"The INS is broken". And Dumbya won't fix it as he panders for the Spic vote

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, July 24, 2002


Surge of immigrants in past two decades is changing the face of the nation

By Jack Chang Knight Ridder Newspapers

Second of two parts

From public schools to the political arena, the evidence is everywhere. Immigration is transforming the United States and changing how we live and who we are.

More than 4.5 million people became U.S. citizens during the 1990s, making up a quarter of all new Americans sworn in since 1907.

The American journey, from foreigner to citizen, has never been so popular. And the nation's immigration system, which dictates who comes and goes, is swamped.

The stratospheric numbers of the past decade and the chaos they created were no coincidence, said Philip Martin, director of the University of California's comparative immigration and integration program.

They were a direct result of the country's immigration laws, Martin said.

"It's a system that's by design meant to be a fairly generous system," he said. "It's not meant to be a system that shuts people out."

Sept. 11 could change that. With the nation newly aware of its vulnerability to the outside world, legislators have already proposed better security on the nation's borders and closer scrutiny of those entering the country.

Immigrants have lost constitutional rights such as judicial due process and freedom from surveillance. Moves are under way to break apart the Immigration and Naturalization Service and close gaps in the system.

A 'system' of loopholes

Supporters of the moves argue that Sept. 11 exposed our immigration system for what it is a haphazard collection of policies that lets in millions of people without regard to the nation's economic or cultural health.

"You can argue we don't really have an immigration policy at all," said Mark Krikorian of the Center for Immigration Studies, a nonprofit group that supports tighter immigration controls.

"We've stumbled into a collection of policies and loopholes and special-interest exemptions that are held together by default. We have never approached the issue in a coordinated, honest fashion ever."

Some believe the jump in citizenship applications seen since Sept. 11 is the result of immigrants turning to citizenship for protection against future legislation targeting them.

"If you're not a citizen, there is discrimination," said Geraldo Santoyo of Richmond, Calif., a Mexican native who is applying for citizenship. "Life is getting harder for immigrants."

Santoyo came to the United States as an undocumented worker 18 years ago and won legal residency as part of a government amnesty program.

For decades, American immigration meant the Statue of Liberty, Ellis Island and the influx of millions of Irish, Italians and Germans in the early 20th century.

But a new American immigrant story is now being written. These stories tell of Filipinos and Chinese arriving by trans-oceanic jetliners and Mexicans leaving their villages with visions of El Norte.

In large part, this wave stems from reforms implemented in 1965, which opened the gates to millions of immigrants and triggered a demographic revolution.

That year's amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act abolished a 40-year-old system of quotas that all but barred Asian newcomers. The reforms favored immigrants with education and job skills and allowed them to bring their immediate relatives into the country. The reforms also established the same number of annual newcomer slots for every country.

As a result, millions of immigrants arrived, hailing from Asian countries that had no previous access to the United States.

At about the same time, a mass migration from Latin America began its first tricklings north, resulting in a wave of newcomers that has lasted for more than three decades and involved tens of millions of legal and illegal immigrants.

The Latin wave had more to do with economic forces than legislative ones, said Ron Takaki, a University of California ethnic-studies professor. The influx started in the 1970s and 1980s, a period marked by the rise of the U.S. service industry and the exodus of manufacturing jobs overseas.

The changes accelerated by the North American Free Trade Agreement signed in 1994 created new demands for unskilled labor, and Latin immigrants traveled north to fill the need.

From 1980 to 2000, nearly 16.5 million people became legal U.S. immigrants, surpassing immigration numbers during 1900 to 1920, when some 14.5 million people came.

However, the current portion of the nation's total population represented by people born overseas 11 percent in 2000 falls below the record of 15 percent set in the 1880s.

Another crucial difference marks the two immigration waves: About 85 percent of these new immigrants hail from non-European countries. In the first wave, more than 90 percent came from Europe.

As European immigrants of the early 20th century transformed American cities such as New York, Boston and Chicago, the Asian and Latino wave of the late 20th century has dramatically recast American cities and towns.

Latinos will become the largest ethnic group in California by 2021, demographers predict. For the first time since the 1800s, the state's Caucasian population dipped below 50 percent in 2000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

"You have people saying, 'Hey, this is changing who is an American,' " Takaki said.

Critics such as Orinda, Calif., resident Yeh Ling-Ling, who herself immigrated to the United States as a Taiwanese citizen in the 1980s, see such demographic changes as dangerous.

"I don't blame immigrants for coming, on the one hand, but continuing this immigration policy will make us a fragmented nation," said Yeh, who serves as executive director of the advocacy group Diversity Alliance for a Sustainable America. "A rational, sustainable immigration policy is good for America."

New economic blood

Advocates for more relaxed immigration policies argue that new immigrants are the country's economic lifeblood.

Recent newcomers who tend to be younger than the average population are infusing fresh energy into the work force and are paying for the retirements of older Americans, they argue.

All immigrants, documented or not, pay sales and property taxes, if not income taxes, said Joseph Carens, a political-science professor at the University of Toronto who specializes in the legal philosophy of immigration. Their labor strengthens basic industries such as agriculture and construction, he said, and they should be treated as Americans with full legal rights.

To many, however, the country's immigration policy reflects America's hostility to those who wish to move here.

A clear symbol of this disfavor is the Immigration and Naturalization Service.

All sides of the immigration debate agree that the 69-year-old federal agency is a bureaucratic disaster.

The reputation has been underscored by the enormous flaws revealed since Sept. 11 student visas issued to dead hijackers, little record of people entering or leaving the country, an entry system that fails to stop people on FBI watch lists.

Lost files and long-delayed applications are a common occurrence.

Sparked by concerns over national security, much political fist pounding and bill signing has transpired over the INS since Sept. 11.

But the INS had been broken for a long time before Sept. 11, and the only people who really felt the pain were immigrants, not citizens, said Lucas Guttentag, director of the American Civil Liberties Union's Immigrant Rights Project in Oakland.

"For the most part, the INS deals with a very vulnerable population that doesn't have political power," he said. "The population it serves can't assert its rights. So unless the backlogs reach public consciousness in some way, it just goes unsolved."

The INS has not been shy about publicizing its difficulties and advocating for more money to take care of its problems.

"There's not another federal agency that has a harder job than the INS," said Sharon Rummery, an INS spokeswoman, said. "The number of applications we received jumped seven times from 1990 to 1997, but the number of our employees didn't go up seven times."

Armies of immigration attorneys and counselors such as Mark Silverman spend hours trying to sort out INS tangles for immigrants.

"It can at best be a cumbersome process, and at worst a nightmare," said Silverman, executive director of the Immigrant Legal Resource Center in San Francisco.

Ironically, the immigration process is designed to foster loyalty and attachment to the United States, regardless of the hassles immigrants hit at the gate.

In particular, the yearlong naturalization process the tail end of a procedure that in some cases can take more than a decade encourages immigrants to learn the history and structure of the United States in the hopes of nurturing patriotism in them.

"The citizenship process means to me absorbing the story of the narrative of America as your own story," said John Fonte, a senior fellow with the nonpartisan Hudson Institute dealing with citizenship and civic-society issues. "You may come from Ethiopia or China or Mexico, but you can consider George Washington as your ancestor.

"You're adopting the story of America as your own."

Between two worlds

Some immigrants manage to overlook the headaches of the immigration process and embrace their new country. Others never shake the feeling that they are visitors, even after decades in the United States.

A retired machinist, Eleuterio Trevino, 53, has lived in the San Francisco Bay Area for the past 35 years. At 18, he left Mexico for the United States, then raised all of his children here.

He became a citizen two years ago.

"I plan to stay here for the rest of my life," he said.

But in the humble house where Trevino has raised all five of his children, he pines for the Mexico of his childhood, one he knows he has outgrown and could no longer live in after 3-1/2 decades in the United States.

"My brothers and I have a saying: 'My heart is in Mexico, but my stomach is here,' " Trevino said.

-- BWAHAHA (Dumbya plays race card @ race.poker), July 24, 2002


Well then why don't you emigrate. North Korea is lovely this time of year.

-- dr. pibb (drpibb@new.formula), July 24, 2002.

Even North Korea has higher standards than that.

-- Trollboy (can't@cut.it), July 24, 2002.

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