In an ugly partisan spat over immigration, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) last week declared New York residents ineligible for enrollment or reenrollment in several of its Trusted Traveler Programs, such as Global Entry.
Officials cited the state’s recent decision to issue drivers licenses to undocumented immigrants. Officially known as the Green Light Law, the legislation prohibits the New York Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) from sharing information with DHS.
Although several other identification documents — such as passports and social security numbers — are used by many Trusted Traveler applicants, DHS Acting Secretary Chad Wolf said New York’s refusal to turn over DMV information constitutes a potential national security risk. Some of the programs like NEXUS, Sentri and FAST are also open to Mexican, Canadian and other foreign nationals.
The announcement led to immediate accusations of political retribution by a federal government unhappy with the sanctuary state’s stance on undocumented immigrants. Since President Donald Trump took office, he has used the promise of deportation to rally his base of supporters. His policies, such as constructing a wall at the border, withholding grants from sanctuary cities and enforcing deportation for minor offenses, have been popular among his supporters even while studies show most Americans do not support deporting undocumented immigrants.
Immigration policy has turned Americans against one another. Public radio station WNYC recently hosted a panel aiming to bridge this divide by bringing Americans together to pinpoint important issues and come up with solutions.
At the discussion, experts weighed in on finding achievable solutions to fix immigration laws, which have not been substantially changed since the Immigration Acts of 1965 and 1990. These laws opened the doors to non-Western European immigration and increased the number of immigrants allowed to enter the country. Family-based immigration and the diversity visa program were also initiated.
With non-Western Europeans finally allowed to migrate to the U.S., people from Asia, Central America and South America migrated en masse, changing historical immigration patterns. Some believe this influx of non-white immigrants — coinciding with the peak of the civil rights movement — sparked the concept of immigration being “bad.”
Addressing supporters of deportation of undocumented immigrants, Muzaffer Chishti, director of the Migration Policy Institute, noted that 62 percent of the undocumented population has lived here for more than 10 years, and 82 percent has been in the United States for more than five.
“When people say ‘What if we just deport these people,’ we have to think about how these are people with deep roots in the communities [they live in], and so uprooting them would be a huge social and economic cost to those communities,” said Chishti.
Countering the argument that all immigrants should find ways to enter the United States legally, Chishti explained the number of migrants legally allowed to enter the country “does not pass the laugh test,” especially for the type of workers — typically low-skilled laborers — that the country is looking for.
“This is where we get into our outdated and dysfunctional immigration selection system. We have a 1952 architecture for a 21st century global economy,” said Chishti. Only 5,000 permanent resident visas, commonly referred to as green cards, are available yearly for people with low skills, with the waitlist sometimes stretching as long as 23 years.
Trump has long referred to immigrants as “infesting our country,” and, with the help of senior policy advisor Stephen Miller, has enacted anti-immigration policies aimed at dehumanizing immigrants. Recently, the Supreme Court gave the Trump administration the go-ahead for a plan to deny green cards to immigrants who might use public benefits like Medicaid and food stamps.
Even before the Immigration Acts, the profile of a typical immigrant was not that different from today’s, with one exception — race. Those coming from Western European countries between 1830 and 1940 — such as Trump’s mother Mary — were largely unskilled workers with little to no English-language proficiency.
“Whatever your view on race is, it is difficult to think that [race] does not play somewhere in the politics of immigration,” said Chishti.
Edafe Okporo, the director of the RDJ Refugee Shelter and a Nigerian refugee, said at the panel that his experiences have led him to believe the current immigration system is not designed for people of color to succeed.
“Immigration is built as a racist system that is meant to warn us — don’t say a word. If you say a word, your green card will be delayed,” he said. “When we come to this country, we have to work very hard to be recognized and be grateful that [we are] given the status … if you dare step out of line, you will be treated in a way that will teach the others that you don’t dare step out of line.”