… But every day, millions of people contend with the U.S.’ legal immigration system. Many have been living and working in America for years, stuck in residency limbo as they contend with an alphabet soup of visas and green cards and a system congested with red tape and long wait times.
An immigrant [from India] who applies for a green card today can expect to wait in line for 50 years.
— NPR,Get In Line:What It Takes To Legally Immigrate To The United States
1A, 25 January 2020
The half-century queue for permanent legal status is, of course, the direct result of the predictable, runaway overwhelming of an insanely restrictive system of immigration caps and national quotas. In the early 1920s, the U.S. created a madly restrictive system of immigration limits organized around a nativist and racist system of national-origins quotas. This was widely understood to have been a mistake by 1965 — so in order to fix the system, they kept the insanely low caps on the total levels of authorized immigration, but they (thankfully finally) permitted
Asiatic nations like India and China finally to claim their shares; then they also (for the first time) imposed the same system of insanely restrictive caps on Mexico and the rest of Latin America. Then, just to make things fair, they reallocated the national quotas so that every country, from Liechenstein to Honduras to the entire Republic of India, gets an equal sliver of the total. The completely predictable result has been that high-emigration countries have been accumulating runaway backlogs of applications. In theory there is a queue; in practice, the queue has become so mind-breakingly long that many 25 year olds seeking legal status now cannot reasonably expect to ever get a shot at naturalization unless they survive years beyond the average human life expectancy.
There is some discussion in the show about proposed ways to
fix the system; mostly in the form of debates about how to reallocate the shares of the insanely low limit on total immigration so that countries with more demand for permanent-residency visas can get access to more permanent-residency visas per year. But the problem is not the allocation of shares among different nationalities of immigrants. The problem is that immigration is deliberately kept to a minuscule level that is wildly, completely out of touch with the realities of global migration, the number of people who are looking to come to the U.S. and with the level of demand and number of opportunities for immigrant workers, students and families within the U.S. The solution is not to reallocate the quotas again, according to some other rule, but to get rid of the caps and quotas entirely. There is no good or sensible way to triage something that people can and ought to have by right. There’s no fair method for rationing access to something that shouldn’t even be scarce in the first place.
- 1921: The national-origins system was debuted in the Emergency Quota Act; 1924: The system was regularized and made even more restrictive under the Immigration Act of 1924. The idea behind the act was, explicitly, to reduce the rate of demographic change in the U.S. and to keep
undesirablesout of the country, notably Asians and Jewish refugees from Eastern Europe and the Weimar Republic.↩
- Nearly all immigrants from every Asian country had been barred entirely under a pair of racist provisions of the old system — one of them forbidding immigration from China or from anywhere in the
Asiatic Barred Zone, and another forbidding immigration by any alien
ineligible to citizenship, which under the racial prerequisites embedded in U.S. Naturalization laws amounted to forbidding Asians on racial grounds.↩
- Immigrants from Western Hemisphere countries used to be
non-quotaimmigrants under the old system. Although they were subjected to a number of other costs and restrictions, which allowed for frequent large-scale harassment, round-ups, and deportations during times of anti-immigrant backlash, they were not subject to any hard cap on numbers, in the way that Eastern Hemisphere countries were, until after the 1965