by Mike Ferguson
(St. Charles, MO) – What happens at America’s borders affects Missouri. The policy decisions about immigration made in Washington, DC also impact Missouri.
That’s the word from the Missourian who used to be in charge of enforcing America’s immigration laws.
Former INS Commissioner Gene McNary doesn’t just want reforms made on the nation’s immigration system, he wants a new discussion of the issue. To him, it’s not one issue, it’s two issues. McNary served in that role under President George H.W. Bush.
The first focuses on illegal immigrants who, in his words, “crash the border”, typically coming to the United States through the southwest border. The second deals with skilled and well-educated immigrants from all over the world who come to the US for higher education.
“I think that we need to make it easier for those who come here and we educate them and they graduate with an American degree. Those people, many of them are essential to our national interests. We want to keep them.”
Immigrants in the United States legally through a student visa typically need an employer to petition for them in order to get a green card, which allows the immigrant to stay and work. McNary thinks effective immigration reform should include allowing those with college degrees from the US to stay and work here.
Among the changes he’s suggesting is letting the immigrants petition directly for their work authorization.
McNary believes this change would benefit Missouri because of the increasing role technology companies have in the state’s economy. From financial services and food research in St. Louis to life sciences and medical technology in Kansas City, the demand for educated, skilled workers in technical fields is increasingly.
Among the criticisms of some immigration reform proposals is the belief that it allows too much competition with American workers for good jobs, especially in an economy that continues to struggle.
Keeping competition for jobs above-board is also part of the reforms McNary proposes. He thinks all employers should be required to check the legal status of workers before putting them on the payroll.
“E-verify really started twenty years ago when I was head of immigration. Now it’s been refined but it’s not mandatory but it works and should be made mandatory so an employer must check and verify that this employee they are about to hire is actually employment eligible.”
When it comes to those who enter the country illegally, that’s a different story in McNary’s view.
“Those who came here and crashed the border, I don’t see any way that you can give them amnesty or a path to citizenship or anything else. Now, you might let them go back and then let them come in on a guest worker statute, which I’d be in favor of.”
The American Immigration Council estimates around 250,000 residents of Missouri are immigrants. Of those, the group says over 40% have become naturalized citizens. The group says illegal immigrants total around 55,000 in the state, according to recent studies.
Missouri-based immigration attorney Jalesia “Jasha” McQueen sees the same problems from the legal front lines. The immigration portion of her law practice primarily deals with legal immigrants.
To McQueen. it’s not just about a legal immigrant wanting to stay and work in the United States, it’s about economic freedom. She says she sees the impact first-hand through her clients.
“I have several horror stories of people who are trying to stay here legally and already have a job. Employers spend thousands and thousands of dollars in trying to keep an employee and, somehow, the government has the right to tell an employer who they can and can’t hire.”
She says the discussion of legal immigration should also be about people as individuals.
“There is something very tragic about somebody who tries to stay here, spends thousands and thousands of dollars and then finds out at the end of the road, after they bought a house, after they had two children hereafter they saved for seven years that, all of a sudden, they have to leave because of a technicality in the petition.”
In other words, some immigrants earn the right to stay and others do not. McQueen, whose mother is an immigrant to the US, agrees with McNary when it comes to allowing those who came to the country illegally.
“If you break the laws, you have to understand that you broke them. Granting citizenship to somebody, to me, is very disrespectful in the eyes of the rest of the United States and to those who are trying to do it legally.”
On the web:
American Immigration Council’s Missouri Page: http://www.immigrationpolicy.org/just-facts/new-americans-missouri
Immigration Reform Proposals: www.FWD.us
Jalesia “Jasha” McQueen’s Law Firm: http://mcqueenawad.com/