Americans often ask why unauthorized immigrants living in the United States didn’t find some way to obtain lawful status.
“Get in line” is a command often repeated, as it’s assumed that if aspiring immigrants wait long enough or try hard enough, they can lawfully reside in the country.
The sentiment has been echoed by both Democratic and Republican lawmakers for years, and the Trump administration has repeated it during its ongoing immigration crackdown.
“We have a lawful system of immigration. You should do what over 1 million other immigrants do each year, wait your turn and come lawfully,” Attorney General Jeff Sessions said last week at a speech in Texas.
But that’s not always as easy as it sounds. For many would-be immigrants, there is no “turn” they can wait for, and no line to stand in.
The US immigration system is designed to only admit newcomers who fall into very specific categories. If someone falls outside those circumstances, lawful immigration will be challenging, if not impossible.
See the many pathways and roadblocks to lawful immigration below:
Two of the most common ways to receive a green card include sponsorship by family members or employers.
Refugees and asylum-seekers are also eligible to receive permanent residency in the US, but that’s a whole other matter — refugees don’t necessarily choose to come to the US, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees determines which countries they are placed in.
Asylum-seekers do choose to come to the US, but must prove they have a credible fear of facing persecution or torture in their home countries, or they’ll be sent back.
But for people who aren’t immigrating as refugees or asylum seekers, who don’t have immediate family members in the US, and who don’t have an employer willing to embark on an expensive and lengthy green card application process, the pathways are limited and difficult to navigate.