One of the phrases that is tossed around by members of both political parties is this idea that undocumented immigrants have to pay a fine, learn English and then get back in line to wait to become legalized. It almost becomes a tired, old, grade-school sounding cliche, ‘get back in line’ as if these people were neatly lined up in the first place to come work, live, and reunite with family here in the US. The reality is that there isn’t a line that moves efficiently.
Prakash Khatri, an attorney and the former Citizenship and Immigration Ombudsman in the Department of Homeland Security in the previous administration, recently sent out a press release explaining that Mexican immigrant visa applicants would have to wait 131 years ‘in line’ to immigrate to the United States. And this hypothetical scenario is one in which the visa applicant has a US citizen relative sponsoring him or her. Should the relative pass away during this time, the applicant’s place in line becomes void and he has to start again. In what imaginary world do people live to be 131 years?
In essence, current policy encourages illegal immigration because ‘who is willing to wait in line for two lifetimes?’, especially when families are broken up because of immigration status. The upshot is that Khatri suggests that any immigration reform make family reunification a goal especially with regards to US families with relatives in Mexico. The current arrangement is unjust and unworkable. And furthermore, nationality based immigration quotas should be eliminated. Because of the existing quota system, immediate relatives of US citizens from other countries are able to legally immigrate to the US in about ten years, while people from Mexico with US citizen relatives have to wait two lifetimes.
For a politician to talk about this proverbial line without breaking down the reality of what it means to immigrants and their American family members is disingenuous in my view. But this ‘line’ is tossed around to the public, making it sound so easy to follow the current immigration policies. Just this week at the 5 de Mayo festivity at the White House, President Obama referred to ‘the line’, and we have heard California GOP candidate for governor, Meg Whitman, also mention ‘the line’ as well. It’s time for someone to have an honest discussion about what this ‘line’ means without being so flippant in mentioning it to the public.