Death by a thousand cuts

Published 12:00 am Monday, April 3, 2006

My mother used to call these days “death by a thousand cuts” and, boy was she right.  Your daughter e-mailed again to say she overdrew her checking account at the student union.  You spilled coffee on your white shirt and spent five minutes rubbing out the stain with a Shout wipe.  Your spouse called to say that the repairman who charged you $150 the week before really didn’t fix the washing machine and it’s on the fritz again.  Aunt Jan’s birthday is tomorrow and you haven’t sent a card.  Your printer is flashing green and red and spitting out mangled copies of the memo you’ve spent hours typing. Your stomach is growling and you are five minutes past closing time to pick up tomorrow’s suit from the dry cleaners.

We all have days like this.  Nothing truly catastrophic has happened.  You or I can handle each of these situations.  But when they come at us all at once, we’re exhausted, we’re overwhelmed, and we’re angry.  All we can do is throw up our hands and say “Enough!”

There is, however, some good that can come from these kinds of days.  Sometimes in the midst of all the chaos we are compelled to stop, to take a breath, and to think things through.  We take a minute to sort out the cosmetic problems from the cancerous problems.  We realize that we can’t resolve all the issues today and in fact, we may never stop the overdrafts until she’s out of college – but it forces us to make a plan, to map out our course of action to remedy the situations, one-by-one, step-by-step.


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Today we’ll pick up a card for Jan and iron a different suit at home.  Tomorrow we’ll call the repairman to come back out and swing by the cleaners to pick up the suit and drop off the shirt.  And the memo?  Well, we’re just going to email it to our colleagues.   Taking those few minutes to calm down and reasonably address one issue at a time, well, that gives us control, direction, and accomplishment.

But this scenario is applicable to more than just our personal lives – it is applicable to how we handle many of the problems that face our nation.  I hear from people each week who are angry and frustrated over the illegal immigration issue.  They feel like we are being cut by a thousand cuts, and they are right.  The flood of illegal immigrants coming over our borders, aliens applying for student loans and other government benefits, stories of violent crimes being committed by individuals who aren’t even citizens, out-of-touch and outdated government immigration procedures, national security implications, wage and labor issues, cost of illegal immigrants on welfare programs, poverty cycles in agricultural labor, drug trafficking and human smuggling, and the list goes on and on of the many aspects of this problem that contribute to peoples’ frustrations.

So how do we tackle all of these problems?

One-by-one, and step-by-step.  We need to sort out the cosmetic problems from the cancerous problems and get to work on the most serious first.  And this week, I’m calling attention to a little known but deadly issue that is quietly making large cuts in the movement to improve our immigration situation.

When civil unrest, violence, or natural disasters erupt in spots around the world, there are sometimes legitimate concerns that arise over the safety of nationals who are from these troubled places. And, as such, provisions exist to offer temporary relief from deportation for these aliens until the situation is under control. This provision is called Temporary Protected Status or TPS, and the Department of Homeland Security has the authority to extend it provided that granting TPS is consistent with U.S. national interests. 

But the use of TPS has gone seriously awry.   Due to earthquakes, El Salvador received TPS designation in March 2001 – nearly five years ago.  The Secretary of Homeland Security subsequently continued to renew this protection from deportation every year since the earthquakes.  Honduras first received TPS designation as a result of damage by Hurricane Mitch in January 1999 and, likewise, TPS has subsequently been renewed for Honduras for over seven years.  This month, the Department of Homeland Security yet again announced that it would grant a one-year extension of Temporary Protected Status to nearly 300,000 Salvadoran, Nicaraguan and Honduran aliens currently in the United States.

Beneath the radar of most Americans, the Department of Homeland Security has continued a tradition of unfounded extensions of TPS regardless of the substantial risks some of these aliens pose to American citizens.  These careless extensions given under the transparent guise of natural disasters that occurred years ago significantly undermine the security of our nation – security which DHS above all else has been tasked to protect. 

This week I wrote to Homeland Secretary Michael Chertoff expressing serious concern over this decision as well as its implications on alien gang members that hail from countries that currently have temporary protection from deportation.  Even more stunning is that despite the fact that aliens protected under TPS comprise a portion of our nations most violent and sophisticated criminal gangs, membership in a violent criminal gang is not grounds for deportation in and of itself.  Gang members under TPS are able to invoke protection from the Immigration and Nationality Act in removal proceedings simply because they are from a TPS designated nation.  A gang member under TPS, who came into the country illegally, can only face deportation after actually committing a felony or another specified criminal offense, at which point it is too late for the victim of a gang crime. Under TPS a criminal gang member could literally stand on the sidewalk outside your home holding a sign that said, “I’m a member of one of the most violent criminal gangs in the world and I entered the country illegally,” and there would be nothing law enforcement could do to remove that individual from the country. 

Like one of a thousands cuts, the continued renewal of TPS is a public example of how out-of-touch Washington is with illegal immigration.  Certainly, while the vast majority of illegal immigrants enter our nation with only the intent to better their lives here in America, common sense and recent history warn us that it only takes a handful of individuals with ill objectives to cause serious loss of American lives and property. There may have been a day when the temptation for some to turn their eyes and ignore what was happening could be understood, but with the real and present danger that gangs and terrorists present to our security, that day is no more. While our nation’s immigration problem remains too large to solve overnight there is never an easier course than applying common sense to our immigration policies.  And, if in doing so we reduce the cuts from a thousand to 999, and from 999 to 998, and so on, well, then we are making some progress, and that gives us control, direction, and accomplishment.

J. Randy Forbes represents the 4th district of Virginia in the United States House of Representatives.