Many people have immigration as part of their family story, and they feel frustrated and confused about why people are entering the U.S. outside legal channels. It’s essential to recognize that before 1882, it was basically impossible to immigrate illegally. Anyone who arrived was welcome in the U.S.
For the next 40 years, the U.S. began to restrict immigration based on race and ethnicity, health status, education, and socioeconomic levels. In 1924, Congress drastically limited immigration with a new quota system. In 1965, the U.S. updated immigration laws to base eligibility on family connections and employability. These are the laws that are still in place today.
U.S. Citizen family connections can provide access to legal immigration for some people, but some family members can wait about twenty years to be reunited through the proper legal channels.
Employment options provide immigration access for some highly skilled workers with advanced degrees who are able to find an employer willing to sponsor them.
But for service workers or laborers, there are only, there are only 5,000 permanent visas available each year. For context, in 1910, 5,000 similar workers arrived at Ellis Island daily.
The final legal pathway is for refugees and asylum seekers who are fleeing credible fear of persecution. Seeking asylum is legal but asylum seekers must be on U.S. soil before they can make a claim for asylum.
We can tell people to wait their turn in line, but for many people, there is simply no line for them to wait in.