During a speech in Texas, Attorney General Jeff Sessions said that intending immigrants should simply “wait your turn” to enter the United States legally. The insensitivity of this statement clearly shows that Mr. Sessions, like many government officials and members of the public, just doesn’t understand the way our immigration laws work.
The U.S. system for procuring Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status, also known as a green card, is a complex one. It is a process that is in severe need of revamping to fit the needs of both the country and those who seek to lawfully immigrate to the U.S.
Under our current system, most legal immigration occurs through a family relationship to a United States citizen (USC) or LPR. This system is limited by quotas that depend on the applicant’s country of origin, age, marital status and relationship to the USC or LPR. Because only a limited number of visas are available per year, countries with higher demand face longer waiting periods until immigrant visas become available. To understand how outdated and ineffective the current quota system is, imagine the following scenario: A USC mother petitions for her single 21-year-old child born in Mexico. The wait time to “stand in line” is approximately 22 years! That individual petitioned for her adult child in June of 1995 and only in May of 2017 did that date become current. Similarly, a USC brother petitioning for a sibling in the Philippines currently has to “stand in line” for 24 years. Another example is a USC parent petitioning for a married daughter from anywhere in Europe; this would currently take a “mere” 12 years of “standing in line.”
It gets worse. The waiting times referenced above are likely to be much longer because of the snail-like pace at which these categories advance. To better understand the wait individuals are facing, let us again consider the first scenario referenced above, a USC mother petitioning for her adult child born in Mexico. Ten years ago, immigrant visas in that category were available for individuals who had petitions filed on their behalf on or before January 1, 1991. Ten years later, that category has only progressed to June 1995. Simple math tells us that if the system continues as is, a USC petitioning for his or her adult child from Mexico today would be in store for a wait that spans several decades.
These examples shed some light on the absurdity of Sessions’ suggestion that immigrating to the U.S. is simple and painless. Maybe the quota system worked better years ago; I wasn’t practicing then so couldn’t say. But given that the annual limit for family based immigration is 480,000 visas, and demand can easily be estimated in the millions for family based petitions, there is no light at the end of the tunnel. The employment-based immigrant visa categories have an annual allotment of 140,000 visas with backlogs as far back as 2005 in some categories.
We are in dire need of changes to our current immigration laws. A better system would allow for family reunification, reduce the numbers of those unlawfully present (currently estimated at 12 million), allow those living in the U.S. with deep family roots to remain here, and capitalize on the talents of educated individuals who are able, and more than willing, to contribute to this great nation as our forefathers did, if only given the chance to stay in a reasonable amount of time.
Congress needs to take the lead and get immigration reform done that benefits us all and increases our shared prosperity. Yes, the work may be hard, but having an immigration system that works for America would be worth it.