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What I Learned About Immigration Law – Some Misconceptions

I recently tried to help a friend with some immigration issues and learned quite a bit about our country’s immigration problems. 


First, let me tell you about an experience I had on an airport shuttle a couple of years ago in Salt Lake City.  I struck up a conversation with a very nice young man from India.  Upon finding out that I was an attorney, he asked if I knew anything about immigration.  I told him that, unfortunately, I did not.  He then explained that he had recently graduated from Harvard University Medical School with a degree in pharmaceutical engineering but had been unable to secure a visa or work permit to remain legally in the United States.  I remember thinking how ridiculous that was – that our country would deny residency to someone who could so clearly contribute to our society.  I personally think that we should staple a green card to every diploma handed out to a foreign student at any university.  But I digress….


My friend I mentioned above has lived in the United States since 1995.  Like most illegal immigrants, she entered legally and overstayed her visa.  (So much for building the danged fence)  She has never had any run-ins with the law and has worked the entire time.  She has assimilated herself completely into American society.  In 1997, she applied for legal residency through a sister who is a U.S. citizen.  She has done everything the United States has asked her to do to immigrate legally – and yet she still waits.  I think of her when I hear anti-immigrant people say things like “we don’t have a problem with immigrants as long as they do it the right way.”  So my friend has waited almost 15 years of “trying to do it the right way” and still no results.  This is a bright, educated, law abiding, hard working person. 


I also found out that for a U.S. citizen to petition for a parent to gain legal residence, the petitioning citizen-child must be over the age of 21.  U.S. citizens who are under the age of 21 cannot petition for their parents under any circumstances.  This kind of dispells the myth of what nativists like to call “anchor babies”.  If an illegal alien has a baby today that is granted birthright citizenship, that baby will not even be able to apply for their parents for 21 years – and then will face a process of about 10 years until it is approved.  So that illegal alien parent might gain legal residence through their “anchor baby” in 31 years…  Now that’s foresight!!!


A U.S. citizen can apply for residency for their unmarried children under the age of 21.  However, if the child is from Mexico, the waiting period for legal residency is 8 years, 13 years if they’re from the Phillipines.  If the child is over the age of 21, the waiting period for Mexican citizens is 12 years.  Many people think that a U.S. citizen can apply for residency for their non-citizen spouse and that it is given automatically.  Not so.  The wait for citizens of most countries is over 5 years.  For citizens of Mexico, it’s over 7 1/2 years.  I’ve had marriages that lasted less than the waiting period!!!  If a U.S. citizen applies for residency for a brother or sister, the wait for Filipinos is over 20 years, 12 years for most other countries. 

Pardon the soapbox, but I think this information shows how broken our immigration system is.  People who are anti-immigrant probably have no idea how difficult it is to come to the U.S. legally.  The United States should develop an immigration system that welcomes healthy, educated, law abiding peoples from around the world to contribute to the growth of our country. We should also encourage the unification of families. 

Chad T. Snow is an attorney who handles workers compensation matters in Arizona.  He has offices in Phoenix and Tucson and can be reached at the Snow, Carpio, and Weekley website or at (602) 532-0700, or (520) 647-9000. 

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