The June 11 editorial “The other immigrants” wonderfully highlights the plight of a sympathetic former Olympian and her daughter who are struggling to navigate our immigration laws. In the process, however, the newspaper inadvertently assumes a false bright line between “legal immigrants” and “people who stream illegally into this country.” If only our immigration laws were sufficiently rational as to be able to tout one type of immigrant while villainizing another.
The truth is that many people who enter the U.S. with the necessary permission eventually lose that permission; they become “out of status,” in immigration-law parlance. Approximately 40 percent of people who are currently out of status entered the country with permission — maybe a tourist visa, a student visa or a work visa. Most such visas are granted for a defined period of time.
Things get tricky very quickly when a person’s circumstances change. What happens to a worker whose company shuts down or a student who needs to take time off from school? Or, as the editorial suggests is the case with gold-medal-winning gymnast Natalia Laschenova, when the period of time for which the visa was granted runs out?
Though most visas allow for renewal if certain conditions are met, a visa typically can be renewed only a set number of times. What then? The “legal immigrants” quickly join the stream of illegality with which The Dispatch expresses concern. Having already been denied by immigration officials, Laschenova faces a steep uphill battle. Her struggle may well end up in the mire of illegality.
Whether she is found to possess “extraordinary ability” or not, as that term is defined in immigration law, her contribution to our community is no less concrete. Moreover, her daughter Sasha’s ties to this country and promise of success in college and beyond are in no way affected by her mother’s precarious immigration status. Yet mother and daughter both face the stigma of “illegality” that results from careless distinctions between types of immigrants that hinge on the irrational nuances of immigration law.
Of course, that will be of little concern if both are forced to face the all-too-real possibility of deportation.