Is the U.S. Government Discriminating Against Middle Class Illegal Aliens?

By David North on September 17, 2019

The journalist's question over the phone was not in quite these words, but basically she asked:

Why is the Trump administration deporting twentyish, middle-class aliens who arrived legally, when it is granting legal status to another group of similarly aged working-class aliens, who arrived illegally? [Emphasis added.]

I had several instant reactions: Arriving legally does not mean you can stay forever; someone who enters legally and overstays is equally in lawless status as one who enters without inspection (EWI), to use the DHS term for border jumpers; and the world generally does not work like that — those with money are virtually always treated better than those without. Had the Trump administration, contrary to its own nature, upset that rule?

The answer, full of caveats and nuances is, strange to say, "yes, sometimes."

The reporter was interested in three different groups of nonimmigrants that she sometimes blurred together. These were:

  • H-4 spouses (i.e., those married to H-1B aliens) who had been granted the right to work during the Obama years;
  • H-4 children of the above who, because they had reached their 21st birthday, had to leave the country; and
  • The children of E-2 treaty investors as they pass their 21st birthdays, who also lose their visas on those days.

She was contrasting their treatment with the temporary legal status granted to the DACAs (or Dreamers), grown-ups who arrived — or who claim to have arrived — before their 16th birthday, and who have temporary legal status and the right to work. Virtually all of the DACAs are working-class, while virtually all of the other three classes are married to, or children of, college graduates.

Her argument about the three classes was the familiar "these people (the former children) have grown up in this country, they are here legally, they should be allowed to say, and why are they treated less well than the DACAs who came illegally?"

She also stated that the H-4's were a vital part of the U.S. talent pool.

There is no danger that any of the H-4 spouses will be deported, even if they lose the right to work, a nuance the reporter missed. Further, though many of the spouses are truly talented, they are not being allowed to work for their talents; they are, in the grand American immigration tradition, granted work permits for nepotistic reasons because they are married to someone who is working legally in the United States.

But what about the former children, now aging out of legal status? Do they have a 21st birthday party and then take the next plane across the Pacific? (Most are from Asian families.)

The answer is no for most, but not all of them. The aging children, all from families with either one college grad parent (the H-4s), or with one or two well-to-do parents (the E-2s) have, like all of their middle-class peers, multiple options — and they have many more of them than the DACAs. We are going to call them AAMCs, for aging, alien, middle-class persons.

Just dealing with their migration options, these are their possibilities:

  1. If an AAMC has university-trained or well-to-do parents and is 21, that person is probably in college, so he or she can obtain an F visa for the balance of the college stay, including perhaps four or five years of graduate study.
  2. Following the receipt of the AAMC's degree, there can be one to three years of U.S.-subsidized employment in the Optional Training program (OPT).
  3. After OPT, the AAMC might obtain an H-1B job. If Daddy has an H-1B job, perhaps he could arrange that.
  4. For the AAMCs who were E-2 dependents, they could go to work as E-2 employees, simply hired by the family.
  5. All of these AAMCs could seek jobs in other non-immigrant programs, such as those for exchange visitors (J-1); a few might finds jobs in embassies (A) or with international organizations (G).
  6. An AAMC not already married, and being of marriage-age, could marry a green card holder or a citizen (one hopes for love), and then stay here permanently.
  7. For those with wealthy parents, EB-5 visas could be obtained for a minimum investment of $500,000, which will soon rise to $900,000.

In short, the AAMCs are not a bunch of hapless, unskilled alien workers; they have many alternative ways of staying in the country legally. Only a handful of the DACAs can use any of these options, as they often have a low skill level, as well as an alien spouse. The H-4 spouses have access to all of these options except number six.

Not everyone can use this spread of options for those with skills, connections, luck, wealth, and/or marriageability. Some of the AAMCs will be at the bottom of the barrel on all five of these measures, and could become eligible for deportation — and they will, in fact, be less well treated than the DACAs under current rules.

So the journalist was on to something. Under exactly the wrong set of circumstances some of these AAMCs can be forced to leave the county, while the DACAs remain (assuming that DACA rules are not changed).

But this will happen only to the most disadvantaged of this otherwise advantaged population. When you look closely at the AAMCs and the H-4s, the old rule — that the haves prevail — still largely persists.