Apropos of the Ukraine, which has already been invaded by Russian forces and seems to be in store for more, it must certainly have occurred to WhatsApp co-founder Jan Koum, as he signed his recent $19 billion deal with Facebook, that he is lucky his mother moved the family away from Kiev and to Silicon Valley, California, two decades ago. (His father had once intended to join the family but stayed in the Ukraine and died in 1997.)
Right now there are hundreds of thousands of relatives of U.S. citizens–parents, siblings, even spouses–waiting overseas to immigrate to the United States. They are stranded, even though they obeyed the law, filled out the correct forms, and paid the right fees.
The reason: the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is overwhelmed by illegal aliens applying for deferred action under President Barack Obama’s new program.
Recall that in 2012, Obama was facing a frustrated Hispanic electorate. Not only had he failed to keep promises to enact immigration reform in his first term, but he risked being outflanked by Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL), who was working on his own version of a “Dream Act” to address those brought to the U.S. illegally as minors. So he announced that he would use–i.e. not use–his executive powers, and simply stop enforcing certain laws.
The “Dream Act by fiat” was hailed widely by Hispanic leaders, and celebrated by Democrats who only a few years before assailed President George W. Bush for mere signing statements criticizing laws he did not like. Few cared about the fact that the president’s action would almost certainly cause new burdens and backlogs at USCIS and other agencies, which were sorely unequipped to handle a sudden rush of applications for deferral.
A few knew the problems were coming. One supporter of Obama’s action wrote at the time: “Existing agency personnel cannot possibly receive training and handle the workload without a funding mechanism.”
Where did they think the funding was supposed to come from? From the same Congress that the president had just shoved aside? From a budget trimmed by the looming sequester? They did not know. And neither did the president.
They did not care, because legal immigrants cannot vote, and because even naturalized U.S. citizens tend to live in Democrat-run cities and blue states. Some new immigrant communities are not politically active. In Chicago, I met Russian immigrants who would not register to vote, so great was their fear of the state and their distrust of elections. The most successful immigrants are courted as donors by both parties. The rest are mostly ignored.
But it does not have to be that way. Republicans in the House could call hearings to make USCIS and the Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson explain why there is a lengthy backlog for legal immigrants–as long as thirteen months–while illegal immigrants are going straight to the front of the line. That is a blatant violation of congressional intent, which prioritizes legal immigrants and the families of U.S. citizens.
Democrats are good at staging that kind of spectacle. At many pro-amnesty rallies, there are “undocumented” immigrants on the podium, declaring their status onstage and defying anyone to do anything about it. The GOP likes to talk about the proverbial immigrant success stories–whether promoting immigration reform legislation or opposing it–but rarely has the foresight to focus on the everyday suffering of ordinary immigrant families.
This time, the New York Times has made the task easier for them. In an article by Julia Preston last month, the Times described the frustrations of some of the families waiting for their relatives’ applications to be approved:
Andrew Bachert is one citizen caught in the slowdown. After he moved back to this country in August for work, he thought he and his wife, who is Australian, would be settled by now in a new home in New York State, shoveling snow and adjusting to the winter chill. Instead his wife, Debra Bachert, is stranded, along with the couple’s two teenagers and two dogs, in a hastily rented house in Adelaide, where the temperature rose in January to 115 degrees….
Many Americans are awaiting visas for spouses they recently wed, including Mukul Varma, 31, a naturalized citizen who works as a software consultant near Chicago. On a trip to India to visit relatives, he fell in love with Neetika Gupta, 26, also a software engineer. They married in India in May….
In mid-January Mr. Varma flew back to India to see his bride for the first time in nine months. He applied for her green card soon after the wedding, and since then it has not advanced. Their plans to start their life together in this country are in disarray.
“First it was surprise,” Mr. Varma said. “Then dismay. Then it just becomes very discouraging. You feel helpless. You feel as if you did things the right way and you are penalized for it.”
Imagine Obama’s officials having to explain the suffering of those families in hearings.
The Democrats have remedies, of course: “comprehensive” immigration reform, and relaxed deportation rules. But if we can’t be a nation of laws–and, crucially, equality under the laws–eventually we won’t be a nation worth joining, anyway.