Critics say U.S. naturalization process too slow

By Tim Vandenack
The Hutchinson News


DODGE CITY –
It was the 1980s, and with few work options at home in
Chichihualco, Mexico, Oscar Marino looked north of the border.

“I saw my family, the poverty,” Marino said.

In
the 1970s, his father had worked with a permit that let him travel
between the United States and Mexico. But with no such option available
when his turn to enter the workforce came up, Marino, now a meatpacker
here, took matters into his own hands.

“That pushed
me to come here illegally,” he said, remembering the mad scramble over
a chain-link fence separating Tijuana from southern California.

Many
others have similar stories – there are perhaps 12 million illegal
immigrants in the country, some say – and immigration experts and
others say it shouldn’t come as a big surprise. Though there might be
jobs, scant means exist for low-income, low-skilled foreigners to enter
the United States legally to take them, prompting many to sneak across
the border.

“I would have gone that way if I could,”
said Marino, now a legal U.S. resident, referring to the program that
let his father enter the country. “It didn’t exist anymore. I couldn’t.”

Indeed,
it strikes Angela Ferguson, a Kansas City, Mo., immigration attorney,
whenever she hears people say they have no problem with immigrants, as
long as they enter legally.

“They just don’t have a clue of how difficult the process is,” said Ferguson, who also practices in Garden City.

‘A long wait’

In
light of the apparent disparity between labor demand and supply, a
controversial U.S. Senate proposal emerged last month that would allow
more foreigners in to do low-skilled work. Some decry such plans as
misguided, saying lack of workers isn’t the issue, but depressed wages
that don’t appeal to natives.

A guest-worker element
would let up to 325,000 people in per year on a temporary basis, said
Laura Reiff of the Essential Worker Immigration Coalition, which favors
moves to grant some illegal immigrants pathways to legal residency.
Another prong would increase the quota of low-skilled workers
potentially eligible for U.S. residency from about 5,000 per year to
250,000.

As is, the most common means for Mexicans
to attain legal residency here and the ability to work legally are
through U.S. citizen or U.S. resident family members. Latinos,
particularly Mexicans, account for the largest share of southwest
Kansas’ immigrant population, and Mexicans account for the biggest
chunk of the nation’s overall undocumented population.

But
the process can take years, trying the patience of someone hoping for a
job now. First there’s the paperwork, background checks and medical
exams. Then there’s the delay while U.S. authorities process the
information.

“It’s a long wait,” said Consuelo
Sandoval of United Methodist Mexican-American Ministries in Garden
City, which assists immigrants.

People without a family member to petition on their behalf essentially are out of luck.

The
Mexican spouse or minor children of a U.S. citizen, meanwhile, face the
shortest wait, as little as a year. From there, the wait gets longer
and longer, particularly for legal residents petitioning for their
Mexican family members. Residency is one step short of citizenship. For
instance:

* The unmarried Mexican children over 21 years of age of a U.S. citizen must wait more than 15 years.

* The brothers and sisters of a U.S. citizen must wait more than 12 years.

*
The spouse and minor children of a U.S. resident must wait more than
six years. That is the largest category of people Sandoval helps
process.

* The unmarried children over 21 of a legal resident must wait more than 14 years.

The
wait stems from the backlog of cases U.S. officials must process and
annual quotas set for each country. For processing of residency
requests, U.S. immigration officials divvy the world into five zones:
Mexico, the Philippines, India and China – which all together account
for the bulk of petitions – and the rest of the world.

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