Most African legal frameworks, have an immigration component, some were drafted from scratch while others were simply adopted from colonial regimes – a copy and paste if you will. Little has been developed jurisprudentially in this field. Mainly because, illegal immigration is not so prevalent. Political asylum notwithstanding, most folks are to a large extent economic migrants and there may be no point in migrating from Zimbabwe to Malawi for economic reasons when both are among the bottom 20 poorest countries in the World.
For those that manage to come to the US, this term “illegal” comes up way too often and I will not tire of reminding anyone Élie Wiesel’s immortal words, “No human being is illegal”. “My wife is illegal, how can I make her legal?” – “Ahem, say what now? Is she your 2nd wife [polygamy is illegal], is she cocaine? a banned substance? Ok then help me understand why you think she’s illegal?” “…. because her visitor visa expired 2 years ago therefore she is here illegally.” What follows in this article is what this person needed to know about the word “illegal” in relation to immigration status.
In immigration law, there is no such thing as an “illegal immigrant.” It’s simply not a category that exists. There are people who are deportable / removable (because they don’t have permission to be here, because they have permission to be here but have violated a term of their stay, or for some other reason such as a criminal conviction). There are people who lack legal status and are also not removable. There are people who “have no lawful status,” but are also not “unlawfully present.” There are people who are removable but also eligible to apply to stay in the US lawfully. There are people who would be eligible to apply to stay here lawfully, but the application is only available if the government first tries to deport them. There are people outside the US who are not eligible to come in legally, but if they were here, they would be allowed to stay. There are even people who are simultaneously deportable and eligible to apply for citizenship.
There are also ways to “break the law” and still be present lawfully. There are lots of types of violations of immigration law and criminal law that can’t result in deportation for people in certain types of status, or where there’s a “grace period.” There are some crimes where you’re fine if you were convicted in 1995, but totally out of luck if it was 1997.
When somebody comes to my office, it often takes me well over an hour of reviewing their paperwork and asking them questions about their entire life story and family history in order to figure out (a) whether they entered the US lawfully, (b) whether they are currently present in the US lawfully, (c) whether the government can lawfully deport them, (d) whether, if the government tries to deport them, they are eligible to apply to stay and how likely they would be to win, and (e) whether they’re eligible for benefits such as an employment based visa, a marriage-based green card, citizenship, asylum, visas for victims of crime or domestic violence, etc.
Sometimes we even find that somebody is a US citizen and didn’t even realize it — the US accidentally deports US citizens every year.
Every time Congress amends the Immigration and Nationality Act, they intensify our headache. Popular culture doesn’t reflect the complexity and subtlety of the laws, so understandably people want to classify folks’ status as “legal” or “illegal” when it’s usually just not so simple. I wish the laws were more straightforward and easier for people to follow.
So saying “illegal immigrant” is kind of like saying “an illegal movie.” There’s no such category, so what does it mean? Does the movie include illegal content such as child pornography and is therefore illegal to distribute? Did non-union actors work in violation of a labor agreement? Is the movie R rated but the theatre is allowing 5-year-olds in? Did somebody on the crew get a parking ticket on location? Was the DVD pirated or the script plagiarized? Does the movie depict lawlessness? Just saying “illegal movie” is nonsensical and doesn’t give you any information about the movie, whether I am allowed to watch it, or who would be responsible for what violations of which law.
“Undocumented” is a political term, not a legal one. People generally use it as a respectful term to refer collectively to people who entered without inspection and still have no status, and also those who entered lawfully but overstayed or violated their status. People often assume that only undocumented people can be deported, but actually people in lawful status can be deported too, including lawful permanent residents (“green card” holders). I have a client right now who has had his green card for 30 years, nothing unlawful about his immigration status, but he is in deportation proceedings following an illegal arrest by immigration officers, because of a criminal conviction from the early 1990s that he didn’t have to serve a day in jail for.
I sometimes use the general terms “out of status” or “lacking lawful immigration status.” This is roughly equivalent to how people use the term “undocumented” but it’s more precise because often people are “out of status” even though their entry to the US was totally legal and documented.
So… now what part of “illegal” don’t you understand?
By Martin Musinguzi from Charlotte, NC USA.
For a foreigner, living in the diaspora means having to explain yourself or a little bit about your origins quite frequently. This maybe out of necessity (inevitable questions regarding your “nice” accent) but may also be self-imposed as some foreign nationals feel its their duty to educate every mzungu they meet (which is a whole lot of them!) about their home country. This is particularly so, if like me you happen to come from Rwanda. You see, I do not want anyone to leave my presence without hearing the good stuff about Rwanda. My rationale is simple, not only is it a source of pride but also the fact that whoever I am talking to is a potential tourist which means money for my country.
Suffice it to say, I can lay claim to many a Rwandan tourist. Which is why I thought it was another scoop when a workmate decided to take the plunge and visit Rwanda with his entire family. I told him he will never regret the decision and I went into over-drive. The more I pumped him info about the beauty of Rwanda, the more family members he convinced to come along. Typically, this planning has taken a little over 6 months to have everyone lined up – time off work, synchronizing sick leave with paid leave, organizing for live-in babysitters, caretakers for the elderly, take care of stuff that needs to be done in your absence, like pay your taxes and bills in advance, surf the internet for cheap flight deals. Simply put, it is a big deal and very time-consuming. Personally, I secured for him current brochures on Rwanda, and kept forwarding him e-mails of Rwanda’s international Tourism Awards. To cut the sorry story short, this family has decided to go to Uganda because, as of June 2012 tickets to visit gorillas cost $750 (from $500) in Rwanda as opposed to $500 in Uganda. Why?
Last year, Rica Rwigamba, head of Rwanda’s Tourism arm at the Rwanda Development Board, announced that Rwanda was ready to implement the EAC tourist visa if only the other EAC countries could fast-track this event. Tourism undoubtedly has raised more revenue than most other sectors in Rwanda (the Rwandan Washington D.C website last posted a $200 million figure in earnings for 2010) accounting for more than half a million foreign tourists in 2010 alone. These figures have undoubtedly increased since and considering the trend, an increase in ticket prices to gain more revenue may sound like a terrific idea. Granted, maintaining and conserving those gorillas may be costly and the annual kwita izina ceremonies have to be paid for, but does that justify a 50% increase in ticket prices?
I stand to be corrected but unless there is a reason to believe that Gorillas in Rwanda look better than the ones in Uganda, I don’t understand why Rwanda’s tourism board would, in effect, chase away such “income-earners”? How are Rwanda’s tourism agencies supposed to compete favorably with their Ugandan counterparts? Even if one was to “try harder”, the idea is to help businesses attract tourists, not to set them up for stiffer competition. What about the ripple effect, the farmer with the one cow does not slaughter it for beef – lest his family lacks milk for the next several years. Likewise, any tourists that decide not to come affect the gross incomes of hoteliers, taxi drivers, restaurant owners, traditional crafts markets, tour agents, not to mention the all-too-common investourist. Obviously, some technocrat has a good reason for this policy, but the hope is that all policy is subjected to real pragmatic considerations. For instance, pragmatically speaking, Uganda has quite similar tourist attractions Rwanda has to offer (like Gorillas, Old Palaces, National Park[s]) as well as many more that Rwanda cannot offer. Furthermore, Gorillas are Rwanda’s main attraction and if ceteris paribus, they are the determining factor for potential tourists (like the family mentioned above) – no matter how much arm-twisting I pour into my pitch – they have 250 reasons not choose Rwanda. Which begs one practical question; why the self-imposed disadvantage?