The Path to Citizenship: A Dreamer Case Scenario

As the DACA debate intensifies there is one constant and misleading accusation being made against the Dreamers. Some assume that the Dreamers are either too lazy or refuse to immigrate “the right way”. This argument assumes that the immigration process is reasonable and a process that considers today’s realities. Let’s look at what a hypothetical Dreamer would have to do to get on the pathway to citizenship under the rules in place today.

Let’s assume that “Juan” is a Mexican citizen who was brought to the country at the age of 6. “Juan” is 23 years-old today. He holds a bachelor’s degree in science which was made possible because of DACA. To be clear, DACA allowed him to come out of the shadows and go to school, it did not provide financial assistance to him. “Juan” was recently hired by a major retail store as the store’s General Manager in the technology department. Although the job requires an associate’s degree, Juan did not have the one-year job experience in “managing and reviewing operational expenses and revenues,” but his higher education gave him the opportunity at the job. “Juan” is bilingual and because of the DACA requirements does not have a felony record nor any major misdemeanors on his criminal record. “Juan” is making about $50,000 a year at his job, and is paying taxes, including Social Security and Medicare.

“Juan” is about to renew his two-year DACA permit. But he has a thought – let me do this “the right way.”

There is only one pathway towards citizenship, the so-called “green card”.

After holding a “green card” for five-years, “Juan” can apply to become a U.S. citizen. If “Juan” gets the “green card” he has every right and responsibility as a U.S. citizen. He can work and live in the country and he must pay taxes. However, as a “green card” holder, “Juan” cannot vote and if he commits a crime he will likely be deported.

But, “Juan” first needs to be approved for a “green card.”

To apply for a “green card,” officially known as the Permanent Resident Card, “Juan” must first determine under what “Eligibility Category” he qualifies under. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services website tells “Juan” that he can apply for a “green card” under eight categories.

They are:

  • Green Card through Family
  • Green Card through Employment
  • Green Card as a Special Immigrant
  • Green Card through Refugee or Asylee Status
  • Green Card for Human Trafficking and Crime Victims
  • Green Card for Victims of Abuse
  • Green Card through Other Categories
  • Green Card through Registry

“Juan” is the oldest of his siblings. Although two of his siblings are U.S. citizens by birth, his closest sibling is currently attending college. Although at 21 his sibling can “sponsor” Juan, the sibling is unable to do so because he does not meet the income requirements to “sponsor” “Juan”. He does not have a job because he is attending college. “Juan’s” parents are undocumented and thus they cannot sponsor their son. Even if “Juan’s” sibling dropped out of school, got a job and sponsored “Juan” to become an immigrant, “Juan” would still need to wait years to complete the process. We’ll explore this after we review the other categories “Juan” could use.

“Juan” considers his second option via his employment as a general manager for a national retailer. Under the category of employment, “Juan” must “have extraordinary ability in sciences, arts, education, business or athletics.” This category also has a section for a “professional” that holds “at least a U.S. bachelor’s degree,” which “Juan” holds. This requirement puts “Juan” in the “EB-2” category. Under the “EB-2” category, “Juan” must convince his current employer to file an I-140 petition for a foreign worker. The retailer pays a modest $700 filing fee but it cannot do so until it files a Department of Labor certification attesting for the need for a foreign worker. In other words, the national retailer has to offer the job to a U.S. citizen first. If none are available to take the job, then the retailer can certify this fat and request a slot for “Juan”. As “Juan’s” current retailer is unlikely to go through this arduous process, “Juan” decides to look at his other options.

“Juan” knows that he does not qualify under the “Special Immigrant,” “Refugee or Asylee,” “Human Trafficking and Crime Victims,” or the “Victims of Abuse” categories. He is none of those.

The “Green Card through Registry” is a category for those immigrants who have continuously lived in the United States since before January 1, 1972. “Juan” was born in 1994.

Under the category of “Green Card through Other Categories” there are ten sub-categories. These are for Cubans, Haitians, Vietnamese, Cambodians or citizens of Laos. There is also a subcategory for Canadian Native Americans and diplomats and children of diplomats. The only sub-category and the only option “Juan” has is to apply under the “diversity Immigrant Visa Program”.

The diversity program limits immigrants to 50,000 annually. Basically, the diversity program randomly selects 50,000 applicants and moves them up to the front of the line. To be eligible, “Juan” would need to be outside of the U.S., although there are some exceptions, and must be processing his “green card”.

So why doesn’t “Juan” start the green card process?

As we saw earlier, “Juan’s” only route is through his younger sibling. The familial process uses complicated formulas based on familial connections to U.S. citizens and the number of allocated visa slots. In the case of “Juan,” he would qualify under the F4 designation, because he is the brother of a U.S. citizen.

For “Juan” to become a documented immigrant this year via his sibling, his sibling must have submitted the application on September 15, 1997. That’s how long the waiting list is for “Juan’s” attempt at a Green Card.

Currently for Mexican citizens who have at least one U.S. citizen parent, or siblings, it takes about 20 years from the time the U.S. citizen files the “sponsor” request and the time “Juan” can enter the country as a legal immigrant. Even if “Juan” were willing to wait 20 years, he must put his life on hold. “Juan” cannot marry a foreign individual or have a child because then “Juan” would have to make the difficult decision of leaving his loved ones behind to come to the U.S. without them.

Even allowing for “Juan” to leave his loved ones behind, the soonest that he can sponsor them would be seven years after he enters the U.S. “Juan” needs to live in the U.S. for five years before he qualifies for the “permanent green card” that allows him to sponsor his minor children and spouse. Then, depending on their nationality, there is a two-year wait.

“Juan” would have no problem qualifying under any of the categories because of his education, ability to be gainfully employed and lack of criminal record. The problem for “Juan” is the system that puts him on a twenty-year hiatus before he can enter the country “the right way”.

There is a way for “Juan” to jump to the front of the line and become “documented”.

“Juan” has been dating a U.S. citizen since college. She seems like the right girl, but “Juan” is not yet ready to propose marriage to her. If “Juan” decides to make immigration the basis of his marriage decision, he could marry his girlfriend and become “legal” through his now wife.

Other than that, “Juan” must choose between fraudulently getting married, renewing his two-year DACA status and hope for the best, or leave the country and begin the 20-year process.

What would you do under those circumstances?

Note: This scenario is based on the most current information available at the Department of State and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services informational websites.

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