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Legal immigrants: The real victims of illegal immigration

Terry+Tan+%7C+Staff+Illustrator
Terry Tan | Staff Illustrator

Terry Tan | Staff Illustrator

Terry Tan | Staff Illustrator

By Marlo Safi / Columnist

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My mother — a Syrian immigrant — came to the United States in 1994.

A medical student at the University of Aleppo, she wanted to finish her education in a country that wouldn’t deprive her of the opportunity to flourish — in Syria, wages are very low even if you are pursuing an in-demand field of work, like medicine.

She wanted to raise her future children in a safe, enriched environment where — unlike Syria — the state does not limit freedom of speech and press. She wanted to practice Christianity, a minority religion in Syria, without fear of persecution. She did not want her gender to hinder her life pursuits — which is all too often the case for women in Syria.

So, she came to the United States.

But, despite the vital urgency behind her decision, she endured the two and a half year-long immigration process and came here legally. Today, an influx in illegal immigration would have punished my mother for following the rules, damming the paperwork trail and keeping her from her dreams.

She married my father, a Syrian immigrant with American citizenship. Before this marriage granted her a green card, however, she had to visit the Syrian embassy in Washington, D.C., different immigration centers in both the United States and Syria and complete hoards of paperwork.

Because my mother had married a naturalized American citizen, the process was much simpler, but still frustrating. If you have no one in the States to sponsor you — like my father didn’t when he immigrated — the process is much more elongated.

If a spouse is not sponsoring you to come to the United States, a family member or employer can sponsor you, or you can claim refugee status.

The state decides refugee status on a case-by-case basis. Immigration services direct many refugees either to the U.S. Refugee Program or a U.S. embassy, while some can apply directly. There is also a diversity lottery, which works in favor of immigrants coming from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States.

If you do not obtain sponsorship, refugee or asylum status or diversity lottery privilege, the process could take more than a decade.

My mother came here in the ’90s when the government granted amnesty for only 578,000 illegal immigrants. But now that President Obama has granted amnesty to 5 million illegal immigrants, which gives them a short pathway to citizenship, U.S. immigration is even more backed up. Those playing by the rules are not at the back of the line.

After President Obama offered to shield nearly 4 million illegal immigrants from deportation in 2012, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has been bombarded with more than 2,000 applications a day for green cards or work permits.

There are 4.4 million foreigners trying to get into the United States legally, according to the National Visa Center — 100,000 more than last year.

These applicants either have a family member who is a U.S. citizen or have an employer in the United States who wants them. According to the Center for Immigration Studies, many of those on the list waiting to receive a green card to enter the United States have been on the list for up to 13 years or more.

Until these legal immigrants obtain a green card, they cannot legally work in the United States.

American born citizens are affected by these wait times as well. Jimmy Gugliotta, who is American born, has been waiting more than a year and a half to bring his Argentinian wife and children to the states from Chile due to slow correspondence from U.S. immigration services.

“What I found outrageous is people like me, a U.S. citizen, are actually being put at the back of the line, and that, to me, is a total outrage,” Gugliotta told Fox News.

Jessica Vaughan, Center for Immigration Studies policy expert, automatic amnesty for illegal immigrants incentivize more to come, hurting those who play by the rules.

“Any move by the president to relax eligibility standards or grant benefits such as work permits, deferred action or parole to illegal aliens is profoundly unfair and destructive to the integrity of the legal system because it gives illegal aliens preferential treatment over those applying through the legal process established by Congress,” she explained on her blog.

Illegal immigrants are also taking jobs from legal immigrants. Many of the immigrants who arrive in the United States from their homelands need to work as soon as possible, having left almost everything behind them.

According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, foreign-born workers were more likely than American-born workers to be employed in service occupations and less likely to work in management, professional and related occupations in office and sales.

Legal immigrants pursuing service occupations will compete with illegal immigrants willing to work for lower wages, as well. Since these illegal immigrants do not have documentation, they can work for low wages that employers cannot offer to legal immigrants or Americans.

As described by Puritan leader John Winthrop in his sermon “A Model of Christian Charity”, the American dream is “the city upon a hill.” Legal immigrants travel along a path paved with honesty and integrity, often with the intentions of furthering their education or work and also providing their children with similar opportunities not available in their homelands.

We often don’t think of other immigrants as being the victims of illegal immigration, but that is often the case. Legal immigrants like my mother deserve to enjoy the rights and opportunities given to all citizens — let’s not punish them for obeying our laws.

Marlo Safi primarily writes about public policy and politics for The Pitt News.

Write to her at mes26@pitt.edu

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Legal immigrants: The real victims of illegal immigration