Yesterday, President Obama hosted a town-hall for young voters that aired on MTV, BET and CMT. During the discussion, a young woman brought up the immigration issue in an unexpected way. Anna, a Colombian immigrant, explained to President Obama that she has been waiting for her green card which would allow her to live and work in the U.S. permanently for three years. Anna broke into tears when she told the President that she fears that she may not receive her green card in time to visit her 92 year-old grandmother one last time:
ANNA: Hi Mr. President, my name is Anna and I wanted to share with you my greatest fear. I moved here when I was 14 in 2003 and I followed every legal step. I come from Colombia and I’m waiting for my green card and I have been waiting for it for about three years. My grandma turned 92 and I’m afraid that my green card will not get here in time for me to see her one last time.
OBAMA: Well first of all, say hi to your grandma for me.
ANNA: On the phone, yeah.
OBAMA: And second of all, one of the things we’re trying to do to deal with the immigration issue is to accelerate the process for legal immigration. This is something we don’t talk a lot, a lot of the focus is on illegal immigration.
We’re a nation of immigrants, so the question is how do we make legal immigration faster, less bureaucratic, cut the red tape. So I’ll be interested in finding out after maybe this session from you what your experience has been with the office because what we’re trying to do is reduce the backlog so that those people like yourself who are doing things the right way and the legal way that you don’t get so tangled up in a bunch of bureaucracy that you end up being discouraged.
Anna’s situation is not unique. In 2005, the Washington Post wrote, “hundreds of thousands of immigrant workers trying to stay in the United States find their journey halted somewhere along a maze of boxes, filing cabinets and cubicles of government contractors.” The American Immigration Lawyers Association estimates that there are 3.5 million people on the the visa queue waiting for the proportionally small handful of visas the U.S. makes available.
For green card applicants in the U.S., leaving the country before they receive their visa is not a good idea. Those who want to leave the country can apply for advanced parole, which simply establishes that Customs and Border Protection may decide to parole in the person when he or she attempts to re-enter the U.S. at a port of entry. However, admission is by no means guaranteed. In other words, by going to Colombia, Anna could risk both her current and future immigration status.
As Obama explains, one of the goals of his administration has been to reduce the green card backlog. Last year, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Service launched a new web site aimed to cut down on the long lines, waiting times, and paperwork that has been contributing to the backlog.
However, there are two types of backlogs: processing backlogs, and backlogs caused by higher demand for immigration than the quotas set by the law allow. The Obama administration can do something about processing backlogs, however it’s up to Congress to reform the immigration system.Currently, the visa system is currently outdated by over twenty years and does not meet the needs or demands of a 21st century globalized economy — let alone immigrant families.