As we count out the final hours of 2012, let’s recall the highs and lows of the past year in America’s dysfunctional immigration ecosphere.

Nation of Immigrators is pleased to confer its third annual IMMI Awards. (Full disclosure: As in past years, these are my personal choices. If you disagree or believe I’ve missed an obvious awardee, feel free to comment below or post it on Twitter with the hashtag “#2012IMMIS,” and be sure to check out our previous awardees here: 2010 IMMIs2011 IMMIs).



The 2012 IMMI Awardees


Immigration Word of the Year. This year’s word could well have been “omnishambles” — “a thoroughly mismanaged situation notable for a chain of errors” — chosen by Oxford University Press, yet aptly suited to our perversely American form of immigration regulation. British novelist, Ian McEwan, in his new book, Sweet Tooth, while explaining the problems of England’s intelligence agencies in the 1970s, could well have been describing the federal and state authorities that administer and enforce America’s omnishambled immigration laws when he observed:

Too many agencies, too many bureaucracies defending their corners, too many points of demarcation, insufficient centralized control.  

Instead, the IMMI goes to “self-deportation” (Mitt Romney’s proposed solution to illegal immigration), a hyphenated word that (even someone as intemperate as Donald Trump recognized) contributed mightily to his self-immolation as GOP candidate for President:

[Romney] had a crazy policy of self deportation which was maniacal. . . . It sounded as bad as it was, and he lost all of the Latino vote . . . He lost the Asian vote. He lost everybody who is inspired to come into this country.

Belated Gumption.  For modest courage expressed ever so slowly, the award goes to President Obama for his authorization through the Homeland Security Department of relief for a slice of the DREAMer population with the implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. With exit-polls showing that 57% of Americans approve of DACA, imagine how many more DACA applications could have been approved and lives restored had the President used his long established executive authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion when the concept of deferred action was proposed early in his first term. Consider also how DACA might have benefited even more minors brought or required to remain here illegally, such as DREAMer extraordinaire Jose Antonio Vargas (who, at 31.5 years old when the program rules were set up, was six months too old to receive DACA relief), had the program applied to all minors and not set stingy bright-line rules that kowtowed unduly to past DREAM Act proposals in Congress.  

Hit the Road Jack/Home-Wrecker. President Obama reprises his role as “Deporter in Chief” and, as in past years, wins another IMMI.  With over 400,000 deportations in 2012 — an all-time high — the President also receives the Home-Wrecker IMMI. According to recently released federal data, between July 1, 2010 and September 31, 2012, almost 205,000 deportation orders were issued for parents with U.S. citizen children, thereby destroying the lives of even more American kids.  With the recent announcement that U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) will stop asking local police to turn over to ICE immigrants arrested as petty offenders, perhaps fewer deportations will result next year — especially if Congress legislates a path to legal status and citizenship for the undocumented.  Recent statistics from the Immigration Courts, showing case closures resulting in deportation orders or grants of voluntary departure down to 56.3% from 70.2% two years ago, also support a prediction (fingers crossed) that the President will not receive another IMMI in this category.

Ignorable, Ignoble Person. The IMMI goes to nativist Tom Tancredo, former Colorado representative and gubernatorial candidate, who urged Republicans after November’s election not to let strict immigration laws become the scapegoat for their loss at the polls (“while scapegoating the immigration issue was to be expected from the Republican establishment following the Romney defeat, it is sad and disappointing to see a few conservatives stampeded into endorsing suicidal proposals”).  Tancredo nudged out Kris Kobach for this year’s IMMI because he also mocked Sen. Michael Bennet for his leading role in developing the Colorado Compact, a balanced approach to comprehensive immigration reform.

Not Especially Nimble. While the primary immigration benefits agency, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), has continued its laudable efforts in 2012 to improve transparency, public engagement and responsiveness (especially on humanitarian concerns, such as relief for foreign citizens adversely affected by Hurricane Sandy), the IMMI for lack of speed and agility on business immigration concerns nonetheless must go to this beleaguered agency. USCIS still has not released its promised rule on employment authorization for spouses of certain H-1B workers, or met its year-end deadline on stateside provisional waivers for immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, and has not issued clarifying guidance on L-1B specialized-knowledge requirements promised last January.  Other longstanding problems remain, including the lack of meaningful impact from its Entrepreneurs-in-Residence program (beyond a nifty website with comforting assurances), the persistence of an anti-entrepreneur animus at the Regional Service Centers, the need to put out for re-bid the agency’s contract on its Transformation program for the online submission of immigration forms, and the issuance of a “guidance memorandum” offering seemingly helpful but still befuddling instructions on the EB-5 investor issue of “tenant occupancy” that USCIS first raised officially last February.

Constitutional Illiteracy.  The IMMI for misinterpreting the Bill of Rights goes to the 97,062+ yokels who in a petition to the White House have lambasted CNN host Piers Morgan and urged this Brit’s deportation for his post-Newtown critique of America’s woeful failure to regulate firearms. No one explained their illiteracy better than Pilar Marrero, author of Killing The American Dream: How anti immigration extremists are destroying the nation, who posted this on Facebook:

So people want to deport Piers Morgan because he aired anti gun views and he´s an “alien”, supposedly from out of space. 2 things to remember: before the Second, there is a First amendment. And this country was built by foreigners with weird accents who were always looked at with suspicion by the previous foreigners with weird accents who came first. The only welcoming ones [were] the natives. Unfortunately for them.

Hopeful Baby Steps.  The IMMI goes to U.S. Customs and Border Protection for two recent actions.  CBP reported that it would no longer allow its agents to serve as interpreters for non-English speakers in interrogations by other law enforcement agencies.  It also announced that it would undertake a review of current agency practices in the use of force by its border agents.

No Stale Wine before its Time. This IMMI goes to the government agency which best proves the maxim “justice delayed is justice denied”:  The Labor Department’s Office of Foreign Labor Certification dramatically lagged from prior periods in the pace of labor certifications. Overall permanent labor certifications decreased by 15.67% between FY10 and FY11. Although the Information sector and Professional, Scientific, and Technical Services sector experienced increases, most other sectors witnessed large decreases in certifications in FY11: Educational Services (46.67%), Health Care and Social Assistance (34.23%), Retail Trade (33.19%), Wholesale Trade (21.77%), Accommodations and Food Services (60.31%), Construction (65.43%), Transportation and Warehousing (39.90%), and Arts, Entertainment, and Recreation (43.01%).

Worst Immigration Law. Although a colleague, Nolan Rappaport, has nominated the Registry provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act for the IMMI, the award goes to another nominee. Registry allows an individual who has been physically present in the U.S. for a prescribed number of years to be granted a green card despite unlawful status.  Nolan notes:

The eligibility date hasn’t been updated since the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 advanced it to January 1, 1972. That was more than a quarter of a century ago. It’s shameful that such a useful humanitarian provision has not been updated in so many years. With the present date, the residence period has to be more than 40 years. When it was enacted in 1929, it required entry prior to June 3, 1921, which was a residence period of only 8 years.

However shameful the failure to update the waiting period for registry is, even worse is the 1996 law that created mandatory detention of immigrants without benefit of appointed counsel, as Prof. Mark Noferi of Brooklyn Law School persuasively demonstrates.

Lost in the Wilderness. The Republican party, still stinging from its election defeat and overwhelming rejection by the fast-growing Latino and Asian cohorts of the American electorate, wins the “Dr. Livingstone, I presume” IMMI. Persisting in their special brand of akrasia (weakness of will; acting in a way contrary to one’s sincerely held moral values).  Despite proclamations that they will cooperate in enacting comprehensive immigration reforms, Republicans have yet to formulate a welcoming agenda on immigration and apparently can’t yet fathom that immigration reform would be both good economics and good politics.  Their new leader of the House Immigration Subcommittee, Rep. Trey Gowdy, is an unabashed opponent of immigration.  Even the anti-immigration hawk, Mark Krikorian, Executive Director of the Center for Immigration Studies, knows that Gowdy’s appointment bodes ill for comprehensive immigration reform, because it “suggests . . . that the House Republicans aren’t going to allow themselves to be stampeded by this amnesty panic because Gowdy is pretty hawkish on immigration . . .”

Taxing Non-Solutions.  The IMMI for non-starter immigration-reform proposal goes jointly to Prof. Giovanni Peri, Alex Nowrasteh of the Cato Institute, and Microsoft. While each of these awardees is a respected and thoughtful contributor to the immigration-reform debate, each offers a variation of a proposal to impose a tax as the visa-entry fee to America. As I’ve noted elsewhere, taxing the right to enter the country smacks too much of “18th Century slave auctions.”  There are many better ways to regulate immigration than to tax it and thereby prod our trading partners and global competitors to tax American entrepreneurs in foreign lands.

A Supreme Demonstration of Supremacy. The IMMI goes to the U.S. Supreme Court majority that vanquished virtually all of Arizona’s nativist law, SB 1070.  Holding that the states must kneel to federal supremacy over immigration, the Court struck down all but one of the Arizona law’s provisions, and left it to the lower courts to determine whether in practice the surviving section can pass constitutional muster.

Head in the Derriere.  This year’s IMMI goes to those feckless employers throughout America who fail to recognize that — no matter what happens on comprehensive immigration reform — the Feds are coming to check your business’s immigration papers.  Immigration audits were at their highest in history this past year.  That trend will only continue to rise.  Be forewarned and take some crumb-y advice.

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Well, thats a wrap for our 2012 IMMI awardees.  The next 12 months will no doubt produce another bumper crop of candidates for the IMMI.

Meantime, as we close out the year, this blogger reverently contemplates a prayer penned by Rev. Robert L. DeMoss II of Christchurch in Montgomery, Alabama.  Although he offers it on behalf of consular officers, I would broaden the reach of his divinely-directed plea to extend blessings to all of our nation’s immigration officials:

Almighty God, May Your love fill our souls, that we might be vessels of peace and grace to bring to this hurting and anxious world. Bless especially our Foreign Service officers, who endeavor to safeguard our freedom and welcome the stranger, as the voice …and face of America. Guide them with Your wisdom and discernment, give them grace under pressure, and fill them with the radiance of compassion and understanding, all for Your love’s sake. Protect, bless, and be with them now and throughout the New Year ahead, as they continue to serve our country with a valiant heart, a keen mind, and a noble spirit. Amen.