Sharma Crawford

Kansas City Immigration Lawyer’s Take on “Get to the Back of the Line”

The stories below are based off real client experiences. However, all names and specific details have been altered as a matter of privacy and confidentiality.

“You have to stand in line. You have to wait your turn behind everyone who applied before you legally.”

This was a statement by Senator Marco Rubio about immigration reform for the 10-12 million undocumented immigrants in the U.S. Politicians and immigration reform critics often refer to this mythical line when bringing up immigration reform. It is a nice visual. It is easy to visualize the black and white videos of people arriving at Ellis Island and lining up for processing. But this image is not reality. For most of the undocumented people in the U.S., there simply is no line.

Take for example Jim. He came to the U.S. in 1997. His wife came to the U.S. one year later to join him. Jim found a meager construction job, and he and his wife started a family. They now have two children, ages 11 and 4. Both children are healthy and excel in school. Jim and his wife are active parents who encourage their children to participate in school and extracurricular activities. The children are successful because of their parent’s guidance.

Typically, there are three ways to get lawful permanent resident status in the U.S.: through family members who are citizens or lawful permanent residents, through employment, or through refugee protection. Jim has two brothers in the U.S. However, neither have status. Furthermore, Jim cannot obtain permanent residence through his children until they are 21 years old. There is no line for him there. Work visas are scant and require specialized work skills. Jim works general construction. He has no special skills that qualify him for a work visa. There is no line for him there. Jim does not qualify as a refugee. The definition for a refugee is restrictive. There is no line for him there either.

So what options does he have? One option is cancellation of removal. To request cancellation, however, the person requesting must be in removal proceedings, meaning the government is actively trying to deport them. Jim has no criminal history other than traffic tickets and is not an enforcement priority for the government. Jim would risk losing his family if he turned himself in for removal proceedings. Furthermore, he has a low chance of succeeding on his application for cancellation of removal. The current legal system rewards parents with children with special needs but punishes parents, like Jim, with successful children.

Jim and his wife qualify for the President’s recent deferred action program for parents of U.S. citizen children. However, this program does not create a “pathway to citizenship.” It does not provide Jim or other parents the same rights as permanent residents or U.S. citizens. It merely protects parents like Jim from deportation for three years and gives them permission to work in the U.S. There is no line or pathway to citizenship for Jim there either.

For most undocumented immigrants in the U.S., there is no line. Immigration law is complex and often unfair. It is a system of pathways with several detours and roadblocks, only some of which lead to permanent status and citizenship.


DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this blog should be construed as legal advice. If you are in removal proceedings or need legal advice on your immigration case, please contact an immigration attorney.


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