immigrants examined upon arriving at ellis island
Image from the Library of Congress, in the public domain.

Immigration lawyer Matt Cameron writes in The Baffler, laying bare the inequities, misconceptions, and plain old messiness that characterize U.S. immigration law. It’s getting more attention under the new Trump administration but as Cameron takes pains to explain, immigration policy has been a disaster in the making for years.

“Immigration policy,” President Kennedy wrote, “should be generous; it should be fair; it should be flexible. With such a policy we can turn to the world, and to our own past, with clean hands and a clear conscience.” LOL, JFK.

Our current immigration system is far from generous, fair, or flexible, and every branch of government is culpable. There are entire pages of our immigration statutes that read as though they were drafted by congressional interns, using nothing more than a dartboard for their research. And the demagogic cast of our immigration policy debates has provided them with no incentive to do better. Executive orders, policy memos, and implementing regulations come and go with each election, and maddeningly disparate holdings from federal courts around the country, currently overseen by a deadlocked Supreme Court, preclude any realistic possibility of a coherent interpretation of the laws.

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