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Donald Trump keeps talking about his "wall" between Mexico and the United States, a feature that appears to be redefined constantly as a result of his lack of progress on building what he envisioned and his inability to make Mexico pay for it.

In principle, we agree with the basic concept that a nation ought to maintain control over who enters and which foreign nationals get to stay. Whether a wall is the answer is another matter.

What’s the point?

The U.S. immigration system should favor legal immigrants who are in the country on worker visas when it comes to green cards and should speed up the process to receive one.

Mexicans or any other foreign non-citizens of the United States are not to blame for this country's immigration shortcomings. Our system of immigration is a mess because our own federal leaders have failed for decades to develop a rational program that embraces, in reasonable numbers, newcomers capable of contributing to a vibrant and strong United States.

As much as illegal immigration deserves a robust debate, it appears to us another segment of people caught up in the uncertainties of their immigration status ought to be given even more consideration. Last Sunday, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reporter Dave Perozek explored the horrible, unforgivable circumstances facing young people who came to this great nation legally, but whose futures remain clouded because obtaining permission to remain is a convoluted, almost interminable process.

"America is the only home I've ever known. I've lived here all my life, and I want to continue to be a part of American society," said Bentonville's Vanshika Chintakunta.

When Vanshika's father moved from India to the United States on a work visa, she was 3 years old. Her sister was 5 months old. Vanshika, 14, is now a ninth-grader at Bentonville High School, and like others her age, she's dreaming about the future. But for her and others in her circumstances, the United States represents both the path to achieving those dreams and the biggest potential barrier to realizing them.

So why not just apply for what's become known colloquially as a green card, more accurately known as a permanent resident card? She and her family have done just that -- a decade ago. And they still wait.

Vanshika's clock is ticking, believe it or not at that young age. When she reaches 21, her H-4 dependent visa expires. Without a green card in hand, that means after 18 years in the United States, she'll be packing to go back to India.

That's a whole seven years away, so why worry, right? The backlog on green cards for Indians is so great, time is measured not in years, but in decades.

For people who have come to this country legally and have demonstrated their value to the American experience, why should the realization of government permission to stick around be such an ordeal?

The odds are stacked against people like Vanshika, because the U.S. immigration system sets arbitrary limits on the number of green cards that can be issued to people from each country. In a nation that talks a good game when it comes to the power of the individual, our Congress has adopted policies that treat people as though they are just numbers. Congress should remove those arbitrary limits and concentrate the award of green cards.

Our country can handle taking in skilled workers and their families. Beyond that, it will be better for it.

What are the national policy interests in keeping in a state of constant limbo people who have moved here, contributed to the economic success of U.S. companies and built lives for themselves and their families? Does that sound rational?

Certainly after a decade, it's possible for even our federal government to evaluate the circumstances surrounding these families and, when no extenuating circumstances stand in the way, to grant them the stability of permanent residency. Afforded that, many of them will go on to earn their citizenship, a proud day for them and for the country they have voluntarily become a part of.

These situations create personal turmoil for families, but for those who say we need to stay focused on making "American great again," let's remember we're talking about families who legally came to this country to work for companies, like Walmart, Microsoft and similar corporations that need them. They've been helping to make the country great the entire time they've been here.

Maybe it's possible to solve the issues with illegal immigration at the same time, but that seems to be a much bigger calamity of public policy. Our federal lawmakers could deal with the green card issue for skilled workers and their families more easily, even if it's not simple.

Several pieces of legislation are floating around Congress that could have an impact on the Vanshikas of the world. None squarely resolve the issue of the backlog and speeding up the process. Without that, it will be difficult to suggest the problem has been solved.

Commentary on 04/14/2018

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