Opinion: Understanding the facts about immigration in America
The author used the following sources of information for the facts and statistics in this opinion piece:
This opinion is in response to the Dec. 14 opinion, “Legal vs. illegal immigration in America.”
As defined by the Oxford dictionary, an immigrant is “A person who comes to live permanently in a foreign country.” Legality is not considered in this definition. During this season of fear and polarized debate, I would like to share some facts about “the line” as facts and statistics are crucial in understanding the complex issues that immigrants face.
As of November 1, 2016, there are 1,309,202 Mexican applicants in line but only space for 20,000. Worldwide, there are 4,367,052 people in line. It is incredibly easy to say to these people, “Do what my relatives did and just get in the back of the line.” The bottom line is: the line is long.
Temporary or permanent immigration to the US is limited to 3 different avenues: family reunification, employment or humanitarian protection.
1. Employment Visa: Every fiscal year, the US issues 140,000 employment based visas to highly qualified applicants. In order to be considered, one must possess extraordinary talent in sciences, arts or athletics. Visas are also issued to investors, outstanding professors and multinational executives.
2. Family reunification visas: Green card holders or Lawful Permanent Resident can petition for their spouses, minor children and parents but all other categories (siblings, uncles etc) fall under an annual limit based on each country. In order to even petition for an immediate family member, the green card holder must prove that they have an income level above poverty line and the ability to financially support the family member. The current wait times categorized by preference determined by the State Department for a Mexican family member are below:
a. Unmarried sons/daughters of US Citizens and Green Card Holders: 18 year wait.
b. Brothers/sisters of US citizens: 15-20 year wait.
c. Married sons/daughters of US citizens: 19 year wait.
The State Department says that some applicants who are “waiting in line” have been waiting for 10 years and others for more than 20 years.
3. Asylum or humanitarian protection: In 2014, the US received 121,200 asylum claims; 42% of the claims coming from Mexico and Central America. Of the 70,000 worldwide applicants accepted in the US, only 4,000 applicants from all of Mexico and Central America are processed. In order to meet the qualifications as an asylum seeker or refugee, one must be able to prove that they cannot return to their home country due to a “well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, membership in a particular social group, political opinion, or national origin.” Currently, the UN does not recognize poverty or economic conditions as a reason to grant asylum status. Due to these standards, a majority of Mexican and Central American immigrants do not qualify for asylum.
In 2014, about 69,000 Central American unaccompanied minors were apprehended by the border patrol. That means that tens of thousands of parents were faced with the heartbreaking decision of either keeping their children at home where they may or may not be recruited into a gang and killed or to kiss their child one last time and send them on a perilous trip they may not live through.
Just stop for a second and try to imagine this scenario: you are a parent with small children and have no other option but to send your children alone on a dangerous 2,270 mile journey to the US border. No parent should ever have to make this impossible decision and luckily you won’t have to.
It is so easy to forget the human toll in this extremely polarizing debate and resort to the negative rhetoric thrown at us each day by our President Elect and the media.
To the author of the op ed, what would you do in the face of danger? Would you stand by and watch as your children were brutally attacked by gang members or would you do whatever you could to get them to safety?
I would hope the latter but we will probably never be faced with that situation, as we are fortunate to have won the birth lottery. In the end, luck is all that separates us here in the U.S. from a Central American family forced to flee their homeland.
People want to come here for the same reasons that you love this country: for freedom, economic opportunity, safety and a better future for our children. We cannot choose where we are born but we can chose how we respond to situations. I choose to respond with empathy.
Breezy Salmonsen is a Truckee resident.