Intermission Review: Americans Don’t Understand Immigration

I feel it is necessary to review the material I have written so far, put into the context of a real-world example. Here I will use the responses of a typical American, a married 61-year-old woman (whom self-identifies as “Christian”) that lives in Kansas with her husband and youngest son, an adult with Down Syndrome that they adopted. Her older son is even married to an immigrant, a naturalized Filipina who has a child by her previous marriage.

Thus, she should have an exposure to immigration topics, at least more than many Americans that aren’t naturalized and/or experienced immigration for a loved one. If you have learned from the misconceptions I have exposed so far, don’t feel ashamed: Many Americans don’t understand immigration, often they don’t even understand how they have gained their own U.S. citizenship.

Like the fourth myth, Americans that have been born in the United States will say that they come came from a long line of Americans that originally came “legally”, sometimes even relegating that they are descended from Amerindians. Ironically, immigrants from Europe could become U.S. citizens when the indigenous people already present for centuries were prevented as a class from gaining citizenship! There were ethnical boundaries to who could become a U.S. citizen, it took the Supreme Court of the United States (sometimes abbreviated “SCOTUS”) to determine someone of Chinese ancestry born here (Wong Kim Ark) of legal immigrants would be considered a U.S. citizen, while a U.S.-born child of Irish parents merely visiting the United States (Julia Lynch) would be a “natural-born” citizen under law.

As such, the vast majority of U.S. citizens gain that status by their birth on U.S. soil (known as “jus soli“, or colloquially as “immigrating through the Birth Canal”). Their heritage or citizenship status of their parents doesn’t matter one whit. Let me say that again: For close to 150 years, the American way has been that it didn’t matter who your parents were when you were born here, whether they had been slaves, immigrants, or those visiting without intent to immigrate, you were a U.S. citizen from the mere fact of being born here.

By all means, comment that the intention of the 14th Amendment was only for the children of former slaves, or only for parents under the jurisdiction of the United States (re-read Lynch vs. Clarke, as linked above), it is as it has been adopted by the ratifying states, implemented, and determined by the Judicial system of the United States…

On to the topic at hand, our example of an elderly woman that feels (I realize I cannot dictate how someone feels, but explain why I think it is a phobia) overwhelmed by immigration. I’m not going to put that into the context of legal versus illegal immigration (despite a link that she offers, detailed later) because the resistance is to Hispanic and Muslim immigration, not necessarily based on its legality. There’s even the irony that I know her younger son was adopted from within the United States (knowing that they had checked internationally) because he was born when individuals with Down Syndrome were not allowed to immigrate to the United States!

I commend her and her husband for having notable belief (I won’t limit that to “Christian” behavior) of adopting a special-needs child. However, I believe she has a mistaken position (as many others) to immigration. Let’s move on to some of her quotes, remember I am using her example of how many Americans feel:

I know that cuts are constantly being made to finance the anchor babies with both pre and post natal care for the producer [yes, she actually calls an illegal alien mother a “producer”, and the child an “anchor baby”] and the “emergency” care of which illegals avail themselves 3 times more often than a US citizen.

I know that both my husband and myself will have to arm ourselves unless something is done. Crime is increasing at an unbelievable rate. There are no jobs here and the illegals keep coming and every time Obama opens his mouth and speaks amnesty, the population increases.

She believes crime is increasing, although statistics show a steady decrease in reality. Much of the time, people like our example believe that crime is strongly linked to immigration, although immigrants (including illegal aliens) commit less crime per capita than the native-born. Even usage of the term ‘crime’ can be contentious, as entry into the United States ‘without inspection’ (the official term is abbreviated as “EWI”, Entry Without Inspection) is not necessarily “illegal”, and never “criminal” in itself.

11 million is what Obama wants us to believe which would mean that illegals haven’t really been coming in for a few years since that is the 2005 estimate. Any of us that live around the places they “congregate” for public assistance, know better.

Although not mutually exclusive, it’s a common belief that illegal aliens are both collecting “welfare benefits”, yet working (“off the books”) by taking a job from an American at the same time. Legal immigrants must be present five years before they could apply for benefits based on economic needs, including ‘SNAP’ (food stamps). There is an exception for children before that five-year criteria, but that child must be legally present.

At a later point, I plan to write an entry discussing children having “at least one” illegal alien parent. I do want to close with another quote, ironically (if you think I am using that word too much, you will find that immigration is full of ironies) linking a 6th to 8th Grade website to help teachers compose lesson plans that I feel (remember, someone cannot tell you how you are supposed to feel) is very inadequate. This is the website: Legal vs. Illegal Immigration, and her quote we can discuss in the comments:

To help those that don’t understand the difference between legal immigrants and illegal immigrants, this website goes into detail, in very basic terms, what the difference is and it is actually very informative: Legal Immigration vs. Illegal Immigration It has some basic information on immigration to the US, which also seems to be often misunderstood here in [the City-Data forum section] “Illegal Immigration”.

I think most of us know that if we have broken the law, at any time, the law may come knocking on our door or if we are stopped by law enforcement, we will have a problem. We just want EVERYONE held accountable for the laws they break, not a “pick and choose”.

We established laws for reasons and we, the legal citizens of the United States of American, had and have a right to do that.

If it seems I am being contentious as if to invite discussion, I am. Comment below. I welcome rational discussion, and can expand upon feedback received in later articles.

Fifth Myth: “Immigration laws in Mexico are harsher than we have here.”

To a large part, this statement is true, although the usual mechanism of a list that we get forwarded by our Facebook friends covers permanent immigration to Mexico. When any aspect of this notion is brought up, it tends to be described as “Try the same thing in Mexico, and you will be quickly deported!”. I’ve actually heard “shot in the head” or “killed” in place of “deported”, it’s offered that there is some kind of hypocrisy on the part of Mexico. Somewhat ironically, I’ve also heard responses that we should adopt the same level of reaction to immigration in the United States.

I try to explain my experiences of extensive travels within Mexico contrasted to those saying I could be “shot in the head” by entering Mexico “illegally”. My first point is that you need no documentation (with the ironic exception at some locations of that being paper currency to pay the toll amount) to visit the border areas in Mexico. Since 2010, there is a requirement for U.S. citizens to have a passport, but again ironically it is to be admitted back into the United States at our own Port of Entry!

Around 50 miles from the actual border, there are checkpoints to enforce that foreigners have a travel document to visit the interior of Mexico. Called an “FMM”, it is obtained at any one of the many “IMN” offices, including at those checkpoints themselves. The allowed time before expiration is at the discretion of the immigration officer, but with a U.S. passport it is easy to obtain a valid permit for 180 days.

If the permit is issued as being valid for a period of 7 days, it is cost-free. Otherwise, there is a fee of about $25 USD that must be paid before the permit is turning back in exiting the interior of Mexico. I would commonly acquire an FMM valid for 180 days, visit Mexico for a couple weeks (making sure I visited a bank to pay the fee on that trip), return to the United States for five months, then use the same permit to visit Mexico immediately before it would expire (turning it in at the end of the second trip). As such, I have made entire trips into Mexico, without ever speaking to an immigration officer!

I can’t accent this enough: I have never been asked to show my FMM while in Mexico to prove I was “legally” present. On my first trip, two ‘Federales’ (the Mexican national police) boarded the bus I was on south of Chihuahua at 1:30 AM, and were completely unconcerned whether a blue-eyed American that spoke pidgin Spanish had the proper “papers”.

I’ve even felt comfortable enough to bring my elderly parents in a following vehicle into the interior of Mexico. Certainly there is a difference between travel and permanent immigration, but I am contrasting against the misconception of “illegal entry” and the ease of being deported (or shot) upon being caught in Mexico. Notable recent incidents have been Americans that have brought weapons or ammunition into Mexico in violation of their laws.

It is probably just as important to describe how Mexicans can visit the United States (since there is a specific process solely for them). Mexicans can apply for a “Border Crossing Card” that is valid for 10 years and allows travel only within the defined border area at a distance depending on the state. In Texas and California, it is up to 25 miles from the border, 75 miles in Arizona, and around 50 miles in New Mexico (a few years ago it was extended to include the town of Deming). The allowed time period is up to 72 hours; My wife has a nephew that attended UTEP with a Border Crossing Card.

The card has biometric details of who it is issued to, and it is comparable in the security features of a Resident Card (often colloquially referred to as a “Green Card”, where they are again a green color now). If a Mexican with a BCC wants to visit further into the interior of the United States, the card can have an I-94 extension, expanding the limits to a six-month period like a conventional “Tourist” visa from another country would have (Canada and 38 “Visa Waiver Program” countries have a more relaxed qualifications, where an issued visa is not even required).

At a cost of $160 for Mexicans over the age of 15, but being valid for a time period of ten years, a monetary comparison of the Border Crossing Card to the FMM would depend upon how often the citizen of one country is travelling in the other. The use of an FMM is much easier, as it doesn’t require a card with security features to be approved. Any “visitor”-level program for the United States requires an equal time to be spent outside the United States (in other words, after being present for the period of up to 180 days under the terms of the visa, that individual needs to be outside the United States for a 180-day period before being allowed entry under the same “visitor” level again), whereas I have obtained another FMM upon turning in my old permit (the staff will even advise you to wait for the shift or change of dates, or you can simply go to another office).

The true permanent immigration process for me (since I am married to a Mexican citizen) is slightly quicker (2 years, versus three years), but otherwise the requirements are almost conversely identical (I would be required to understand Spanish, and have a basic knowledge of Mexican civics). Citizenship is more strongly attached by age in Mexico, and youth are viewed as being Mexican Nationals (of course unable to serve in their military or vote) until they reach the age of 18.

We’ve now completed the initial five misconceptions I wanted to address. A review will be next, before continuing to other misconceptions I have observed. Please comment below for any questions or input of the series so far, and I look forward to seeing you visit (no “FMM” or “BCC” required) as we continue.

Fourth Myth: “My ancestors came LEGALLY!”

Of course, this concept comes from those of Western European ancestry, what I call the “Ellis Island Effect”. Ellis Island opened in 1892 and was quickly overwhelmed by the amount of immigrants from Europe. It is known that some of the inspection stations as immigrants processed were as short as 6 seconds, and immigrants quickly learned to dust chalk marks that could delay them from their clothing and to turn their jackets inside-out. There were people not allowed to complete processing and deaths in quarantine housing, but not in any sizable percentages.

Despite the volume, it was after the main migrations of Irish and Germanic groups (in 1890, the foreign-born were at the all-time record of 15% of the population), and the Ellis Island Immigration Depot was largely an attempt to regulate Catholic immigrants from Italy and Southern Europe. A slur against Italians, “Wop”, actually came from an Ellis Island definition of arriving “WithOut Papers”. Over 1.5 million immigrants came in 1907, higher numbers than the last peak we had in 2006 and the years since.

Even for the period prior to Ellis Island there were “head tax” amounts that Captains had to pay for each immigrant they brought in. As a result, they would disembark passengers in Canada or in the shoals before making their landings. The last of my immigrant ancestors came in 1887, I have found passenger lists for several (including both trips of my Great Great Grandfather returning to bring his future wife here), but no landing records.

The tale about a great-great Grand Uncle was that he returned to his homeland – To encourage more friends he knew to come to the United States! He told them they lived like serfs, he was like a king on the land he had. As irony would have it, he got into a fight with his Brother-In-Law over where the property boundary was between them and hit him over the head with one of the fenceposts! The story was that his BIL wasn’t fully right afterward.

Normally those travels and trials are woven into the narrative of our ancestors becoming citizens. “They came over the ocean, worked hard, and learned English, and proudly became an American”. None of that was required for citizenship, and often immigrants naturalized for property ownership, rather than voting rights.

Although the length of time to naturalize varied through certain eras, it was commonly a period of five years after immigrating. You gave testimony in front of a local judge, that was likely the same ethnicity as yourself, that you wanted to become a citizen. Yes, I have the naturalization document of an ancestor that defies arithmetic: The years don’t add up right for the requirement.

Most Americans aren’t as aware of those specifics, I’ve done ancestry for years. Likewise, they aren’t aware of history, or even the homelands that their ancestors are from. For Prussia (the north of modern-day Germany and Poland) and later for Sweden (which had a third of that country come here), there were mandatory military conscription laws for the males. Currently, it is said that the first act of entering our country is being done illegally; For past European immigrants the first act of leaving their homelands was often “illegal”; Why did the government of their homeland want to lose that tax base, those soldiers, the resources their subjects provided?

Other misconceptions based on an “Ellis Island Effect” is the belief that the Southwestern United States has not had an equivalent immigration processing center, thus crossing the southern border was done illegally. For much of the time around and after the Mexican Revolution (when Mexicans began to relocate to the United States to avoid violence in their homeland) the same rules were in place as entry points for Europeans: You simply declared your intent to naturalize at a later time.

Some Americans even see videos of inland Border Patrol Checkpoints, with a couple buildings along the highway, and think that they are Ports of Entry from Mexico. There are barriers (and electronic sensors / cameras) for half of the southern border, including the most critical areas. For the last few years, immigration by Mexican Nationals (both legal and illegally) has been “net-zero”: More are returning to Mexico or being deported than are coming here.

I give a sarcastic reply that according to many Americans, we gained our best immigrants when there was no regulation applied towards Europeans. They came “LEGALLY” just like the Amerindians of the time hunted deer “legally”. We acquired our best citizens when the requirements were the lowest then as well, nothing close to the involved process my family will go through. But reality is ironic that way, many times reversed from how it is unknowingly repeated.

As you’ve seen so far, immigration misconceptions are rote answers: There isn’t any thought in the responses, people say a mistaken idea over and over when it isn’t true. Believe me, we aren’t even close to being finished, stick around for more.

Third Myth: “Illegal aliens didn’t apply to come legally to the United States”

In fact, it is usually expressed as they “refused” to immigrate legally, as they could have, but didn’t. I’ve encountered a number of people in the United States that will describe a process where a foreigner enters a U.S. Consulate, fills out an application, and waits (hinting that it takes “years”) for an immigrant visa. Some even phrase it as an application for U.S. citizenship (this may stem from the belief of their ancestors coming “legally” to become citizens, which will be another possible misconception addressed here later).

It may also be a confusion with the Diversity Immigrant Visa program that started in 1990. However, nationalities with higher immigration rates (more than 50,000 over the period of the five previous years) are disqualified from the Diversity Visa, and it is limited to 55,000 immigrants worldwide per year. This misconception is also phrased as any average person being able to apply, not as an “Investor Visa” or “Extraordinary Ability Visa”. I’ve never heard the misconception resolved to a specific immigration form, it is just a myth passed around.

As I explained on previous misconceptions, two-thirds of all legal immigration is from a relationship to a U.S. citizen, for a full fourth of the total that relationship is marriage: A spouse. There are the employment-based visas, and the other types I’ve mentioned in this article, but typically the reality of immigration is that you will be related (parent, child, spouse, or sibling) to a U.S. citizen. It isn’t a “refusal” when you have no other way.

Trust me, we will discuss illegal aliens being related to U.S. citizens, but that is something for another time…

Second Myth: “Illegal aliens ‘cut in line’ ahead of legal immigrants”

This is also something you hear very often, that illegal aliens have “cut in line” ahead of legal immigrants, causing them to wait longer or displacing them from coming legally. The wait for my family, as long as it took, was not delayed by any illegal alien. They may have arrived before my family was admitted but didn’t gain the same immigration status.

“It’s a slap in the face for immigrants that are coming here the correct way”. A couple years ago I interacted further with someone when I heard this response: What was the “correct way”? He said that he had an Australian couple for friends, they filed for “Tourist” visas as often as they could, until gaining enough of a foothold to stay.

While not disallowed (after all, they were allowed to permanently immigrate), this behavior borders on immigration fraud. Applying for a temporary “Tourist” visa means you have the intent to return before your visa expires. It is important to note that around 40% of illegal aliens that are present in the United States are “visa overstays”, but it does not interfere with immigrant visas or slow that process down. It could perhaps influence the issue of other non-immigrant visas of the same type, but the comment seems to be defined towards those applying and being admitted under immigrant visas.

For the last several years anyway, more than half of all Legal Permanent Residents are gaining that status while in the United States under a non-immigrant visa. This can be from the ‘K’-class visas like my wife had, or even those Australian friends. I bring it up because the concept of “waiting” while you are already present in the United States with some sort of status is certainly less arduous.

There really is no defined “line” for immigration. My next article will contrast against the misconception that “anyone” (in other words, the average person in a foreign country) can file a form to immigrate, “wait” some time, and eventually be admitted to the United States. Stay tuned for updates, and remember you can comment below!

First Myth: “Marriage to a U.S. citizen gives ‘instant’ citizenship for a foreign spouse.”

I’ve even had people tell me this while we have been in the process for my wife, like I was doing something wrong or didn’t know the correct way. This misconception may come from more than a century ago when a foreign-born woman would gain U.S. citizenship (but not the ability to vote) if her husband naturalized or was a native-born citizen himself. The closest modern equivalent is an Active Duty servicemember going on an “accompanied tour” (meaning to be stationed outside the United States at a location where family members are allowed to be with them) with a foreign spouse that is in a U.S. Legal Permanent Resident (a term you will learn if you aren’t familiar with what it means, as it is very meaningful in immigration) status. The military expedites U.S. citizenship for the spouse blazingly quick (largely for their convenience of having only U.S. citizens at the post), which is quite an ironic contrast when you learn our story.

The reality is that marriage to a U.S. citizen doesn’t even provide the ability for lawful residency within the United States in itself, although it is defined by the U.S. government as “immigrant intent”. That also has an ironic implication, as the spouse does not then qualify for an easier obtainable “non-immigrant” visa (except for a specific “K-3” type, which I will cover later). It does, however, provide the ability to file an immigration petition with USCIS – the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services agency that is under Homeland Security.

I met my wife online after returning from a 15-month deployment with the U.S. Army – including a full year in Kuwait and Iraq. Upon returning to the United States, I switched service branches, returning to the U.S. Navy where I had served on Active Duty 12 years earlier, with three tours to the Persian Gulf aboard minesweepers before and during Desert Storm. Now I was in the Reserves as a Navy Seabee, in the IT field that was the same as my civilian employment.

After trips to Mexico, where I could visit without even having a passport (amazingly, I had been issued a diplomatic passport for my third Navy deployment, but it had expired a few years earlier), we began to talk marriage. I thought it would be a fairly easy process, even somewhat believing the myth of “instant” citizenship until I searched online. Those searches led to USCIS, whereupon I printed and filed an I-129F “Fiance(e) Visa” – with the petition fee – and started our waiting process.

In October of 2005, we determined that without any news of when the I-129F would be approved, we would marry and tell them during the interview. Marriage was more of a commitment, right? I continued to visit my wife and three stepchildren in Mexico, whom now qualified for a military dependent’s ID card since I was in the Navy Reserves, allowing them on almost any U.S. base worldwide – but not admit them into the United States.

The I-129F interview was in January 2006. We weren’t even let in the grounds of the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez. Our I-129F was invalidated, we had married, which would mean a different petitioning process – for an I-130 “Immigrant Visa” for her and each of the kids, and ironically another I-129F for a K-3 visa (and K-4 for each of my stepchildren), which was specifically for the spouse of a U.S. citizen.

The ‘K’-class visas are “non-immigrant”, but designed to admit the fiance(e)/spouse/minor children relatives of a U.S. citizen while their immigrant petitions are being decided. If that sounds like it takes some time – you are correct. If we had only stayed unmarried the three months before that first interview, we could have then adjusted status later while in the United States. It would have unified our family here – I was having to figure out how to pay our income taxes, applying for ITIN numbers from the IRS (which would be denied: if a person is viewed as eventually qualifying for a Social Security number, they cannot be issued an ITIN) – and simplified things tremendously had I known.

Some time after filing the I-129F and I-130 petitions, I was notified that our K-3/K-4 petitions were rejected. At that time, USCIS had different addresses for each petition type and would merge them for processing. Our “adjudicator” informed me that USCIS had forwarded our I-130 petitions slower through their system, so two months earlier the I-129F had arrived several days before the supporting I-130s. The fact was that he did have all the petitions at the point he denied the K-3/K-4 applications, but was canceling them based on a technicality.

We were required to file for another I-129F – more petition fees (whatever the outcome, petition fees are not refunded, and USCIS operates from petition fees, not taxpayer money) – and further waits. I had included notice of my military status with each petition form, to inform them that my Seabee unit had a high likelihood of being mobilized. Finally in May of 2007 my wife had an interview date set for the K-3/K-4 “non-immigrant” visas once again at the U.S. Consult in Ciudad Juarez.

It was a female interviewer, starting by asking my wife where her “husband” was. This wasn’t about me, but the man that had abandoned her and their children several years before in Mexico. When my wife answered truthfully that she didn’t know, the interviewer shouted “No!”, and threw our folder of documents across the table at her! The tension did ease when she leafed through the photos, and saw the last strange picture of me at the top of a tree in a Mexican park. What was I doing there she asked. I was risking life and limb to retrieve a soccer ball the kids had inadvertently kicked into the tree. That is where the interview eased, and my family was admitted to the United States, over eighteen months after my wife and I had married.

My unit now had a deployment date set for that October (to the hotbed of Fallujah, Iraq, for six to eight months), but I learned of a policy that if our I-130 petitions were not yet approved, and something happened to me (their immigration sponsor), they would lose the ability to stay in the United States. Remember when I talked about irony? I was getting ready to go on a fifth military deployment (unaccompanied), and if I was “killed-in-action” my family would be removed instead!

They did gain residency in January 2008, but I had chosen not to deploy with my unit. It tore at me, especially when I had volunteered to go on my third deployment with a crew I had trained with (having the same mission as my two prior deployments, and not wanting them to be with someone new in my position). I felt it was ending my military career, but didn’t want to risk my family losing everything we struggled for.

Within weeks of President Obama taking office a year later, he changed the K-3/K-4 policy, requiring an immigration hearing that would likely be successful if the immigration sponsor died while in service to our country. I would have had less of a worry to go on that fifth deployment had the policy been in effect earlier. President Obama is often lambasted for his immigration actions, but that first one would have made all the difference in the world for me.

We are now a month away from our ten-year anniversary, and my family has not naturalized yet. There has always something that has come up when saving away that much money weighed only against gaining the ability to vote. I did plan to file before we would be required to renew the Resident Cards in 2018. You can help if you would like, I’ve set up a page at “Go Fund Me”, Thank You for donating and sharing the link.

Immigration Misconceptions, A Series On Common Mistaken Notions About Immigration

I’m “rebooting” my blog to address immigration misconceptions I have heard over the years, more frequently as we near our Presidential election with immigration as a point of contention. Specifically, I believe that anti-immigration organizations (which I define as not only being focused on illegal immigration, but also favoring a reduction in legal immigration, to have an immigration moratorium, or wanting to stop it entirely) are releasing incomplete or skewed data to further these perceptions against immigrants, and to influence voters at a critical time. As a contrast, the information I list will be from respected non-partisan sources, and can be easily verified.

Although Internet anonymity often infringes on effective discussion, contrasting views help me to understand issues more completely. I welcome questions and contributions, however if I feel comments are antagonistic or irrational, I will remove them at my discretion. Create your own blog if you have nationalism or separatism as a goal, I fully support your division starting on an Internet away from mine.

That said, let’s get started…