NOI 6: The Myth of the Immigration Line

Today on Nation of Immigrants, I discuss the myth of the immigration line and why its unreasonable to expect immigrants to wait in "line" for entry to the country.

Jacob Tingen: Today we’re going to talk about waiting in line, the myth of the immigration line. It’s one of those comments that I hear sometimes that people kind of ask. I think some people ask honestly, innocently and truthfully to themselves. They say, “Well, why don’t people just come in in line? Don’t we have a process for this?” Spoiler alert, we don’t. Not from many, many people. But then the other thing that I … Anti-immigrant advocates are people who are opposed to immigration say, “Well, why don’t they wait in line?” in kind of this almost sneer like, well honestly, just opposed to immigration generally and thinking, “Well, these people are breaking our laws.” But today we’re going to talk about the myth of the immigration line. So welcome to Nation of Immigrants.

Speaker 2: You’re listening to Nation of Immigrants.

President Obama: America is a nation of immigrants.

Speaker 2: A podcast about US immigration law with your host, Jacob Tingen.

Jacob Tingen: Okay, thank you again for listening. Like I said, today we’re talking about the myth of the immigration line and why it’s unreasonable to expect people to wait in line. So let’s first talk about this supposed line. I think when people ask that question, and I’m going to take it from the perspective of somebody who honestly innocently asks, “Why don’t immigrants wait in line? I mean, isn’t there some kind of line that people can get into for entering the country?” And the answer is for many people, yeah, there is a line. So let’s talk about the people for whom there is a line and then talk about the millions of people who can’t get into any kind of line at all, okay?

Jacob Tingen: So one of the things I want to first bring up is the 10 reasons that we keep people out of our country. Let’s go back to that. Among them public charge, which is something we’ve talked about more than once already. This idea that if someone cannot support themself while they’re here in the country, then they are considered a public charge or likely to become a public charge. And so since that’s not in our national interest, we’re not going to let people who might become a public charge in our nation. And so that might prevent people who are simply too poor to immigrate into our country. It might exclude people who are too sick or who are going through difficult scenarios.

Jacob Tingen: All of those people would be excluded from entry to our country, and so there’s no way for those people to get into line. But let’s talk about the immigration lines that are available. So if you are family of a lawful permanent resident or a US citizen, and by family I mean typically immediate family members. So we’re talking spouses, children, and sometimes parents, then yeah, you can get in line.

Jacob Tingen: Now, it’s interesting because we do limit the number people who are allowed to come in each year through these family relationship immigrant visas, okay. So first off, I want to talk about the definition of an immediate relative. So an immediate relative is the spouse, child under 21 or parent over the age of 21, parent of a child over the age of 21 who is a US citizen. So spouses of US citizens, parents of US citizens who have attained the age of 21 and children of US citizens who are under the age 21, these are immediate relatives. There is no visa wait time. There’s no visa limit on people who are immediate relatives of US citizens.

Jacob Tingen: So that basically means that if I was married to an immigrant spouse, then I could immediately petition her and she is immediately eligible for a visa, an immigrant visa, a green card. There is no wait time except for just the processing of the applications themselves. But for many people who are not considered immediate relatives yet still have a qualifying family relationship, they fall into a set of what’s known as visa preference categories. Now, the family sponsored preferences range from F1, F2A and B, F3 and F4.

Jacob Tingen: You can look up the wait times for family sponsored preference categories just by simply googling visa bulletin. And then you can see all of the months of the visa bulletin that have been published. So right now let’s just kind of go through these preference categories. So F1 is the unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens. So these are going to be unmarried sons and daughters of US citizens who are over the age of 21. There are only 23,400 visa numbers issued in any given year.

Jacob Tingen: And then there are also a certain allotment given to certain countries and if a country reaches that allotment in that year, then we start to track that country’s backlog specifically. So just to kind of give you an example, let’s say that you are eligible for a visa through the F1 visa category, okay. And let’s say that you are from Mexico and that you are the unmarried son or daughter of a US citizen. So your parents are US citizens, they’re living in the US. You’re in Mexico.

Jacob Tingen: The preference category date from Mexico for the F1 category is August 1st, 1996. So let’s talk about that date and what it means. That date is what’s known as the priority date. Now, I know I said that this podcast is not to get too down into the legal weeds, but there is a certain level of attention to detail. So the priority date is the date upon when you filed your petition originally, when the service received your petition.

Jacob Tingen: Okay, so as a US citizen, you petition for your family member. That August 1st, 1996, if you filed before then, then your son or daughter can finally come over into the United States, so 23 years ago. If you file for your Mexican child today, your wait time may be 20 or more years before they can come over. So there’s a line, it’s just a 23 year wait time for children of US citizens who are Mexican. For everybody else, you know China is backed up to January of 2013, India 2013 and that is the same backup for virtually everyone from everywhere else. The Philippines is a little bit more backlogged to June, 2008 so that’s just an example. Now the F2 category, spouses and children of permanent residents. So that’s going to be minor children. Those visas are currently current. So those people don’t have any more wait time than say an immediate relative.

Jacob Tingen: And again, immediate relative has a very specific definition under our laws. But the F2 category is backed up from Mexico and the Philippines and then also generally to 2014 for most countries, but back to 1998 for spouses and children of permanent … No, unmarried sons and daughters are permanent residents in Mexico. So that’s July of 1998. The F3 category married sons and daughters of US citizens. So if you happen to be married, you’re bumped into a different visa preference category. And again, for Mexico, that’s backed up to ’95 so we’re looking at a 20 year plus visa wait time.

Jacob Tingen: And then brothers and sisters of adult US citizens. This is the fourth preference category and that’s backed up overall throughout the world to 2006, and then again specifically in Mexico from 1997. So sure, yeah, there’s a line. It just may take 13 years for you to get through it, or 20 years or more.

Jacob Tingen: So when people ask, “Well why don’t they just get in line?” I think it’s appropriate to respond, “What line?” For these people, sure there is a line, 20 years. But at that point your whole life circumstance is going to change. Now I get that countries have borders and they decide how many visas they’re going to issue in a particular year. I get all of those arguments but in the context of why don’t people just wait in line, I think it’s important to look at these numbers and kind of ask ourselves is this in any way fair? Is this in any way a real immigration system?

Jacob Tingen: Let’s take a look at the employment based preference categories. So these range from EB-1 to EB-5. And there is also some backup here, although it’s not quite as dramatic as the family based preference categories. There is some backup for some of the visas to 2005 and India for the EB-3 visa, which are people applying for visas who have college degrees who can help fill positions that we may not have enough specialized degree holding people who can do some of these specialized jobs.

Jacob Tingen: So they’re waiting in India for a visa for 15 years or so. But then generally to about 2016 some of these visas are backed up. Now, if you don’t qualify for a visa because of your family relationship or you don’t qualify because of some kind of employment based relationship, is there any other line? And the answer is not really. Surely there are special programs, right. And we’re aware of asylum and like I said, I’m going to have to spend a month on asylum alone. But in general there’s no legal immigration method outside of those two methods for permanent immigration to the US. There’s non-immigrant visas, which are temporary visas, which can include work and visit and those kinds of things. And yet, when it comes to immigrating to the US to come and live here, if it’s not a family based petition or an employer based petition, there’s no line.

Jacob Tingen: People can’t just wake up one day and say, “Hey, I want to live in the US, I see it in the movies. I read about it in my history books and that’s the nation that I want to live in and contribute to.” That’s not really an option for the vast majority of people around the world. And I think some people are surprised when they hear that, especially some people who honestly ask, “Well why don’t they just get in line?” And the answer is there is no line for many, many, many, many people. Sure there’s a line for some of these people. And again, we have visa limits on a lot of these visas for a lot of complicated reasons. And maybe we’ll get into those some other day, but it alarms me when people ask that, “Well why don’t they get in line?” But what they’re really saying is, well, you know, we don’t really want them here anyway.

Jacob Tingen: So let me give you one example from kind of current events that explains my thinking here. So, obviously everyone is aware that there are record numbers of people typically from central America that are flooding our Southern border between the US in Mexico and coming into the US. The vast majority of these people are afraid for their lives. And some of them, some of my clients do have some of these family based … Fit within some of these family based visa preferences. And so they could wait in line and some of them are in line, but due to exigent circumstances like threats upon their lives, they can’t wait. They have to come for their own safety and their own protection. So these people are coming across our Southern border, and they honest to goodness cannot wait in line. Well, one of the executive actions that the Trump administration has tried to pull off is to make certain classes of immigrants ineligible for applying for asylum.

Jacob Tingen: So one of the arguments that they made is this kind of somewhat rational sounding argument. Well, if they come in through a port of entry, they’re doing it the right way and we’ll give them eligibility for asylum. But if they just cross our border illegally, well then we’re not going to let them be eligible for asylum. And so they issued this executive order that said that that would be the case, that if you came up to a port of entry and requested asylum, they’ll give you your day in court and treat you fairly. But if you come across our Southern border without permission and then you get captured once you’re here, that you wouldn’t be eligible for asylum. Now ultimately, that executive action was cut down in court and judges determined that we can’t just tell people who come here that they’re no longer eligible for asylum when they are. Because you can’t change the law just by executive action.

Jacob Tingen: But what’s interesting is after this executive action was issued, the administration widely published this news, and I guess it made its way to people who were coming to the US, and they decided to go to ports of entry, okay? And they decided to literally get in line. So in a way, the administration was saying, “Well, there’s no line. Let’s make a line. Let’s do this in an orderly, organized manner. We know you’re afraid for your lives. We’re going to give you your day in court. Just make a line at a port of entry and we’ll go through the process and get you in and give you your day in court. Unfortunately, what happened when people lined up, then they said, “Okay, well it’s going to take years for this to work through, so why don’t you just wait in Mexico?

Jacob Tingen: Now for many of my clients, Mexico is not a safe third country. That’s something else we can talk about. But just the whole range of actions. You just think about, think through this for a minute. We tell people, “Okay, wait in line. Come to the line and we’ll let you in.” And then when they come, we tell them, “Okay, now you have to wait several years.” Now these are people who’ve already moved thousands of miles away from home. They’re coming to the US and then they’re told, “Okay, we’ll let you in if you do it this way.” And then they come to do it that way, and then we don’t let them in. That is just essentially where our immigration laws are at. And it’s unfortunate, that’s the line. That’s the line. Come and wait, hurry up and wait. But the reality is that there is no line. And for some of these people who again are fleeing for their lives, it’s not reasonable to expect them to wait in Mexico.

Jacob Tingen: It’s not necessarily Mexico’s job to take care of these people either. I know that there are some opinions about that, we can talk about that some other day. But I will tell you that for some of my clients who flee gang violence in central America, some of those gangs are connected to cartels in Mexico. Some of those gangs are connected to organized crime in Mexico. And so to have them wait in a country where they can undergo even more danger and threats to their lives, this is not good. So that’s it. The myth of the immigration line. The next time people are asking, “Well, why don’t people get in line?” Recognize that for many immigrants, there just isn’t a line.

Jacob Tingen: We exclude people from our country for a wide variety of reasons, and there just aren’t visas for everyone. Whether that’s right or wrong, I mean, that’s something that society needs to debate, but you need to know there’s no line. That’s it for Nation of Immigrants. I hope you catch up with us. We’re putting the podcast now finally live. It’ll be up on iTunes. Follow us on YouTube and Facebook and thank you again for listening.

Speaker 2: Thank you for listening to Nation of Immigrants.

President Obama: America is a nation of immigrants.

Speaker 2: Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes, watch the live stream on YouTube and Facebook, or visit to learn more.

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