Three problems with Obama’s immigration order


BY NISHANT BHAJARIA | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR112614-immigration-thumb

By now, anyone who knows about it has a position on President Obama’s executive order on immigration. The executive order is the outcome of failed attempts at getting a bill through the normal legislative process. Both Obama and his predecessor came close, but not close enough since the process broke down multiple times.

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BY NISHANT BHAJARIA | OP-ED CONTRIBUTOR

By now, anyone who knows about it has a position on President Obama’s executive order on immigration. The executive order is the outcome of failed attempts at getting a bill through the normal legislative process. Both Obama and his predecessor came close, but not close enough since the process broke down multiple times.

LinkedIn co-founder Reid Hoffman has praised the order as a solution to some of our immigration issues. In my mind, there are three problems with either a comprehensive immigration bill or an executive order, regardless of who runs our government.

First, the President stated that the failure of the Congress to pass a comprehensive bill caused him to act. The problem with that reasoning is that immigration reform does not have to be comprehensive. The needs of hi-tech companies are very different from those of agricultural or hospitality companies that often use undocumented laborers. These needs could have become individual bills, which would have made the process more manageable and efficient. I have yet to find someone who can justify why these unrelated needs have to be part of one large bill that hardly anyone has read or understood.

You could make the argument that healthcare reform needs to be comprehensive, since you need to increase the pool of coverage with younger insurees so as to exempt pre-existing conditions and eliminate lifetime limits. No such relationship exists between the different kinds of folks who are affected by this historic change.

Second, we have a hard time as a country and government in enforcing existing laws. When I was looking for a job in 2003, I contacted a placement agency whose website boasted of several prestigious clients. During the dot com recession, they were among the few who were sponsoring work visas for foreign students. After I did well in interviews, they asked me for my resume so they could polish it and shop me to their clients.

Once I received the “polished” version of my resume, I did not recognize the person it described. My skills had been exaggerated, and patently false claims were made about my experience. My “resume” stated that I had 7+ years of experience programming in C#, when in fact the language had not even been around for that long. Their business model involved paying foreign workers low wages while hyping up their skills in order to charge clients a lot of money. I cut ties with that company immediately, but they are still around and they continue to market their services without any governmental correction.

In another example, I once re-entered the US on a work-visa and the officials at the border checkpoint did not know which visa option to select on the software in order to process my entry. It could have been an issue with training or the software, but that this occurred on a high-traffic port of entry for widely-issued American visa should scare everyone.

In light of all this, before adding new laws and impacting more people with those laws, would it not make sense to ensure that we tighten up existing laws and personnel first?

Finally, an urgent imperative behind the executive order is the 10+ million people who are in the US without documents, but have lived here for a long time. They have roots here, children who may be US citizens and provide services that enable us to get products at lower cost. The argument to let them come out of the shadows is a humane one.

The problem behind that argument is that many of us have had to work the legal system for more than a decade to become citizens. From the date I first entered the US as a student, I waited more than 12 years to become a citizen. During that period, I had to leave the US to get my visa revalidated at a US embassy overseas more than once. On any of those occasions, the US embassy could have refused to stamp my visa. I would have been unable to return, with my apartment, my car and other belongings still in the US. I had not just roots, but a tree lush with fruits, branches and leaves in the US; still an unfeeling law could have taken the axe to me any time.

I accepted that risk since I respect the law, and because no one forced me to come to the US. How is it fair then, that millions of people who are in violation of the law have been given a wholesale risk-free carte blanche? Are we to stop enforcing our laws once a large enough number of people disobey them for a long enough time period?

I recognize that this is a complicated and emotional issue. Behind the numbers and opinions, there are human beings that are directly impacted. The abilities of families to be together and the ability for our economy to endure are impossible to overstate.

This is precisely why this issue is better addressed in bite-sized pieces so we don’t create new problems or end up in the same situation a few years from now.

Nishant Bhajaria is a project manager at Nike.