Legal Immigrants: Waiting Forever

by Don Boudreaux on May 23, 2006

in Immigration

Stuart Anderson of the National Foundation for American Policy just published this important study co-authored with David Miller.  Its title speaks volumes: "Legal Immigrants: Waiting Forever."  Here’s the introduction to the Executive Summary:

Why don’t people wait to immigrate legally to the United States?  The answer is that many people do come here legally but processing delays and the family and employment-based immigration quotas legislated by Congress result in significant wait times — and much frustration — for potential immigrants and U.S. employers.

This detailed review of immigration statistics from the U.S. Department of State, Department of Homeland Security, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services reveals that those who "play by the rules" are likely to wait many years to become a lawful permanent resident, whether they are sponsored by an employer or a family member.  Moreover, those seeking to become citizens must also endure long processing delays in the quest for naturalization.

What kind of rules result in U.S. citizens having to wait, on average, between 11 and 12 years before their siblings can immigrate to America?  (This wait time is 22 years for citizens with siblings seeking to immigrate from the Philippines.)  What kind of rules result in U.S. citizens having to suffer a wait time of, on average, six years before their unmarried adult children can immigrate to America?  (For U.S. citizens with such children in Mexico the wait time is 13 years!)

Talking about "illegal" immigrants "cutting in line" and "not waiting their turn" and "not playing by the rules" makes it seem as if those who come to America without Uncle Sam’s formal stamp of approval are selfish, irresponsible, anti-social, impatient, unfair cheats.  But rule-breakers hurt society only when the rules they break are ones that help society when these rules are followed.  It’s not at all clear to me that the existing rules that limit immigration are helpful; they are, indeed, much more likely to be simply a species of economic protectionism, buoyed by ugly nativism — rules that create and protect rents — rules that are anti-social in the deepest sense. 


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