House Bill H. R. 4437 has created a wildfire of protests across the nation and has led many to question what exactly makes one worthy of living in this country. There is no doubt that some immigration reforms need to be made in the interest of national security and that border protection needs to be tightened in the face of increased violence and drug trafficking. However, this bill not only goes too far in its measures to accomplish these goals, but it also places severe penalties on individuals who violate immigration law.Now, you may be saying to yourself, “Gee, how hard can it be? If you aren’t trying to enter the United States illegally, then you don’t have a problem.”
It would be nice if it were so black and white, but the immigration reforms proposed in this bill will only serve to blur the lines even more. Section 201 of H.R. 4437 would make conviction for any violation of immigration law an aggravated felony. This carries with it not only automatic deportation, but also ineligibility for cancellation of removal, asylum, voluntary departure or any lawful status in the United States ever again.
Again, you may be saying to yourself, “So what?” Let me provide you with an example of how this might play in a situation relating to college students.
Imagine you are an international student studying at TCU (if you aren’t already) and H. R. 4437 has been signed into law. Now, imagine that you are currently enrolled for 15 hours of classes. You discover during the course of the semester that one of your classes is too difficult and you need to drop or you will have an F to transfer to your home institution. You decided to drop the course, and you are now taking 12 hours. Unknown to you, your visa requires that you take 15 hours while studying in the United States. Guess what? You are now in violation of immigration law, and you have just committed an aggravated felony.
This is not the only instance where this bill goes too far. You would also be in violation if you unknowingly brought your baby to the United States without a visa or if, for some reason, you had to be hospitalized and your visa expired while you were in the hospital. Additionally, foreign executives who do not provide a change of address form to the Department of Homeland Security within 10 days would also fall into this category. Keep in mind these are not just violations, they are felonies. Also keep in mind that all of these violations can happen to legal immigrants, meaning those whose presence in the United States is in no way a violation of the law.
This brings me back to the argument that is often made by supporters of this bill – that immigrants who wish to remain here should simply apply for U.S. citizenship. Not only is this process long and expensive, but you also have to remain in the country until your application is processed, which can take years. If you made one of these seemingly minute mistakes, then you can kiss your chances of becoming a US citizen good-bye. Not only that, but if you were somehow granted citizenship, you would still remain liable for prosecution for your violation of U.S. immigration law, which could include jail time. Additionally, students, foreigners on business or on work visas and those going on vacation have absolutely no reason to apply for U.S. citizenship, but nonetheless would be at risk of unwittingly violating immigration law and committing a felony.
As a country founded by immigrants, I think that this bill does not represent the values upon which this nation was established, nor does it provide comprehensive solutions to current immigration problems. Many have argued that law enforcement officials and our justice system can simply overlook these violations or take them case by case, but I ask: Why sign such an overreaching bill into law when you plan on disregarding parts of it and possibly set the stage for legal abuses of power?
Joshua Cauthen is a junior political science major from Nashville, Tenn.