There. Is. No. Line.

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Thumbnail image for matrix spoon.jpg"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.)

[Image: Wikipedia]

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Reason magazine has a great chart (pdf) outlining wait times for citizenship under different scenarios (text version here (pdf)). What you'll notice if you read the chart carefully is that for a large number of potential immigrants--certainly the major... Read More

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kyledeb said:

Bookmarked for everytime that an anti-migrant troll uses that talking point now. Sweet post yave. Thanks for writing it, and symsess, thanks for inspiring it.

This is a great way to start a monday. Debunking myths. Feels like we're ticking away at the anti-migrant movement post by post.

symsess said:

Wow! Thanks for the great post Yave. I asked the question based on a limited knowledge of the system. This post is much needed and should be read by everyone.

The "it's the law" or "rule of law" comments make me cringe every time I hear or read them.

mimi said:

Great information, and I love this line:
"For most undocumented immigrants, there is no line. There. Is. No. Line."

Thanks for spelling the details about how this is an absurd fallacy.

My loved one is stuck on the other side, and sometimes my acquaintances say something like -- I'm sorry for your situation but really he should just "do it the right way" or "get in the line." Or sometimes I get the "why don't you guys just get married?" People are genuinely surprised when I explain that if I went to Mexico and married him, he'd have to wait at LEAST 10 years to get back.

But like you said, most people don't even have a sponsor, so that sort of decade wait isn't even an option.

It's a horribly frustrating, depressing, agonizing and Orwellian premise to tell people who help make this country function to just get in line. To leave their spouses and children for, umm say 10 years.

I get so tired of hearing people's misinformation repeated, repeated, repeated --You know, if you'd just be "honest" and "get in line" and "not break into this country," you wouldn't have these problems.

Such naivete is debunked through this post. Well done.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Thanks for stopping by mimi. I hear you on the repeating misinformation, which is why I'm so glad that yave wrote this post. This is definitely one to bookmark and file away to target the anti-migrant trolls out there.

I'm a citizen married to a noncitizen for 7 years with one of those situations that wasn't so easy to get residency... we have just been told to wait until imigration policies change but it feels like it just keeps getting worse. Thank you for writing this.

kyledeb Author Profile Page said:

Thank you for stopping by, Simplemente Maria. One of the most important things we can do as bloggers is to make people like yourself feel like they're not alone. I imagine that you have problems of your own to deal with, but I hope that you're able to stop by again.

Dre Dreams said:

This post and a few other blogs that I gained the links to, add facts to things I already could distinguish but could not express quite as eloquently. "My ancestors came here -legally-" and "why dont you just leave and come back legally"...

Knowing the laws in place and its consequences brings such a broader viewpoint and a much more emotional side to this issue of immigration.
"Get in line"
I pray for patience every time I see or hear that phrase and I rue the day I come in contact with someone who belligerently says that- cuz I imagine myself ruining my clean record by hitting em! But I will work from now to never have it happen or just avoid occasions like that - only children resort to fighting out their disagreements. :-)
Thank you so much for the post and organizing the information. It will prove useful in dealing with the many anti-immigration advocates who find it entertaining to visit blogs and websites just to post hate filled comments.

About this Entry

This page contains a single entry by David Bennion published on March 2, 2008 11:54 PM.

No More Hate: Pro-Migrant Roundup was the previous entry in this blog.

Reshaping the Debate: Pro-Migrant Round-up is the next entry in this blog.

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