Broken immigration law fuels illegal entryby Hugh Holub on Sep. 27, 2010, under border issues, immigration law reform, mexico, politics
The Arizona Republic published a stunning story about the plight of one undocumented immigrant.
Our current immigration laws make is virtually impossible for anyone to enter the United States legally. So they come anyway….
Immigration to United States will only ever be a dream for many around world
Years-long waits, restrictions deter legal entry
by Chris Hawley – Sept. 26, 2010 06:35 PM
Republic Mexico City Bureau
MEXICO CITY – Two years ago, a young woman named Yudi went to the U.S. consulate in San Pedro Sula, Honduras, in pursuit of an impossible dream.
I want to go to the United States, she told the person at the reception desk.
Yudi knew her chances of getting a U.S. company to sponsor her for a work visa were slim. But if she could get a visitor’s visa, she reasoned, she could at least get over the border and look for a job.
Then the receptionist began to list the documents needed for a visitor’s visa: A bank statement showing thousands of dollars in savings. Property deeds. Car titles. Five years of pay stubs from a good-paying job.
Yudi’s heart sank.
“I realized it was impossible,” she said. “I would never have those things.”
Like Yudi, millions of people around the world want to enter the United States legally to live and work but simply have no hope of ever doing so, immigration experts say. U.S. visa laws have changed so radically in recent decades, let alone since the days of Ellis Island, that it is simply impossible for many hardworking people around the world to legally immigrate to the United States, they say.
Waiting lists for visas are often decades-long because of strict immigration limits. Employers are loathe to sponsor employees for residency, and diversity visa programs aimed at increasing the United States’ cultural mix are skewed against Latin America and other regions that already have many citizens living in the United States.
Immigration-control advocates say the system is doing its job and the United States simply cannot afford to take in more people.
“America is already at an unsustainable level of hyperlegal immigration,” said William Gheen, president of the Americans for Legal Immigration Political Action Committee, or ALIPAC. “Anybody that’s complaining about us not letting enough people in legally is full of it.”
Yudi, 23, went back to her job at a potato-chip factory, but she couldn’t stop thinking about her meager salary and the opportunities in America. Her brother had crossed the border illegally several years before and was working in Colorado.
In March, she struck out alone for the United States.
The trip took her six months. On the Guatemala-Mexico border, she says, she was robbed and gang-raped by four men. Near Mexico City, she saw a freight train slice off the leg of a fellow traveler after he fell onto the tracks. On the Arizona border, she hiked through the desert for three days with no food.
In Phoenix, she was held captive and raped by six smugglers several times a day for two weeks, until escaping on Sept. 18.
An immigrant-aid group, Respect Respeto, is now caring for Yudi. She spoke to The Arizona Republic on the condition that her last name not be published.
Yudi says she knows that many Americans accuse her and other undocumented migrants of simply not wanting to follow the rules.
“All I can tell those people is that if we immigrate illegally, we’re not doing it for fun,” she said, her voice cracking. “If they really want people to stop immigrating illegally, then give us an opportunity. Give us a chance.”
Hard to enter
Until the 1920s, immigrating to the United States was relatively easy. America needed people to populate its western frontier and work in its factories.
But in 1921, Congress passed the first law setting numerical limits for visas based on countries of origin. And as the U.S. moved toward a service-oriented economy in the 1960s, immigration officials became more selective about the kinds of workers the nation wanted.
These days, U.S. immigrant visas are limited mostly to the educated, the affluent or people who have spouses or parents in the United States, said Gustavo Garcia, an immigration lawyer in Mexico City. If the ancestors of most Americans had tried to immigrate to the United States under today’s rules, their American Dream would have ended before it even began, Garcia said.
“These days, you need a visa before you can even embark on a trip to the United States,” Garcia said. “They couldn’t have even gotten on the boat.”
Under today’s rules, most immigrants must be sponsored by a family member or by an employer, who must prove to the U.S. government that the immigrant has skills that are in short supply.
Even for those who meet the requirements, getting approval to immigrate to the United States can take 20 years or more, compared with the three to five hours it took immigrants to pass through Ellis Island during the peak of European immigration from 1900 to 1914. Back then, most people who got on a boat could enter as long as they were healthy and had no criminal record.
U.S. citizens trying to bring a spouse or young child to the United States can get visas for them almost immediately, said Chris Bentley, a spokesman for the U.S. Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services. But other people face a longer wait.
U.S. citizens trying to bring an adult, Mexican-born son or daughter to the United States face an 18-year wait before a visa becomes available, according to the U.S. State Department’s monthly visa report. For a U.S. citizen trying to help a Filipino sibling immigrate, the wait is 19 years.
“It’s not a system that is at all geared to reality,” said Nic Suriel, an immigration lawyer in Phoenix.
But Bentley said the system works well, noting about 1 million people legally immigrate each year and the biggest backlogs are for a handful of countries that have historically sent large numbers of people, mainly Mexico, India, South Korea, China and the Philippines.
“To say that we don’t have a robust legal immigration system in the United States would be erroneous,” Bentley said.
And while the poem beneath the Statue of Liberty still promises to receive the “wretched refuse of your teeming shore,” today’s visa limits show the United States is much pickier about whom it takes in.
Nigeria got 7,450 diversity visas for 2010, while Guatemala got none. The unmarried adult child of a U.S. citizen has priority over a married child and will wait four years less for a visa, on average.
So how does an unskilled worker from Mexico, with no job offer and no family in the United States, get to legally immigrate to the United States?
He can’t, said Mike Franquinha, a Phoenix immigration lawyer.
“There’s no vehicle for these people to immigrate. It just doesn’t exist,” he said.
Yudi has an eighth-grade education and comes from a poor family. She says she decided to emigrate from Honduras after struggling to make ends meet on her salary of about $31 a week, two-thirds of which went to food and transportation to and from her job.
“One day I realized I was only making enough to feed and clothe myself,” she said. “I wanted to have a house someday, maybe start a business, and with what I was earning I would never be able to do it.”
From March 2007 to March 2009, about 300,000 people either entered the United States illegally or overstayed temporary visas, according to the Pew Hispanic Center, a nonpartisan think tank based in Washington, D.C. Half of them were Mexicans.
In all, there were an estimated 11.1 million unauthorized immigrants in the U.S. in 2009. That’s one of every four foreign-born people in the country.
In recent years, lawmakers and immigration experts have proposed several changes to reduce the illegal population, including:
• Make more visas available for Latin America and other nearby countries. The shortage of visas, and the resulting 18- to 25-year wait, prompts many people to enter the U.S. illegally, Garcia said.
• Reinstate Section 245i, a provision in the immigration law that expired in 2001. It allowed spouses and children who were in the country illegally to stay while awaiting an immigrant visa and after paying a fine.
• Pass the Dream Act, which would allow children who were brought to the United States illegally by their parents to achieve permanent residency if they attend college or serve in the military.
The bill, first introduced in 2001, was part of the Defense Authorization Act that the Senate shelved on Tuesday.
Immigration-control activists say that people will continue to try to enter the United States illegally, no matter how easy it is to get a visa.
“You’re never going to have enough legal immigration slots for everybody who wants to come here,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Washington-based Federation for American Immigration Reform.
The real troublemakers, said ALIPAC’s Gheen, are employers who hire illegal immigrants, politicians who praise their contributions and authorities who make them feel welcome by, for example, offering forms and services in Spanish.
“If you follow the (immigration) rules, you’re penalized; if you break the rules, you’re rewarded,” Gheen said.
To speed up the visa process, U.S. officials should limit family-based immigrant visas to spouses and children only, Mehlman said.
Cracking down on illegal immigrants and their employers would open up jobs for U.S. citizens and legal immigrants. Only then could the United States raise the number of visas it hands out, reducing the wait, he said.
‘A better life’
On Sept. 18, Yudi escaped from the house where she was being held when her captors briefly left the side door unlocked. She dashed toward a passing car and begged for help.
The driver gave her a ride out of the neighborhood. From there, she made her way downtown and into an office to ask for help. The office workers called Respect Respeto.
The group plans to apply for a U visa, one given to victims of violent crimes, because of the rapes Yudi suffered in Phoenix, Director Lydia Guzman said.
A U visa would allow her to live and work in the U.S. for up to four years while authorities are investigating the crimes.
“All I wanted,” Yudi said, “was a better life.”
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