Leading law expert says reform of legal immigration criteria needed before illegal border crossing can be curbed

Expert comment

“Beefing up enforcement will never put a serious dent in illegal immigration unless it goes hand in hand with major reforms of our legal immigration criteria,” says Stephen Legomsky, J.D., D. Phil, the Nagel Professor of International Law at Washington University in St. Louis.

Legomsky, an internationally renowned scholar whose coursebook on immigration law and policy has been adopted as the required text at more than 150 U.S. law schools, has advised both President Clinton’s transition team and was the first President Bush’s INS Commissioner. He gets frustrated when he hears people suggest that undocumented immigrants are “jumping the queue,” or that undocumented immigrants “should just wait their turns like everyone else.”

• U.S. laws simply do not give immigrants many options.

“To immigrate to the United States, it’s not enough that you have led an exemplary life,” he says. “Under current law, you can’t be admitted unless you affirmatively fit into one of a few statutory pigeonholes such as family relationships in the U.S., specially needed professional or work skills, refugees, or winning the lottery. Most undocumented immigrants have no category to apply under.”

• Even people who have close family members living lawfully in the United States generally have to wait several years.

“At present, if you’re a lawfully admitted immigrant, you have to wait more than four years to bring in your husband or your wife or your young children,” he says. “This is unconscionable. You would have to remake human nature before spouses will stop trying to be together or parents will stop trying to be with their young children.

“As a nation that stresses family values, is that really what we want?”

Editor’s note: Legomsky is available for phone, e-mail and broadcast interviews through May 12. Washington University has VYVX and ISDN lines available for news interviews. Legomsky will be available via e-mail from May 12-18, and sporadically via e-mail May 18 – June 5.