On the first day of the second quarter of 2011, I fell for a joke.  As the Urban Dictionary (definition #2) would word it, I was “punk’d“!  I didn’t merely fall for just any immigration-related ersatz news item (like the passage of the CIRAF bill reported by my colleagues in ABIL), I breathlessly embraced as the truth an emailed report I quote below and forwarded it to an immigration reporter for a prominent newspaper, asking if the reporter would like a quote from me on this “big news.”

Written by an author who knows immigration parlance and the real names and titles of immigration agency officials, the disinformation that gulled me was this:

April 1, 2011

Washington, DC – U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced today relief for tens of thousands of people caught in long waits for immigrant visa availability. USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas said in a statement “These people have been living in a state of limbo in the United States for too long.”

This program is initially going to be targeted at immigrants who have an approved “I-140 Immigrant Petition for Alien Worker” filed on their behalf, but cannot receive permanent residence because of backlogs in immigrant visa availability.  The new “Conditional Resident” status will be extended to such individuals who have had approved petitions filed on their behalf, and who have waited at least one year for availability of an immigrant visa. The Conditional Resident status will extend the same rights as Lawful Permanent Residence with two conditions: 1) Status will be extended for periods of 3 years, renewable indefinitely, and 2) Status will conditional on an immigrant visa not being available to the holder. Once an immigrant visa is available, the Conditional Residence will automatically be converted to Lawful Permanent Residence without further application being required by the immigrant.

James McCament, Chief of the Office of Legislative Affairs indicated that this change will take place by an administrative rule change, and that a Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) should be published with the details of the proposed new status within the next 30 days. After a comment period, the new rule will take effect 60 days after publication in the Federal Register.

For more information, please contact the USCIS Office of April Fools at aprilfool@mailinator.com.

Similarly, recent immigration news — regrettably, 100% reality-based — suggested an April Foolsy, all-too-incredible quality.

On the enforcement front, a former Assistant Chief Counsel of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), Constantine Peter Kallas, perhaps wishing that he were merely a fictional character in an April Fool’s prank, received a 17-year sentence and a $297,000 fine following his conviction “for taking bribes to help immigrants fill out false paperwork to remain legally in the country.”

In the Executive Branch, both President Obama and his Homeland Security Secretary, Janet Napolitano, despite chants both minstrel and a cappella, threw ICE water on the notion that executive authority and administrative remedies might be used instead of police powers to provide even a fitful respite from the Administration’s precedent-setting record of deporting foreign citizens largely without criminal records.  Unwilling to use the executive authority and discretion he clearly possesses, the President perhaps should consider adopting the robotic approach to immigration and border security now in a testing phase abroad.

Although Secretary Napolitano maintained that DREAM-Act-eligible students are not a priority enforcement target, neither explained why the extraordinary executive remedy of “parole in place” was used on a blanket basis as recently as in the last 12 months (with nary a peep from Congress) to help foreign citizens of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands who just as innocently as the DREAMers violated the immigration laws. Nor did the President explain (despite his claim of thinking about jobs upon rising in the morning and retiring in the evening) why he has not endorsed the Startup Visa Act, a bill that a knowledgeable staffer for Republican Senator Richard Lugar predicted has “almost no chance of passage” unless the White House supports it.

In Congress, another form of unreality was on display at a hearing Thursday of the House Judiciary Committee’s Immigration Policy subcommittee. The hearing considered whether the H-1B visa category was (select one:) too generous/too restrictive and whether we should (select one:) grant/not grant more green cards for tech workers.  Trying to achieve synthesis among competing views, House Judiciary Committee Chair, Lamar Smith (R. TX), offered prepared remarks in which he noted: 

Foreign workers are receiving H-1B visas to work as fashion models, dancers and as chefs, photographers and social workers . . . There is nothing wrong with those occupations, but I’m not sure that foreign fashion models and pastry chefs are as crucial to our success in the global economy as are computer scientists . . .

Tell that to viewers, judges, creative crew and participants in the popular, economically-vibrant TV shows, America’s Next Top Model, Top Chef, So You Think You Can Dance, and Dancing with the Stars, and the less familiar but promising, Talk Therapy Television. Moreover, these are strange words indeed from a Republican about the H-1B visa (a $3 billion government-revenue generator) since the GOP claims to want to minimize regulation and refrain from trying to direct the economy.

On the hustings, at “a conservative conference last week organized by immigration hardliner Rep. Steve King . . . several possible GOP candidates present (Mississippi Gov. Haley Barbour, former House Speaker Newt Gingrich, even Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.)) didn’t want to talk about immigration. Perhaps, the GOP is at last smelling the Hispanic java, demographically speaking.

Given these verisimilitudinous developments, I hope readers will forgive me for my (hopefully fleeting) naïveté.  After all, if Rip Van Winkle had not fallen asleep and then awakened during the Revolutionary War era, but had instead slumbered at about the middle of the last century and awakened today, he too would have concluded that nothing whatsoever changes about the U.S. immigration system, a broken process that perpetually “draw[s] . . . borders with pens that split lives like an ax.”