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Since President Trump has taken office, it is clearer than ever that there are two ways to end “illegal immigration.” The first route — started by President Obama and ratcheted up by President Trump with relentless cruelty — is an actual effort to deport millions and exclude millions more. The second is to legalize those without status who have been, are, and will continue to contribute to America’s families, communities, and future.

This essay argues that the latter choice, restoring the paths to legalization that once were part of our nation’s laws, is the only realistic way forward to restore common sense to immigration law. This choice will stop excessive, wasteful, and expensive enforcement measures and invest in people who are making current and future contributions to families, work places, and communities.

Developing legal solutions, however, will not come until it is recognized how the term “illegal immigration” originated in popular culture and influenced immigration law with distortions over who merits protection and who does not. Part I then examines the operation of existing immigration law, surveys the origins and misuse of the term “illegal immigrant,” and offers that the term “pre-legal immigrant” is the more accurate descriptor of how people are given legal status. Once the false presumption of criminality in the term “illegal immigrant” is exposed, Part II ends with a call to restore needed paths to legalization, which benefit immigrant communities, the citizen family members and employers who rely on their contributions, and the U.S. economy as a whole. Once presumptions are replaced with facts, paths to common sense reform are found for both the short- and long-term.


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6 Sep 2022
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  • Subject
    • Criminal Law

    • Immigration Law

    • Labor and Employment Law

    • Law and Society

    • Law Enforcement and Corrections

  • Journal title
    • Maryland Journal of International Law

  • Volume
    • 33

  • Issue
    • 1

  • Pagination
    • 244-267

  • Date submitted

    6 September 2022