Monday, November 24, 2008

III - Obama and Immigration


The current system was built in the wake of 9/11, but it will have to be reformed in the shadow of the economic crisis. That will be a political challenge, but we have already driven away too many talented immigrants through short-sighted policies that see them more as a threat than as a windfall for the U.S. economy. Immigrant numbers will fall during the recession as job opportunities dwindle, but when the economy recovers, we will find ourselves competing to get them back.

Napolitano could start her overhaul by considering the case of Imad Daou. Like the president-elect's father, Daou came to the United States on a student visa. A Christian from Lebanon, he arrived here in 2003 to study computer science at Texas A&M International University in Laredo. He fell in love with and became engaged to a Mexican-American woman, and in November 2003, they crossed the Rio Grande to visit her family in Mexico and share the news. But when the couple tried to cross back into Texas, U.S. border officials discovered that Daou had failed to comply with a rule put in place by John Ashcroft's Justice Department after 9/11, requiring all young men from Muslim and Arab countries to re-register with the U.S. government 30 days after arriving in the United States. Daou was unaware of the requirement.

He was slapped in handcuffs and jailed in Laredo for more than two months before being deported to Lebanon. The couple was married in the jail before he left, and a year later, his wife was able to bring him to live with her in Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, which has been turned into a free-fire zone by warring drug gangs. Now she crosses the border each day to go to her teaching job in Laredo. He cannot accompany her; his deportation carried an automatic five-year ban on reentering the United States, and he would still need a pardon from the U.S. government before he would be able to return.

Why is this software engineer, now working for a firm in Mexico, being kept out? Because of a regulation that no longer exists. A year after Daou was deported, the Department of Homeland Security abolished the re-registration requirement, saying it had been of no use in identifying terrorists. "They put the rules in place to catch bad people," Daou told me, "and the good people fall into the trap." He just heard from Washington last month: It will be at least another year before his pardon application will even be reviewed.

Daou's story was only one of dozens of similar tales I have heard over the past several years. In all of them, measures aimed at catching or deterring terrorists instead trapped those who had, like so many waves of immigrants before them, followed their dreams and ambitions by coming to America. But they arrived in a different country...con't

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