Posted by Brad @ 3:52 pm on January 30th 2013

Illegal Immigration is Not the Problem. Legal Immigration is.

One of the canards in the immigration debate that annoys me most is the “why can’t they just come here legally?!” thing, intended to imply that immigrants are proactively choosing to enter illegally when the legal route is perfectly available to them.

I think what most people are virtually unaware of (not that most of them care) is just how damn hard it really is to get into America legally. For most illegal immigrants, it is effectively impossible. Just to start with Mexicans (which is what most people who dispatch the talking point are talking about):

Granted, Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney have different ideas of how the “line” would work. The president doesn’t seem inclined to force unauthorized immigrants to leave the country before applying for legal status. Mr. Romney thinks it would be nice if they somehow “self deported,” then lined up back home for legal re-entry to America. In the end, the distinction is meaningless — because there is no line, not even a relevant visa category, for millions of immigrants.

Here’s why. A large majority of the 11 million illegal immigrants are unskilled or low-skilled Mexicans. Many of them have no relatives over age 18 who are either U.S. citizens or permanent residents in possession of green cards.

That makes them ineligible for any realistic visa category. They are barred in most cases from employment-based visas, which favor skilled and well-educated applicants, and from family-based visas, which require applicants to have spouses, parents or siblings who are U.S. citizens or hold green cards. (Even the “line” for those visas often takes 15 to 20 years or more.) There is simply no immigrant visa category for which most unskilled Mexicans qualify and no realistic prospect they could be legally admitted to the United States.

But really, it applies to every category of legal immigration.

What’s the route to becoming a legal citizen?

Reason re-runs this terrific flow chart.

To many, “immigration reform” has to start with border security.

To me, “immigration reform” has to start with adding 2-5 million visas a year and massively streamlining the legal immigration process.


  1. Very well said. This is one of my biggest complaints too. We have a dreadful process for people who want to be American citizens. It’s predicated upon the country you come from with quotas and other crap that stands in the way of people we should be welcoming into our country with open arms.

    I’ve railed against this a few different times before.

    Comment by Cameron — 1/31/2013 @ 11:25 pm

  2. So I bring this up every time the immigration debate comes up, and am always annoyed the seemingly nobody else does.

    This time, weirdly, it’s quickly become a mainstream facet of the issue.

    That is really, really nice to see. That David Brooks column in particular is masterful, and needs to be the STARTING point for every single immigration debate.

    Comment by Brad — 2/1/2013 @ 1:22 pm

  3. Thanks for that Reason link, I have the bookmarked for easy recall the next time I get into an immigration discussion. That flow chart is awesome.

    Comment by Jack — 2/1/2013 @ 5:40 pm

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