Cliff Slater (photo by Mel Ah Ching)
Cliff Slater (photo by Mel Ah Ching)

By Cliff Slater – A major example of gridlock in Washington at the moment is the question of what to do about the 10-12 million immigrants who have entered the country illegally. Successive Congresses and Administrations have dodged this issue for the last 40 years.

For the most part these people are hard-working, law-abiding, and paying taxes and there is no practical way to send these folks home without damaging the U.S. economy. For example, one only has to contemplate what would happen to the U.S. restaurant industry were all illegal Latin American employees to leave.

The real impasse is that given the vote, the immigrants who are in the country illegally will almost certainly vote overwhelmingly for Democrats like their countrymen who are here legally. In fact, some on the right have referred to the illegals as “undocumented Democrats.”

The Republicans would commit political suicide if they agree to give them the vote and politicians are not known for doing so willingly. On the other hand, Democrats are enjoying building support among the Latino community during the gridlock by supporting illegals wish for full citizenship and would only benefit more were the illegals be given the vote.

For the most part, American citizens do not believe we should give illegal immigrants priority over those who are waiting in line in their home country to be legal immigrants; giving them citizenship would only encourage other people to enter the country illegally.

However, as a one-time event, we should consider giving illegal, but otherwise law-abiding, residents a new class of legal residency that would allow them to stay in the country with all the rights of “green card” holders, but one that would not lead to citizenship and voting.

At the same time, they could apply to the U.S. State Department in their home country for regular immigration status, just like those who come here legally. That process could lead to citizenship and voting rights.  It would give illegals a place in the queue along with all other peoples wishing to enter the U.S., but not give them priority over the other applicants. We also need to clarify that for U.S. born children to be citizens, they must have at least one parent who is either a U.S. citizen or a “green card” holder.

At the same time we should change our thinking about entry for the very desirable immigrants such as those with skills that are badly needed in the U.S.

You may reside in the U.S. legally with an E-2 visa if you have at least $50,000 of your own money and wish to start a business and the Immigration & Naturalization Service finds you qualified. You may get an EB-5 visa if you have $500,000. This visa has more rigid criteria than the E-2 but can lead to a “green card” and permanent residency, citizenship and voting.

On the other hand, most foreign STEM graduates (Science, Technology, Engineering & Mathematics) of U.S. universities fail to gain an immigrant visa after graduation. One would think that someone who has completed a doctorate in. say, computer science, would be an invaluable addition to the nation’s arsenal of scientists and worth at least the $500,000 that an EB-5 requires.

This is especially important since recently the Congressional Research Service concluded that, “A broad consensus of business, academic, and policy leaders warn that the United States is on the verge of STEM workforce shortages, which will diminish U.S. global economic competitiveness.”

Cliff Slater is a legal immigrant and was formerly a regular columnist for the Honolulu Advertiser.


Immigration of Foreign Nationals with Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) Degrees. Congressional Research Service. 2012.

E-2 visa helps many non-U.S. citizens start small firms. Los Angeles Times. May 16, 2011.