How Broken is the Immigration System?

There seem to be as many potential solutions to our immigration problems as there are interlocutors in the debate. Although we can’t all agree on the remedies, much less the underlying diagnosis, there is widespread agreement that the U.S. immigration system is “broken.” What people mean by broken often depends on where they stand in the political spectrum; commentators on the left tend to focus on the human impact of immigration, and the need to keep families together, while those on the right are more often concerned with the porosity of our southern border and what they see as the dangers of unrestricted immigration.

Many people in the United States are baffled by the persistence of illegal immigration, with labor markets still bursting with unemployed job-seekers, immigration enforcement driving illegal crossings ever deeper into life-threatening desert terrain, and a sociopolitical climate – especially in border states like Arizona – that is increasingly hostile to illegal immigration. Many look at this situation and wonder why anyone would run the risks of crossing into the U.S. illegally. “Why don’t they just get in line and wait their turn?” is a constant refrain in the immigration debate.

One possible explanation is offered by the former Ombudsman of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Prakash Khatri. According to Khatri, you could wait a lifetime – no, make that TWO lifetimes – to immigrate legally to the U.S. if you are a Mexican-born sibling of a U.S. citizen. (See The Opportunity of Two Lifetimes: U.S. Immigration Process Ensures Disparate Treatment for Mexican Immigrants (PDF 140KB), by Prakash Khatri, and Former Fed Prakash Khatri Says the Immigration Fast Track Takes 130 Years, On Average, Houston Press blog, 12.May.2010.) Khatri examined publically-available data from USCIS and the State Department and found that, far from providing “an orderly means for reuniting immigrants and their close family members through the ‘preference immigration system,'” the system currently “is achieving the contrary – actually keeping immigrant families separated and likely contributing to the large number of unauthorized Mexican immigrants in this country.”

According to Khatri, Mexican-born siblings of U.S. citizens can indeed get in line and wait their turn, paying $355 to file an I-130 petition, and then, well – waiting, and waiting, and waiting. Khatri found that, “based on the large number of already registered immigrant-visa applications from Mexico, you will have to wait approximately 131 years to reach the front of the line to receive your visa, and that is only if your sponsoring U.S. citizen relative is still alive at that time. If your relative should pass away during this 131-year-long process, you would no longer be eligible to immigrate to the United States.” Khatri’s statistics portray an immigration system that is far beyond being merely “broken.”

We have not crunched the numbers to verify Mr. Khatri’s findings, but he assures his readers that “[t]his scenario is very real and is based on a review of the immigrant visas issued and adjustments of status for the past five years for Mexican applicants. It also is based on a review of current visa applicants from Mexico already in the queue for immigrant visas based on approved petitions by their U.S. relatives.”

Khatri says at some point, people simply get tired of waiting, and vote with their feet. For Khatri, the only real solution is to get rid of the nationality-based quotas that have created the visa backlogs for families seeking to reunite in the United States. Failing to solve this problem, warns Khatri, virtually guarantees that illegal immigration will continue unabated, as new generations of Mexicans throw up their hands at the lifelong wait times, having concluded – as John Maynard Keynes once wrote – that “in the long run, we are all dead.”

Disclaimer: The information provided here is of a general nature and may not apply to any specific or particular circumstance. It is not to be construed as legal advice nor presumed indefinitely up to date.