America’s immigration system: how can it be fixed?


Olivia Trone, Copy Editor/Bilingual Editor

It is no secret that being an immigrant in the United States is not easy. The Citizenship and Immigration Services Department is a branch of the government that some, whether they are immigrants or not, see as broken and dysfunctional. Not only has immigration always been difficult, but the stigma around it has increased in recent years. The Trump Administration often spewed anti-immigration comments and policies, and the most concerning part was the uproar of support from the Republican party. 

In terms of real immigration reform, most administrations of the past few decades have instated short-term, band-aid solutions. For example, during Democrat President Barack Obama’s time, he signed an executive order called the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy to allow for undocumented immigrants who entered the US as children to apply for renewable two-year periods of avoidance from deporation. While this plan was beneficial in the moment, it did not aid in the long-term path of citizenship for the undocumented immigrants involved. 

After Obama’s administration, Republican President Donald Trump took over. Shortly after the election, Trump announced his plans to end DACA. In fact, he terminated DACA in 2017 and then proceeded to instate countless other administrative policies that changed the fabric of the immigration system. One of the most notable – and upsetting – changes Trump tried to make was his plan to build a wall between the Mexican-American border. His presidential campaign platform was largely based on the idea of a cost-efficient retaining wall. However, “cost-efficient” may have been a figure of speech, considering the administration spent upwards of $15 billion in taxpayer dollars. It is ironic that Trump, who preached lowering taxes and increasing economic efficiency, spent almost double what he claimed the wall would cost. 

Lots of Americans like to say, “I have no problem with immigrants, as long as they are here legally,” when they do not understand how grueling the process of legality is. 

Obtaining a Green Card and, subsequently, US citizenship is an incredibly lengthy and expensive process. Before even considering a Green Card, immigrants have to attempt to cross the border from their country (or multiple countries) into the US. What non-immigrant people do not see is that choosing to cross any border is not some small decision; it is a very dangerous and often traumatic undertaking. However, some immigrants are able to successfully cross the border. 

Once they do so, they must decide if they want to lay low as undocumented or apply for a Green Card. A Green Card is not citizenship, but it indicates permanent residency and allows holders to work. People who wish to become US citizens have to live in the country for five consecutive years as a Green Card holder (three years if married to a citizen) before they can apply for citizenship. First, they have their eligibility determined, and they pass only if they meet a very specific and unfair set of criteria. After having their eligibility determined, they apply for naturalization, complete a biometrics screening, complete an interview and take the civics and English tests, assuming they passed all other checkpoints. Not only is this process difficult, but it is expensive and can take years to complete. 

The process of reforming the immigration system within our country is something that has more to it than just one simple change. However, there are ways we can start to tackle immigration by making it easier to enter this country legally. Immigrants are entitled to the full benefits citizens get, and the process to get there should be less expensive, more equitable and take less time. The US government should allocate money for free – or, at the very least, lower-cost – immigration lawyers for people entering the country. Programs like DACA with more comprehensive and long-term benefits, such as affordable citizenship, need to be developed in the coming years if America wants to address its immigration uptick. 

The flow of immigrants from struggling countries may never change, but our response to them could. People who decide to flee their homes never leave without a good reason to do so; and it is America’s responsibility to provide asylum for those who need it.