I’ve always loved to travel, especially to foreign lands. In law school, I devoured all the courses that dealt with international law — public international law (involving relations between countries and international organizations), private international law (dealing with transnational contracts between individuals or businesses), conflicts of laws, and a seminar on international business transactions. Those classes — I thought — would provide my ticket to see the world. After a stint ghostwriting judicial opinions for a state appellate judge, I joined a small, well-regarded firm in the late ’70s and practiced international business and tax law.
I thought my dream was about to come true. After a time, however, I soon learned that the job of international-contracts scrivener was less than fulfilling. I was eager for a change. By fortunate happenstance, I stumbled on another area of law teeming with international flavor and opportunities aplenty to travel: immigration law. Better still, I discovered a passion for law that until then had not existed. It’s been 30-plus years and my passion for immigration still burns brightly.
Lately, however, what I always saw as a helping profession has become a hurting occupation. I hurt because my job causes me, against my will and my heart, to transmit hurt to others. I tell clients whose petitions and applications the government has rejected (in my view, unjustly, or I wouldn’t have taken the assignment) that they must set aside their American dreams and leave the country or risk a 10-year bar on returning here by appealing the denial or litigating. I also tell employers that they must terminate some of their best workers. These are the ones (the employer belatedly discovers) who lack work permission. I then imagine the cascade of hurt my advice inflicts: Families are torn asunder, businesses are threatened, and dreams are dashed.
This is the toxic effluvia of the new Homeland Security policy that dispenses with high-profile worksite raids and instead uses threats of criminal prosecution to tighten the vise on employers and thereby cause the ouster of unauthorized foreign workers from job sites nationwide. At the same time, the front page of today’s Wall St. Journal proclaims that another Executive Branch agency is overwhelmed by a flood of tax cheats who pursue government-sanctioned amnesty after having secreted untaxed money in offshore accounts (“Tax Evaders Flock to IRS to Confess Their Sins”).
Why the rush to put the immigration squeeze on now? Is this a cynical and heartless ploy to appease and co-opt the xenophobes in advance of the push this fall for comprehensive immigration reform?
Ironically, in the same WSJ edition, another article hits closer to home: “Got Workers? Dairy Farms Run Low on Labor — Even in Recession, U.S. Job Candidates Are Scarce; Milk Producers Relying on Immigrants Worry About a Crackdown.”
Something in these contrasting articles caused me to go back and search for a passage in President Obama’s autobiographical Dreams from My Father. I find it in Chapter 16. His Aunt Zeituni (who now awaits her fate in a reopened deportation hearing) tells a younger Barack:
. . . [D]on’t judge [your father] too harshly. . . . If you have something, then everyone will want a piece of it. So you have to draw the line somewhere. If everyone is family, no one is family. Your father, he never understood this, I think.
So, for now, we see where the “forgiveness” line is drawn. On one side, tax cheats; on the other, dairy workers who “deliver calves, milk cows and scrape manure.” This blogger and unhappy bearer of bad immigration tidings therefore asks: Who’s milking whom?