Immigration's Hobgoblin: A Foolish Inconsistency
Europe is at a tipping point. Will the European Union be dashed on Greek or Italian shores. Will France follow Greece and Italy in losing the esteem of bondholders? Will the EU revert to an Uncommon Market and again suffer its historic curse, a mash-up of competing and warring states whose citizens must proffer passports to cross borders and each time frequent the local moneychangers to buy or sell.
As this is written, European pols, especially those of the Teutonic variety, may well be mulling the words of Emerson, the American transcendentalist, in his essay on Self-Reliance:
A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. . . . Speak what you think now in hard words, and tomorrow speak what tomorrow thinks in hard words again, though it contradict every thing you said today.
America, however, learned the value of consistency in its infancy, first from Ben Franklin on signing the Declaration of Independence ("We must all hang together, or assuredly we shall all hang separately") and then in drafting a national constitution after the failure of the Articles of Confederation. Latin scholars and law students are taught consistency in the principle of stare decisis et non quieta movere: "to stand by decisions and not disturb the undisturbed."
Judging from the surfeit of GOP presidential debates, the party of Lincoln is not too sure about consistency's value. Inconstancy is not solely a character trait of multiple-personality Mitt, the likely consensus nominee. Rather, it informs each Republican candidate for the presidency of the 50 "united" states who, irreconcilably, proclaims the national freedom to bear arms yet encourages the states to go their separate ways on abortion and immigration.
President Obama is no less immune to criticism. The Deporter-in-Chief campaigned for a first term on comprehensive immigration reform. When challenged for nonfeasance, however, he pleaded that he could not "wave a magic wand and make it happen". Yet by allowing Homeland Security officers to exercise prosecutorial discretion in immigration matters and issuing executive orders to ease the housing crisis, the burden of student loans, and soon healthcare deficiencies, he has acted unilaterally, saying "[w]e can't wait" for Congress to act.
So when is consistency a virtue and when is it foolish? In matters migrational, consistency is virtuous when it leads to predictable and uniformly equitable results, when it achieves harmony and a general perception of even-handedness among stakeholders. It is folly when mistakes, consistently arising, are not recognized as such or are left to fester uncorrected.
PERM labor certifications should not take three months in one case and 27 in another (even if an audit ensues) -- the current range of DOL processing times, as I learned yesterday at the AILA California Chapters Conference in San Francisco. A blanket L-1 visa applicant in Chennai should be just as deserving of her visa if an identically qualified blanket L-1 applicant is approved at a U.S. consulate elsewhere. An H-1B work visa petition for a small business approved at the USCIS Vermont Service Center should not be denied on virtually identical facts at the VSC's California counterpart (likewise the general consensus of panelists describing the regional-service-center status quo at the San Francisco AILA conference).
The scheduling of merits hearings in removal cases should not take four years in Chicago and considerably less, sometimes mere months, in other U.S. cities (another AILA SF factoid). U.S. citizen spouses who enter the U.S. under the Visa Waiver program should not be welcomed with a green card throughout California, except in San Diego where the local field office facilitates their expedited removal (yet one more data point from AILA conference speakers). A nationwide policy of prosecutorial discretion should be applied consistently to like cases nationwide, but regrettably they are not, as Julia Preston of The New York Times reports today ("Deportations Under New U.S. Policy Are Inconsistent").
Intellectually disingenuous nitpickery, moreover, should not be allowed to override the principle of consistency: If USCIS on five occasions recognizes an O-1 nonimmigrant as a person of extraordinary ability he or she should not be denied a first preference extraordinary-ability green card when the legal requirements to be classified as "extraordinary" are identical.
Consistency creates what we lawyers call a "reliance interest." Inconsistency in the rule of law creates unreliable, unpredictable chaos and loss of confidence in the future -- precisely the worst outcomes when economies worldwide are foundering. As Google's CEO, Eric Schmidt said at a November 12 White House press briefing: "What business needs is predictability." So too do the American people, and the would-be Americans who seek uniformly interpreted and consistently applied decisions in like requests for immigration benefits.
Worse still is the foolish inconsistency practiced by the most ghoulish hobgoblins, the guardians of our immigration adjudications -- the distracted Executive Branch, the blind or indifferent overseers in Congress and the respective Secretaries and headquarters officials of the U.S. Departments of Homeland Security, State, Justice, Labor and Commerce -- who countenance the pervasiveness of their charges' deviant decisions. Whether the problem is caused by overlooked insubordination below or deliberate insouciance above, immigration inconsistency is terrifying this Nation of Immigrators.