Whenever the issue of immigration comes up in Congress, lawmakers point to “the line.” Just get in line, wait your turn! This magical, invisible line encapsulates an enduring myth of immigration policy—the idea that if you play by the rules and make an honest case for yourself, your patience will pay off, your American dream redeemed in a timely fashion. But the reality for countless immigrants is that when they attempt to line up for their “turn” to finally gain that coveted green card, the process is more a game of roulette than an orderly queue. Each day, Congress, the White House and the courts are all making the legalization process ever more arbitrary and byzantine.
The House voted Friday to accelerate deportations and intensify border enforcement for the tens of thousands of Central American children now seeking safe passage through the southwest border. And just to double-down on that anti-immigrant bill (which is politically bound to fail) conservatives also voted to repeal the White House’s existing initiative to give temporary protection to undocumented youth. Those measures aimed to expand the Obama administration’s mass deportation campaigns, which have already split up thousands of families. Meanwhile, although a large portion of the stranded children would likely qualify for humanitarian relief, immigration officers and courts continually fail to uphold legal immigration avenues in a way that makes sense for families or addresses humanitarian needs.
In fact, while Congress dithered this summer, the Supreme Court further botched the immigration system with a ruling that upends a law designed to keep immigrant families intact. In the case of Scialabba v. Cuellar de Osorio, the Court issued a narrow interpretation of the Child Status Protection Act (2002), a measure dealing with children of immigrants who had gotten stuck “in line” while their family’s immigration petitions were pending. The reforms aimed to relieve young people who had effectively “aged out” of the “child” category in the family reunification process, because of many years of administrative delays and legal backlogs. The reform would “freeze” the children’s applications at the age when their parents petitioned for them, to prevent their applications from inadvertently lapsing once they turned 21 while waiting “on line” for legal status.
But the Court interpreted this law so narrowly that it will now only offer relief to certain green-card holders who petitioned for their children, leaving out countless other families. Many children in more obscure immigration categories—particularly asylum seekers and special employment visas—can still age out. Those youth will join the floating population of those “without papers,” though their families might have diligently filed piles of paperwork on their behalf.