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Reason Foundation

Charting the Legal Immigration Maze

Chris Mitchell
August 20, 2008, 10:14am

The immigration debate is often reduced to - why don't immigrants just get in line and come into this country legally? If only it were that simple. A new Reason Foundation chart details how complicated the immigration maze is, demonstrating the countless requirements that must be met, and the red tape that must be navigated, by everyone from English soccer star David Beckham to an Indian engineer. What's the best-case immigration scenario? Five or six years: If you are the spouse or a minor child of a U.S. citizen, you should be able to enter the country and get a green card. Then, after three to five years, you can apply to become a citizen. The worst case scenario? You are an unskilled worker hoping to make a better life for yourself in America. "Unlike previous periods in our history, there is virtually no process for unskilled immigrants without family relations in the U.S. to apply for permanent legal residence," the chart by Reason Foundation and the National Foundation for American Policy states. Unskilled workers just have to hope they get lucky. That's because only 10,000 green cards are given to these workers each year and "the wait time approaches infinity." Skilled workers may have better chances, but still face strict caps, thousands of dollars in fees, and an 11 to 16 year wait to obtain a green card and gain U.S. citizenship. "Our country's immigration system is broken," says Shikha Dalmia, a senior policy analyst at Reason Foundation and one of the chart's authors. "Workers with family already here or college degrees face a convoluted, cruel and uncertain process. And they are the lucky ones. For poor laborers, who pick our crops and build our homes, there is virtually no legal process and no 'line' to wait in if they hope to permanently work and live in this country." "Our high-tech companies are starving for qualified engineers and skilled workers," declares Mike Flynn co-author of the report and director of government affairs at Reason Foundation. "These are American companies trying to find the best workers so that they can compete globally. Instead our system handicaps American companies and denies them the skills and talents of thousands of potential workers. It is economic suicide." "The American Civil Liberties Union commends Reason Magazine for graphically capturing how burdensome the federal government has made the citizenship process for people hoping to become Americans," says Timothy Sparapani, ACLU senior legislative counsel. "But this process not only affects those hoping for a chance to contribute to our society – it has also created problems for innocent American citizens. "There have been far too many stories of innocent Americans being arrested and detained for hours, and even deported, on the suspicion of being here illegally. The government engages in rampant ethnic profiling, targeting Americans solely on the basis of their names or ethnicities. Similarly, the voluntary employment verification system the government hopes to make mandatory for all new hires is plagued with errors, and expansions have been forced on the Social Security Administration – an agency already facing substantial service backlogs for its central mission of assisting the elderly and disabled. Innocent Americans cannot earn a living because the federal government thinks added layers of bureaucracy will solve our border issues. "As Reason makes clear, we have got to go in a different direction and dramatically overhaul our immigration 'system.' It is illogical, burdensome and long past time those in Washington chose to address these issues in ways that will continue to allow our nation to grow and prosper." Helen E. Krieble, President of the Vernon K. Krieble Foundation, says, "Reason Foundation's flow-chart graphically demonstrates how badly broken our system is. It will help show the desperate need for a program to handle workers who wish to come to the US legally. Quite simply, these people cannot wait in line because there is no line. We hope this effort will help prod Congress to create a workable program for non-citizen workers." "The flowchart published by the Reason Foundation clearly demonstrates that the current U.S. visa and immigration system is broken. The Golden Door Foundation shares the belief that without a functioning legal work visa process, the illegal immigrant population will continue to grow. An aging population exiting the workforce and companies moving operations outside the U.S. are issues that need to be addressed to deal effectively with the immigration crisis and current labor shortages facing the United States. The Golden Door Foundation applauds the work of the Reason Foundation to show that there is a need to fix the overly bureaucratic and unfair visa program," states Jason LeVecke, founder of Golden Door Foundation. Full Chart Cartoon Version in October 2008 Issue of Reason magazine

Chris Mitchell is Director of Communications/Media Contact


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