Last week I was on a Las Vegas TV show ostensibly to talk about immigration reform, an issue high on the list for Episcopal social justice teachings. But I didn’t actually get to talk about that. Instead, I had to defend our ecumenical partner, the Las Vegas Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church, from accusations by other immigration reformers that they were not sufficiently supportive. The charges were unfounded. The Roman Diocese has worked hard and well on this issue. They just didn’t do it in the public, headline catching way their critics wanted. Our Roman Catholic partners were trying to be morally effective instead of morally ostentatious.
I had wanted to talk about immigration reform and what it means to Nevada. I wanted to say that thousands and thousands of people who are in the United States “illegally” are eligible to be here legally under the existing immigration laws. However, in every case they would have to return to their home country to do the necessary paper work. Depending on the circumstances, they may be barred from beginning the application process for 3 years or 10 years, beginning with the date on which they have left their American family behind returned to their country of origin.
After the immigrant has left his or her family and gone to another country, and waited the 3 or 10 years to begin the application process, the time it takes to get through the application process and receive a visa is a long, long time. In most cases, that means several years. In a huge number of cases, it means a decade. In some cases it means 20 years.
Add that up. We may be saying to someone who is eligible for a visa under existing immigration laws – right now they have a legitimate claim to be here – it’s just a question of going through the bureaucratic process to assert that claim – we are saying to such a person they may have to live apart from their family for up to 30 years. Instead of living apart from the people they love for so unbearably long, they live here in the shadows. Their living in the shadows is bad for them and bad for the rest of us – economically, socially, politically -- bad on all counts.
I wanted to say that new immigrants in Nevada opened 2,100 new business in our state between 2006 and 2011, that those businesses have added big money to the Nevada economy, and that those businesses hire people whose income supports other businesses.
I wanted to say that one-third of Nevada’s masters and doctoral students pursuing their advanced degrees in Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics are foreign born. We are equipping these young people to build up an economy, then sending them away to build up someone else’s economy.
I wanted to say that if all we did was expand the high skills visa program, it would add 2,800 jobs to the Nevada workforce by 2020 according to some economists. (For my readers in more populous states, 2,000 jobs is a lot out here in the desert).
And I wanted to say that the immigrants I know are faithful worshipers of Christ, that they are good neighbors, that they want the same things we all want for our children. I wanted to say that knowing them has made my life better and I would be the poorer for their absence.