By Selene Rivera
Eastern Group Publications
Why don’t people wait to immigrate legally to the United States? The answer, at least according to one recent study, is that although many people want to come legally to the United States, “processing delays and the family employment-based immigration quotas legislated by Congress result in significant wait times and much frustration for potential immigrants and U. S. employers,” sometimes taking as long as 20 years.
According to an analysis by the National Foundation for American Policy, qualified immigrants wait an average of five years or more to become permanent residents (green card holders) while the wait time for people who have solicited their residency through their family could be up to 22 years.
Activists against undocumented immigration and law enforcement officials say that current laws must be respected and the long wait is no excuse for illegal immigrants not to “wait in line.” But for the thousands of people who annually cross the U.S.-Mexico border illegally, by foot, car, train, or boat in hopes of reaching “the promised land,” hunger and necessity are powerful motivators not to wait.
“If I don’t (take the) risk, I’ll die anyway and my family will die of hunger,” says Manuel Cruz, an undocumented immigrant in Los Angeles. “Who wouldn’t like to come to the U.S. legally and avoid the fear of suffocating in a van, or dehydrating (in the desert), getting bitten by a poisonous insect, or killed… or drowning in the river?” he asks.
According to statistics, nearly 10 thousand people try to cross the border illegally everyday, and immigration agents catch approximately 33 percent of them. But statistics also estimate that about 300 people, including many children, die every year trying to cross.
For Micha Hardy, an anti-illegal immigration activist who emigrated from Germany, there’s no excuse for illegal immigrants not to wait in line as she did.
“I became legal before coming here,” she says. “It took me three years to become a resident and it took another three years to become a citizen.”
Hardy was able to immigrate legally thanks to sponsorship by an American family, but for most people to get permission to come to the United States within three years, it takes a lot of luck or money, something most immigrants say they don’t have.
The NFAP study, titled “Legal Immigrants: Waiting Forever,” indicates that the waiting time for “green cards” for skilled workers and professionals has gotten longer in the last few years, “with a current wait for a newly sponsored high skill immigrant in this category exceeding five years.”
The study also reveals that the wait times for siblings of U.S. citizens can be 11 or 12 years and up to 22 years for those born in the Philippines. The reason? Quotas on residency permits fall far below the number of people wanting to come to the United States.
On average, the wait time for an unmarried adult child of a U.S. citizen to come to the United States is about six years. The time increases to 13 years if the child is from Mexico and to 14 years if he or she is from the Philippines. Married children of a U.S. citizen can expect to wait about seven years to immigrate legally, but the wait increases to 11 years if they are Mexican and 15 years if they are Filipino.
The spouse or child of a permanent resident (a green card holder who is not a U.S. citizen) must wait approximately seven years if they are Mexican, or five years if they are from other countries.
The delays are a result of the fact that there are more people soliciting visas than there are visas available, says Juan Jose Gutierrez, a pro-immigration and civil rights activist. There is also a shortage of green cards authorized annually, he says.
In fact, green cards are given in order of priority starting with the spouses, children (unmarried and then married), parents and brothers and sisters. For example, according to the study, “a citizen may sponsor a spouse, a child or a parent without quota, but face annual limits for siblings (65,000 a year) and married adult children (23,400) and unmarried children (23,400). A permanent resident may sponsor a spouse or a minor child (87,934) or adult child (26,266). Per country limits for family-sponsored immigrants are generally seven percent of the 226 thousand limit for family preferences.”
But for Ted Hayes, another anti-illegal immigration activist in the Los Angeles area, people should wait in line no matter how long the process.
“I have hungry kids too. That doesn’t give me the right to steal,” says Hayes. “[Immigrants] are welcome, but wait in line until America is ready for you.”
In addressing immigration policy, study authors Stuart Anderson and David Miller suggest that Congress should examine the possibility of expanding green card quotas for family-sponsored and many employment-based immigrants.
“To ensure the continued flow of talent to America,” the study concludes, “it also must address the necessity of an increase in the H-1B cap for skilled professionals and sufficiently liberalized policies toward international students.”
“People with necessities will always find a way to cross the border, legally or illegally," adds Cruz. "It’s not my fault - I get a job that others don’t want."