my new favorite blog
I'm posting this entire blog from Citizen Orange here because it challenges the notion that if immigrants just followed the rules and got in the back of the line or did things the right way then there would be no problems. It expresses my frustration with immigration policy and why it desperately needs to be changed. Now.
Thank you Citizen Orange. I could kiss you for writing this. M
"Do not try to bend the spoon; that's impossible. Instead only try to realize the truth: There is no spoon." --The bald kid from the Matrix.
Symsess, who has been lately gracing this blog with daily immigration round-ups, made a good point over at American Humanity.
Two things that I hear in the immigration reform rhetoric trouble me a little and they are “pay a significant fine” and “go to the back of the line.” What ‘line’ are they talking about. As far as I know there is no line of people from many countries south of the border because they are excluded from the immigration lottery each year. I’m sure I don’t know enough about the ins and outs of this process, but I’d certainly like clarification on what “back of the line” means.
This article quotes Obama:
“We have to require that undocumented workers, who are provided a pathway to citizenship, not only learn English, pay back taxes and pay a significant fine, but also that they’re going to the back of the line,” he said.
I hear this “line” referred to in two contexts. One is the context I think Obama is talking about, where some future version of comprehensive immigration reform would provide a path to citizenship for the millions of undocumented immigrants now here in the U.S. He seems to be saying that these people would have to wait some period of time before they could become citizens.
On its face, this is a reasonable requirement. But symsess is right to ask what this means. Permanent residents currently have to wait five years to become citizens, in most cases. Applicants for permanent residency through family members or employers have to wait anywhere from a few months to over a decade for their green cards under existing law. For instance, the sibling of a U.S. citizen currently has to wait over fifteen years from first petition to eventual citizenship. Does the back of the line start there, at fifteen years? That doesn’t seem reasonable. This issue must be clarified.
But there is another “line” that restrictionists talk about. This is the mythical line that law-abiding immigrants are supposed to wait in OUTSIDE the country (in the parlance of caps-loving restrictionists) until it’s THEIR TURN to enter and partake of the bounty we call America. This is the “line” I’ll discuss in the rest of this post, the one that is supposed to already exist under current immigration law.
How can I explain this: For most undocumented immigrants, there is no line. There. Is. No. Line.
If you don’t have permanent resident or U.S. citizen family members or an employer willing to undergo the expense and bureaucratic hassle of sponsoring you, there is no line in which to wait. It simply doesn’t exist.
Symsess mentioned the visa lottery. The visa lottery is just that—a lottery which does not lead to a visa for the great majority of applicants. Roughly 50,000 visas are issued through the program per year, which is a drop in the bucket of total immigration to the U.S. Countries overrepresented in the makeup of immigrants to the U.S. get fewer visa lottery visas—countries like China, Mexico, and the Philippines. Even if you are lucky enough to win the visa lottery, if you are here as an undocumented immigrant, chances are you will not be eligible to make use of the visa anyway.
Immigrants eager to apply for employment-based green cards often find themselves in a Catch 22. There is typically a wait of three to five years for an employment-based green card for a worker with a college degree or two years of experience. But the worker must remain in status or leave the country during that waiting period and, unless he/she has an H-1B visa or qualifies under Section 245(i) of the INA, usually cannot continue to work for the employer in the U.S. and still get a green card at the end of the wait. Most employers don’t want to sponsor someone who can’t work for them for the next three to five years. This means that many immigrants who are qualified to work in the U.S. and have an employer willing to sponsor them still find themselves unable to work lawfully.
If you are poor and unskilled, it is usually much more simple: there is no line whatsoever. Duke from Migra Matters had a good run-down a while back of the miniscule number of green cards made available in 2006 for unskilled workers: 147. The great majority of immigrants from Mexico and Central America fall into this group. Almost none of them can get a visa to come here lawfully in the first place, and they certainly can't get one if they leave the country after having violated U.S. immigration laws.
This idea of "get in line with everybody else" is a fabrication dreamt up by restrictionists to make their odious ideas palatable to an unknowing public. It makes sense that there should be a line, and we hear stories about family members waiting for ten years or more to reunite here in the U.S. So people assume there actually is a line where people can apply and eventually come into the country if they are patient and stay out of trouble.
There isn't! It's a fantasy. In a reasonable world there would be such a line, but in this world there’s not.
Even high-skill workers struggle to immigrate to the U.S. There is a cap of 65,000 H-1B visas each year—these are temporary nonimmigrant visas for people with at least a college degree filling a job that requires skill and education in a professional occupation. Last year, the cap was exhausted on the first day that applications were accepted, when more than twice as many applicants applied as there were visas. The tech community is desperately lobbying an unresponsive Congress to remedy the situation. (I'm sure the Democrats would if they could, but "third rail" and all that. America's high-tech community thanks you, Rahm, for framing the issue so effectively.)
Also, under current law, undocumented immigrants who have been here more than one year who then leave the country will not be able to return legally for ten years. There are any number of ways to be disqualified from future immigration benefits, including having certain misdemeanor convictions (even those from decades ago), falling out of student status and not getting reinstated, or, in many cases, working without employment authorization. Longtime permanent residents learn about some of these obscure laws the hard way when they leave the country for a wedding or funeral and find themselves in removal proceedings when they return. Telling an undocumented immigrant to leave the U.S. and go to the end of the line is a cruel joke once you realize that first, there is no line, and second, leaving will likely mean exclusion from the country for ten years or more.
This complicated minefield we call our immigration system seems designed to ensnare immigrants and find an excuse—any excuse—to deport them and keep them from coming back. Anyone familiar with the way the system works will soon realize that the attributes we associate with “rule of law”—predictability, consistent enforcement, and fairness—are often absent from immigration law.
This is why I have a hard time taking seriously anyone who repeats the mantras “rule of law” or “go to the end of the line” with respect to the immigration system. These words are calculated to obscure and mislead, and any progressive who uses these words should be asked to explain what they mean.
(Note: I’ll provide my first legal disclaimer here, which is this: If you are in need of legal immigration advice, seek the counsel of a competent immigration attorney—preferably one who won’t rip you off—and don’t necessarily rely on this post for guidance on specific legal scenarios, which can vary widely depending on individual circumstances.)