This post is largely a response to Monty, who somehow found my blog after reading the story I wrote for the Isthmus and inexplicably hearing it on a Madison radio station. The story does not link to this site, and I still haven’t found out what sort of coverage there was for it on WTDY.
First of all, thank you for the compliment. And now some answers to your sincerely asked questions (there are links throughout the text to further official and unofficial information):
Millions of Mexicans and Central Americans are in this country using invalid Social Security numbers. In my experience, the vast majority simply make up a number, and get a very cheap “Social Security” card made. They are not using the documents of an actual U.S. Citizen/Lawful Permanent Resident, not stealing the identity of another person. The fact is, employers, as the other Laura alluded to, are more than happy to accept these false papers and hire people. Yes, it’s illegal, but some blame, in my opinion, must be placed on the vast number of companies, universities, etc, that hire people and eventually know they are not working legally, but continue to employ them. I can attest to the fact that the companies, after at the very most a years time, will know one way or another that they are employing someone without valid documents. In many cases, nothing is done about it.
I also have to say that Lopez is not taking the job of a homeless person. Why has the homeless person not gone and gotten a job? Or the single mother? Certainly there are opportunities, the problem is often that Americans do not want these jobs. Some argue that were the millions of undocumented workers not in the U.S. these jobs would be filled with Americans, but I do not believe that is true in most cases. I used to manage restaurants and I had an extremely difficult time finding employees who would work in low-wage “front of the house” positions. It was easy for me to find cooks, after all, they didn’t need to speak English, but it was remarkably difficult to find responsible Americans who would work hard in a very entry-level moderately labor-intensive position. Now, there is a reason I am not in that industry anymore, and it has a lot to do with all the moral dilemnas that come in that situation. I didn’t want to be the employer making those sort of decisions, I didn’t want to pay people only ~$7 per hour, but when you work for a corporation, you don’t really have a choice. Anyway, that is a big tangent.
Next, maybe it wasn’t crystal clear in the story, but Mr. Lopez is applying for lawful permanent residency (this is necessary before applying for citizenship) through his fiance relationship with Laura Braun. However, were he not involved with her (or another U.S. Citizen), there would be no avenue for him to legalize. Even if he had never been in the country illegally and been deported, he would have had to be an extremely educated or exceptionally skilled foreign worder to immigrate here legally. I appreciate your sincere questions on this issue, but I have to admit I am always shocked when I realize that there are still many who believe Mexicans (and other low-skilled foreign workers) have some legal way to immigrate to the U.S. They very simply do not.
There is, most definitely, limits on the number of people who can apply for citizenship. The main paths for immigrating to the U.S. are either family or employment based. As I said above, it is only exceptionally skilled people who even have a chance at immigrating through employment. There are also a small number of temporary worker visas, that again require exceptional skills in most cases. Generally only large corporations are able to do this, which is why, for example, General Electric or Johnson Controls, from where my dad recently retired, have large numbers of brilliant foreign engineers and scientists working for them.
Family-based immigration encompasses the spouses and fiances of U.S. Citizens and some other family members. For example, if Mr. Lopez somehow had a naturalized U.S. Citizen brother or sister (through marriage to a U.S. Citizen), that person could petition for him, but it would take many years, perhaps ten, for a visa to become available. Fiance and spouse visas are guaranteed “immediate” consideration (that usually means within a year), but in this case, could be denied. You can read more about this situation here and here.
There is something called a visa lottery, which allows 50,000 foreigner to enter every year. However, this is a very small number, and Mexicans, and nationals of a whole list of countries that already have a large number of immigrants to the U.S., are not eligible.
Regarding Mexico, I would not say the conditions are savage, only very poor for the vast majority of the population. There are certainly many very rich people in Mexico. It has tourism, great natural resources, and has been a destination for U.S. companies seeking cheap labor. There is also the problem of what NAFTA has done to Mexico’s agriculture, creating a situation where heavily government subsidized U.S.-grown corn (for example) is now cheaper in Mexico than Mexico’s own home-grown corn. There is a good summary of NAFTA’s effects on Mexico here.
Finally, in response to this statement: “Please tell me what we are doing wrong to Mr. López when all we ask is that HE do the right thing,” I would direct you to this excellent piece on the debate over migration. It may not answer all your questions, but it is certainly enlightening, agree or disagree.
Monty – thank you for your comments, and the chance to discuss these issues.