When discussing immigration, one will often hear that illegal immigrants should not jump the line. This helpfully illustrates that there is no line. A couple of other points:

1) There is no line. There are many. It’s a multiple-year wait for almost all of them. The lines operate mostly independently; the Beckhams coming to the U.S. to play soccer and look fabulously freaky did not slow down anyone’s spousal visa. Failing to understand this is failing basic immigration policy literacy.*

2) The illustration mentions the visa lottery, but doesn’t mention that it excludes countries who send a lot of people to the U.S already. (It’s a “diversity” lottery.) The list?

BRAZIL, CANADA, CHINA (mainland-born), COLOMBIA, DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, EL SALVADOR, HAITI, INDIA, JAMAICA, MEXICO, PAKISTAN, PHILIPPINES, PERU, POLAND, RUSSIA, SOUTH KOREA, UNITED KINGDOM (except Northern Ireland) and its dependent territories, and VIETNAM. Persons born in Hong Kong SAR, Macau SAR and Taiwan are eligible.

Hmmm. I spy with my little eye, a problem.

3) Can the Internet lay to rest the idea that birthright citizenship is leading millions to come here to seek green cards, undermine our laws and steal our social security via so-called anchor babies? If we get rid of birthright citizenship, says the argument, they’ll leave! Close the loophole!

Let’s do the math. Someone sneaks across the border in 2008. In 2009 she has a baby. As the parent of a citizen, she can receive a green card as the immediate relative of a citizen.

The citizen, however, has to be able to petition for her, and only adults can petition, because only adults can be sponsors. So eighteen twenty-one years later, her child can petition for her. Her child will have to show that she can support her mom at 125% of poverty level (the immigrant’s income can’t count if it isn’t from legal work.) But let’s postulate an exceptional 18 21-year-old. Now they can apply in 202730! It’ll take about a year.

Except — except. The mother didn’t enter legally, so she can’t adjust status to being a permanent resident from inside the country. So she’ll have to leave the country, get a visa, and return. Since she’s been here illegally (“unlawfully present”) for more than one year, though, leaving the country will trigger a ten-year-ban.(INI 212(a) (9)(B)) The ban is waiverable based on extreme hardship to the USC, but it does mean she’ll have to live in her home country while it’s pending. This varies by country — up to a year is not uncommon.

Hopefully mom hadn’t tried to enter illegally more than once, though. That’s a lifetime ban and presently not waiverable until ten years have passed.(INI 212(a) (9)(C))

So the best case scenario — no delays, no deportations, no criminal record, no delay in the FBI background check — is twenty twenty-three years.

I have to say I suspect that a chance of a green card in 2029 2032**, if everything goes smoothly is probably not motivating a majority of the immigrants today. Probably losing out to economic and other concerns. Not a good reason to toss the Constitution.


*Failing to understand that pointing that out doesn’t mean the person wants open immigration and the death of America means you fail at basic rationality.

**Jorge G helpfully offers a correction:  while one can petition for a spouse as an adult at the age of 18, one must be 21 in order to count as an adult for the purposes of sponsoring a petition for a parent.