Clearly, this draconian law, which has been severely undermined by the country’s highest court, has to be changed as part of an immigration overhaul so that people are not punished inordinately. Which does not mean that the US should not bar criminals, but a little common sense would go a long way. The Department of Homeland Security should be able to take into consideration the severity of the crime and at least, as in the criminal cases, distinguish between real crimes and such minor ones as stealing a packet of peanuts.
Because under US Immigration law one cannot receive a tourist visa if one has any intent of residing permanently in the US, Consular officers routinely make absurd decisions. For example, a Russian woman Anna K. wanted to visit her father, an American citizen living in New York. The Consular officer refused to give her a tourist visa because he concluded that she must intend to reside permanently in the U.S. since her father was an American citizen. Even though she explained that she had a husband and two children in Moscow, it was impossible to convince the Consular officer that she had no intention of moving permanently to the US.
Incredibly, the same officer suggested that she apply for permanent residence of the US , which would allow her to visit her father. She did not want to go through the costly and time-consuming process of obtaining a permanent residence visa simply for a two-week visit. She eventually gave up trying to visit her father. The “immigrant intent law,” written generations ago, leads to absurd situations like Anna’s and Joan’s and must be reviewed.
The entire body of immigration law needs to be looked at. As illustrated by the stories above, many of the concepts, presumptions and procedures are out of date and out of sync with the modern world. Piecemeal attempts to correct years of neglect and mismanagement of immigration law are doomed to failure. Securing the borders will only work as part of a comprehensive immigration overhaul. The Menendez bill currently in the Senate is an excellent starting point and opportunity not to be missed to finally fix the system. Let’s insist that Congress and the Obama administration will confront and deal with immigration reform, for once and for all.
James A. O’Malley, main partner of O’Malley & Associates (www.omalleyimmigrationlaw.com), has practiced immigration law for over 20 years. He has written weekly columns on immigration advice in "The Irish Voice."
Lelia Ruckenstein is a writer, editor and book reviewer. She is the editor (with James A. O'Malley) of EVERYTHING IRISH, published by Ballantine (2003, hardcover, and 2004, paperback.).