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The Legal Immigration Process

posted on April 19, 2007

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If Mexico and Central America are a vast reservoir of workers, U.S. Immigration policy is a maze of faulty plumbing, unable to regulate the flow of the undocumented into the country. In recent months, though, physical barriers have been built. High technology monitoring systems have been deployed. The government has plans to install more miles of fence and add 6,000 new border agents, bringing the total in five years to exceed the number of agents serving the FBI or Drug Enforcement Agency.

With the current U.S. unemployment rate at 4.5 percent, a six-year low, the demands on the U.S. labor market far exceed the various quotas allotted for legal immigration. The complaint is that the legal immigration system is unwieldy, expensive, and fails to recognize the economic forces that are at play.

Narrator: Three times a week it is nonstop appointments plus a waiting room full of drop-ins for Ann Naffier, a certified immigration specialist at American friends services committee in Des Moines. For a donation to the nonprofit Quaker organization, she helps people with their immigration paperwork. They are dealing with issues ranging from renewing their residency or so-called green card, becoming a U.S. citizen, seeking asylum, trying to legally bring family members to the U.S., or establishing residency for a spouse or children already in the country.

Naffier: Anybody family based would fill out the I-130. They then need to fill out a form called an I-485. They need to fill out biographic information; so they're called G325As. They may want to ask for permission to travel, so that's another form they would have to fill out. And then the final really big one is called an affidavit of support. It's showing that the sponsor here has the financial wherewithal to support the intending immigrant.

Narrator: While the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services lists a variety of more than 80 types of immigration forms on its web site, including the fees and lengthy instructions, Naffier says the site is not exactly self-serve for those who need them. Each form may list the need for additional forms... Plus require supporting paperwork such as an I-94 entry document or personal documents, including birth certificate or marriage license, which many fleeing their homeland do not possess.

Naffier: Immigration law is just incredibly complicated, as you know. I don't think anyone has any idea how complicated the process is.

Narrator: It's not just difficult but costly. If there isn't a nonprofit organization to help, the cost to hire an immigration attorney can start at $1,500 or $2,000. Fees associated with many forms are hundreds of dollars. Once the money is spent and forms are filed, it could be up to six months or even years before the immigration service provides an answer. And those are the lucky ones who Naffier thinks may have a fighting chance for approval. She sees many who don't.

Naffier: Probably most of our clients are Mexicans who have crossed the border illegally. Yes, a lot of times they'll come in and ask how they can then get papers now that they're here. The answer for most of them is they can't. There simply is no process for them to get papers. So their choice is, of course, either to go back home or to stay here undocumented.

Narrator: Naffier doesn't suggest the undocumented immigrants stay in the U.S. Illegally, but she does think immigration laws need to adapt to the way the global economy operates in this 21st century.

Naffier: In light of globalization and in light of this age in which corporations are able to really pretty freely cross borders, it strikes me that labor ought to be able to cross borders as well.

Tags: economy immigration Iowa jobs


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