The immigration bill being drafted by Congress has bipartisan support on three broad concepts ‑ a pathway to citizenship for the undocumented, streamlining legal immigration and more stringent enforcement of the laws against hiring illegal workers. Each presents complex problems to solve, however, and obtaining consensus on the details will be far more problematic than agreeing on the principles.
Partially unpacking these three concepts shows why.
Streamlining the legal immigration system is no easy matter; there is no single approach that can produce a fair, workable, efficient and equitable immigration system. If the approximately 11 million undocumented persons in the United States are to be given a place in line to obtain residency and then citizenship, they are competing with millions of others already in line.
Even that statement is overly simplistic. For starters, there is no single “line” but rather multiple pathways and categories – and every immigrant must be eligible for one or more categories, wait to receive one of a limited number of visas in that category and satisfy a number of criteria at the time the visa becomes available. In addition, there are six categories of family-based immigrants for which visas are allocated, with a certain number of visas set aside (and capped) each year, plus five employment-based categories with yearly caps.
Taking just a single slice of that waiting line, a recent study by the Migration Policy Institute (MPI) notes that as of Nov. 1, 2012, there were more than 4.4 million people with approved visa petitions awaiting processing and final issuance. The overwhelming majority of these are family-based visa petitions from a small number of countries, with Mexico outnumbering all others.
Nor is this a complete picture, as these represent visa applicants from outside the United States who are processed by the Department of State. A separate line ‑ competing for the same scarce number of visas ‑ forms inside the United States, for family members or employees who are eligible to obtain residence while living within the United States from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS).