A government of the people, by the people, for the people.
These words from Abraham Lincoln are the very definition of a democracy, something that this country has for so long prided itself on. But this democracy, time and time again, has also proven that it is selective in those that they wish to include, despite the fact that this country was quite literally built on the backs of immigrants, whether it be the African enslaved individuals who were forced to build from the ground up or the Europeans that we consider our founding fathers. Any way that you look at it, we are here because of immigrants.
Contrary to what some people may believe, the government isn’t openly against all immigration, they only wish to eliminate illegal immigration, as do most countries. The problem with this, however, is how restrictive the policies and regulations surrounding legal immigration have become, especially under the current presidential administration. To be considered a legal immigrant, an individual must be in possession of a green card, which has the power to grant that individual legal employment and residence in the country on a permanent basis, or a visa which allows for the same but on a temporary basis. It all seems fairly simple, which begs the question why doesn’t everyone come to the united states this way?
Like I mentioned earlier, in order to come to this country legally, one must obtain a green card or a visa. Visas are for temporary stays, so things like work and student visas are issued, allowing for those individuals to work and attend school legally while their visa is is still active (they have expiration dates). They fall under two large umbrella categories, immigrant visas and non immigrant visas (permanent). There are 140,000 American visas given out each year, and many diverse categories with caps. Not to mention, a single person can count against multiple caps. For example, if a man has a brother who needs to work in the United States, that brother would count against both the family sponsored and employment sponsored visa caps.
In order to get a green card, however, there is also a complicated process. An immigrant can get a green card in one of 4 ways; family sponsorship, employer sponsorship, political asylum/ refugees, or winning a green card lottery. The United States grants about 1 million annual visas, which sounds like a lot in theory. However, taking into consideration the number of people seeking a better life outside of their impoverished countries all over the world, that number doesn’t seem so large. In fact, the window of opportunity shrinks further in that according to the Migration Policy Institute, upto 50% of those visas are awarded to those already in the United States who have just changed their status. Because of these small numbers, the wait to enter legally can be outrageous.
The Trump administration has made moves that severely limit legal immigration. According to the CATO institute, since 1992 the wait to enter the states legally has doubled. The average is anywhere from 5 to 8 years, but in some cases it can be as long as 50 years before an applicant is granted entry due to backlog. During the duration of the Trump administration, we have seen senate proposed bills that limit the numbers of immigrants let in legally severely. Aside from that, they have extended the adjudication process regarding immigration, causing more backlog and longer periods of time before immigrants can become citizens. While this may not seem like a big deal, the longer that immigrants are not citizens, the longer that they cannot vote on political issues, working to the advantage of the current administration. Even the number of refugees accepted has drastically declined. During the Obama presidency, 110,000 refugees were accepted, which President Trump has managed to lower all the way to just 30,000.
Even after becoming a green card holder, there are still several obstacles yet to be faced. Green card holders can apply for permanent citizenship only after 5 years of residence or 3 if they are married to a US citizen. Until then, they are considered non-citizens, meaning that they don’t have the same privileges, like lacking the right to vote or to public wealthfare systems, such as Medicaid and Housing Assistance. This can make living especially difficult, considering that most immigrants come here trying to escape the worse conditions in their home countries, most likely meaning that they are not in a good financial situation themselves.
Aside from this, there is a more recent development. On Friday, October 4th, President Trump issued a proclamation that all future visa applicants need to show proof that they can afford health care, once again promoting the immigration of younger healthy immigrants and discouraging the poor, the people who need it the very most. With all of these regulations, restrictions, and outrageous wait times, it isn’t hard to realize why there is such a large problem with illegal immigration. If President Trump is truly concerned about the illegal immigration crisis and is dedicated to eradicating it, instead of building a wall to keep people out, he should instead shift his focus and power onto creating more opportunities that encourage legal immigration.