There. Is. No. Line.
Symsess, who has been lately gracing this blog with daily immigration round-ups, made agood 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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.)
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