This is the undocumented immigrant our nation should welcome: the Lawrence chemist whom immigration officials attempted to deport this year, much to the dismay of his family, neighbors and even strangers who came to know the story of Syed Jamal.
This immigrant’s presence should be questioned: a man who was deported multiple times and who kept reentering the country. He now stands accused of randomly shooting two people in Kansas City’s Northland, and he has emerged as the possible culprit in the shooting death of tattoo artist Russell Fisk.
Understanding the difference is key to improving immigration policy and enforcement of immigration laws. But our current immigration debate is muddied by offensive words such as those used by President Donald Trump on Wednesday, when he spoke of some undocumented immigrants saying, “these aren’t people, they are animals.”
Arnoldo Pompa-Rascon, charged with the shootings last Friday, is most certainly a person. He also may be mentally ill, telling police that voices told him to shoot people. He expressed a belief that the gun, which he admitted stealing, could magically know the difference between good and bad people.
Juxtaposed, the immigration histories of Jamal and Pompa-Rascon illustrate one of the major problems with current immigration policies. Priorities are wrongheaded.
Ratcheting up the numbers of immigrants being deported is now the goal. That’s how people like Jamal are ensnared. The previous administration’s order to optimize immigration officials’ effectiveness with a tighter focus on undocumented immigrants who are a danger to society has been cast aside.
A fair question to ask concerns the money spent on jailing Jamal for two months, flying him partway to Hawaii en route to his native Bangladesh and then back to Kansas City. What if those funds had instead been spent focusing on immigrants such as Pompa-Rascon? There are fewer like him.
Some context: Our five-county area was home to 135,000 foreign-born people in 2015, according to the Migration Policy Institute. That’s 7 percent of the population. More than 70 percent are naturalized U.S. citizens, legal permanent residents or legally present by other visa status. And among those who are not, a far smaller share have violent criminal histories, for which they’d serve time and then face deportation. Those offenders ought to be the priority.
The president used rather pedestrian language, but he wasn’t completely wrong this week to assert that the nation has some of “the dumbest laws on immigration in the world.”
Problem is, he’s the architect of the present policies.