Chasing the American dream: The complicated, confusing and expensive path to citizenship |

Chasing the American dream: The complicated, confusing and expensive path to citizenship

Sheila Henderson, Executive Directorof Integrated Community, stays busy advising and helping immigrents who have been brought to this country as children with DACA applications and other related issues. The recent announcement that DACA will be phased out by the Trump adminastration left Henerson frustrated, but she is hoping that Congress can come up with a more permanent plan that will help the young people who come to her offices seeking help.

The questions that surround the planned end of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program may be the latest breaking point for immigration in the United States, but it's not the first.

"The bottom line is that they only go for DACA if they have no other way to get status," said Shelia Henderson, Executive Director of Integrated Community in Steamboat Springs. "If you come on a visa your children get no documentation, and when your visa ends you leave. Very few visas turn into permanent residency. Permanent residency is also what people refer to as a green card. There is conditional permanent residency.

Immigration lawyer Elizabeth Wittemyer said the path to citizenship, or even permanent residency, is complicated, expensive and confusing. But the process of immigration not only impacts the people who hope to come to the U.S. but the entire American economy.

"Everybody has a lot of blame here," she said. "Every single president, doesn't matter Republican or Democrat, and Congress should be ashamed of themselves. They have not done their job in fixing the system that forms our economy and has a huge impact on our economy. It has a huge and personal impact on people."

The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that in 2016 there were 42 million foreign-born people living in the U.S., which has a population of around 319 million. Of the number of immigrants, 18 million are naturalized citizens, 13 million are legal non-citizens and roughly 11 million are people are considered to be here illegally. The National Conference of State Legislatures is a bipartisan, non-governmental organization established in 1975 to serve the members and staff of state legislatures of the United States.

"There are two basic ways to immigrate to the country," Wittemyer said. "Then there are a series of other ways to come to this country in non-immigrant visas. "

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Non-immigrant visas, which don't allow the holder to stay permanently, tend to be work visas that only allow the holder to come to the U.S. for a period of time to do what that visa allows them to do.

The two paths to permanent residency and possible citizenship include an employment-based immigrant visa, which allows highly skilled workers to come to the United States and can eventually lead to citizenship, and a family-based Immigrant visa, which allows people with immediate relationships — parents, spouses, children, and for now, brothers and sisters—to gain entry into the U.S. The National Conference of State Legislatures also reported that in 2013, 649,763 people were granted visas for family-based immigration and 161,110 were granted employment-based visas.  Another 119,630 were granted visa s as refugees and those looking for political asylum.

The employment-based immigrant visa starts with the initial application and, for those who want to stay in the country, opens the possibly of a permanent stay. There is an application process and then immigrants go through a second process known as adjustment of Status.

"It's an employment based visa for skilled workers," she said. "The employers must go through a Department of Labor certification process, and prove that no American workers are being displaced. It's a long, expensive and very involved process that requires the employer to post the job trade publications and prove to the Department of Labor that there are no available American workers to fill the position. The employer can't tailor the job to the foreign worker."

The other option for people looking to immigrate to the United States is family-based.

"The most common way is people who marry citizens, children of citizens, and parents of citizens," Wittemyer said. "People naturalize this way because those wait lists, if there are any at all, they are much shorter."

The process of applying for a citizenship is similar to employment-based visas in that it is a two-step process — however, if both the husband (who might be her on a non-immigrant visa) are in the U.S. those two steps can be done together.

If the immigrants has come to the U.S. illegally or overstayed a visa (the majority of immigrant in American came her legally and overstayed) the process becomes much more complicated, expensive and difficult. It requires a waiver process that requires legal representation, and leaves many people stuck.

"The main reason people immigrate to this country is family," Wittemyer said. "There are a lot of the myths about employers bringing in cheap labor and that kind of stuff that is just not the case. Employers have to pay a lot of money, and the burden is on the employer to pay for this whole process and it's incredibly expense for them to bring workers over, and they have to show that they just can't find those workers available here."

To reach John F. Russell, call 970-871-4209, email or follow him on Twitter @Framp1966

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