Immigration is not a zero sum game

Commentator Geysar I. Gurbanov argues that offering relief to undocumented immigrants forced to live in the shadows "offends legal immigrants" ("Obama's immigration plan offends legal immigrants," Nov. 20).

The premise of op-ed — that immigration is a zero sum game — is sorely mistaken. We all stand to benefit from fixing our broken immigration system, and President Barack Obama's actions are a welcome step in the right direction.


Those of us lucky enough to have obtained benefits under the existing system should recognize that most people are simply not as fortunate. Many have no lawful avenue to come to this country under the current system. Even the few who qualify for some form of relief often lack both the finances and the access to navigate our extremely complex, limited visa programs. Their legalization would have a positive impact on our economy.

The backlogs that plague the processing of applications for immigration benefits certainly exacerbate these problems, in part by creating a larger class of people for whom unauthorized entry is the only option. While we spend billions of dollars militarizing our border, not enough attention is paid to shoring up resources for timely handling of applicants. Mr. Obama's actions included some relief on that score as well.


In addition to relief from deportation, his executive action includes several changes that benefit and streamline processes for legal immigrants. This shows that expanding access to benefits does not hinder our ability to make things better for those who are already part of the legal process.

Our broken immigration system is the common cause of problems faced by both legal immigrants and those who are not fortunate enough to have a lawful way in.

Ultimately, what we need is a comprehensive, permanent overhaul that can only come from Congress. But until Congress acts, the changes announced by Mr. Obama are for the most part common-sense policies that will benefit us all.

Sirine Shebaya

The writer is director of the ACLU of Maryland's Immigrants' Rights Program.