Immigration: Crossing Nations

More than one million people are waiting for legal permanent status in the U.S

By Miranda Cain & Virginia Carico, WorldWideCitizens
Published on LatinoLA: December 15, 2011

Immigration: Crossing Nations

For most migrants, coming to the U.S. is a chance: a chance at a better life, a chance for education, a chance for opportunity and a chance for a bright future for themselves and their families.

People from all over the world come here, yearning to be welcomed by Lady Liberty, in all her rustic glory. The majority of people just want to be given a chance to live the American dream.

The American dream and the hope for a better life are not easy to obtain legally. It is a trial and can wear people down.

It's a tangled web of forms, regulations, visas, interviews and proof of every detail of a person's life. The government wants essentially every scrap of documentation that makes a person.

"The system is like this. There's a tremendous amount of red tape. When you apply you have to do fingerprints, you have to do medical, fill out a variety of papers, and you have to pay fees," said Maria Aparicio, No More Deaths volunteer and immigration attorney.

In a letter included in the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) paper, "Immigration Policy in the United States," acting director Donald B. Marron said, "Immigration has been a subject of legislation since the nation's founding. In 1970, the Congress established a formal process enabling the foreign born to become U.S. citizens."

According to the 2006 CBO paper, the Immigration and Nationality Act Amendments of 1965 still provide the basic immigration framework in this country.

"One of the biggest issues that I think that people don't understand is that it's actually really difficult to get legal paperwork to come to this country," said Jason de Le??n, assistant professor in the Department of Anthropology at the University of Michigan.

While presenting to a group of future-volunteers at a No More Deaths training, Aparicio created a vivid example of the immigration process using Christa Sadler, No More Deaths volunteer and Robert Neustadt, associate Spanish professor at Northern Arizona University (NAU).

The two played the part of brother and sister separated by the border. Sadler was a United Citizen. Neustadt played a Mexican citizen, named Robertito.

Aparicio gave Neustadt context behind his role: "You've never come to the United States unlawfully, no strange diseases, you're educated, you speak English. You are an idealistic person to come to the United States. Perfect angel, you're a vegetarian, you volunteer at the Church."

Turning to the class, she asked: "So, we are in the year 2011, when would [Sadler} need to have applied for [Robertito] if she wants [him] to come here now?"

The students and the professors shout answers.

One person answers with 2001. Neustadt jokingly says 1897. A few other years float around the room before Aparicio announces: "April 22nd, 1996."

"This is how lawful immigration works," said Aparicio. "It's a tremendous wait for pretty much everybody except [certain married persons and other groups.]"

According to "Intellectual Property, the Immigration Backlog and a Reverse Brain-drain: America's New Immigrant Entrepreneurs, Part III" by the Kaufmann Institute, more than one million people are waiting for legal permanent status in the U.S and only a maximum of 10,000 visas are issued to any given country.

Visa allowances, wait time and application periods vary by country and application type. While most say it's because of demand, immigration is very much a political issue.

"You see these categories here and you say, 'okay, it's because of demand,' but one of the largest ethnic populations we have in the United States is the Irish. What I was told before and I don't know if they were joking but they said, 'as long as there's a Kennedy in Congress, you will not see Irish [waiting for immigration]," said Aparicio.

According to the "Annual Immigration to the United States: The Real Numbers" 2007 report done by the Migration Policy Institute, the Department of Homeland Security reported that in 2006 there were 1.3 million immigrants who came to the U.S. legally. This figure does not account for undocumented immigrants from all over the world, nor does it account for temporary visas issued throughout the year.

The report also illustrates that from 1986 to 2006, the U.S. has been receiving a steady stream of roughly 400,000 new entrants into the immigration system that are lawful permanent residents. This does not include immigrants changing their status from non-permanent to permanent residency.

If a person wants to become a citizen in this country, then the process is a bit longer. However, a person does not need to become a citizen to stay in this country legally.

"There's basically two ways that you can come to the United States lawfully," said Aparicio. "One, is that you have to have a close family member who is present in the United States and that family member has either residency or citizenship in the United States. Two, is that you have something that is exceptional about you. That means that you are an executive, you are an investor, you are a very smart student, you are an excellent basketball player, baseball player or you can eat 20 hot dogs in two minutes."

Also, according to the USCIS website, in order to be eligible for citizenship a person must meet requirements such as: having a green card for a minimum of five years, be in the U.S. for at least 30 months, proficiency in speaking, writing and reading English, and know about U.S. history.

The process and procedures appear to be simple enough: become a lawful permanent resident, live in the country for five years and then file paperwork for naturalization.

The reality of this process is more difficult.

"Honestly, I'm like really afraid of the immigration people.  I've been treated so badly and I've been, like, terrified by the people," said NAU graduate student Nathalie Smart.

She is now a U.S.citizen. Her and her husband, also U.S. citizen, have paid roughly $4,000 dollars in immigration fees.

Smart's immigration process was easier than some because she married a U.S. citizen and had a student visa.

"That marriage has to have happened before the undocumented person was in the United States. It's no longer a way to legalize yourself," said Neustadt.

The USCIS wants all immigrants to know that becoming an American is "one of the most important decisions in an individual's life. If you decide to apply to become a U.S. citizen, you will be showing your commitment to the United States and your loyalty to its Constitution. In return, you are rewarded with all the rights and privileges that are part of U.S. citizenship."

That's the dream isn't it: forsaking culture and home in hopes of a better life as an American citizen and all with the final utterance of a simple oath involving loyalty, country and god.

"I think that it's going to take some serious comprehensive immigration reform to fix this problem. Right now the policies and what we are doing on the ground just don't match up very well," said Le??n.

About Miranda Cain & Virginia Carico, WorldWideCitizens:
Northern Arizona University journalism students.
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