What is broken about immigration system?
Of all the arguments made in the long and contentious debate overimmigration reform, the one heard most often, from all sides, is that our immigration system is "broken." President Obama, John Boehner, Harry Reid, Mitch McConnell, Marco Rubio, Chuck Schumer, John McCain,Dick Durbin — just about every politician who has ever weighed in on the issue has said it.There is much more which does explore what is not working and why. There seems to be a bipartisan lack of seriousness when it comes to enforcing teh border and the immigration law, and the Gang of Eight proposal does not fix that problem, it only lets more people in.
The only problem is, our immigration system is not broken. The part of the system that lets people into the United States is working — not without flaws, of course, but successfully managing the country's immigration needs every day. And while the part that keeps people out of the country, or expels them if they overstay their permission to be here, is not working very well, it's not because the system is broken, but because Congress and the president do not want it to work.
First, the part that lets people in. The United States grants legal permanent resident status — better known as a green card — to about one million people each year. The actual numbers, according to the Department of Homeland Security 2012 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics — the most recent full set of data available — were 1,031,631 in 2012; 1,062,040 in 2011; 1,042,625 in 2010; and so on going back. Legal permanent resident status is what it sounds: a recipient can stay in the United States permanently, and become a citizen if he or she chooses.
"We are the most generous nation on earth to immigrants, allowing over one million people a year to come here legally," wrote Sen. Rubio in 2013. The new million each year come from all around the world, with heavy concentrations in a few places. According to the Yearbook, in 2012, 416,488 came from Asia, while 389,526 came from Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America. That's a lot of the million right there; other sources include 103,685 from Africa and 86,956 from Europe.
Of the total, the vast majority — 680,799 in 2012 — were given green cards because they have family members in the United States. A much smaller group, 143,998, were admitted for employment reasons. The rest were given refugee status, or asylum, or came from the so-called "diversity" lottery.
The most egregious failure is what is known as the visa entry-exit system. Experts estimate that close to 40 percent of the immigrants currently in the U.S. illegally originally came here legally — and then remained beyond their permission to stay. In the last two decades, Congress has passed several laws that included provisions to stop so-called visa overstays; among them are the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996; the Immigration and Naturalization Service Data Management Improvement Act of 2000; the USA PATRIOT Act of 2001; the Enhanced Border Security and Visa Entry Reform Act of 2002; and the Intelligence Reform and Terrorism Prevention Act of 2004.
But virtually nothing has been done in all those years, through both Democratic and Republican administrations and Congresses, which suggests that the U.S. does not stop visa overstays because its political leaders do not want to. The Gang of Eight bill includes a new entry-exit system, which would allegedly crack down on visa overstays. Given recent history, however, there is absolutely no reason to believe that would actually happen were the bill to become law. There's also no reason to say the system is broken if the political leadership of the U.S. government is actively preventing it from working.