Red Tape: An American Institution

Much has been said about the topic of immigration and the immigration laws of our country. This is only one part of the problem. A larger problem is the red tape and inefficiency that accompanies any large federal government function. I am the grandson of immigrants. I do not approve of any type of amnesty. I do not agree with President Obama’s Executive Order announced on November 20th. This will no doubt have an effect on domestic politics in this country for at least the next two years. I urge lawmakers to look at the immigration process and not just the immigration law. With a combined knowledge of my own family’s story and my experience working in the private sector, I see the process as a large a problem as the law, which a preponderance of U.S. politicians say is broken.

I had the fantastic opportunity in my life to work for a large Fortune 500 company. I started out right after my four years at Virginia Military Institute. I began at the bottom: an assistant manager at a store in rural Virginia. I worked my way up through the ranks, working in various stores in both Virginia and North Carolina. I learned how to hire and retain the best employees we could. This is a challenge in the retail sector. This process changed. Early in my career, it was simple. We would go through the applications and look for the most qualified persons for the jobs we had open. Throughout the 1990s, drug testing was introduced. Later, a background check became part of the process as well. While the process changed and became a larger, the amount of time it took to hire someone remained between three and seven days. (It is important to note that the process rarely took longer than five days.) Within these five days we would conduct two interviews, a drug test and a background check.

Our government’s process to become a citizen has managed to move in quite the reverse. In the 1920s and 30s, the process took scarcely a few months and was basically free. There were several interviews and a medical examination. This immigration process today can take years and cost thousands of dollars. It begs one to question what people applying for citizenship are supposed to do while the process slugs on. I know the frustrations of these people who are in legal limbo firsthand. I worked alongside many folks who were here on temporary visas awaiting the process to play out. As usual with government, there are reams of paper work, multiple hearings, judges and lawyers get involved. The entire process is comical from the standpoint of a person who used to handle hiring for a large company. You can build a house faster than becoming a citizen. You can build an entire housing development for that matter.

The process can and should be streamlined. With the technology available, there is no reason that the immigration process should take more than 2-3 months. This is a liberal estimate. The process should be targeted and relatively inexpensive, but also address several issues of concerned state governments and immigrant rights groups. First, there should be a cursory medical exam. Nobody wants to introduce potentially infectious diseases into the country. Nobody wants an immigrant to suffer from an illness without proper care. Second, there should be a battery of background checks starting with our own intelligence community and INTERPOL, concluding with their nation of origin. There are two caveats to this. It may be necessary to have our embassies do these checks if the technology is not available. Also, if the persons have lived in the U.S., their home localities should also be consulted. Finally, there needs to be some form of integration. This would include education about our laws and language. Abandoning a newly naturalized citizen with no concept of our laws and no way to communicate would be cruel.

A streamlined 21st century process would not only benefit the newly naturalized citizens, but also the American taxpayer. The U.S. government’s obsession with paper is horrifying. Even more astounding is the amount Americans pay for government workers to shuffle this paper around. Furthermore, the money wasted on immigration courts is ridiculous. These courts should be reserved for deportation hearing of immigrants here illegally who violate the immigration law, whatever it may be now or will be in the future. Using computerized background checks, simple medical screenings and avoiding courts, lawyers and judges, the process would be far cheaper for the American taxpayer and more expeditious for the aspiring immigrant.

Many say that the immigration system is “broken”. While true this system is made of two parts the existing law and the process. The law is another matter. Yet, the process is warped, burdened by hard copy paper, arduous and expensive court hearings, lasting years. I’ll leave the law and its enforcement up to the two appropriate branches of our government. I’m sure the debate over enforcement will be lively. There will no doubt be long sessions of horse trading about who should be allowed in and who should not. The process is different. An ex-grocery store manager could fix that in less than an hour.