America’s most forgotten men and women may be the legal immigrants who acquire their visas, scale no barriers, and patiently await their green cards and citizenship ceremonies. Amid the raging DACA debates, the fugitive-city outrages, and this week’s Honduran-caravan epic at the San Diego–Tijuana border, these overlooked individuals ring America’s doorbell rather than pry open the back entrance.
“I am stunned,” says Nayla Rush, a senior researcher with the Center for Immigration Studies. She is staggered by the caravan members who waved Honduran flags atop America’s border fence. U.S. authorities arrested 29 of them for illegal entry. Those fleeing Tegucigalpa’s chaos have no right to barge into the U.S. Likewise, if El Salvador, Guatemala, and Nicaragua — contiguous to Honduras — and nearby Mexico feel no duty to welcome these migrants, why on Earth is this America’s obligation?
“What I can’t understand is the arrogance, the defiance of these people,” Rush tells me. “I could comprehend someone wanting a better life, sneaking in, and, if caught, feeling apologetic. But these people are marching in front of cameras, in front of the whole world. They demand to be admitted here. Where does this sense of entitlement come from?”
Rush came to America from an oft-bloodied land — Lebanon. But rather than ford the Rio Grande, Rush did something rarely discussed these days: In 2011, she requested a visa online, spoke with diplomats at America’s embassy in Beirut, and, within three weeks, received her papers.
Current visa applications cost $1,140, plus $85 for biometric services, for those between ages 14 and 78.
“Legal fees to get you through the process obviously vary, depending on the attorney and how much work has to be done,” explains Ira Mehlman of the Federation for American Immigration Reform. “Some people, obviously, do it themselves.”
Rush reckons that she spent “over $3,000” on her immigration case and waited three and a half years between securing her green card and becoming a citizen.
In stark contrast to those who pole-vault over and tunnel under America’s southern border, Rush says, “I came here legally, waited my turn, filed documents, paid for my applications, and abided by and respected the laws of this great country. I am thankful I was given this opportunity to be here, and I try to be worthy of this trust every day.”
Despite their invisibility, there are many more people like Rush who enter America properly.
The National Visa Center in Portsmouth, N.H., reports that, as of November 1, precisely 3,947,857 await family-sponsored visas. Another 112,189 seek employment-related visas. While the State Department evaluates these 4,060,046 applications, untabulated numbers of additional requests percolate overseas.
Among those who arrived here on visas, some 13.2 million held green cards in January 2014, according to a June 2017 study by the U.S. Office of Immigration Statistics. Of these, 8.9 million were eligible for citizenship after five years, typically, or just three, for spouses of U.S. citizens.
“As of December 31, 2017, there were over 165,000 green-card holders who have filed paperwork for naturalization and await decisions,” says the Center for Immigration Studies’ Jessica Vaughan. “The tricky thing with green-card holders is that many people never intend to apply for citizenship, and we don’t know how many people are working on applying, such as learning English or taking classes to pass the civics test.”
As for the 12 million foreigners in America without permission, “These are illegal immigrants; they’re not undocumented,” says one Russian, who landed here legally. “I am undocumented when I shower, and my passport is in another room.” Because he is not yet a U.S. citizen, let’s call this Moscow native Boris. He continues: “Those who are called ‘undocumented’ are, in fact, illegal. These criminals should be arrested and kicked out of the country immediately.”
Boris is in his 30s and works while pursuing his second graduate degree at a prestigious university in America’s heartland. It’s no surprise that Boris lacks empathy for illegal aliens, especially after his arduous and pricey path to citizenship.
“I was 16 when I decided that I wanted to come to America,” Boris says. “I saved the money to apply for a visa at 17. People say the Dreamers didn’t know what they were doing, because they were underage. So was I.”
Boris waited six to eight weeks for the U.S. embassy in Moscow to grant him a student-exchange visa, some 18 years ago. Amid trips home and elsewhere overseas, he has earned various American scholastic and work visas. He has had to leave the U.S. multiple times for status and visa renewals in Calgary and Vancouver, Canada. These procedures involved round-trip travel, interviews with U.S.-consulate personnel, and four- or five-day hotel stays while awaiting approvals.
‘Those who violated U.S. laws to get here, arrived through acts of disrespect for this country. Why do these people get to go ahead of me?’
“Application fees, legal fees, and expediting fees” have vacuumed his pockets, Boris says. “All in all, I am in for about $83,000.” Twelve years of innumerable, elaborate steps secured Boris a green card in 2012. American citizenship remains, most likely, yet another year away.
“All along,” Boris observes, “I’ve been paying all the taxes — Social Security, Medicaid, income taxes, property taxes, sales taxes. Meanwhile, I don’t qualify or attempt to take advantage of the entitlements system or any handouts.”
“During the green-card application process,” Boris groans, “a doctor examined me like a farm horse — inside and out — to make sure I am healthy enough to be in America. The people who are jumping the fence, do they carry tuberculosis, polio, AIDS, syphilis, zika, or some brand-new disease?”
Boris asks the question that should guide America’s conversation on immigration: “Those who violated U.S. laws to get here, arrived through acts of disrespect for this country. Why do these people get to go ahead of me?”