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It’s a remark made by many Americans frustrated with the number of undocumented immigrants in this country: Why can’t these people just wait their turn? Plenty of other immigrants came here legally, the argument goes. The system works, so why can’t these people just wait in line?
It’s no secret that in the U.S., immigration laws have been heavily discriminatory. Prior to 1965, Asian immigrants were excluded from entering the U.S.. Likewise, under the Immigration Act of 1924, immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe were discriminated against as well.
In 1965, the much-celebrated Immigration and Nationality Act was supposed to eliminate these national-origin quotas. In fact, though, many of these inequalties persist.
For example, numerous national-origin quotas effectively remain in place. A system of “priority dates” — which are printed in the monthly U.S. visa bulletin — creates a de facto quota system that compels immigrants from certain countries to undergo longer waits. These waiting periods can be so long that people from Mexico, China, India and the Philippines are often forced to give up hopes of family reunification and work prospects altogether.
At the moment, immigrants from Mexico, China, Philippines and India face a wait of up to 15-22 years to join their immediate relatives in the U.S.. For example, according to current processing times, it would take at least 10 years for a legal permanent resident of the United States to sponsor their young, unmarried son or daughter in the Philippines. Rick of such a prolonged family separation often means that people choose to either not immigrate or do so without going through the proper channels.
Meanwhile, employment-based immigration prospects are worse for workers from China and India, who sometimes have to wait seven years for sponsorship. Such a lack of visas for highly skilled workers runs contrary to American ideals and hurts innovation, because it excludes the best workers from competing in the U.S. Though the H-1B system was devised for these immigrant workers as a temporary fix, it’s riddled with abuses.
In the U.S. immigration system, immigrants from countries like India and China are simply less of a priority, because authorities want to prevent a “flood” of Mexicans, Chinese, Filipinos and Indians into the United States. That’s one thing that hasn’t changed from the era of de jure exclusion.
Instead of simply regulating immigration numbers, the U.S. system of priority dates actually creates a de facto quota system that works against immigrants from Mexico, China, India and Philippines. We don’t have an “illegal immigration” problem. We have the problem of a system that discriminates, even as it fails to cater to the needs of America’s families and employers.
Photo Credit: DreamActivist