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Is the dream still alive?

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
"Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!" cries she
With silent lips. "Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!"

Emma Lazarus, 1883

What I find recently bothersome, and it's mostly because of the rough job market, is that people that I normally would consider rational and level headed are becoming frightened, upset or even a little bit bigoted, and frankly it bothers me. It bothers me a whole lot that when things get rough, some people get vicious or paranoid. We all know that immigration is broken, but immigration is hardly a large part of the job market issue right now. It's a bunch of other things piled up together. I really have a problem with people that have an anti-immigrant stance who are not affected by it directly. Maybe because my husband has BEEN an immigrant, albeit a legal one, for the last 8 years. The only difference is that he's German not Hispanic and he works in IT, not labor. It doesn't matter though. Despite my husbands long list of professional certifications in IT security, there are people who would want to do him harm because he's not American and working in an American market where he is in demand and excelling at it.

How have we forgotten that our great great grandfathers and great grandfathers came over here looking for the same promise which is given to those people looking to better their lives and the lives of their loves ones to be met with hatred and anger because of our flailing economy and job market. History repeats itself yet again. Can't we remember where we have come from? Why can't we just agree that immigration is broken and then DO something about it instead of just being angry at the symptom? I suppose people have a right to be afraid, but it's the anger and hate that lies behind much of it that scares me. People I have respected are changing fundamentally and causing me to reassess my opinions of them. Am I being too self righteous? Maybe. I don't know. All I know is what I believe and what I see is that things are slowly coming apart at the seams. This country is slowly coming apart at the seams. Is the dream dying? Is "change that we can believe in" just a message of hope? Or are things actually getting better and we just can't see it yet in relation to jobs? Are we becoming SO divided that we are falling apart from within? Are the Democrats and Republicans with their bickering between and even AMONGST themselves within party an outward sign of this? I don't know, but I have been wondering this every day for the past year or so.


I don't think that immigration is broken, the problem is that the way immigrants are perceived has changed. If you look at America of the past immigrants were welcomed into the country because they provided the workforce that was needed before the use of computers and all the mechanization of factories. Immigrants not having a lot of money to live on depended on one another since language was a barrier and got taken advantage of. To stem that there was an extra incentive to learn the language of the country as doing so opened up a plethora of opportunity.

Also back in the days of old there were tenaments but they were not seen as blight on a city. They were merely a place where the working poor lived as they tried to eek out a living.

Compare that to today and its drastically different. There are more regulatory controls and a guaranteed minimum wage. The cities now have mechanized ports which require skilled operators, Tenaments are seen as blighted areas of the city so they are torn down, rents in cities are mostly outrageous and all the unskilled work available hire through staffing agencies which take a cut of a workers pay in some cases and whose workers do not fall under protections of unemployment and thus when an employer reaches the hire or let go stage of the process they tend to let go. In other cities like Denver those places are a literal bus stop to bring the immigrants out to pick veggies for meager salaries.

The mentality of the country has drifted more and more into a throwaway disposable society. Its been pushed around like a wave with the use of creating hot button issues. Immigration has become one of those and utilizing fear making statements like the immigrants are going to take our jobs has made the public look at immigrants like an enemy rather than seeing them as our ancestors did which was the bearings that helped an industry run smoothly.
I don't think that immigration is broken, the problem is that the way immigrants are perceived has changed

I think the two are interlinked. Immigration is fundamentally broken. As a result, we have an undocumented workforce that does not fit into our "work framework" (minimum wage, taxes, and so on) and does not participate in civic life, and that in turn has contributed to the change in perception.

Let me put some facts behind the statement that "immigration is fundamentally broken". I will focus on low-skilled labor for the most part.

Let's start with these:

- There are no legal paths to immigrate for most low-skilled workers.
- From 2000 to 2005, about 850,000 undocumented immigrants came in annually. With the job market slowing down, this number has dropped sharply to about 300,000 annually between 2007 and 2009 (1)
- Undocumented men have a 96% labor force participation rate (2). This exceeds the rate of documented immigrants and US citizens.

The way I read these facts is: We have a demand for new low-skilled workers of between 300,000 and 850,000 annually, and we have no way of meeting that demand legally, as we have no legal pathways in place to allow people to come in.

Next, I'd like to look at the legal pathways that do exist with you:

The legal paths that do exist take years to navigate, due to bureaucratic backlogs and visa limitations. For example, a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) trying to bring a spouse or child from Mexico must wait 4-7 years. An LPR trying to bring a brother from the Philippines must wait up to 23 years! (3)

This presumes that you have LPR status already. In my category, "EB-3 skilled workers", meant for people doing jobs that require a BA, there are about 42,000 visas available annually, around 28,000 for the area I hail from.
Family-based immigration, which is what the above refers to, isn't much better.

Even _if_ we created legal pathways by saying "alright you guys, you can all apply for EB-4 now", we can't possibly squeeze 300,000 to 850,000 people annually into a low tens of thousands visa cap.

Alright, raise the visa cap! But then the bureaucracy, which is already overloaded, buckles entirely, and we just end up with even longer lines.

To illustrate that, my application has been pending since February 2005. It's not been approved yet because the "Priority Date" is not current - meaning the USCIS is looking at cases before February 2005. They just haven't gotten around to mine yet. They should get there, knock on wood, by early next year.
And that's a short waiting time, because I am "ROW" (Rest Of World). People from China and India have been waiting for well over a decade.

(writing a novel - continued in next comment)

(continued from 1st comment)

Lastly, what people mean when they say "immigration is broken" is that circular immigration is becoming less and less common. In the past, you might have had migrant workers who return home for the winter months. With border crossings becoming more perilous and increasing demand for a year-round work force - the dairy farms here in the NE are a prime example - people are increasingly coming to stay for good.

This is not a new problem. Congress tried to apply a band-aid to immigration in 1986 and then again in 1996, but failed both times to create the legal pathways necessary to allow "functional" immigration.

This is why you will hear immigration advocates calling for "Comprehensive Immigration Reform" (CIR), which addresses at a minimum legal pathways, volume of immigration, and the amount of bureaucracy we apply to immigration.
Again, to illustrate that: Between lawyer and USCIS fees, I've spent about $15k to come in legally, and it's been taking - well, a very long time. We need efficient processes that can handle 300,000 to 850,000 people a year.

And who pays for that? Well, the immigrants themselves, of course. Get an extra 72,000 to 204,000 taxpayers a year (I am low-balling here - divide by 4 assuming a family of 4 where only the male works, then apply the 96% figure) - surely we can come up with a way to have that be a net plus for our budget.

Whatever it is we do, the current system is too borked to keep. We create the demand for the labor force, we have people coming in to fill that demand, and we force these people into a shadow economy. That's terrible for our economy, for Americans competing for jobs, for the people coming in, and for the soul of the nation.

"Comprehensive Immigration Reform" is the only way out. There are so many interlinked systems in immigration that just tweaking one knob - as Congress did in 86 and 96 - just doesn't work.

(1) Americas News, "Illegal Immigration to U.S. Slows Sharply", http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748703882304575465742670985642.html
(2) Passel et al. “Undocumented Immigrants: Facts and Figures.” Urban Institute. January 12, 2004. Accessed June, 2006 at
(3) United States Department of State. “Visa Bulletin.” August 2006. Number 96 Volume VII. Washington D.C. Accessed in July 2006
from http://travel.state.gov/visa/frvi/bulletin/bulletin_2978.html.
One last thought on CIR. Everybody loves car analogies, right. Hee.

The interlocked systems of immigration are similar to the systems in a car. Say you want to tune your car to go faster. You put in a turbocharged V6. Yay baby! Then your transmission gives out.

You upgrade the transmission to handle the torque. Yay baby! Then your suspension gets you killed because the wheels didn't come back to the road surface fast enough after you hit your first bump at speed.


This is why tuning cars is both a science and an artform. We need to apply some of that same diligence to immigration.

Ouch I didn't know the numbers were so low with regard of how many are allowed 'legal immigrant status'. I currently am trying to go from the US to Canada and the immigration policy requires me to pay for the process as well. I also had to get information that proves I am not a criminal from all the states I lived in since age 18. Luckily it hasn't been to many. Its almost been a year now and I finally am getting the papers in order to submit a package. Were doing the whole process without a lawyer and since the two countries are friendly I don't see the problem as being too complicated from here out (I hope) Now the big issue for us is funding the application. While going through the process and residing in Canada I have to keep good standing. To do so I have had to keep getting visitor status visas that allow me to stay here but don't allow me to work. So I been living off what little savings I had and off the salary of my mate. I had to live with him in a continuous relationship for a years time before I could get Common Law Partner status. My application if accepted gives me permanent residence which isn't truly immigrated as the status is revokable at any time and I don't have the right to have a Canadian Passport or vote till 3 years afterwards when I have the right to apply for citizen status. So I still have to get US passports every 10yrs or so, luckily for me thats doable at a US consulate and there is one here in the town I am residing in.

However thats going through legal chapters, persons like those that lived in Haiti and were displaced by the earthquake that ravaged Port Au Prince are given refugee status and basically bypass the entire process. In fact as I understand they are put up in hotel rooms and given a sum of money ta boot. Its tough to begrudge a person whom came from such hardship but the thing is that refugee status has been obtained various other ways such as not having documentation or claiming political asylum from another country.

But thats Canada

The US seems to be very anal attentive when it comes to protection and for some bizarre reason see Mexico as this terrible threat so I am sure the scrutinize applications coming from there more than say someone from Britain or France. I am no expert on US immigration policy but when I lived in Utah I worked with immigrants from Mexico. Whether they were legal or not I dunno. I know that they sent money back to their families in Mexico though and with the difference in money value between the US and Mexico they were able to allow their families there to live fairly well and bankroll the remainder while they resided in a smaller apartment shared by a group of probably 6 persons on small means.

Hearing stories like this one which is common has made pundits mostly of the far right try to convince the American people that the Mexican Workforce is coming across the border and taking our jobs and that the people should be upset.

See thats where to me the issue gets sketchy. In the past immigrants would use wage earnings and try to eek out a life for themself and integrate into society. Now some are coming to America and by taking advantage of the coinage value difference between the US and Mexico setting themself up to live back in Mexico after working in the US a few years.

Its playing the system and being fearful of that practice the US has created a literal wall between itself and Mexico. The US has many unskilled jobs like work in the Napa Valley picking grapes for making wine or Oranges but doesn't want to create a funnel where the money from the wages are merely pipelined back into Mexico. Granted it helps the labor force problem within the USA but creates another problem of crowd control.
On Canada, they are very different over there. In the tech community, the "get out" card is Canada. If one gets truly fed up with waiting for the USCIS to move, one can always apply for Canada. Stories abound that you can enter Canada without a job (no way!) and stay for a certain amount of time while finding one (whoa!), and then when applying for permanent resident status, it pretty much boils down to "you have a job? Welcome to Canada!" (duuude)

I am virtually certain there is some exaggeration there. Still, stories of people becoming Canadian residents in no time flat (1 year or less) after having been lingering in the US system for a decade+ abound.
I received my Canadian Permanent Residency without a job offer; I believe they've since changed the rules and no longer allow that, but at the time it wsa possible because I looked really good on paper (good career history, an advanced degree that I could pass off as technology-related, fluent in English and passible in French, single, young-ish, etc.) It took a little over two years -- it would have taken a lot less time, except I submitted the application in July of 2001, right before things became...um...complicated.
To give you an idea, I'm American and my mate is Canadian. I have a degree in Computer Music; he has a degree in Computer Animation. I applied for Permanent Residency in Canada based solely on my qualifications and was approved in about two years (which was about twice as long as average because I applied just before 9/11). This was before same-sex marriage was legal in Canada, but even then they had a program where same-sex bi-national couples were allowed to apply for citizenship just like married couples, so that was an option if the independent application didn't work out. We've since moved to the U.S. - he came here on an F-1 (education) visa, which is now expired since he graduated. Yet, with a degree from a U.S. institution in a technology-related field, it's basically pointless for him to even apply for a green card because his career is largely contract-based. He's now here on TN-1 (NAFTA), but every time he takes a new contract, he has to apply for a new visa, and has to renew at the border (800 miles away) every year. The last time he entered, they turned him back twice based on minor (and I mean truly minor) clerical errors. We've been together 10 years now, and yet if we got married, rather than being a doorway into the U.S., it would be cause for him to be immediately deported, because the USCIS (formerly the INS) would interpret that as a sign that he intends to stay permanently rather than temporarily as TN status requires.

So...maybe I'm a little biased, and this is mostly anecdotal information, but it seems pretty broken to me.
but every time he takes a new contract, he has to apply for a new visa, and has to renew at the border (800 miles away) every year

I am actually surprised about that, I know when I lost my passport in Canada I had to go to the consulate general to get a temp to get back to the US. I dunno about Canada but as I understand about anything border services does also is doable at a consulate. A call to ask at the Canadian consulate nearest to your locale in the US may save you that long drive up to the border. Its worth a shot anyways.
No, TN status is granted by US immigration upon entry to the country, but only at a Class A Port of Entry (such as borders, airports, and some seaports - but they require you to depart the country, we've checked). Theoretically, he could fly (or sail, since we're near SF) to any other country and then re-enter, but if they turn him away for any reason, he's kinda screwed(*). He applied at the Buffalo border this time, so when he did get turned back, it was just few hours on a bus and train back to his folks' house. The Canadian consulate can't help at all.

(*) With the exception of flying back from Toronto, since U.S. customs and immigration is actually cleared in Canada before you fly to the U.S., so U.S. airports can treat incoming Canadian flights as domestic flights.
Sorry to reply again - I don't mean to spam up the thread, but I just wanted to clarify something since I wrote it badly:
- TN status must be renewed yearly. This can be done through the mail (for $150, three times the fee at the border).
- Adding a new job or contract can also be done through the mail provided the original job that he came over on is still ongoing.
- If his current job ends and he takes a new job or contract elsewhere, he has to leave and reapply from scratch.
- If his current job ends and he has no job to replace it, he has to leave the country in something like 30 days.
No problems, man. Glad to have your input.

I have a side question for you about computer music I'll send via PM.
I will change my position though after reading your reply (which I appreciate, I enjoy a good discussion) the problem is that policy has not adapted to the world economy. We have persons that want to go over to the US to utilize its placement as a strong currency to get more bang for their buck clogging the immigration process.

If the US allowed a program where citizens of Mexico were allowed to cross the border for daily work then people in the US would be all up in arms but at the same time it could clear up the issue of those that truly want to immigrate into the country because they wish to be an American citizen and those that merely want to use the immigration process as a way to work and bring wealth back to their families in Mexico.

The People of the US whoms attitude of viewing the worker whom merely wants to make a better life for his family abroad as being like a plague is the biggest cog in resolving the problem. Problem is that since people naturally focus on the negative they don't see the positive side where in Mexico a family is able to live more comfortably. The US tends to have blinders on when it comes to the concept of a world economy. It has an US and them view of the world, its sad and mabye in time it will change but I don't see that happening anytime soon.

I hope that soon your application will get its stamp of approval and you gain your US citizenship.
Thank you for the well-wishes. Actually I am waiting just for LPR status, aka "Green Card". I can apply for Citizenship 5 years after receiving my LPR status. That's still a ways out, then.

As for coming here to work and sending wages back: For skilled labor at least, that is what policymakers in the US appear to prefer. The most common work visas for tech workers are the L-1B and H-1B. Both are temporary in nature: 3 years, can be renewed for another 3, then you have to go back home. On H-1B, you are allowed "dual intent", that is you can work on the temporary visa and apply for "adjustment of status", aka petition for LPR aka petition for Green Card, at the same time. While your LPR petition is pending, you can stay and work, either on EAD (Employment Authorization Document), which I do, or on a 7th-year extension of the H-1B (which can be extended for a 7th year again and again, until LPR status is either approved or denied). I don't think L-1B has that option, though there's a form of L visa for manager positions that has immigration options.

Transience is, as you can see, built right into the system. If, as a people, we would prefer that people do not live with one foot here and one foot back home, then why are work visas temporary in nature?

If we can get low-skilled workers out of the shadow market, then things work out for the US economy even if they do send money back, since they'll be paying taxes, but not taking advantage of a whole lot of services in that case.

If being legal encourages them to bring their family in instead, great, that means we have 2nd generation Americans coming up who see the "nose to grindstone" mentality from their parents who make do with less so their kids can get a better-skilled job.

I agree that there is a lot of fear around immigration. All the facts in the world won't dispel that fear. I'm not sure what to do here. "Meet the immigrant" maybe - put a face to the feared other, see that the other is just as human and has the same concerns and needs and wants, has a family like anybody else. That the other is no more and certainly no less an asshole than your 3rd or 4th generation neighbor: Who is now not seen as a child of immigrants any more, although of course the vast majority of Americans are children of immigrants of yore.

May good things follow you all your life.

January 2011



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