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A Guide To Immigration Policy & Practice: An Illegal Alien Is Not An Immigrant

by R. Blake Chisam

Immigration Daily has published an article by Paul Oreffice, the former CEO of Dow Chemical, in which Mr. Oreffice asserts, "An immigrant is a person who obtains an immigration visa from a U.S. Consulate, expresses a wish to become a U.S. citizen, and abides by the law." He goes on to write:

As a direct result of misusing the word "immigrants," Congress is creating a negative connotation of immigrants. This results in a prejudicial mindset, causing Americans turn against immigrants in general, not just illegals. This is a terrible disservice to a country that has prospered for more than two centuries by allowing hardworking immigrants to assimilate and aid in the overall prosperity of American society.
While I agree that many whoíve raised their voices in the immigration debate have wrongly conflated the concepts of legal and illegal immigration, I cannot agree that anyone using the term "illegal immigrants" is using that term incorrectly.

Technically, those who enter the country illegally or who violate the terms of their nonimmigrant status by, for example, overstaying their admission period, are immigrants. And they are in America illegally. Indeed, section 101(a)(15) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952, as amended, defines the he term "immigrant" to mean "every alien except an alien who is within one of the following classes of nonimmigrant aliensÖ."

The problem isnít the usage of the term "illegal immigrants." It is, however, wrong to vilify all immigrants and other foreign nationals in the United States based on the conduct of those who enter or remain in the U.S. illegally.

I commend Mr. Oreffice for proposing what may prove to be a rational immigration policy. Unfortunately, Iím not sure that we are prepared to make such judgments right now. The first order of the day needs to be get at the first principles of immigration policy. We havenít done that yet. Until we do, we are simply guessing. While the guesses may prove to be correct, Iíd rather see us engage in a dialogue that will lead to a more rational approach to American immigration policy. As I wrote recently on Chisam-Majidís Blog:
The siren songs of alarmists harm our chances for reasoned debate. Itís time for us to look at the facts. Itís time to hold an honest, open dialogue free of the overblown rhetoric from the fringes. America is not in danger from the vast majority of immigrants, nor does America need to drift toward an open borders policy.

Instead, we can use our intellects to debate immigration policy. America needs a strong, yet flexible, immigration policy that promotes our national interests, protects our citizens, helps us fulfill our humanitarian obligations and, as the 9/11 Commission stated, sends "a message of welcome, tolerance, and justice to members of immigrant communities in the United States and in their countries of origin."

The small band of largely Republican House members are wrong; an enforcement-only approach is not the answer. Besides being unrealistic, such a policy will undoubtedly do more harm to Americaís security and national interests than good.

We need "comprehensive" immigration reform, by which I do not mean the mere promotion of a guest worker program or some form of "amnesty" for illegal immigrants. We need to rethink the whole system. We must define the purposes and goals our immigration policies ought to reflect.

Once we figure out the first principles, we will be able to design an immigration system that does what America needs it to do. That system, Iím sure, will better secure our borders, promote our national interests, allow us to compete in the global marketplace and project the image of America as the beacon of hope, freedom and justice she was meant to be.

About The Author

R. Blake Chisam practices exclusively in the area of Immigration and Nationality Law as a partner in the firm of Chisam & Majid. He advises organizations with respect to immigration-related policy, employment, civil rights, and health care law matters, including related white-collar criminal and regulatory compliance issues. Mr. Chisam is an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association ("AILA"), for which he currently serves on its Business Litigation committee, and the American Bar Association ("ABA"). In October 2000, Mr. Chisam and his partner Jasmine A. Majid were, awarded the prestigious Meritorious Public Service Award from the Director of the U.S. Department of Justiceís Executive Office for Immigration Review, which was presented by then-Attorney General Janet Reno, in recognition of their "tireless and distinguished pro bono efforts on behalf of unrepresented aliens detained by the... Immigration and Naturalization Service." Mr. Chisam has lectured on immigration law to law students at universities across the U.S., and he is a frequent author and lecturer to professional associations, academic symposia and community groups. He is admitted to practice in New York, Maryland, Pennsylvania and a host of federal courts. Mr. Chisam is the co-author of the highly acclaimed book "Immigration Practice 2006-2007 Edition."

The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.