Naturalized Citizenship vs. Comprehensive Immigration Reform: Why all the Fuss?

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By Mary Alice Miller

Last Sunday two babies – Daniela Majia, age 2, and Yoselin Mejia, age 1 – and their 21-year-old reportedly undocumented immigrant mother Deisy Garcia were found stabbed to death in their Queens apartment that the family of four shared with 12 other people. Investigators immediately began a search for the husband, Miguel Mejia-Ramos, a 28-year-old construction worker. Monday night, the U.S. Marshals Service arrested Mejia-Ramos, a Mexican national, in Texas on suspicion of fleeing after committing the triple murders. Whether Mejia-Ramos entered the country illegally or is a legal permanent resident, he became a criminal alien upon arrest

Every year, hundreds of thousands of immigrants become citizens and legal permanent residents in the United States. In 2012, the U.S. naturalized 757,434 citizens. The majority of those new citizens were born in Mexico, the Philippines, India, the Dominican Republic and China.  That year, the U.S. also issued 1,031,631 “green cards” to legal permanent residents. These new citizens managed to comply with U.S. immigration laws and avoided criminal activity.

Legal permanent residency – which authorizes working and living permanently anywhere in the U.S. – is the first step toward citizenship. After five years of LPR, the prospective citizen pays a fee, must interview with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, pass a test on American history and government and prove they can understand and write English. Post-9/11, citizenship applicants must also undergo an extensive background check.

Pg2immigration_reformThe U.S. has a limit on the number of potential citizenship applicants from each country with priority given to those who have a family relationship with a U.S. citizen or green card holder, foreigners seeking job skills or those who come from countries not well-represented in the United States.

With a clear path to citizenship and legal permanent residency that hundreds of thousands from around the world successfully take advantage of every year, the question becomes why all the fuss about comprehensive immigration reform (CIR)?

Proponents of CIR advocate for persons who seek to bypass normal United States naturalization and LPR procedures. Specifically, CIR (sometimes called amnesty) seeks a path toward legalization and citizenship for illegal aliens who either enter or reenter the country illegally (often by crossing U.S. southern and northern borders) or nonimmigrant foreign nationals who apply to visit the U.S. on a temporary basis (to work, go to school, get married, play sports or vacation), express to the consulate or embassy that they do not intend to establish permanent residency in the U.S., then overstay agreed-upon visa time limits.

In general, any persons who have violated immigration laws are the proposed beneficiaries of CIR. They are also most likely to be subjected to deportation.

Noncitizens who commit certain aggravated felony crimes are also subject to deportation.

Criminal aliens are subject to removal or deportation after having been convicted of: 1) two crimes of moral turpitude at any time after admission to the United States; 2) an aggravated felony, including crimes of violence, murder, drug trafficking, theft or burglary, any firearms trafficking offense; 3) a controlled substance offense; 4) a firearms offense or; 5) domestic violence including violation of an order of protection.

The United States, just like any other country, seeks to protect the safety and health of its citizens by controlling who enters its borders. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), in collaboration with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), share responsibility for enforcing the nation’s immigration laws. Since the 9/11 attacks, the functions of all these agencies fall under Homeland Security with the overall mission to protect public safety and national security.

ICE’s role is the identification and apprehension of criminal aliens and other removable individuals located in the United States and the detention and removal of those individuals apprehended in the interior of the U.S., as well as those apprehended by CBP officers and agents patrolling the nation’s borders.

With limited resources, ICE prioritizes the identification and removal of criminal aliens and those apprehended at the border while attempting to unlawfully enter the United States. ICE is funded for up to 400,000 deportations annually.

The number of deportations from the U.S. in the last few years were 370,000 in FY 2008, 390,000 in FY 2009, 393,000 in FY 2010 and 397,000 in FY 2011.

In FY 2013, ICE conducted a total of 368,644 removals: 133,551 were individuals apprehended in the interior of the U.S. (82% of whom had been previously convicted of a crime) and 235,093 were apprehended along the nation’s borders while attempting to unlawfully enter the U.S.  Fifty-nine percent of all ICE removals (216,810) had been previously convicted of a crime: 110,115 criminals from the interior and 106,695 criminals apprehended at the border while attempting to enter the United States. Of the 151,834 removals without a criminal conviction, 84% were apprehended while attempting to unlawfully enter the U.S.

The top 10 countries of origin for those removed were Mexico (241,493), Guatemala (47,769), Honduras (37,049), El Salvador (21,602), Dominican Republic (2,462), Ecuador (1,616), Brazil (1,500), Colombia (1,429), Nicaragua (1,383) and Jamaica (1,119).

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