Road to U.S. Residency Is a Long One

Kristin Collins, Detroit Free Press, November 23, 2007

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Legal immigrants across the country say they are tired of politicians debating the fate of illegal immigrants while ignoring the long delays that face those who come legally. They must spend thousands of dollars in legal fees without knowing when or whether they will gain permanent residency.

While they wait, their lives are in limbo. They cannot change jobs or get promoted, their spouses often can’t work or get driver’s licenses, and they must frequently renew temporary work visas.

Some were incensed that a deal lawmakers proposed for illegal immigrants this summer to allow them to work and live in the country indefinitely was far better than the one offered to those who followed the rules.

The bill also would have cut the number of green cards issued to grant residency to legal immigrants. The plan failed, but many are still seething.

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The government limits work-based green cards to 140,000 a year, and no more than 7% can go to immigrants from a single country.

That means that even the most qualified candidates from such countries as India, China and Mexico face huge backlogs. The system is so overloaded that one step, such as a background check, can take years.

Taking action

Immigrants caught in the system began commiserating in an Internet chat room called Immigration Voice. In July, the site became a political action network, fueled by a government mix-up.

First, the government announced that backlogs were cleared, and thousands of people were eligible to apply for green cards. Then, after people scrambled to complete their applications, federal officials said there were no available green cards.

The site’s leaders organized a protest in which thousands of people sent flowers to the office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Soon after, thousands were allowed to submit green-card applications.

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Fear and critics

Although some employers across the country have spoken out about the need for more skilled foreign workers, none have joined the Immigration Voice effort to speed the permanent residency process. Immigrants are also hesitant, some said. Some are afraid of deportation, and others are simply in denial. Many also fear putting themselves in the sights of critics.

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