Dallas, TX –
His administration inherited a government without a deficit, and a country at peace with the world. It will leave the government trillions of dollars in debt, and in two wars. But with "Hoover-esque" approval ratings of about 25%, there is still something President George Bush can do to end his administration on a positive note. He can leave his lasting signature on an issue always close to him, even though very unpopular to his party - immigration reform.
President Bush can sign an Executive Order granting temporary status to the millions of undocumented immigrants who got in line on or before April 30, 2001 to get their residency or green card through a family member - people still waiting because of the eight to 12-year backlog in issuing immigrant visas to sons and daughters and brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens.
I'm not talking about an amnesty. Under existing law, persons who filed petitions through a family member who is a U-S citizen before April 30, 2001, can get their permanent residence without leaving the U.S. The trick is they cannot complete their paperwork until their priority date, which is essentially their place in line, becomes current. For adult children of U.S citizens, this can mean up to a 12 year wait. Meanwhile, you are considered illegally in the U.S.
Probably 25% of the U.S. illegal immigrant population in the U.S. falls under this category. In line to legally get there papers under U.S. law, but still considered illegal.
Why would President Bush do this? First, it would be a nice bookend to his presidency. In the early days of his administration, before 9/11 altered the American political landscape, President Bush gave us a glimpse of what he meant by compassionate conservative. After a series of earthquakes devastated El Salvador, President Bush signed an Executive Order granting Temporary Protective Status to tens of thousands of Salvadorans illegally in the U.S. TPS gave these persons work permits, and valid social security cards. The dollars sent back by these immigrants literally helped rebuild El Salvador.
Second, it would take a very divisive and polarizing issue, immigration reform, off the plate of the next Congress, allowing both parties to focus on the economy and national security. George Bush the Decider could be George Bush the Uniter.
Third, persons already working in the U.S. illegally would get valid social security cards, bringing billions to the government in unreported income.
There is a precedent for this. In 1990, on the heels of the Legalization legislation commonly referred to as amnesty, Congress recognized that millions of the spouses and children of permanent residency recipients where left out and were illegally in the U.S. until their visas became available. A Family Unification bill was passed that allowed the spouses and children of permanent residents, to get legal status in the U.S. while they waited in line for their visas.
A similar Presidential Order could be George Bush's immigration legacy.
Fernando Dubove is an immigration attorney in Dallas.
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