On Monday, the US Supreme Court ruled that if a child turns 21 years old, or “ages out,” while his or her parent(s) has a pending application for a US visa, they will have to go to the back of the line, so to speak, and start the process all over again–thus making the process of legally coming to the U.S. much more difficult.
KPBS in San Diego quoted the Associated Press‘ example of a case involving Rosalina Cuellar de Osorio, a Salvadoran immigrant who was in the “line” where so many people believe illegal immigrants should stand for a visa, along with her 13-year-old son. “But after more than eight years of waiting, her son turned 21 and government officials said he no longer qualified as an eligible child,” the report said. “He was placed at the back of the line, resulting in a wait of several more years.”
Justice Sonia Sotomayor argued in her dissenting opinion with regards to the Child Status Protection Act: “Aged-out children may retain their priority dates so long as they meet a single condition–they must be ‘determined … to be 21 years of age or older for purposes of’ derivative beneficiary status.’ Because all five categories of aged-out children satisfy this condition, all are entitled to relief.” However, the majority of the court sided with the Obama administration’s opinion regarding the aging out of children in the visa application process.
Cuellar de Osorio is not the only immigrant who is trying to follow the rules and running up against this extensive bureaucratic red tape. As a report in the Washington Post explained in January 2013, there isn’t just one line to wait in. The processing time for a visa application can vary wildly and depends on the home country of the applicant and the type of visa being requested: “For those applying for work visas because of their “extraordinary ability,” including high-ranking professors and international business executives, there is virtually no wait time. By contrast, a brother or sister of a US citizen from the Philippines applying for a family-sponsored visas may have been waiting 24 years, as those visas have been oversubscribed, according to the State Department’s latest figures.”
The average wait time for a Mexican national applying for a visa can vary from no time at all to twenty years. For example, if you’re a Mexican professional with an advanced college degree, you can get a visa very quickly. If you’re a Mexican skilled worker with a specialty that requires at least two years of training, the wait is roughly six years. But if you have a US citizen sibling, the wait is, on average, 17 years, and up to twenty years if you are the child of a US citizen born in Mexico.
This begs the question, why would someone from Mexico or Central America want to wait in line for so many years to say they followed the rules when it is becoming increasingly easy to emigrate to the US illegally? It is much easier to obtain a non-immigrant visa, enter the US legally, and just stay past the expiration date of the visa. According to a September 2013 Pew Research Center report, “The vast majority of unauthorized immigrants entered the country without valid documents or arrived with valid visas but stayed past their visa expiration date or otherwise violated the terms of their admission.”
Even though federal government officials have said repeatedly that unaccompanied alien children, or UACs, will still go through deportation proceedings, the reality on the ground is that they and adult immigrants from countries other than Mexico (OTMs) are being released on the basis of “credible fear claims,” and only being told to appear before an ICE official within 15 days. Chris Cabrera, a leader of the south Texas chapter of the National Border Patrol Council, told CNN, “I’d say between 95 and 97% of adults or youths don’t show up for court.”
With the legal process for coming to the United States so incredibly backlogged and inefficient, and currently the illegal method for crossing the border and being released hampered only by the dangerous–and expensive–physical journey to the border, it is easy to see why tens of thousands of immigrants choose the illegal route over “waiting in line like everyone else.”
Sylvia Longmire is a border security expert and Contributing Editor for Breitbart Texas. You can read more about the evolution of cross-border migration in her new book, Border Insecurity: Why Big Money, Fences, and Drones Aren’t Making Us Safer.