By G. M. Filisko
The argument that illegal immigrants should just get in line and wait their turn to be allowed to stay in the United States as legal residents sounds reasonable and fair, acknowledge advocates for expanded immigrant rights.
But there is a major flaw in that argument, says Williams of the American Immigration Lawyers Association: “The fact is that 99.9 percent of the people who come here illegally do so because there’s no path for them to come here legally.”
Most noncitizens are required by law to obtain a visa from the U.S. Department of State before traveling to the United States. Visas are issued for specified time periods and subject to certain conditions, depending on the reason for entering this country. Once here, Williams says, noncitizens may pursue either temporary or permanent residency in one of three ways.
The first is on humanitarian grounds, such as asylum seekers who have faced or will face persecution in their home country. “That’s a very high bar,” she notes. The number of cases in which individuals requested asylum dropped by just over 29 percent between the federal years 2007 and 2011, according to the latest statistical yearbook prepared by the Executive Office for Immigration Review in the U.S. Department of Justice. The number of asylum cases completed fell by 27 percent during the same period.
The second option is having a family member who is a U.S. citizen petition for you. “Most don’t have that,” Williams says. “If they do, there’s such a small quota for the category that literally it’ll be 10 to 20 years to reach the front of the line.”
Option three: Have an employer sponsor you. “There’s a very limited quota and a very limited means by which an employer can sponsor you,” says Williams. “An employer must show a shortage of people who can fill that job in the United States, and the quotas are so low for some categories.”
For an unskilled job—anything that requires less than two years of training or experience, which covers most jobs held by those living in the country without legal permission—the annual quota is 5,000, including family members, Williams says. “So really the quota is 2,000 to 3,000 people,” she says. “It’s expensive, and the backlog is so long that most employers won’t pursue it.”
The bottom line: “If you’re coming here to build a better life for your family, there’s really no way to come here legally,” Williams says. “Why don’t they just get in line? There’s no line to get into.”