When my father arrived in this country from India in June 1994, he came here on a work visa, which only took him a few months to obtain. Then, he was able to live in the United States with a green card for years before he became an American citizen in 2008. When he came here in search of the American dream, like most immigrants in our history, the U.S. took him in and made him one of its own.
But this is an opportunity that is now more difficult to take advantage of. There are longer wait times to obtain immigrant visas and green cards.
An immigrant visa is a legal document allowing someone to enter a different country where they plan to eventually become permanent residents, while a green card is a legal document that authorizes an individual to live and work in the United States permanently.
The longer wait times to obtain these documents are due to a growing number of applicants, caps on immigrants coming from certain countries and the bureaucracy that comes with multiple offices conducting background checks.
Americans and government leaders need to advocate to make these processes shorter and easier. That way, immigrants who want to come to the U.S. to start a new life can do so legally. And with more reasonable immigration laws, our government can enforce strict border security with a clear conscience.
But recently, both sides of the political spectrum have turned to extremes in proposing solutions to improve our immigration system.
President Donald Trump’s recent travel bans — both of which were struck down by federal judges — have only raised anxiety among immigrants living in the U.S. without finding a long-term solution to the problems with the immigration system.
“I’m not a citizen yet, and I am really afraid,” said senior marketing major and Bangladeshi immigrant Safwatul Islam, who came to the U.S. with a green card. “I talked with lawyers to make sure that I was fine, especially because I came here legally.”
But completely open borders or lax immigration laws, the latter of which has been proposed by the political left, would not help fix our broken immigration system either. The country may not be able to sustain the subsequent spike in population that would follow, and American workers could see a decrease in wages. Now is the time for political compromise.
The American immigration system must find a way to vet immigrants while also making it easier for them to enter the nation legally. This would be best done by increasing immigrant quotas, or by removing the bureaucracy that clogs up the system when multiple offices handle one immigrant’s paperwork.
Shortening wait times for visas is also an essential step toward simplifying our immigration system. Since 2016, people hoping to immigrate to the U.S. must wait more than five years to obtain a visa if they are an unmarried child of U.S. citizens. If they are a sibling of a U.S. citizen, they might face wait times of 10 years or more. For certain countries, like Mexico and China with high immigration levels, wait times are closer to 20 years.
“It’s extremely difficult to get legal entry into this country,” said Kevin Fandl, a law professor who previously worked at the Immigration and Customs Enforcement Office. “It depends on what type of visa you’re applying for, but if you’re coming as a low-skilled worker, it’s nearly impossible.”
While there are thousands of people worldwide waiting patiently for these immigration documents to enter legally, others are taking advantage of our broken immigration system by entering without documentation.
This is done primarily by crossing the border in areas where there are no security personnel, like in the desert along the Mexican border.
“Our border is much too open, and it has been an ongoing problem,” said Jan Ting, an immigration law professor. “There is no magic bullet that can fully stop the problem, but there are ways of mitigating the problem.”
According to the Pew Research Center, there are about 11 million undocumented immigrants who came to the United States illegally. This hampers our nation’s ability to sustain increased numbers of legal immigrants, and discourages legal immigration, which seems more lengthy and complicated than illegal entry into the U.S.
It’s logistically and economically impractical to deport the millions of people who fall into this category. Still, the government must strictly enforce border security to prevent the number of undocumented immigrants from continuing to grow.
This solution shouldn’t be reduced to simply an impenetrable wall, like the one proposed by Trump. Instead, it must come in the form of increased border security in areas that are lacking.
“Building a wall by itself will not solve the problem,” Ting said. “An equally important part aside from the barrier are new policies at the border that deter people from even attempting to enter the United States without documentation.”
In addition to increased security, the U.S. must create easier pathways to legal immigration, and this includes a reform of the immigration process. Making visas and green cards more accessible would ensure that America maintains its status as a melting pot, welcoming those who come here in search of better opportunities, like my father did years ago.
As a nation, we need to recognize the benefits of legal immigration, while simultaneously protecting ourselves from illegal immigration.
Varun Sivakumar can be reached at email@example.com.