What’s A “Legal Immigrant”, Anyway?

Over the Thanksgiving holiday, Julia Ioffe posted a reflection on how her Russian-Jewish family came to the US that zooms out into a history lesson on our immigration laws – a history replete with political calculations, arbitrary rules, exceptions, and yes, presidential fiats. Far from offering a clear-cut distinction between legal and illegal immigrants, she concludes, “American immigration law is perhaps one of the most mercurial sets of laws we have”:

It is not set in stone, nor has it ever been. Historically, it has depended on racism, trade priorities, and geopolitical considerations, just as it does today. And as Senator Ted Cruz, son of a Cuban immigrant, rails against Hondurans and Mexicans for coming to America illegally, keep in mind just how lucky his family is to come from a country that got the kind of special status that allowed, and still allows, Cubans to come to U.S. in ways that would be considered illegal for other populations and to get a green card in a year. Consider that this is not because of a law passed in the U.S. Congress, but because some guy we didn’t like seized power in 1959 and a few American presidents decided to help the Cuban bourgeoisieand to stick it to Nikita Khrushchev. It’s why I and my 60 relatives are here, too. And it is quite likely that one of your ancestors got in through some giant, executive loophole ages and ages ago. Or got here when there were no loopholes because there were simply no laws pertaining to immigration.

The Dish previously covered the “cutting the line” argument against amnesty for illegal immigrants here.