Immigration 101: The Truth About the System

All over the world, people are talking about immigration. In Africa and Europe, we are currently experiencing the largest global refugee crisis since the Holocaust. With the circulation of new people, new ideas and new beliefs, there can be a lot of fear which turns into a lot of hate. For example, immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers can be met with negative stereotypes and discrimination as they try to create a new life for themselves.

Many of us are privileged enough to not have to interact with the immigration system often. ICE raids and threats of deportation are not a constant strain on our lives. With privilege often comes ignorance, because we don’t have to think or care about something, we don’t take the time to do research. With the news and social media swirling with speculation on who immigrants are and who they can be, here’s the rundown on the current immigration situation in the United States.

Myth: Refugees and Asylum Seekers are the same

In the United States, many of the migrants at the Southern border are asylum seekers. According to Amnesty International, the main difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker is an evaluation of their claim. ANYONE who is escaping violence and persecution and seeking international protections can be an asylum seeker. Seeking asylum is a HUMAN RIGHT. In order to seek asylum, one must simply cross the border into another country to make a claim of asylum. While their claims are being processed, they are legally allowed to remain in that nation. If their request is approved, they become a refugee.

Refugees are protected by the nation they have fled to and are able to live, work and pursue an education in that country. Refugees go through a resettlement process and they are often given opportunities to become citizens of that country.

The transition from asylum seeker to a refugee can be lengthy. A person can spend months if not YEARS waiting for their claim to be processed or evaluated. For a glimpse into this system, check out this podcast by NPR’s This American Life.

Myth:  Immigrants are coming to our country ILLEGALLY

The United States only has two federal laws regarding immigration. Those laws are U.S. Code 1325 and 1326. The literal jargon states that crossing the border without proper documentation or permission from the United States government is considered “improper entry”. The use of the term “illegal” has been used to incite hatred and discrimination against these folks. According to this law, “improper entry” is a civil and not criminal violation often resulting in a fine of no more than $250. U.S. Code 1326 prohibits improper re-entry which is then considered a felony.

There is no way to enter the United States “illegally” only improperly. Many people who enter improperly are still able to obtain work authorization and permanent residency based on their situation, that being said: this process is lengthy and expensive, which brings me to my next point.

Myth: The immigration process is cheap and easy, so nobody has an excuse for not having their papers

The truth is, it can take DECADES and THOUSANDS of dollars in order for someone to go through the entire “proper” immigration process. As a country founded on the principals of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, a motto carried on the backs of European immigrants, our immigration system is outdated and extremely flawed.

Myth: If I’m tired of living in the US, I can just pack my bags and move to Canada whenever I want

Although Canada has a more lenient immigration process, an American would still have to provide documentation, proof of employment or sponsorship among other things to immigrate to Canada. The good news is, a United States passport allows holders to stay in Canada for up to six months without a visa, but they would not be eligible to work, go to school or benefit from social programs.

Myth: Migrants are all brown and from Mexico

Migrants enter the United States from all over the world. Building a wall wouldn’t stop improper immigration, but fixing our system would. Instead of making it physically harder for people to seek a better life, we should advocate for institutional reforms that make people feel welcomed and safe in our nation.

Migrants risk their lives and make many sacrifices in pursuit of a better life. Being born in a country does not make you better than anyone else nor does it mean that you have more validity in a place than someone else.

Also published on Medium.