Commentary: When you spend time with any of the media you’ll no doubt see or hear something about immigrants. One of the comments I encounter most often is “why didn’t they get their papers…why didn’t they come legally, …my grandparents came legally, why can’t they”?
Elizabeth Barret Browning wrote a line, that I am going to co-opt. “How do I love thee, let me count the ways?” How might I immigrate, let me count the ways. Those ways are many, and none of them is simple. Checking a government web site dealing with (9 FAM 502) immigrant visa classifications, indicates that there are more than 130 types of visas a potential immigrant might apply for. What perchance might be the difference between an alien of extraordinary ability and one of exceptional ability? Are you the child of an alien killed during the 9/11 attacks, a skilled worker, a minister of religion or a certain employee of the Panama Canal Company. These and many more are in addition to the dozens of family related categories.
Immigration was pretty much up to the states until 1892 when Ellis Island opened. Before that the only law regarding immigration was the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882. In 1917, Congress enacted legislation requiring immigrants over 16 to pass a literacy test, and then, in the early 1920s, immigration quotas were established. My mother’s family came in 1920. If your grandparents or great grandparents, like mine, came before then , the doors were pretty much wide open.
Understand then, that getting a visa, a green card, and finally citizenship is neither simple, fast, nor inexpensive. There is no guarantee that you will fit into any category or that there will be openings in that category. Once you do find a one, the wait can be years or even decades full of small errors, misfiled papers and attorney fees.
The costs add up with the years. To the woman trying to protect her children from gangs, or the father desperate to create a better life for his family it might seem to make a lot more sense to just get here and figure out the legalities later. So before you say, go to the back of the line, understand why getting legal is just a little bit more complicated and time consuming than getting your real ID at MVD.