I'm going to admit something. Up until everything going on with the current administration's response to our illegal immigrant population, I'd say I was pretty ignorant about the process of becoming a U.S. citizen. I mean, I knew what you'd describe as the "basics" and grew up hearing that it takes "seven years" to become a U.S. citizen. I have the privilege of being born in America, so I never really dug into the issue of immigration or the process. Not my problem, nah nah nah nah nah. Right?
As we're hearing more and more about families being separated as Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) moves quickly to deport as many of the 11 million illegal immigrants currently residing in the U.S. as possible, understandably there's a lot of chaos and a lot of questions.
So let's break it down a bit.
We've got three basic responses/reactions that I've been seeing to the sweeping deportations (and it doesn't just apply to those who have committed felonies):
1) What's happening isn't necessary and it's tearing families apart.
2) We don't care about the "illegals" -- send them back.
3) I support immigrants, but if they're illegal, they should have just followed the law and become a legal citizen the right way.
Let's tackle #3. It's a simple question that many ask: "Why didn't they just follow the law? If they're breaking the law, that's their fault. The could have done things the 'right way.'"
So, did you know, that not everyone is eligible to become a U.S. citizen, just because they want to be one? The "right way" is only for people who fit certain criteria. So let's take "John" for example. John and his family live in Mexico, in an extremely impoverished area with no work. The city also has a terrible crime rate. John, like most parents, wants the best for his children and his family. He believes that America is the land of opportunity. He decides the best decision for his family is to attempt to get to America where it's safer, his children can have access to what he views as better education and he can pursue work. He wants to follow in the footsteps of all of those who immigrated to America before him, and created a better life for themselves and their loved ones.
But John runs into a large road bump immediately. John doesn't fit the criteria for the paths to legal U.S. residency.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, there are three general paths to getting a green card: family, humanitarian (relating to refugees from war-torn countries) or employment.
John doesn't have anyone in the U.S. to sponsor him — he doesn't have an employer to sponsor him and he doesn't have a U.S. family member that could sponsor him. And, to be eligible to go through the process of even petitioning to receive an immigrant visa (green card), this is the very first thing you need: a sponsor. So, John doesn't have a path. Not to mention, that EVEN if he was eligible to obtain a visa, the process is very expensive, between the photos you have to have taken, the medical exams you have to complete, the photocopying and mailing of documents and the filing fees. For example, to file a visa petition, you're looking at roughly $300-500 depending on your "path" (who is sponsoring you). Then, if your petition is approved, you're looking at $1,070 for adjusting your status (if you're already in the U.S.), or a couple hundred bucks for consular processing (if you're outside of the U.S.)
Just a note -- Adjustment of Status is generally more expensive then consular processing, however, people already in the U.S. may choose that route because if denied, the denial can be challenged through the judicial appellate process. This is not always the case with consular processing, although there are exceptions.
On average, you're looking at about $2,000 for just the government fees (which isn't a drop in the bucket for most) to pay for the process. Then, let's talk about an immigration lawyer. That's going to set you back anywhere between $3,000-10,000.
And let's not get started on the thousands that have been scammed financially by people pretending they could take them through the path of legal residency.
After getting your green card, you then must follow a set of criteria while living in the U.S. for five years before you are eligible to apply to become a U.S. citizen, which is obviously a whole new slew of paperwork and process, and a cool estimated $725. But, again, this is all if you're eligible to pursue the path to begin with.
ANYWAY, back to John.
John still has this dream for his family — this dream for a better life —so despite knowing that he can't do things "the right way", he moves his family across the border, and they live illegally in the U.S. He is one of millions who takes the risk. His children are very young, and will be able to adapt to American culture quickly. John is one of the illegal immigrants who does file and pay his taxes every year.
What many people may not realize is that payments from illegal immigrants are helping keep Social Security alive. Unauthorized immigrants have paid $100 billion into the fund over the past decade with no intention of ever collecting benefits, CNN reported, adding: “Without immigrants, the Social Security Board of Trustees projects that the system will no longer be able to pay the full promised benefits by 2037."
Additionally, undocumented immigrants do not qualify for welfare, food stamps, Medicaid, and most other public benefits. Most of these programs require proof of legal immigration status and under the 1996 welfare law, even legal immigrants cannot receive these benefits until they have been in the United States for more than five years. So, in regards to the argument that they benefit from public and government programs more than they contribute, I think it's fair to say that cannot be a blanket statement applied to all nor is that accurate when you review the stats.
So John and his family live in the U.S. for 15+ years. His children are established in the school system and are, (aside from the paperwork), Americans. But, John messed up. A decade ago he got a DUI. He paid his fines and did his time, but it's on his record. According to ICE, he's now an illegal immigrant and a criminal. And so, he must be dealt with.
He's arrested in front of his children. He has three children — one born in Mexico, two born in the U.S.
In an instant, the life that John had built was gone and he was immediately put in detention to be deported. Who knows what the fate of John will be. Maybe he can find (and somehow afford) an immigration lawyer to fight on his behalf, or maybe he'll be swiftly deported. His family left behind.
And sure, his family "COULD" join him in Mexico, where he hasn't lived for more than 15 years, with no residency set up, no job lined up, and no resources to support them there, let alone in the U.S., where at least they have friends and a support system. His U.S. born children could become nationalized, if you go through the process and have a couple hundred bucks for each of them... but, all they've ever know is America. They have their hearts set on universities and jobs in America. And so, what becomes of John's family?
The issue of immigration, or illegal immigration is not a simple "black and white" discussion. It's not as simple as saying: they all deserve to be here! And it certainly isn't beneficial to say: kick them all out now!
I am pro-immigration reform, within reasonable measures. To attempt to rectify our current issue regarding our population of illegal immigrants through a fear-mongering nationwide sweep is not the answer. We need to identify, at what cost, is it worth it to us to literally tear families apart to make a point. You may say it's the principle of the matter: "they're illegal." But where does that get us? Do we, the U.S. win, with these deportations, done in the manner that's been taking place? This Wild Wild West round 'em up? These are NOT just illegal immigrants that have committed felonies by the way. And even then, is there not consideration of the felony, when it occurred, and if it was a non-violent offense...like a DUI for example? There has to be a more responsible way to address immigration reform that understands the nuances of the issue and recognizes a need for case-by-case protocol.
We've set these people up to fail. Sure, they came illegally, but for many, it was the only way. Do we have no empathy, no recognition or understanding for those people doing now what our own ancestors did for us years ago? Or do we consider ourselves too elite to care? It's not criminal to pursue the best life for yourself and your family, despite how people paint the character of illegal immigrants. And - side tangent -- you cannot responsibly categorize an entire group of people by the actions of a few. According to analysis of the 2010 census and the American Communities Survey done by the non-profit American Immigration Council, immigrants to the United States are significantly less likely than native-born citizens to be incarcerated. The authors found that 1.6 percent of immigrant males age 18-39 are incarcerated, compared to 3.3 percent of the native-born.
If we are a country that's pro-immigration, we certainly need to do a better job of embracing that and creating paths for those currently in the U.S., in addition to a reform that identifies America's capacity and policy to address this head on, moving forward. No one wins when you take a parent away from their family to make a point. No one wins when you deport someone that was brought here when they were a baby, and the U.S. is all they've ever known. These aren't victories... they're marks of our failure. The U.S. is an immigrant nation, so perhaps we should behave a little more like it.
What's your opinion?
Sources (they're all over the map):