Broken Bridges, Closed Doors, Narrow Paths: The US Immigration System
US Immigration History US policy remained completely open to immigration, without any federal restrictions on who could immigrate, until the 1880s The “golden door” began to close in 1882, with the Chinese Exclusion Act By the 1920s, in a backlash to the great wave of immigrants through Ellis Island, immigration to the US was tightly limited based on national origin, and a visa was required for the first time to enter the US Immigration policy changed again in 1965, switching to a family- and employment-based system
Immigration Quotas Have not been revised since 1965
Our Immigration System Today The current structure of US immigration law provides four basic ways to get a “green card” (i.e. become a legal immigrant) –Family –Employment –Diversity Lottery –Refugee/Asylum
A broken immigration system "To the back of the line" Visa Bulletin Feb 2013 If the letter "C" is designated, this means that an immigrant visa for the category is current (immediately available) for all priority dates. If a date is designated instead of the letter "C", a visa is available for foreign nationals with priority dates of that date or earlier.
Family-Based Immigration –At least 226,000 visas available annually US citizens and Legal Permanent Residents can file for their immediate families Problem: However, due to per-country limits and a limited numbers of visas, there is a large backlog In some cases, wait times can be up to 20 years (for Filipino siblings of US citizens)
Employment-Based Immigration –140,000 Permanent Resident visas annually Primarily for immigrants with “extraordinary ability” and “holding advanced degrees” Problems: –Less than 10,000 permanent visas per year for “unskilled” laborers, even though our economy requires many more workers in low-wage jobs –Even permanent visas for highly-skilled workers are back-logged, because demand is greater than the number of visas available under the law
Diversity Lottery –50,000 visas issued annually Must have high school education or two years of professional experience to apply Odds of winning the 2010 lottery were 1 in 272 No Visa Lottery for –Mexico, the Philippines, India, China, Canada, Haiti, El Salvador, England, South Korea, and Poland, among others
Refugees and Asylees –About 50,000 to 80,000 refugees annually in recent years –25,000 individuals granted asylum per year, on average Legally, refugees and asylees are individuals whom the US recognizes as fleeing or facing a legitimate fear of persecution on account of: –Race –Religion –National Origin –Political Opinion –Membership in a Particular Social Group –(not poverty, natural disasters, health issues, fear of criminal activity, etc.)
We can tell people “immigrate the legal way” and to “wait their turn in line,” but for many there is no line to get into For those who do have the right relationship to a US citizen, the “line” can last for more than two decades! Millions have come anyway, either by crossing a border or overstaying a temporary visa (60%), and are now undocumented
Broken system Long waits for family reunification Not enough work visas No legal path for many Poverty, conflict, etc., driving people from their homes Family, opportunities, safety, drawing them to the U.S.
Enforcement only No federal policy changes –Only failed attempts to fix what is broken Enforcement –Border security –Increased criminal penalties –Massive increase in detention and deportation
Consequences Huge economic costs –Militarization, mass incarceration –Immigrant communities Terror Broken families –Children separated from parents –Spouses separated
Video: Lost in Detention http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline /lost-in-detention/http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline /lost-in-detention/ Discussion
Enforcement Immigration violations are administrative infractions, not criminal Operation Streamline –Criminal penalties for border crossers: First offense: up to 6 months Second offense: up to 20 years
Enforcement Secure Communities –Using local law enforcement –Fingerprints sent to FBI and ICE –Immigrants now afraid to report crimes –Sheriffs speaking out –Some cities and states trying to reject
Mass detentions New criminal penalties, deportation quotas, lead to mass detentions 34,000 detention beds http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/race -multicultural/lost-in-detention/map-the-u-s- immigration-detention-boom/http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/pages/frontline/race -multicultural/lost-in-detention/map-the-u-s- immigration-detention-boom/
Mass detention, deportation Focus on “serious criminals”? Those who pose a threat to public safety? –Less than half of those deported have significant criminal convictions –Others have minor convictions Drug possession Immigration-related
Mass detention, deportation Who? –Long time residents –No criminal history –Asylum seekers/torture survivors –Victims of trafficking –People with US citizenship claims –Legal Permanent Residents with relief –Others (e.g., elderly, mentally/physically ill
Mass detention, deportation How long? –Months, years Where? –Shipped hundreds of miles away –No access to attorneys, family Conditions? –Terrible (Tent City) –No recourse for abuse
Who suffers? 400,000+ deportations per year 46,000 parents with U.S. citizen children deported in first half of 2011 Over 5000 children currently in foster care
Border enforcement 670 miles of border fencing/walls since 2007 –$4 billion 21,000 border patrol agents (9000 in 2001) $18 billion/year on immigration enforcement –More than all other federal law enforcement agencies combined
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