The Realities of US Immigration and the Need for Reform

Explore these other links to understand more about immigration issues


Immigration: Need for Reform

Proponents of cracking down on illegal immigration often cite that they are not against immigration, they just want them to immigrate legally.  But how feasible is it for people needing to escape horrible conditions to support themselves and their families to legally immigrate to the US?

Realities of US Immigration

  • There are 4 ways to legally immigrate to the US
    • Family-Based Immigration

      • Sponsored a family member such as a parent, a spouse or a sibling who has permanent status in the United States.
    • Employment-Based Immigration

      • US employers can sponsor highly skilled employees for temporary or permanent work visas

    • Refugee Asylum
      • They can enter the country as refugees fleeing violence, hardship and persecution or seek asylum on those same grounds.
    • The Diversity Visa Program
      • The Diversity Visa lottery was created by the Immigration Act of 1990 as a dedicated channel for immigrants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Each year 5o,000 visas are allocated by lottery to nationals from countries that have sent less than 50,000 immigrants to the United States in the previous 5 years.  If you don’t have an employer or family member sponsoring you and you’re not recognize officially recognized as a refugee then this is the only path to legally immigrate to the US.


  • There are a lot of barriers to prevent people from qualifying for legal immigration status
    • Cost
      • The application fee in 2014 to apply for immigration status is $465.  For employee sponsored work visas it can cost up to $6000 in fees.  And many petitioners require legal fees that could cost $1000s more.  Additional costs can include medical exams, required vaccinations, fingerprinting, transportation, etc.  Often it can cost $1000s to legally immigrate to the US.  This eliminates poor people, who often need to the most, from legally immigrating to the US.
    • Backlog
      • many countries immigration applications are backlog for years to decades. Several countries have a 20+ wait time for applications to be reviewed, which many people living in very dire situations can’t wait that long.
      • According t0 CNN,
        “The four countries with the longest wait times for family- and employer-sponsored visa applications are Mexico, India, China and the Philippines. That’s because the limits on green cards are the same for large countries like Mexico as they are for small countries like Denmark. Each year, the United States grants 226,000 family-sponsored green cards. The limit for employer-sponsored permanent visas is 140,000. The law prescribes a per-country limit at 7% of the total… The U.S. government is only now (2014) considering Mexicans who were sponsored by siblings by June 1997”
    • Highly Skilled
      • Most of the employer-based visas are reserved for high-skilled workers. They are not an option for Mexicans or others looking for jobs in construction, landscaping and agriculture.
  • Due to these barriers many people and families living in extreme poverty or dangerous situations have no choice but to illegal immigrant.


Ten Myths About Immigration

by Teaching Tolerance


Most immigrants are here illegally.
With so much controversy around the issue of undocumented immigrants, it’s easy to overlook the fact that most of the foreign-born people living in the United States have followed the rules and have permission to be here. Of the more than 41 million foreign-born people living in the United States in 2013, about 30 million were naturalized citizens, permanent residents and legal residents. Eleven million were unauthorized immigrants. Of those who did not have authorization to be here, about 40 percent entered the country legally and then let their visas expire.

It’s just as easy to enter the country legally today as it was when my ancestors arrived.
For about the first 100 years, the United States had an “open immigration system that allowed any able-bodied immigrant in,” explains immigration historian David Reimers. The biggest obstacle would-be immigrants faced was getting here—some even resorted to selling themselves into indentured servitude to do so. Today, there are many rules about who may enter the country and stay legally. Under current policy, many  immigrant ancestors who arrived between 1790 and 1924 would not be allowed in today.

There’s a way to enter the country legally for anyone who wants to get in line.
Generally, gaining permission to live and work in the United States is limited to people who are (1) highly trained in a skill that is in short supply here and offered a job by a U.S. employer, (2) escaping political persecution, (3) joining close family already here, or (4) winners of the green-card lottery.

My ancestors learned English, but today’s immigrants refuse.
While today’s immigrants may speak their first language at home, one-half of those older than 5 speak English “very well” according to research by the independent, nonpartisan Migration Policy Institute. And the demand for adult ESL instruction in the United States far outstrips available classes.

Today’s immigrants don’t want to blend in and become “Americanized.”
 Nearly 655,000 people became naturalized citizens during the 2014 fiscal year. They had to overcome obstacles like getting here, finding a job, tackling language barriers, paying naturalization fees, dealing with a famously lethargic immigration bureaucracy and taking a written citizenship test. This is not the behavior of people who take becoming American lightly.

Immigrants take good jobs from Americans.
According to the Immigration Policy Center, a nonpartisan group, research indicates there is little connection between immigrant labor and unemployment rates of native-born workers. Here in the United States, two trends—better education and an aging population—have resulted in a decrease in the number of Americans willing or available to take low-paying jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, close to 26 million foreign-born people, or 17 percent of the country’s labor force, worked in the United States in 2014. These workers are more likely to be employed by the service industry, while native-born workers are more likely to hold jobs in management, professional, sales and office occupations.

To fill the void of low-skilled American workers, employers often hire immigrant workers. One of the consequences, unfortunately, is that it is easier for unscrupulous employers to exploit this labor source and pay immigrants less, not provide benefits and ignore worker-safety laws. On an economic level, Americans benefit from relatively low prices on food and other goods produced by undocumented immigrant labor.

Undocumented immigrants bring crime.
Nationally, from 1990 to 2010, the violent crime rate declined almost 45 percent and the property crime rate fell 42 percent, even as the number of undocumented immigrants more than tripled. According to the conservative Americas Majority Foundation, crime rates from 1999 to 2006 were lowest in states with the highest immigration growth rates. During that period, the total crime rate fell 14 percent in the 19 top immigration states, compared to only 7 percent in the other 31. Truth is, foreign-born people in America—whether they are naturalized citizens, permanent residents or undocumented—are incarcerated at a much lower rate than native-born Americans, according to the National Institute of Corrections.

Undocumented immigrants don’t pay taxes but still get benefits.
Undocumented immigrants pay taxes every time they buy gas, clothes or new appliances. They also contribute to property taxes—a main source of school funding—when they buy or rent a house, or rent an apartment. The U.S. Social Security Administration estimated that in 2013 undocumented immigrants—and their employers—paid $13 billion in payroll taxes alone for benefits they will never get. They can receive schooling and emergency medical care, but not welfare or food stamps.

The United States is being overrun by immigrants like never before.
As a percentage of the U.S. population, the historic high actually came in 1890, when the foreign-born constituted nearly 15 percent of the population. By 2012, about 13 percent of the population was foreign-born. At the start of the recession in 2008, the number of undocumented immigrants coming into the country actually dropped, and in more recent years, that number is stabilizing with little change.

Many people also accuse immigrants of having “anchor babies”—children who allow the whole family to stay. According to the U.S. Constitution, a child born on U.S. soil is automatically an American citizen. That is true. But immigration judges will not keep immigrant parents in the United States just because their children are U.S. citizens. In 2013, the federal government deported about 72, 410 foreign-born parents whose children had been born here. These children must wait until they are 21 before they can petition to allow their parents to join them in the United States. That process is long and difficult. In reality, there is no such thing as an “anchor baby.”

Anyone who enters the country illegally is a criminal.
Only very serious misbehavior is generally considered “criminal” in our legal system. Violations of less serious laws are usually “civil” matters and are tried in civil courts. People accused of crimes are tried in criminal courts and can be imprisoned. Federal immigration law says that unlawful presence in the country is a civil offense and is, therefore, not a crime. The punishment is deportation. However, some states—like Arizona—have criminalized an immigrant’s mere presence.


Illegal Immigrant Benefits to US

There are roughly 11 million undocumented immigrants that pay roughly 12 billion dollars in taxes every year.

According to Politifact,

“A 2016 study by the Institute on Taxation & Economic Policy, a left-leaning research organization, estimated that undocumented immigrants pay $11.64 billion in state and local taxes in 2013, equivalent to about 8 percent of their total income.

This includes sales and excise taxes on goods and services ($6.9 billion), property taxes ($3.6 billion) and personal income taxes ($1.1 billion, assuming a 50 percent compliance rate).

The Heritage Foundation (a right-leaning research organization) came up with a similar result in a 2013 report. It found that the average undocumented immigrant household paid $10,334 in taxes. About half of these 3.4 million households do not pay any taxes.

Using Heritage’s analysis, that would translate to about $17.6 billion paid in taxes.”

According to USA News

“Undocumented immigrants’ nationwide average effective tax rate is an estimated 8 percent,” the report said. “To put this in perspective, the top 1 percent of taxpayers pay an average nationwide effective tax rate of just 5.4 percent.”

Learn More

US NEWS: Undocumented’ Immigrants Pay Billions in Taxes

Politifact:  How much do undocumented immigrants pay in taxes?

CNN: Waits for immigration status — the legal way — can be long and frustrating

Bloomberg: Coming to America? It’s Going to Cost You

How to Immigrate Into the United States Permanently


Follow Campaign

Reform Immigration for America

Immigrant Defense Project

International Refugee Assistant Project


National Network for Immigration and Refugee Rights

American Immigration Council