“Why don’t they just come here legally?”

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This is, understandably, one of the most commonly asked questions when we’re talking about the number of undocumented immigrants currently residing in the United States. Many wonder why these individuals didn’t come legally in the first place. Why sneak across the border or overstay your visa when you can simply apply for entry? This leads to the second phrase often uttered, “Well they should go home and get in line.”

So why don’t they come here with papers in the first place?

The main reason is that what sounds simple (apply for a visa and come) is actually incredibly complex, extremely exclusive, and very, very expensive. Let’s quickly unpack this.

First of all, everyone who wants to come and live in the United States must have a qualifying reason to come. Either they have an employer willing to pay tens of thousands of dollars to get them here, or they have a qualifying family member. There are other ways to come here temporarily (students, exchange, tourist, short-term business), but they all require you to prove that you do intend to return to your home country. Let’s look at each of these independently.

For an employment visa, you have to have a job offer in the United States and your employer has to prove that they listed the job in the United States and that no one here is equally skilled enough to do the job. This is a process that takes years and tens of thousands of dollars to complete, and unless you are extremely educated or extremely specialized in your skill-set, most employers simply can’t do this.

So, let’s look at family-based immigration (what some have maliciously termed chain migration). To come this way you must have a qualifying relative. So you must have a US Citizen spouse, parent, sibling, or child over 21 years old, or a legal permanent resident  spouse or parent (as long as you aren’t married). If you have such a relationship you file with USCIS to prove the relationship, then when they approve you apply for a visa at your consulate.

If you are coming to join your US Citizen spouse, child, or parent (if you are underage) then you don’t  have to wait for a visa to become available. Everyone else is subject to a preference category. Each year there are a set number of visas allowed globally for each type of relationship and once those are used, all others are put on a waiting list. Currently that wait can range anywhere from five to twenty-seven years. For instance, a US Citizen trying to bring their 40 year-old Filipino sister may be able to bring her here when she is 67 years old.

Photo by Robert Hickerson on Unsplash

Outside of these two methods of immigration, there is simply no reliable method to get here. Whether you are fleeing violence and persecution or simply trying to provide for you family, there is no avenue to get your family to the United States. Sure, there is refugee status, but you have to be in a UN designated camp, and you may wait 10, 15, or 20 years for your chance to try to come to the United States. Yes, there is asylum status, but you have to be physically in the United States to ask for asylum, and if you make it and can make that claim, almost 60% are denied.

People don’t cross jungles, rivers, and deserts to get here because they are lazy and don’t want to do the paperwork. They do it because there is no other avenue to get here. Such a journey is risky, leaving them prone to extortion, rape, and death. No one takes such a journey to get around a filing fee. They do it because staying at home is an even grimmer prospect.

In short, they don’t come here legally because there is no avenue for them to do so. They don’t get in line because the line doesn’t exist, and they come here without documents because it is their only hope for survival.

Immigration Questions: What is Catch and Release?

From time to time we hear new phrases or terminology in the news or we see it online, and since it is specialized terminology, we don’t entirely understand what it means. This happens a lot in any field, but especially in law and policy about immigration. One that we heard a lot of during the campaign was “catch and release.” And it is becoming increasingly more important to talk about this concept given current debates and arguments about family detention of people crossing the southern border.  Continue reading “Immigration Questions: What is Catch and Release?”

With Every Immigration Law or Policy, Real People are Affected

With immigration, as with many laws and policies, it is easy to forget that there are real people who live with the consequences. Such is the case with the travel ban. Even for those who oppose the travel ban, it is easy get caught up in the debate. It’s important, however, to listen to the stories of those having to deal with our draconian immigration laws and policies.

If you have the time this week, listen to this podcast. It’s from the NPR podcast, Embedded. You can listen to it below, find it at the Embedded website, or download it through your favorite podcast service.

“I’m a German when we win, an immigrant when we lose”

pexels-photoFor those who didn’t know, the World Cup happened earlier this month, and with it came a renewed focus on immigration in the European context. Why? Because it was apparent how many immigrants played for some of the top teams. Take France for instance, who won it all. Their team has at least 15 players with immigrant roots. This led many to observe that their victory was “a victory for Africa and immigrants everywhere.”

Such celebration of immigrants and their contributions is good, but there is a sadder underside to this as well. Continue reading ““I’m a German when we win, an immigrant when we lose””

Preparing for our Cultural Shifts

It is putting it mildly to say that our corner of South Carolina has gone through substantial changes over the last few decades. Due to the ever expanding Charlotte-metro, York and Lancaster counties are the second and third fastest growing counties in South Carolina, respectively.

Growth brings many headaches, such as increased traffic and strained infrastructure.

As we all know, such growth brings large headaches with infrastructure development. How will we fund the new schools? Will our roads sustain the increased traffic? Will our water, sewer, and electrical systems be able to keep pace?

Those are all very important questions that need to be addressed, but there is one question that is often overlooked. How can our communities, institutions, and individuals prepare for the cultural shifts that come with rapidly changing demographics?

Why is this an important question to ask? Well, it’s important because York county isn’t simply growing, it is rapidly diversifying. While the 1990 census reports that only 750 Hispanic or Latinos lived in York County, the 2010 census reports a staggering 10,075 count. That’s a growth of 1243% over just 20 years!

York Growth RateAnd the growth continues. Based upon the US Census’ 2017 estimates, both the Latino and Asian populations have outpaced the general population growth rate for York County. So while these two populations still make up less than 8% of the overall population, their rate of growth puts them on track to be the largest minority groups in the county within a couple decades!

What, then, are we doing to make our communities, our institutions, and ourselves more able to welcome these new populations? These new cultures? Clearly, just as there are growing pains associated with aging and overused infrastructure, new schools, and growing demand on utilities, there are growing pains associated with such drastic demographic shifts. These new populations have a lot to offer us, but they also have a unique set of needs that many of our institutions are ill-prepared to address.

So what are some first steps we can take to begin to welcome these growing populations into our community?

  1. Change your own state of mind. Often, when we think of immigrants we think of poor, destitute individuals who only need things from us. Nothing could be further from the truth. Immigrants bring with them a wealth of knowledge, cultural insight, and abilities that can be incredibly beneficial to our communities if we would only let them share them with us. But for that to take place, we must change our own state of mind from one where we have all the answers to one where we are willing to partner with people who are different from us to find the answers together.
  2. Find out who your neighbors are. Many times we are surrounded by people of different cultures or traditions without even knowing it. Drive home a different way. Go down a back-road you haven’t used before. Next time you make tacos for dinner, go to the Latino supermarket instead of the big-chain grocery store. Get to know who owns the corner store down the road. Simply acknowledging who surrounds you may help you realize how much our communities have changed.
  3. Don’t be afraid. It’s easy to see people who look different, or who speak languages we can’t understand, and to be afraid. “What did they just say about me?” “Why are they laughing?” “What does that sign say?” “Why is that person dressed that way, and why is her head covered?” Try not to let your fear guide your response to others. Most immigrants have come to York county seeking opportunity for themselves and their families, and many times their goals are the same as yours: to provide for their family and to make a better world for their children.

Doing these three things will not make all the growing pains go away, but they can help us establish a state of mind that will prepares us to better face the challenges that are coming our way.



Help Needed!

Participation Volunteering Volunteer Volunteerism

Do you believe in our work of welcoming immigrants, of showing true hospitality, and providing trustworthy legal counsel to immigrants in our area? The Carolina Immigrant Alliance is looking for a bilingual office manager (or two). See the complete job description below.

Job Title: Bilingual Receptionist / Office Manager
Job Type: Volunteer
Hours per week: Negotiable, preferably 5 hours a day for 2 or 3 days a week.

  • Answer legal clinic phone calls while in office.
  • Return voicemails of calls made outside of office hours.
  • Assist with printing and copying needs in the office.
  • Welcome new clients and drop-ins as they come to the office.
  • Help with accepting payments for legal services.
  • Help maintain client files.
  • Schedule appointments for clients.

Qualifications / Job Requirements

  • Bilingual (English/Spanish)
  • Computer Competent (Word, Excel, Google (GSuite))
  • Able to relate well with clients
  • Able to maintain strict client confidentiality
  • Must pass a background check

If you are interested in volunteering with us in this way, please contact Blake Hart at blake@puertaabierta.org or 803-386-9442 (text message or phone calls)

“The Line Becomes a River”; Book Recommendation


Are you looking for a weekend read, or a good but important book to read on your last minute summer vacation? Why not choose The Line Becomes a River: Dispatches from the Border by Francisco Cantú?

Cantú grew up near the southern border, studied the border in the university, and then joined the Customs and Border Protection as a way to understand the border better. This book is his attempt at putting words to his experience. It’s divided into three parts. The first recounts his experience as a field agent with the CBP. The second tells about his time working with CBP writing reports for their reconnaissance operations. The third tells about his life after working with the border patrol, and his experience with a family that found themselves on the other side of his former employment.

The Line Becomes a River is very readable and captivating.   It is an enjoyable and challenging read you will not regret.