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Bittersweet farewell

"Bittersweet farewell" Continued...

Issue: "2012: The Year Ahead," Jan. 14, 2012

On Nov. 13, the couple drove to Tijuana, Mexico, and boarded their flight to Mexico City. Hernandez plans to use the cooking skills he learned while working in the food business to open a restaurant that specializes in California-style fish and shrimp tacos. Colin plans to help market the restaurant and spend more time with her kids.

These are tough realities for Hernandez and Colin, but they are quick to point out the positives: "If we didn't come to this country, maybe we wouldn't know God. He brought us here to know Him, to work hard and be humble, and to appreciate what we have every day-our family, our kids, and our relationships."

'Out of synch'

Matthew Soerens, a U.S. church training specialist for World Relief and former immigration legal counselor, says he would like to see changes to immigration law that would both open doors for immigrants like Hernandez and Colin and meet the needs of our labor market. In a case like theirs, the couple would be made aware of their visa violations and asked to pay a fine in exchange for legal status. This proposal is not "amnesty," Soerens explained, since the violation is acknowledged and the penalty paid.

Soerens says the solution to illegal immigration involves fixing a system that is "so dysfunctional and out of synch with the needs of the labor market (and with the societal goal of keeping families together) that illegal immigration is widespread." What most people don't realize, he adds, is that under current immigration laws, individuals such as Hernandez and Colin would have no chance to immigrate legally. (According to research compiled by the Heritage Foundation, an estimated 31 percent to 57 percent of illegal aliens fall into the category of visa "overstays.")

There are currently only four ways to immigrate legally and work in the United States: a family sponsor, an employer sponsor (most of these limited visas are allocated to "highly skilled workers"), winning the Diversity Lottery (residents of certain countries-including Mexico, China, and India-are ineligible) and refugee resettlement.

Soerens told me few Americans understand our immigration laws: "This is why they make statements like 'they should go back and come back the legal way' when as the couple you profiled are likely finding out now, there is no legal way for them, even though there are many jobs in sectors of our economy that rely upon low-skilled immigrants." - Jill Nelson

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