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From current President Barack Obama pushing for the Supreme Court to review his immigration reform during last few months in office, to President-elect Donald Trump demanding mass deportation of illegal immigrants from America, immigration has been in the forefront of everyone’s mind. But for such a hot topic, there is still a lot of confusion and misinformation surrounding what exactly the current situation for immigrants looks like in America.
The US Department of Homeland Security estimates that there are about 11 million undocumented immigrants living in America as of June 2016. There are both positive and negative sides to having illegal immigrants in the US. While undocumented immigrants lower the wages paid to unskilled workers (workers who lack technical training or a high school diploma), because there is such a large population of illegal immigrants who are willing to work for less. On the other hand, this lowers the price of many different services, such as restaurant meals, construction, and agricultural production. One of the biggest arguments against illegal immigrants is that they are a drain on federally-funded programs because they don’t pay taxes, yet utilize programs such as public schools.
A 2013 report from the Heritage Foundation states that, “Under current law, all unlawful immigrant households together have an aggregate annual deficit of around $54.5 billion.”
The simple fix to this problem seems to be to just become a lawful US citizen; yet it is a long, difficult, and expensive process that can take anywhere from six months to years. The first step to becoming a citizen is obtaining a Green Card (a temporary lawful proof of residence), as there are very few cases of legal immigration without first having a one. Eligibility for a Green Card ranges from if someone has family that are US citizens to if a person has more than $1 million invested in a business/property in the US. Once obtaining a Green Card, the usual amount of time a cardholder needs to live in the US is five years before they are eligible to begin the naturalization process. Then paperwork is to be filed with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS.) N-400 is the name of the form to get the process started. As of 2015, it costs $595 to file the application for naturalization, plus an $85 biometrics fee. After that paperwork has been processed, a background check will be conducted and fingerprinting will take place After the background check, a citizenship interview with a USCIS officer needs to be conducted. During this interview, the officer will go through the N-400 and confirm answers to all the questions. Knowledge of English and of U.S. civics will also be tested at this. If the interview is successful and the applicant approved, they can’t celebrate quite yet because there is more. There’s a large ceremony with other people applying for citizenship, where all applicants swear allegiance to the USA and are presented with the certificate of naturalization. If this sounds complicated, lengthy and expensive, that’s because it is.
It is notoriously difficult to become a citizen of the United States, and some who illegally immigrate are in situations where they don’t have the time or the money to go through the process.
And while right now the federal government ultimately has the final say on how many immigrants come to the US, policies on how immigrants are treated vary from state to state. For example, in all states illegal immigrants are not allowed to utilize public programs, except during crisis situations when the person’s life and safety are at risk. On the other hand, only some states allow qualifying illegal immigrants to pay in-state tuition at a state school; Maryland and California both adopted this policy. There has been public outcry over some immigration laws that have been claimed unconstitutional because they can be seen as racial profiling. Most notable being Arizona’s S.B. 1070, which was signed into law officially in 2012 after the Supreme Court struck down different aspects of the legislation. S.B. 1070 lets law enforcement officers determine the immigration status of someone arrested when there is “reasonable suspicion they are in the US illegally.” There have been several lawsuits filed against the state of Arizona due to this controversial law, including one by an Arizona police officer who believed it violated Constitutional rights, rights of immigrants, and rights of US citizens. Other states that have adopted this tough stance on immigration and illegal immigration include Georgia, Florida, Nebraska, Utah, Oklahoma, Virginia, and South Carolina.
Immigration is a prevalent topic in the American people’s eyes, and because of this recent hyperfocus, awareness has been brought to the sometimes impossible situation of American immigrants. And while all of the national attention has had some positive effects, there is still much misinformation and stigma surrounding immigration. This is partly thanks to social media, which allows half-truths and sensationalized tidbits about immigrants to spread quicker than the blink of an eye, and partly due to the large chunk of the population who believe everything they read on their Twitter feed. The future of immigration and illegal immigrants, however, is in the hands of Washington. But with President-elect Donald Trump’s promises to enact stricter laws regarding immigration — such as building a wall on the Mexican-American border, mass deportations of immigrants living in the US illegally, and harsher requirements for naturalization — the system of immigration America currently knows might be flipped on its head in the next four years.