A Prescott College student in the US-Mexico Border Studies Field Program reflected in 2014 on participating in the Legal Immigration Simulation workshop at BorderLinks:
Today we visited BorderLinks, an ‘awareness-to-action’ organization based in Tucson, Arizona. Along with No Mas Muertes, a humanitarian aid organization, BorderLinks started under the Sanctuary Movement in the 1980s, which was focused on cultivating knowledge and care for those impacted by US immigration policies and national security. The need for BorderLinks’ was realized when many participants of the Sanctuary Movement came with no knowledge or understanding of what was happening at the border/in the borderlands. We met with BorderLinks’ education coordinator, Indira Arce, and Grace, who just started working with them this summer.
Indira informed us that BorderLink’s mission is to “bring awareness to inspire action” through education programs. They offer Border Delegations, Extended Civic Engagement Programs, Special Focus Delegations, and Community Workshops. They hope that through experience and interaction, participants will become allies with social justice and maltreated communities. BorderLinks acquired a building ten years ago now, where they host delegations in a dormitory setting.
What was most important for us to hear wasn’t about the organization itself, but the essence of humanity: Indira told us she became involved in immigration work, because she herself is an immigrant, and she “didn’t want to forget what [she’d] been through.” Our class has interacted with similar passion before: one of our hosts last week told us she felt the need to be involved in social justice, because she was just one step away from being that victim (illegal and undocumented). These organizations exist not only because there is impalpable injustice in our world, but also because there are extremely compassionate and strong-willed people who believe in the justice we all deserve. I say that these women’s expressions are expressions of the essence of humanity, because our ability to be connected to and impacted by each other is our humanity. We are a holon made up of holons; we are individual, but we are one. This is not to say that other organisms do not connect with each other, or with us, but they have their own vocabulary and language for their relationships, and we interpret whatever language we can to help us conceptualize the connections we do have with them. We are all holons made up of holons: humans, insects, soil, birds, light, etcetera.
After Indira introduced herself and the space, we spent the rest of our time enacting an immigration simulation. We were each given a character that held hopes or intentions for immigrating to the US. Due to judicial discrepancy and policies, very few cases were accepted:
A wealthy British resident has a job offer to play professional soccer; he was granted residency within 18 months, and citizenship in 5 to 6 years.
A single Mexican man is sponsored by his brother, who is a US citizen, and he currently has no job in Mexico; he will be granted residency in 17-28 years, and he cannot get married during that time, because it would change the conditions of his application.
A man in Honduras is sponsored by his father, who is a resident and needs his son to work. The man has a family, though, who would need to come with him. The rest of the family cannot apply for residency, because they do not have an immediate family member who is in the US. The man’s application is denied, because the risk of the rest of the family illegally immigrating to the US is too high, and the man would probably export his earnings to the family, as opposed to spend it within the US economy.
A Canadian resident is wealthy, attended law school in the US, and has a job offer as an attorney for a company that will pay for his application. This person is granted residency, and will become a citizen in 7-10 years.
A Pakistani man has a sister who is a resident in the US. She is his only family, and she wants him to migrate there to be with her. However, she cannot sponsor him, because residents can only petition for their spouse or unmarried child.
Once we completed the simulation, Indira explained the ‘rules’ to us: When a person wants to migrate to the United States, they must first apply for a visa and lawful permanent residency, which is what I commonly knew as a green card. People may immigrate under four conditions: employment-based, family-sponsored, asylum, or diversity. 50,000 visas are available each year for the sake of diversity inclusion. Visas are also available for those who plea asylum, or protection from fear or threats in their home country; albeit we heard the process is arduous and rarely upheld.
140,000 to 150,000 Employment-based visas are available each year based on a tiered preference system: (1) Priority workers, such as scientists, athletes, and business executives; (2) goes to professionals with college degrees or high-level of expertise in the sciences, arts, or business; (3) is for skilled workers, professionals, and unskilled workers (e.g. teachers, nurses, law enforcement); (4) certain special immigrants, such as translators or religious workers; and beneficiaries or survivors of US citizens; and (5) investors of at least $1 million, but there are exceptions for $500,000. Categories 2-5 must have a guaranteed employer who turns in a labor certification to the Department of Labor, but Priority workers do not, and (2) can apply for exceptions. 86% of the employment-based visas available are reserved for the first three categories.
Family-sponsored migrants must be petitioned for by a family member with legal status in the US. A US citizen may petition for their parent, spouse, child, or siblings; but a lawful permanent resident can only petition for their spouse or unmarried child. Children being petitioned for will be given more credibility if they are under 21, but a child petitioning for their parent must be over 21. Like the employment-based application process, those with higher priority (as viewed by the Department of State and Bureau of Consular Affairs) are processed first—it is not in order of submission, e.g. an application from a petitioner with citizenship will be viewed before one from a resident. The amount of family-based immigrants is limited in all categories, except for those who are either a spouse, child, or parent (of a child who is at least 21 years) of a US citizen; everyone else is subject to the 226,000 visa maximum.
Today was rather confusing. US immigration policy is one of the most complex and convoluted of any US law; and by the looks of our simulation, it supports the immigration of affluent white people, while subordinating people with higher needs to migrate…sound familiar? Sounds like the ringing of White Supremacy to me. What’s more, I realized another part of the expanse of my privilege when Indira told us that US citizens are among the few (of a nation) who must apply for each visa as they travel—we just simply pay the fees as we go along!
I thank Indira and Grace for their time and sharing of knowledge with us today. It surely gave me more of a foundation for the work I am to do in social justice. With each expression of our humanity, our connectedness and need for each other, we get stronger.