History of US Immigration Law and Reform

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13th Dec 2019 Dissertation Reference this

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Alejandro Bojorquez is a Mexican citizen who has been waiting decades to be reunited with his family in this United States through issuance of a family-sponsored green card.  Alejandro’s father, Jesus Bojorquez, first filed a family sponsored green card petition for his son when Alejandro was only 14 years old (Gonzalez, 2013).  Alejandro is now 33 years old and he could still wait until 2018 before he receives his family sponsored green card due to the wait time for the visa category he is currently in.  This will make his wait for issuance of his green card twenty years, however, this length of time is not that uncommon.  Alejandro Bojorquez’s family is not alone. 

Similar situations are being seen every day due to the current shortage of family-sponsored visas available.  In the past, the United States immigration system has made it a priority to have families kept together; however, due to shortage of family-sponsored visas available, the number of visa backlogs have rapidly increased, keeping families separated for many years.  Congress must reform the family immigration laws and the family visa process to start reuniting families again, before families become completely broken. 

History of Immigration Laws

Immigration laws in the United States date back to the early 18th Century.  During the 18th and early 19th Century, the United States welcomed free and open immigration and did not have concrete immigration laws put in place under legislation.  In the 1880’s, the number of immigrants immigrating to the United States was rising, and economic conditions were becoming worse.  Therefore, Congress implemented legislation and passed the General Immigration Act of 1882 (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2012).    

The General Immigration Act of 1882 placed a fifty cent head tax on each immigrant.  Additionally, this Act barred the entry of any immigrant presumed to be an idiot, lunatic, convict, or a public charge (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2012).  The first laws enacted that began prohibiting certain immigrants from coming to the United States was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882 and the Alien Contract Labor Laws of 1885 and 1887 (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2012).  These Acts were the first immigration laws that significantly placed a restriction on certain immigrants immigrating to the United States.  The Chinese Exclusion Act prohibited entry of Chinese immigrant workers due to the belief that the Chinese immigrants were taking American citizen jobs, and the Alien Contact Labor Laws prohibited American employers from recruiting immigrant workers to work for lower wages than the American workers.    

Pursuant to the Immigrant Act of 1891, the United States federal government began the control, inspection, admitting, rejecting, and processing of all immigrants trying to be admitted into the United States (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2012). Due to the need to have a single agency enforce and regulate the new immigration laws, the Act also created the Office of the Superintendent of Immigration in the Treasury Department, also known as the Department of Commerce and Labor.  This name changed in 1895 to General of Immigration (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2012) The Superintendent oversaw the United States Immigrant Inspectors who were stationed at the port of entry, Ellis Island.  Ellis Island was opened by the United States Immigration Service on January 2, 1982 (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2012).    

The Naturalization Act of 1802 allowed any court of record to naturalize a new American citizen (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2012).   However, immigration laws began to change in the early 1900’s.  In 1906, Congress enacted the Basic Naturalization Act of 1906.  This Act was designed to add uniformity to the naturalization process. This Act also outlined the essential rules and regulations that governed the United States naturalization process for the majority of the 20th Century.   The 1906 Act created the Federal Naturalization Service. Accordingly, Congress placed the Federal Naturalization Service together with the Bureau of Immigration, which changed the name to the Bureau of Immigration and Naturalization (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2012).     

In the early 1900’s, the United States admitted more than 14.5 million immigrants (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2012).   The large amount immigrants being admitted began to raise concerns as to the type of immigrant they were due to many of the immigrants not being able to read or write.  Therefore, it was determined that there needed to be stronger immigration laws in place.  In 1917, Congress passed the Immigration Act of 1917.  This Act required that immigrants being admitted into the United States be able to read and write in their native language (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2012).  This was a way to catch the undesirables from being admitted in to the United States.   However, large amounts of immigration slowed when World War I began.     

When World War I ended, mass immigration to the United States began again. Therefore, stricter immigration laws were put in place.  Immigration legislation of the Immigration Acts of 1921 and the Immigration Acts of 1924 placed a numerical limit on immigration for the first time in United States history (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2012). Each nationality received a certain quota based on numbers in the United States census and was referred to as the national-origins quota system.  A visa was required to be admitted into the United States.  If immigrants tried to be admitted and did not have a valid visa, they were not admitted it.

The Immigration Acts of 1921 and the Immigration Acts of 1924 severely restricted the amount of immigrants allowed to be admitted into the United States.  Immigrants from all over the world began to cross into the United States illegally. Congress needed to do something about the amount of illegal immigrants coming into the United States, therefore, they passed the Labor Appropriation Act of 1924 (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2012).   This created the Border Patrol which secured the borders between inspection stations and on the coast.

In 1952, Congress combined all of the previous immigration and naturalization regulations into the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA).  This removed all of the racial barriers within immigration and naturalization and retained the national origins quotas (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2012).  However, civil rights activists viewed this Act as discriminatory as a quota system that placed a numerical limit on visas issued by national-origin was not equal treatment.   

Consequently, in 1965, amendments were made to the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 which created the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965 (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2012).  This Act removed the earlier quota system that placed limits on the number of immigrants by their nationality.  Instead, the Act established a new preference system that was designed to reunite families and draw skilled immigrants to immigrate to the United States. The preference system was supposed to put all immigrants on the same footing while immigrating to the United States. The preference system, like the national-origin quota, places a limit to the number of immigration visas that were available each fiscal year. 

Throughout the years, modifications have been made to the Immigration and Naturalization Act of 1965, however, the framework of this act remains still today.  The 1965 immigration policies are illogical.  Prior to the 1965 amendments to the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the only thing that stood between families being reunited, was the amount of time it took for first family member that immigrated to the United States to get a job and save money to send back for their relatives to immigrate.  However, the passage of 1965 INA eliminated that way of immigrating and instead created the family preference quota that places annual limits on the number of family visas that can be awarded each year by country of origin and family preference.  Currently, family-sponsored visas are the majority of visas given each year (Department of Homeland Security, 2017).  Thus, the equality, organization, and promptness of the entire visa process is vital.  Ironically though, the United States current policies lack all of them.  

More recently, one of the most important immigration laws that has been put in place is the Immigration Act of 1990.  This act changed American immigration law as it allowed more immigrants to come to the United States each year.  Additionally, the 1990 Immigration Act began the yearly lottery of visas and it encouraged counties that do not have a strong presence in the United States to apply for a visa in the lottery (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 2012).   The lottery system assigns visas to immigrants randomly.   Previous immigration laws did not allow immigrants from a certain nationality, origin or country to attain visas. The 1990 Immigration Act changed those immigration policies.  

In 1996, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigration Responsibility Act (IIRIRA 96) was signed into law by former President Bill Clinton.  This Act made immigrating and adjusting status in the United States very hard for immigrants and United States citizens.    The IIRIRA 96 made more immigrants, even legal immigrants, deportable and less immigrants legalizable (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, 1996).  The provisions in this Act increased penalties on immigrants who had violated the United States law in some way.  IIRIRA 96 needs to be reformed.   

Prior to 1996, undocumented immigrants were able to obtain legal status if they had been in the United States for at least seven years and could show extreme hardship if they were to get deported. This was essentially the back door to gaining lawful status in the United States. After the passage of IIRIRA 96, the back door closed.  The only way for an undocumented immigrant to gain lawful presence with a green card was by having an immediate relative (United States spouse or child over 18 years) file a petition. 

IIRIRA 96 defined unlawful presence.  This act has provisions that place a three-year ban on immigrants who were in the United States for more than six months (180 days) unlawfully, and a ten-year ban if the immigrant lived in the United States for more than one year unlawfully (8 U.S.C.A § 1182, 2013).  In order to adjust the immigrant’s status, they would have to travel back to their country of origin to have the visa appointment.  This created tremendous difficulties for the families of undocumented immigrants whose immigrant spouse or parent had to leave the United States to apply for their visa. 

Once the immigrant would leave the United States, they would trigger an unlawful presence ban.  Under United States law, the USCIS is permitted to waive the unlawful presence ban through filing for an I-601a provisional unlawful presence waiver (8 U.S.C.A § 1182, 2013).  In order to file the waiver, the applicant needs to be able to demonstrate that denial of the waiver and their excessive time abroad would result in extreme hardship of the immigrant’s U.S. citizen spouse or parent. The problem with the I-601a provisional unlawful presence waiver is that it does not include guidance for how “extreme hardship” is defined. Therefore, many families were placed in the backlog and separated for many months to years because they did not provide enough extreme hardship. The lengthy separation caused emotional and financial hardship of families waiting for the waiver to be approved.    

Prior to 2013, families were separated for many months to many years waiting for their visa and their I-601a provisional unlawful presence waiver to be approved.  Under the Obama Administration, President Obama made an executive order regarding the I-601a provisional unlawful presence waiver and decreasing the backlog (8 CFR 103, 2013).  Under his order, U.S. citizens were allowed to file their petition and an I-601a provisional waiver while continuing to reside in the United States.  Once both were approved, a visa appointment would be scheduled in the immigrant’s country of origin and a visa would be issued within weeks. Besides including immediate relatives of U.S. citizens, it also included immediate relatives of legal permanent residents, work visa petitions, and diversity visa applicants.  These changes decreased the backlog and reunited relatives more prompt.   

With the improvements of the I-601a under the Obama administration, it was hoped that there would be clarification and updated regulations to make clear what is considered to be extreme hardship and how it was defined.  However, that was not the case and it is still vital for DHS to propose regulations that will make extreme hardship more clear.  Regardless, the improvements that were made in the I-601a waiver was a huge step for immigration reform as it greatly reduces the amount of time family members are separated from those that they love the most.  

Currently there are harmful anti-immigration laws that are damaging state economies.  Alabama and Arizona have both passed harsh anti-immigration laws to try to dismantle the amount of undocumented immigrants that are living in their states.  The idea of these laws was to make the everyday life of the undocumented immigrant so difficult that they would choose to go back to their country, however, the laws implemented did far worse damage. 

For Arizona, the passing of The Support Our Law Enforcement and Safe Neighborhoods Act, S.B. 1070, in 2010 was extreme. S.B. 1070 was the most comprehensive, strictest and most controversial anti-illegal immigration law put in place in the United States for a long time.  S.B. 1070 includes provisions which add penalties in relation to the enforcement of immigration law that include trespassing, harboring and transporting illegal immigrants, alien registration documents, employer sanctions, and human smuggling (Morse, 2011).   This law has been criticized most due to the encouragement of racial profiling of anyone who looked like a Mexican.  A boycott of Arizona began immediately after passing of this law, which cost Phoenix Arizona 141 million dollars in tourist and business in the first four months after passing the Act (Khan, N, 2015).   

The Alabama Taxpayer and Citizen Protection Act, Alabama H.B. 56, of 2011 is an anti-illegal immigration law aimed to remove illegal immigrants from the state of Alabama.  This law turned out to be the strictest illegal immigration law in the nation’s history, even more strict than Arizona’s S.B. 1070, as it attempted to regulate every part of immigrants lives in the State of Alabama.  Areas regulated included interfering with immigrant children’s schooling, preventing immigrants from renting, entering contracts, and working, obstructing lawful access to public benefits, and require law enforcement to verify immigration status (ACLU, 2017).   Shortly after the passage of H.B. 56, the citizens of Alabama began to see that the law was causing more damage than good.  Particularly, it was harmful to Alabama’s agriculture industry.

 Due to Alabama’s anti-immigration law, agriculture farmers lost a significant amount of income. Chad Smith, an Alabama tomato farmer, estimated that he would lose up to $300,000 a year due to lack of immigrant farm workers that were in Alabama (Baxter, 2012).  Additionally, the H.B. 56 is tearing families apart to the point that undocumented immigrants are facing the choice on whether to take their United States born children with them to their country of origin, or leave them behind to allow them to have a better future.

Anti-immigration laws implemented in states have been proven not to work in both the example of Alabama’s H.B. 56 and Arizona’s S.B. 1070.  These laws legalized racial profiling, frightened immigrant children, and damaged both state’s economies.  Both of these laws should be either repealed, replaced or reformed with more effective laws that will not racial profile, tear families apart and deter immigrants from residing in those states and the United States.

Petition for Lawful Presence

The 2016 Current Population Survey (CPS) notes that there are currently more than 84.3 million, or 27 percent, of immigrants living in the United States, which include legal, illegal and their U.S. born children of immigrants (Zong & Batalova, 2017).  Each year, the United States admits more than one million legal permanent residents (Department of Homeland Security, 2017).  The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) authorizations American citizens and legal permanent residents to immigrate their spouse, children (under the age of 21), or parents to the United States.

The family visa process has three main steps.  The first step is for the petitioner to file an application.  The United States citizen or legal permanent resident relative needs to file a Form I-130 Petition for Alien Relative and a Form I-485 Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status with the USCIS.  If the immigrant is an immediate relative of the United States citizen, the visa process can move forward.  However, if the immigrant is not an immediate relative, they will be put in the family visa backlog to wait for their priority date for visa issuance to become available.

  It is often thought that once an immigrant’s Form I-130 is approved, the immigrant can be immediately admitted to the United States.  However, that is not the case.   The case of Bolvito v. Mukasey discusses the issue that once the Form I-130 is filed and approved by the USCIS, a visa is not automatically provided and approval does not automatically grant lawful status of the immigrant in the United States.  Instead, the approval of the Form I-130 only means that the immigrant is eligible to receive permission to enter the United States as long as they are not found to be excludable under another immigration law.    The approval of Form I-130 simply means that the immigrant is free to move to the next step.

When the immigrant reaches their priority date, they can then move to the second step.  For immediate relatives, the second step comes within months after the Form I-130 is approved.  The second step is to determine if the immigrant can apply for their visa at the USCIS offices inside the United States, or a United States consulate in the immigrant’s country of origin.  If the immigrant was lawfully admitted, they will be able to apply for their visa at a USCIS office in the United States.  If the immigrant is unlawfully present, or are not currently present in the United States, the immigrant will have to apply for their visa in their country of origin, regardless of whether they are currently residing in the United States.

The third step is when the visa is issued to the immigrant.  In order for a visa to be issued, the immigrant must prove that they are not admissible under 8 U.S.C.A Sec. 1182.  Immigration violations, crimes, mental disorders, unlawful presence, national security concerns, public charge, and infectious diseases are all grounds that may bar the immigrant from the United States for a period of time.    If the third step is a success, the immigrant will be admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident.  If the third step is not successful, there are other hoops that need to be jumped through before the immigrant will be admitted into the United States.  Consequently, the immigrant will be placed in the backlog for months to years.    

Current Backlog

Most of the legal permanent residents the United States admits each year are immigrants that are already residing in the United States due to their current visa status or they are residing as undocumented immigrants.  Nearly two-thirds of them qualify as members of an American family that have already adjusted their status to legal permanent residents through a family-sponsored visa or they are currently waiting in the backlog for their family-sponsored visa to be issued (Department of Homeland Security, 2017).     

The backlog of family-sponsored visas begins with the number of visas that are allowed to be issued each fiscal year surpasses the amount of family-sponsored visas being applied for.  In 2015, 1,051,031 Lawful Permanent Residents were admitted to the United States (Department of Homeland Security, 2017).  However, out of the 1,051,031 legal permanent residents admitted, 44.03 % were immediate relatives of United States citizens and only 20.4 % of them were from the family sponsored preference categories (Department of Homeland Security, 2017).  The remaining visas went to the employment based visas, refugees, diversity, asylees, and other types of visas. As of November 1, 2016, 4,259,573 family-sponsored immigrants were still waiting in the backlog for their visa to become available (U.S. Department of State, 2016).  

Pursuant to 8 U.S.C.A. § 1151(c) (2009) – Worldwide level of immigration, the worldwide level of family-sponsored visas allowed to be given can be the maximum of 480,000 and is to be no less than 226,000 per fiscal year.  The variance in the maximum amount of visas allowed and the minimum amount of visas allowed to be issued each fiscal year is due to that certain immigrants are not subject to the worldwide numerical limitations.  Under current immigration law, there is currently not a limit set for the amount of immigrant visas that can be given to “immediate relatives” of United States citizens.  According to 8 U.S.C.A. § 1151(b)(2) (2009), “immediate relatives” is defined as the children, spouses, and parents of a citizen of the United States.  This means that spouses, children and parents of United States citizens do not have to worry about the numerical limitations and are able to get a visa issued to them right away, as long as they are not excludable.

However, relatives to United States citizens and legal permanent residents who are not considered to be an “immediate relative” and apply for a family-sponsored green card are subject to the current numerical limitations of worldwide visas.  These relative immigrants have to wait in line and are placed in a backlog until their place in line is ready for a visa.  8 U.S.C.A. § 1151(a)(2) (2009) places the annual numerical limits allowed per nation.  Currently, the total numerical limit for family-sponsored visas for relatives other than immediate relatives is 226,000 per fiscal year (8 U.S.C.A. § 1151(a) 2009).    

There is not only one line to wait in, there are multiple lines.  The lines are divided into family-sponsored preference categories that set limits depending on the exact relationship the petitioner has with the immigrant, age of the immigrant, and country of residence.  According to 8 U.S.C.A. § 1154 (2014) – Procedure for granting immigrant status, the current family-sponsored preferences are as follows: First: (F1) unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens; Second (F2A) spouses and children of legal permanent residents and (F2B) unmarried sons and daughters (21 years or age or older) of permanent residents; Third (F3) married sons and daughters or U.S. citizens; and Fourth (F4) brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens (U.S. Department of State, 2017).   

According to 8 U.S.C.A. § 1152 (2000) – Numerical limitations on individual foreign states, each country is only allowed to receive 7% of the worldwide immigrant visa level provided under 8 U.S.C.A. § 1151 (2009).  Some countries have a higher amount of visa applicants each year.  For example, China, Mexico, and the Philippines have a higher amount of applicants each year and most family preference categories force these visa applicants to wait two decades or more to have their visa approved.

 As of April, 2017, the wait time for the first family-sponsored visa preference category for Mexico was 22 years.  The National Visa Center is currently processing visas for May 22, 1995 (U.S. Department of State, 2017).   Due to the numerical limitation for visas per country, visa applicants from countries with a high immigration demand (Mexico, China, and the Philippines) have to wait a long period of time for their visa to become available.       

There are currently two different backlogs that family-sponsored visa applicants are placed into while waiting for a visa to be issued to them.  The first backlog is the administrative backlog, also referred to as the processing backlog (Vaughan, 2015).  The administrative backlog is given to visa applicants due to the lack of resources that are available from Congress to the specific agency handling the visa processing (Vaughan, 2015). Therefore, USCIS is not able to effectively manage the large volume of visa applications that comes in each year.  These applicants are put in queue until resources are made available. The administrative backlogs could easily be eliminated if the United States government would provide adequate resources to those agencies. 

The second, and more grave backlog is the shortage of visa backlog.  The shortage of visa backlog begins with the annual number of visas available to be distributed each year.  Due to the current visa demand being higher than the 480,000 visas available to be issued each year pursuant to 8 U.S.C.A. § 1151 (2009), family-sponsored visa applicants get placed in the backlog and have the possibility of waiting as long as twenty years or more for their visa to be issued.  Congress passing a comprehensive immigration reform that will meet the current visa demands and cut down on the current backlog, is the only solution.

INA does not specifically state that immigrants who have visa applications pending cannot visit the United States to visit, however, in order to do so, they would have to qualify for a non-immigrant or employment visa (Cruz, 2010).  Both these visas require the immigrant to state that they have no immigrant intent.  If the immigrants fail to disclose their pending immigrant visa, they will risk being denied into the United States.  Thus, if immigrants are waiting for their visa to be issued in their country of origin, they typically they are not allowed to visit their family in the United States until they become a legal permanent resident.    

A lot can happen while an immigrant waits in the backlog for their visa to be approved.  If they want to reunite with their family sooner, they may enter the United States illegally.  They also may choose to get married, and then a putting them in an even longer backlog (Cruz, 2010).  Moreover, the petitioning relative or the immigrant could die before the visa was issued.  Current United States immigration laws do not account for these circumstances. 

Alejandro Bojorquez was put in the endless shortage of visa backlog when he was only 14 years old.  At that time, his father was a legal permanent resident.  As a permanent resident, his father petitioned for Alejandro and his mother to gain lawful entry to the United States through a family-sponsored visa petition on January 8, 1998 (priority date) (Gonzalez, 2013).  Nevertheless, Alejandro’s backlog increased when he attained the age of 21, as the United States government automatically moved him to the F2B category for unmarried adult children 21 years and older, and that line was much longer. 

In January of 2013, Alejandro’s father became a naturalized United States citizen, and Alejandro was again moved into another family preference category.  This time, Alejandro was moved into the F1 category for unmarried adult children 21 years and older of United States Citizens.  Currently, for the FL preference category, the National Visa Center is processing priority dates of June 15, 1995 (U.S. Department of State, 2017).  Reform of current immigration laws is needed to eliminate loopholes like described above that keep family members apart for more time than initially required.

Clearly, the timely family reunification process is not working well for U.S. Citizens or legal permanent residents and their immediate family members.  Currently, there are 423,373 adult children over the age of 21 still waiting in line for their visa and the priority date to come (U.S. Department of State, 2016).   Forcing families to be separated from each other for many years, while trying to gain lawful status in the United States, puts major emotional and financial strain on them.  Many immigrants find themselves facing either family reunification or keeping the life that they have set up in the United States.     

Immigration Reform

Immigrants come to the United States for the promise of freedom and the many opportunities the United States has to give.  However, current immigration laws keep families separated and the incoherent laws make it hard for immigrants to attain a visa.  Current immigration regulations and statutes in the United States need to be reformed on both the federal level and the state level.  The United States needs a comprehensive immigration reform and a path to citizenship for the undocumented immigrants already residing in the country.

There are social consequences for immigrant families who are waiting in the backlog for their visa to become available.  The undetermined time an immigrant family has to wait for their visa disrupts family relationships.  This is due to spouses and children residing in their country of origin for an uncertain period of time.  Children who are waiting for their family sponsored visa are often staying with grandparents and develop a sense of abandonment, which results in destructive behaviors (Cruz, 2010).  The immigrant’s opportunity to develop language, cultural, and economical ties to the United States are also delayed due to the undetermined wait for a visa to be issued.  Therefore, many immigrants waiting in the backlog immigrate to the United States illegally to ease these social consequences.  More than 6,000 immigrant children are arrested at the Mexican/United States border each year while attempting to reunite with their parents in the United States (Cruz, 2010).  Comprehensive immigration reform will eliminate the social consequences of the family visa backlog.   

Currently there are 11 million undocumented immigrants residing in the United States (Cohn &Passel, 2016). Legalizing these undocumented immigrants would boost the economy and the federal and state tax revenue.  In 2010, the United States collected 11.2 billion dollars of tax revenue from undocumented immigrants.  This tax revenue is beneficial to both the federal government and individual states. 

  A comprehensive immigration reform that would legalize the current undocumented immigrants would benefit the United States economy and American workers. Employers need to have a legalized workforce.  Business owners from farm workers to hotel workers have worker lacking immigration status.  A compressive immigration reform would put all workers, Americans and immigrants, on a level playing field which would result in increased wages.  Higher wages would mean more consumers spending, and a huge benefit for the United States economy.  The federal government would accrue $4.5 billion to $5.4 billion in additional net tax revenue in three years if the 11 million undocumented immigrants were legalized (Hinojosa-Ojeda, 2010).       

Immigration reform would keep families together.  According to a 2011 study, more than 5,100 children were in foster care because their parents were undocumented and had either been detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or deported (Cortez-Neavel, 2016).   ICE completed their own assessment in the years 2010 to 2012, which they recorded removing 204,810 parents of U.S. citizen children under the age of 18 (Cortez-Neavel, 2016).  Removing undocumented immigrants with United States citizen children only leaves more family on welfare.    

 The Trump administration plans to deport between two and three million undocumented workers (Cortez-Neavel, 2016).   If President Trump’s words hold true, the children of the undocumented immigrants being deported will either go to a relative, if one was available, or be placed in foster care.   Comprehensive immigration reform that includes legalizing the undocumented immigrants is the only way to keep families together and these children out of foster care and off welfare. 

Reforming of current immigration laws will also create more jobs.  According to the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), one out of every ten immigrants owns a business and 620 out of 100,000 immigrants’ start a business each month (Fairlie, 2012).  This means that immigrants being admitted into the United States will be employing workers, paying taxes and contributing to the economy.  These immigrants will become strong members of a community and their societies.    A comprehensive immigration reform that encourages more high-skilled workers to be admitted to the United States will strengthen the economy, innovate and provide workforce stability throughout the country. 

Opposition of Immigration Reform

From research, it appears that some Americans seem to not favor the idea of comprehensive immigration reform. Many individuals who oppose immigration reform believe that all of the immigrants who are undocumented can simply go back to their country and get in line for a green card (Nowrasteh, 2016).  It is just not that easy.  For most of the undocumented immigrants in the United States, there is no line available to them as they do not have a family member in the United States who can petition for their legal entry.  Since there is no current amnesty in the United States and IIRIRA dismantled the grandfathered adjustment of status, undocumented immigrants either have the choice to stay in the United States and fear deportation, or go to a country that many do not even know.  

The cost of immigration reform is a major concern of congress.  In 2013, the Heritage Foundation stated that immigration reform was estimated to cost the United States 6.3 billion dollars from start to finish (Harris, 2013).  The 6.3 billion dollars represents the total cost of immigration reform, which includes; revising the family visa process, border security, and creating a pathway for citizenship for the current undocumented workers in the United States (Harris, 2013).  However, that number does not even include the Trump Administration’s proposed border wall.  The Department of Homeland Security estimated that the proposed border wall would cost the United States 21.6 billion dollars (Ainsley, 2017).  Congress needs to take into consideration the broad range of areas that the estimated cost of reform covers when determining if it costs too much.     

What the estimated cost of reform fails to represent is what comprehensive immigration reform will do for the United States.  Due to the current broken family visa process, there are consequences which arise from the inability of families being able to reunite in a timely manner. A comprehensive reform of current immigration laws will allow for many families to be put back together.  Families lean on each other in time of need. They help each other raise the children, and help with the daily finances. When a family is waiting for one of their family members to be provided with their visa, they often have to apply for state aid as they cannot afford food, childcare, housing, and their everyday bills (Vaughan, 2015).  Eliminating the backlog will get families off of welfare.

The Trump Administration has categorized undocumented immigrants as a threat to the American workers.  President Trump claims to be on the side of American workers and he vows to deport the undocumented workers that are taking jobs away from the white working class.  This argument resonates well with the white working class supporters who are struggling with poor jobs, low wages and unemployment. However, deportation of these immigrants is not the answer for the following reasons.

First, there is not any documented proof that undocumented immigrants are taking the jobs of the white working class.  Undocumented immigrants rarely compete for employment against an American worker, immigrants compete against other immigrants (Nowrasteh, 2016).     Second, six states that account for 40 percent of the goods and services produced in the United States have the largest amount of undocumented workers, as undocumented workers often work as farm help, which is low wage employment (Nowrasteh, 2016).  If President Trump does as he has promised, there will be a shortage of farm workers and the employers will have to offer higher pay to get new employees.  The higher pay will be passed to consumers at the super market.    

Those that oppose immigration reform believe that the United States needs tighter border security.  The Department of Homeland Security and Congress should tackle the problems at the border and they should provide Border Patrol with the means to protect the United States border adequately.  The Trump administration has signed executive orders directing federal agencies to being constructing a wall on the U.S./Mexico border and he has directed the Department of Homeland Security and local law enforcement to enforce the laws of the United States strongly.  President Trump’s words were hostile and all they did was seclude immigrant communities and families.  The immigrants will go back to the shadows and again fear the police.  The will not assimilate into American culture any longer as there will be no incentive Nowrasteh, 2016). 

Those that oppose immigration reform believe that granting amnesty to the 11 million undocumented immigrants will create and encourage more illegal immigration to the United States.  This view is not true.  Actually, recent numbers show that the number of immigrants crossing the border illegally has decreased (Cohn & Passel, 2016).  Therefore, granting amnesty to the undocumented immigrants who currently have their life and family in the United States will in fact deter future illegal immigration and keep families together.  Amnesty is admission of that the immigration laws of the past are not working and they need to be reformed. 

Importance of Immigration Reform to the Researcher

Reforming the immigration process is important to the researcher due to the fact the researcher has been through the family visa process, stuck in the backlog, and the researcher has saw firsthand the effects current immigration laws have on families.  In 2010, the researcher was separated from her spouse for a period of 11 months waiting for her husband’s visa to be approved.  The researcher initially had to file a Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative and Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or to Adjust Status for her spouse, and because the researcher’s spouse was brought the United States as a teenager, her spouse needed to go to his country of origin, Mexico, to complete the visa process at the United States Consulate in Ciudad Juarez. 

The researcher’s husband accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence.  While crossing the United States/Mexico border to go to his scheduled visa appointment in Ciudad Juarez, the researcher’s husband immediately triggered a ten-year ban created by IIRARA 96. The ten-year ban was able to be removed by filing a I-601a, provisional unlawful presence waiver.

The researcher had to prove the hardship that she would face if she would have to live separate from her husband for ten years.  The process was a difficult one for the researcher, as she was not able to utilize legal counsel and prepared all the documents alone.   When filing the I-601a, the United States Consulate in Ciudad Juarez immediately backlogged the petition for lack of extreme hardship.    The researcher knows firsthand how difficult the current immigration laws are on both immigrants and United States citizens as she has gone through them. 

Though there have been some decent changes to the immigration laws that directly affected the researcher and her family in 2010, a comprehensive immigration reform that eliminates that backlog and revises the family-sponsored visa process is still important to keep families together.  Congress needs to reform the family immigration process to being eliminating the backlog of other family preference categories besides the immediate relative category.  Children over 21 of U.S. Citizen or legal permanent residents are just important. 

Importance of Immigration Reform to the Legal Profession

There is no question that immigration reform is important to the legal profession.  With immigration reform, there will be improvements to our laws. Prior to the 20th century, there was not much need to immigration counsel.  However, when the federal government of the United States began enacting immigration laws and restrictions immigration lawyers evolved.   With the constantly changing laws, nearly all immigrants will need to use an immigration attorney to assist them with the increasing amount of new restrictions that affect immigration law.  Without adequate counsel, the United States fundamental concepts that revolve around fairness and equality become damaged. 

According to 8 U.S.C.A. § 1362 (2016). – Right to counsel, Immigrants are able to secure legal counsel in immigration proceedings, but “at no expense to the Government.”   It is vital for immigrants to have quality representation, as the type of representation an immigrant often has determines whether the immigrant will be able to be reunited with their family in a timely manner, given an employment visa, or is granted asylum.   Immigrants often are not fluent in the English language.  In order for immigrants to not be at a disadvantage in their immigration proceeding, it is necessary to have adequate counsel.  

The United States is a nation of immigrants, however, since 9/11, immigration laws and immigration reform has become a heated political issue, mostly due to fear.  Current administration in the United States has been trying to reverse many of the immigration laws that allow refuges into the United States (The White House, 2017). Doing this has incited racism and fear throughout the United States. 

The Trump administration has tried to place bans on certain immigrant nationalities, predominantly Muslim countries, from entering the United States (The White House, 2017).  This ban presented legal challenges, as the United States government cannot act arbitrarily with having supportive evidence to back up their reasoning.  Immigration reform is needed to amend immigration laws to prohibit the seclusion of certain immigrants from the United States.           

Conclusion

For Alejandro Bojorquez, waiting for his visa priority date to be available has been long and difficult process.  Alejandro has been waiting in the backlog because the current immigration laws only provide a certain amount of visas to be allocated to each country.  The majority of the yearly visas allocated to family-sponsored immigrants go to spouses, minor children, and parents of United States citizens (immediate relatives), followed by spouses and children of legal permanent residents.   He has been waiting since he was 14 years old to be reunited with his parents.  Alejandro is like millions of other family-sponsored visas applicants whose priority date keeps getting pushed back due to the increased amount of family visas that are currently being applied for.  The hardship of separation is tough and he awaits the day he gets a call from his dad and he says “yeah, you made it” (Gonzalez, 2013).

Alejandro Bojorquez is just one of the millions of examples of immigrants waiting to be reunited with their families.  Current immigration laws in the United States need to be updated due to the fact that they are set up to do more harm than good.  Congress needs to update the number of visas that allowed to be given each fiscal year, change the individuals that are considered to immediate relatives, and create a wait time that does not surpass five years.  It is for these reasons that the only conclusion that can be reached is that Congress needs to reform the current immigration laws.  If they do not, families are going to continue to be separated for many years.  Immigration reform is needed now. 

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