by Allison Arnold
Immigration is a pressing issue today as it fills our news feeds and dominates political commentary. Immigration law is extremely complex, which makes it challenging to engage in discourse without knowing the facts. Much of the rhetoric we’re exposed to in conversation and politics isn’t always representative of the truth, in regards to how immigration really works. Being equipped with the right information will not only aid you in making sound political decisions, but over time, will help change the narrative.
We spoke with Meghan E. Moore, co-founder and attorney at Avanti Law who is passionate about immigration law, to debunk some common misconceptions about immigration.
1.Immigration law hasn’t changed since the 1990s. In 1996, President Clinton signed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA or IIRAIRA), which led to the immigration system we see today. Many argue that this bill has led to increased deportations and has made the path to citizenship more difficult for many people. According to Moore, it makes it impossible in some scenarios for immigrants to become U.S. citizens even if they’re married to a U.S. citizen.
2.Marrying a U.S. citizen is not a direct route to becoming a U.S. citizen, according to Moore. “Some people just have no route forward, even if you’re married to a U.S. citizen, even if their child has a disability, it doesn’t matter,” Moore explained. Under the law, if someone enters the U.S. unlawfully twice, there is no route for them to become a citizen unless they leave the country for ten years. Consider Moore’s example of a woman who came to the U.S. unlawfully because her family is poor. Let’s say that after a few years, she marries a U.S. citizen and has children. Now, let’s say she goes back to her home country because her mom is ill. When she returns to the U.S., she will have entered the country unlawfully. Even though she has no criminal record, because she entered the U.S. unlawfully twice, she would have no route to citizenship unless she moved out of the country for ten years with or without her family. According to Moore, many families are dealing with issues such as these. Even if she had only entered the U.S. unlawfully once, the process of becoming a citizen would take two to four years and $10,000.
3.Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) isn’t a pathway for people to become citizens. “There is no pathway right now for them to have residency or citizenship just by virtue of having DACA,” Moore said.
4.Having a child that is a U.S. citizen is not a path to citizenship for an undocumented immigrant unless they have a spouse or parent who is a U.S. citizen or resident.
5.A majority of people are coming to the U.S. to escape violence in their home country. “What I have seen throughout my practice and especially when I was just down at the border is that they are running from death,” Moore expressed. “I mean there’s no way around it.”
6.Everyone at the border seeking asylum is doing it the legal way. “The only way that you can apply for asylum in the United States is either at the border, where these people are lined up to do it or when you’re already inside,” Moore said.
7.For asylum seekers, the conditions at the border can be almost as dangerous as the country from which they came. They wait in line, write their name in a book and are given a number. They spend about ten weeks living on the streets, often in extremely dangerous border towns. “And to them, that’s a safer place than where they’re coming from,” Moore explained. When they’re able to present their asylum case, if they are accepted, they are detained in cells that they call, “hieleras.” They then wait for an asylum officer to decide whether or not they have a credible fear of returning to their home country. If so, they can file an asylum case, which often takes months.
8.While waiting for their asylum case, they are either detained or sent back to live on the streets of Mexico. Some people are offered a bond to enter the U.S. while waiting, but it costs thousands of dollars.
9.People who are detained at the border aren’t living in great conditions. “I talked to people who were in those hieleras,” Moore said. “There are days that they didn’t eat. They’re in U.S. custody and did not eat. I talked to a guy who was able to give his story to an asylum officer, and then they sent him back to back to Mexico to wait for his court date, and he was there for four days and didn’t eat one time.”
10.The people who are at the border requesting asylum are not exclusivly from Central and South America. While recently doing triage at the border in Tijuana, Moore says she talked to people from Eritrea, New Guinea, Cambodia, Russia, Turkey, Ethiopia and Haiti.