After a gunman whose parents immigrated from Afghanistan opened fire in a gay club in Orlando, Florida, presumptive Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump was quick to blame immigrants. In a speech on Monday, Trump said that “thousands and thousands of people, many of whom have the same thought process as this savage killer” are pouring into the country — and pledged that he would ban immigration altogether from countries where he believes terrorism is a threat.
American must now get very tough, very smart and very vigilant. We cannot admit people into our country without extraordinary screening.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 14, 2016
Although Trump is preying on the country’s fear of the unknown in the aftermath of a gruesome tragedy that took the lives of 49 innocent people by a gunman, his framing is misleading when it comes to mass shootings. In fact, it is much more difficult for immigrants to enter the U.S. than it is for a U.S. citizen — like the killer — to purchase the gun they need to commit atrocities.
It takes years for immigrants to come to the United States legally.
Generally, immigrants can get a green card in the United States through one of four different routes: employment, certain family ties, refugee or asylee status, or the annual diversity lottery.
Individuals hoping to enter the country on permanent employment-based visas — which are capped at 140,000 visas per year — must wait a long period of time to apply for adjustment of status or an immigrant visa because of per-country limits set at 7 percent for each country. It also costs them about $580 for the initial labor certification, then anywhere between $720 and $985 to obtain the actual green card.
Under the family reunification program, U.S. citizens are able to sponsor immediate relatives for citizenship, with applicants from the Asia-Pacific region making up about 40 percent of the family visa backlog. The backlog is so long that some people from the Philippines have been waiting for a visa for 23 years, while people from India could wait 12 years.
The diversity lottery has about 50,000 green cards available to people from countries with low rates of immigration into the United States. People who apply through this route must have at least a high school education and two years of job experience, a qualification that helps to attract the brightest individuals. Up to a quarter of people from African countries win this lottery, though the $330 fee may be cost-prohibitive for those who come from poorer countries.
It takes months to process immigrants who show up at the southern U.S. border.
Over the past several years, hundreds of thousands of Central American families have fled dangerous and violent conditions in their home countries and made their way to the southern U.S. border. Many of them arrive at the border asking for asylum, a form of humanitarian relief that would allow them to legally stay in the United States if they can prove it’s too unsafe to return to their own country. But asylum cases take time to wind through the judicial system.
So, in order to handle the influx of asylum seekers, the Obama administration has kept thousands of mothers and children in immigration detention centers across Texas and Pennsylvania as they await their court cases. Some of those individuals have been locked up in detention centers for months, and some mothers and children allege they were abused there by detention staff.
It takes almost two years to process immigrants who are waiting outside the United States to come in as refugees.
The screening process for Syrian refugees to come into the United States — a group that Trump has repeatedly said should not be allowed into the country — takes anywhere between 18 and 24 months. This lengthy process is designed to “mitigate any threats and helps ensure Americans are not placed in harm’s way,” according to a report from the Center for American Progress. During that time, applicants must register with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), which collects their information including biometrics. They must then undergo several rounds of interviews by the UNHCR and later with various U.S. government agencies, where they have to prove that they are, in fact, running from persecution or death. They must also undergo health screenings, cultural orientation classes, and pass security checks.
It takes a very long time for legal immigrants from Muslim-majority countries to become U.S. citizens.
By law, the United States is supposed to process and adjudicate citizenship applications within six months, or about 180 days. But as the human rights organization American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) found in 2013, legal immigrants from Muslim-majority countries face undue scrutiny during the citizenship process. Their cases are then subjected to long delays and their applications cannot be approved “except in limited circumstances,” Mother Jones reported.
Just last month, the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) filed a federal lawsuit on behalf of 13 Muslim Missouri residents, alleging that the U.S. federal immigration agencies intentionally delayed their applications for citizenship. Under a national security program known as the “Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program” (CARRP), the government discriminated against citizenship applications from Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian communities, according to the ACLU.
But legal residents of Florida don’t need to wait long at all to purchase a gun.
In Florida, the state where the tragic shooting occurred this weekend, there aren’t many restrictions on firearms — particularly compared to the restrictions in place in the immigration system.
According to the Law Center To Prevent Gun Violence, Florida does not license firearm owners; does not require a background check before private sales; does not require the registration of firearms; does not regulate assault weapons, 50 caliber rifles, or large ammunition magazines; and does not limit the number of firearms that can be bought in a single purchase.
Reports indicate that the shooter used an AR-15 assault rifle — the most popular rifle in the country — and a handgun. Florida gun laws require a three-day waiting period for handgun purchases, but that waiting period is waived for people who have concealed weapons permits or are trading in another handgun.
The gunman, who was employed as a security officer and had two security guard licenses, needed to obtain a Class “G” Statewide Firearm License, which takes 28 hours of training. What’s more, private sellers without a federal license don’t have to conduct background checks on buyers.
It costs about $5 to run a background through the National Instant Criminal Background Check System and another $112 for the Florida concealed weapon or firearm license (which includes the license fee and fingerprint processing fee).