Mark Alvarez on the Ideal Immigration System 

click to enlarge ERIK DAENITZ

Mark Alvarez is a Salt Lake City immigration attorney who will be leading a forum titled “What Would the Ideal Immigration Situation Be, and How Do We Get There?” at the Salt Lake City Main Library (210 E. 400 East) on Sunday, Dec. 12, at 1:45 p.m. City Weekly put Alvarez on the spot to answer that question and others about the contentious immigration situation

What is the ideal immigration system?
I think government should respect individual freedoms, human freedoms, to the greatest extent possible. There should be free flow of humans across borders. What we really need is a dynamic immigration system to match a dynamic economy and a dynamic society. Visa quota numbers should fluctuate with the economy. Most of the people who are undocumented are not coming over the border. They are coming into the country with visas and then overstaying the visas. Border militarization does absolutely zero to address that issue. Yet what we hear politicians say is, “Secure the border.” That may be what people want to hear, but that’s not a rational approach to the situation. I think there’s a need for family-unity programs. If people have family members here, that should be given some consideration at the time of applying for immigration status. The current family-based system is very rigid. For many of the categories, there are long waiting lists. For brothers and sisters in the Philippines, there’s a 19-year wait. That’s broken.

What do we do with the undocumented people who are already here?
There are 11 million people, according to Pew Hispanic Center and the Department of Homeland Security, who here without documents. These people are working, many have families, many have connections. Mass deportation is not realistic. I would address it by giving all those undocumented immigrants some status, if they met some criteria. Good moral character, clean criminal record--recognizing that some people plead guilty because they don’t understand the system, and giving them the opportunity to perhaps clean up a record so that they qualified for document status. Other criteria could be some demonstration of contributing to the United States--economically, socially, culturally. And, over time, allowing those people to become permanent residents, and citizens if they chose to become citizens. Instead of hammering them over the head, saying “You need to learn English, you need to learn civics,” what we should be doing is providing these people opportunity, and recognizing that these people are working sometimes up to three jobs. . They want to learn English; they know it’s in their self interest. Their time is limited. Learning English is difficult. It takes some swallowing of pride to learn a foreign language. What we really want is for people to appreciate the values you have here in our culture. We would do that if we were more welcoming.

Do any of the current bills come close to what an ideal situation would be?
They don’t, because immigration is a federal authority. Immigration reform has to be done on a federal level. Stephen Sandstrom, I understand his concerns, and I understand the pressure he is under. I’ve gotten the impression at times that Sandstrom would like to be a little more humane, flexible in his approach. I’m not sure he can be because of the people pressuring him. He’s presented an enforcement-only bill that I’ve called Arizona Light. It’s unconstitutional. Another approach—supported by the Sutherland Institute and introduced by Sen. Luz Robles--is trying to be a friendly approach to immigration. You can’t infringe the federal authority on the enforcement side, and you can’t infringe it on the benefits side either. One concern I have with the Robles proposal is they’re trying to talk about work permits. The Hispanic community is starting to ask, “Where can I get this work permit?” To authorize the permit and have it kind of be protection at the federal level, the state of Utah would have to get federal authority. They haven’t gotten it yet. If they’re presenting this proposal and talking about work permits and talking about something good, they’re dishonest. It’s wrong. Those permits are only valid for a couple of years. That’s fool’s gold. I appreciate that Robles and (the Sutherland Institute’s) Paul Mero and some others may be well-intentioned trying to help undocumented immigrants. But I think they’re giving them false hope.

What do you foresee happening in the Legislature this year?
I think there’s momentum in the Legislature to pass something. The momentum is behind enforcement-style bills. The Robles proposal may be designed to cut off the Sandstrom proposal. Something like that is currently on its way to passage. But that’s our challenge. Our challenge is to not pass it. We’re a good society. There are good people who are living in this society who are undocumented. A good society that turns its back on good people becomes a lesser society than it could have been. To Robles, Mero, Shurtleff: You should talk to smart people before you start floating stupid proposals. The smart people should be talked to before proposals like this are hatched. Robles and Dimitri Moumoulitis will tell you they have spoken to many attorneys. They have not talked to experts in immigration policy. They’ve spoken to people in different areas of law and tried to cobble together this proposal. I think they’re well-intentioned to be helpful to the undocumented community. I don’t think they’ve talked to enough to enough smart people to see what was possible and what would really serve not only the undocumented population but also the entire population of Utah.

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