This week we deal with the realities of immigration: backlogs exist, and Democrats have struggled to pass meaningful federal immigration reform. However, there’s good news too. Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker — a Republican — publicly supports federal immigration reform. A study shows that accepting international students offers more financial benefits than previously thought. Finally, we look at some tasty immigrant contributions to pop culture, news, and food.
Immigration Backlogs Disrupt Lives: Ideas for Addressing Them
Waiting for a response to one’s legal permanent residency (green card), work visas, and other immigration processes can be stressful for immigrants, lawyers, and their advocates. Backlogs are a major reason that many immigrants and refugees put their lives on hold.
An estimated 2 million immigrants and visa applicants are waiting to hear back about their current application status. Wait times are impacted by several administrative factors, including too few immigration judges. But often immigrants applying for humanitarian green cards, visas, or work permits face longer wait times than those who have the means to hire an attorney to help them or to pay for premium processing.
For example, in 2022, applicants who filed Form I-129 (nonimmigrant worker) and Form I-140 (immigrant worker) and paid the $1,500–$2,500 fee for premium processing waited an average of just three weeks to hear back from USCIS. Whereas, people who filed Form I-918 (U-Visas for victims of certain crimes) waited an average of 57 weeks to hear if USCIS approved or denied their applications. Other immigrants must wait up to four years to hear back.
Curiously, immigrants with higher incomes and in less dire situations are able to get answers faster. Refugees and asylum-seekers often wait longer even though they have greater need for status and face more danger should they return to their countries
Hiring more immigration judges is key to decreasing pressure on the country’s immigration system. But it’s only one part of the solution to a multi-faceted problem. Experts suggest that the Biden Administration should take extra steps to deal with the immigration backlog so that both immigrants and judges can benefit from a more streamlined process.
Delays in our immigration system cause immigrants to live in legal limbo. Dealing more effectively with the current USCIS backlog would help immigrants find economic and social stability, live fuller lives, and make informed decisions about their future.
Analysis: Democrats Struggle To Obtain Votes Needed To Pass Immigration Reform in 2023
Immigrants and refugees not only face backlogs and short-staffed immigration courts, but they must also work with requirements from outdated immigration laws. The last major immigration reform passed in 1986 under President Ronald Reagan.
Congress has passed limited immigration reform laws in the years since. In 2000, for example, the U Visa program was created through the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act for victims of certain crimes who aided authorities during the prosecution process.
But since Congress has long faced extensive challenges to passing immigration reform, Democratic presidents have been using executive orders as a workaround. The ever-precarious Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program began by an executive order from President Barack Obama.
In 2021, Rep. Zoe Lofgren introduced the Farm Workforce Authorization Act, which would provide legal status to undocumented farmworkers if passed. The bill is currently sitting in the Senate and hasn’t been voted on. Democratic senators are also pushing for a way to help people with DACA adjust their status, such as proposing a version of the DREAM Act or adding the DREAM Act to an existing bill.
One major challenge? Democratic senators need the help of 10 Republican senators in order to pass a Senate bill that can then be sent to the House of Representatives before the end of this year’s congressional term.
Massachusetts Governor Baker Supports Immigration Reform
On election week, Massachusetts voters approved a bill allowing undocumented immigrants to continue to get driver’s licenses. This week, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, who is a Republican, called on the federal government to act now to help immigrants work and live in the United States.
Specifically, he suggested that the Biden administration should find a way to let asylum-seekers legally work in the country while they wait to hear back about their filing status. Gov. Baker also urged the federal government to pass “legitimate immigration reform” to help undocumented immigrants and refugees adjust their status. He also assured viewers that his state would “never turn away migrants.”
Accepting International Students Provides More of an Economic Boost Than We Thought
Unlike their peers, international students must keep tabs on visa issues along with choosing next semester’s classes. Like others awaiting visa applications and dealing with the U.S. immigration system, backlogs also affect international university students who came to the U.S. to pursue an education.
Most people take for granted that diverse cultural experiences are enriching for students academically. But economists have also found that international students benefit the U.S. economy. This is because international students:
- Tend to start successful businesses in the U.S.
- Tend to work in the technology sector
- Subsidize education costs — through their tuition payments — for their U.S.-based peers
Also, the knowledge international students gain from living in the U.S. for even a short period improves economies in the countries where they conduct business, as well as the U.S.
According to experts, this is because international students also bond well with their classmates, maintain connections to the schools where they studied, and deeply engage in U.S. culture while here.
This Week in Pop Culture
- With Thanksgiving and other food-centered holidays coming up, there’s no better time to explore how immigrant cuisines have shaped food in the U.S.? From Irish soda bread to Mexican picadillo, each of these dishes carries a different taste and story.
- For those who need to de-stress during the holidays, yoga can be a comforting and relaxing practice. Writer Rina Deshpande shares how her parents taught her yoga since she was a child and how it helped her deal with anxiety.
- First-generation bicultural children often deal with culture clashes and a lack of representation in literature, film, and television. Artist Dabin Han wrote and illustrated a comic about how reading books by Korean-American authors helped her come to terms with her identity.