U.S. immigration law is extremely complex and must balance multiple goals, many of which often conflict. To make things even more difficult, piecemeal legislation and special interest lobbying over the years have left numerous provisions on the books years after they have already proven ineffective in achieving their stated goals. Many of these provisions, originally intended to keep illegal immigrants from coming to the U.S., or staying here, had no measurable effect on the volume of illegal immigration. However, Congress almost never bothers to remove these failed experiments from the legislative books. Even worse, once the illegal immigrants arrive, these same provisions actually keep them from leaving illegal immigrants from leaving.
Just one example of this is the combination of sections 245(a) and 212(a)(9) of the Immigration and Nationality Act ("INA"). Section 245(a) says that, among other things, if you entered the United States illegally, or entered legally but failed to maintain your legal status here, you are ineligible to apply for your greencard here, so you must return to your home country to apply. That would be fine, if it weren't for 212(a)(9) that says, if you leave the U.S. after staying here illegally, even if you're leaving to apply for a lawful visa, you will be barred for at least three years, and as long as ten years, from reentering the U.S. So, the restrictions in 245(a) keep illegal immigrants from applying for greencards here in the U.S., and 212(a)(9) keeps them from leaving to apply for greencards in their home country; a veritable tag team of ineptitude that has caused the illegal immigrant population to swell to near-unmanageable proportions.
Section 245(a) has been around for many years and is actually not all that bad by itself. Section 212(a)(9) was added by Congress back in 1996 in an attempt to stem the flow of illegal immigration. The thinking was that imposing a severe penalty for coming or staying illegally would keep people from doing that. Well, it didn't work, and the reason should be rather obvious: People coming to the U.S. illegally usually aren't U.S. immigration lawyers, so they're not going to know about the either 245(a) or 212(a)(9), much less their disastrous combined effect - until it's too late.
Congress is, once again, debating immigration reform - which means they have the opportunity to fix this, as well as other problems that keep our immigration system from working the way we all want it to. Unfortunately, immigration opponents, either out of ignorance or perhaps due to some more nefarious motive(s), continue to argue that the current immigration laws are fine; we only need to enforce them. Well, I respectfully disagree. They are not fine and enforcing them often leads to horrendously cruel and unjust results. That is why we need immigration reform so badly. I just hope we get true reform this time, instead of just another product of politically-expedient give and take.