinions : opinions August 20, 2017

5/16/2017 12:05:00 PM
Bring immigrants out of the shadows
By Brent Renison

Craig Rullman recently authored a column entitled "The Great Wall of Trump" which provided details drawn from his experience as a narcotics officer in California and recently released prison statistics to seemingly suggest that almost all those arrested in the drug trade were individuals in the U.S. illegally. That isn't true, and neither are his claims that immigrants just bring trouble and work for nearly nothing.

According to statistics Rullman cited, there were 41,528 people incarcerated in federal facilities who were not U.S. citizens. This does not mean that that the person is in the country illegally, as there are green-card holders who commit crimes, which then make them deportable. For example, Joao Herbert was an orphan born in Brazil when he was adopted by a U.S. couple at the young age of 8 and raised in Ohio. His American parents failed to file the citizenship paperwork long in advance of his 18th birthday and he did not become a citizen. In high school, he sold marijuana to another classmate, and was ordered deported to Brazil, where he was subsequently murdered. Someone like Joao would be counted in that total.

Additionally, of the 41,528 people, a total of 14,798 were in prison solely due to immigration offenses, leaving 26,730 incarcerated for other reasons. The charge of illegal re-entry after deportation is a felony charge, and is easily proven since the removal order is on file and the person is here. Somewhere between a quarter and a half of all federal prosecutions nationwide are for this charge alone. It represented one in six prosecutions initiated in Oregon in 2014.

The fact is that U.S. citizens commit crimes at much higher rates than immigrants. Two studies, the Sentencing Project and the Cato Institute study, show that immigrants commit less crime. The Cato study found 1.53 percent of U.S. citizens are incarcerated nationwide, compared to 0.85 percent of undocumented immigrants and 0.47 percent of documented immigrants.

Rullman discusses immigrants' abuse of hospital care, gang members, bullet holes and stab wounds, and states that "All of that trouble is headed toward Central Oregon, by the way." This is fear mongering. There is no evidence for such a claim. The immigrants of Central Oregon, both documented and undocumented, are no more criminals than the rest of the citizen population. Additionally, a majority of the undocumented have family who are U.S. citizens. Many are eligible to get green cards from an immigration judge, but oddly only if they are in deportation proceedings. However, as I can personally attest, ICE refuses to arrest undocumented people who could get a green card when they have no criminal convictions. Others would be eligible but are prohibited from applying in the U.S., and must leave the country for 10 years before joining their family. This family separation penalty, enacted in 1996, tells families to stay apart, or break the law to stay together.

Many come illegally because they cannot wait the more than two decades it typically takes to reunite with family legally. For example, the Mexican-born son or daughter of a U.S. citizen is only just now eligible to immigrate if their parent's petition for them was filed in June of 1995, a nearly 22-year wait. There is also no functional immigration law to allow immigrants to come legally and take low-skilled jobs. The National Academy of Sciences recently issued a 500-page report on the economic impact of immigration. They concluded the impact of immigration on the wages of native-born workers overall is very small and there is little evidence immigration significantly affects their overall employment levels. Immigrants contribute over a trillion dollars to the economy, create jobs themselves and even more immigrants are needed if we hope to fund the Social Security system during the baby-boomer retirement years. Despite the positive aspects of immigration, people continue to blame immigrants and urge restriction. Our immigration system is broken, punitive and out of date. We need immigration reform that allows people to come out of the shadows, get right with the law, and become documented. We don't need a wall.

Brent Renison has been an immigration lawyer for over 20 years; Adjunct Professor University of Oregon Law School 2004-07.

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