The Obama administration's latest symbolic, open-the-flood-gates-a-little-bit decision (regarding Haitian family immigration) is, of course, deplorable, but it could have been worse. Let me expand on that.
It is deplorable because it is contrary to our nation's 90-plus-year-old decision that immigration should be numerically limited. There are about a billion people who would migrate to the United States tomorrow if they were allowed to do so, but we have limited resources, too few jobs, and an already-over-stressed infrastructure. We simply cannot absorb all of the earth's poor.
It is deplorable because it is a one-nation specific ruling. Further, it is either illegal or a totally inappropriate bit of administrative discretion.
That said, how could it have been worse? Here we have to look at the program's details as announced — typically — late on a Friday afternoon.
Some would-be immigrants from Haiti who have approved nepotism (i.e., family) visas will be granted parole status in the United States while they wait for their visas to become available. The new status will allow them to live and work legally in the United States.
The eligibles are not a huge population; there are two important rules: their visa numbers must come up in the next two years, and they must be residents of Haiti when they apply. I'll get back to the probable numbers later.
I said it could have been worse. These rules, while expanding the flow of migrants to the United States, a negative, do not grant amnesty to those illegally in the United States, nor do they directly encourage future illegal migration.
There are two other possibilities — one is an amnesty for those illegally in the United States that does not expand the total resident population, but does grant legal status to law-breakers and does encourage future migration, another unattractive policy.
But the third variation is much worse, and that is what was planned in S.744, the awful omnibus immigration bill passed by the Senate last year; it called for a widespread amnesty for illegal aliens now here and the expansion of legal immigration in the future. S.744, in short, had two powerful techniques for expanding the U.S. population. Family parole for some Haitians uses only one technique, and does so for a small number of people.
Saying that the latest Friday afternoon announcement is less bad than S.744 is not even faint praise, of course.
One of the interesting elements of the Haitian Family Parole program, not mentioned in either the USCIS release or the friendly coverage of it in the New York Times, is that the program does not apply to immediate relatives of U.S. citizens.
Why? Because there is no waiting under current law for the parents, spouses, and children of citizens, so they don't need the new accelerated-admission program.
The program is thus for lesser classes (by law) of relatives; these include brothers and sisters, nieces and nephews, and adult sons and daughters of citizens, and spouses and children of legal permanent residents. There is no provision in the family migration laws, incidentally, that a sponsor, say an uncle, must have laid eyes on the niece or nephew he is sponsoring. The formal relationship alone is enough to create the visa.
Symbolism? Just as launching some aerial attacks on the Muslim extremists (rather than using land forces) has overtones of symbolism, so does this latest immigration announcement by the Obama administration. No numbers of potential migrants were offered by either USCIS or the New York Times, but an accurate estimate is easily available. First, however, a conceptual point.
If the parole is available to those whose visas are about to become available within two years, then a two-year backlog of such visas qualifies the first year; thereafter the number of paroles would level off with a year's backlog being eliminated in each following year. Thus, the first year's total would be twice that of subsequent years.
To get a rough idea of the number of paroles, we turn to the Annual Report of the Visa Office, Table V (Part 1) and find that the total number of visas and adjustments of Haitians in the numerically limited family classes came to 9,996 in 2013. So, from that we can estimate (if the provision is fully utilized, which is unlikely) that there would be about 20,000 Haitian parolees the first year, and about 10,000 a year in subsequent years.
These are relatively modest numbers, considering our total intake of a million immigrants a year.
Whereas immigrants are often regarded as young people, the ones helped by his program are on their way to their middle years, if not beyond. Some of the backlogs, such as the one for siblings, are now 12.5 years old, so the arrivals will be that much older than they were when the visa applications were filed. Some will not be able to take advantage of the parole because they died in the meantime.
Such a program, by the way, would have an interesting by-product. It would cause some Haitians, now in the United States, legally or illegally, who are holders of the about-to-be-good immigration petitions, to migrate back to Haiti in order to qualify for the paroles. Again, this is a nuance unexplored in the USCIS release.
The administration will now have to go through the burdensome bureaucratic process of creating new, detailed regulations, new forms, and new procedures to implement the program. It will put much of that burden on our already swamped embassy in Port-au-Prince.