Path to legal immigration long, steep

There is perhaps no one topic in today’s political climate that generates a more immediate response than immigration.

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach is an outspoken advocate for a crackdown on illegal immigrants, and wrote key components of the restrictive and legally challenged laws in Arizona and Alabama.

Kobach has advocated for harsh restrictions on immigrant workers in Kansas and brutal penalties for any employer that hires illegal workers, including a business shutdown of up to a full year — regardless of whether or not that worker had credible documentation that misled the employer. So far, he has not met with legislative success.

Western Kansas business and community leaders say a crackdown in the style of Arizona or Alabama would devastate the economy of the region, and perhaps that of the entire state.

“Immigrant workers are the lifeblood of western Kansas,” is the way Garden City Mayor John Doll puts it.

“There would not be a single surviving industry in western Kansas without immigrant labor,” says Dodge City attorney David Rebein.

Key Points

• No relatives plus no skills equals no chance at immigration.

• Even siblings and adult children of citizens face years of waiting for entry.

• Employers face heavy paperwork, a long wait and major expense.

Nobody is willing to step forward and advocate publicly for the illegal worker. It has been difficult to even find supporters of rights for young adults brought here as infants and small children by their parents, or for reform of immigration laws to make it easier for workers to legally enter the United States.

Republican presidential candidate Newt Gingrich created a firestorm in his party when he suggested that the party of family values should flinch at tearing families apart.

Immigration attorney Sarah Doll Heeke, who began practice in Dodge City last year, says those who are harshly critical of illegals often fail to take into account the fact that U.S. immigration law makes it very, very hard to be legal.

“The reality is, if you are an unskilled or low-skill worker [most in demand for the feedlots, dairies and packing plants of western Kansas] with no immediate family in the United States, there is virtually no path to legal entry,” she says. “There are only 10,000 green cards a year allotted, and the wait time to get one approaches infinity.”

If you are the minor child, spouse or parent of a U.S. citizen over the age of 21, you can usually get a green card and enter the country in as little as six months to a year, but becoming a citizen is a much longer process. After five years if you a parent or child, and three years if you are a spouse, you are eligible to start the process to citizenship.

Completing that process will take at least a year, including filing for naturalization papers, waiting for processing, applying for citizenship testing and taking the test. This is the fastest, best-case route. It takes at least four years — and more commonly, six to seven.

It will take much longer if you are over the age of 16 or merely the sibling of a U.S. citizen. A single, adult child faces a wait of six to 14 years for a green card, depending on his or her home country. For a sibling, the wait is 11 to 22 years for a green card and another six years for citizenship.

If your U.S. relative is a lawful, permanent resident but not a citizen, you cannot get a green card right away; you must wait five to seven years, depending on your home country, if you are a minor child, parent or spouse.

If you are an adult child, you must be single even to apply for a green card, and your wait time will be nine to 14 years.

For those without U.S. relatives, either highly desirable skills or a lot of money can be your ticket to legal entry.

If you have a college degree in one of a handful of “highly desirable” areas; if you have a job offer; and if your prospective employer is willing to do all the paperwork for your labor certification, which includes conducting a new job search, paying up to $10,000 in legal fees and waiting six to 10 years for you to start work; you have a shot at getting legal entry. If not, sorry — you’re out of here.

“Employment is actually among the toughest routes,” Heeke said. “The burden for the employer is enormous, including proof that he has advertised the job in several areas over an extended period of time, that no Americans applied and that the wages are equal to or greater than any wage paid to another employee of the company, regardless of skill level.”

If your potential employer can’t wait six to 10 years for you to start work, he can apply for a temporary work visa. Then, if you are among the lucky 85,000 to get one in any given year, you can start work and your employer can move ahead with applying for your labor certification.

If your employer can’t wait six to 10 years for you to start work and you are NOT among the lucky 85,000, sorry — you can’t go to work here.

There are a couple of potential shortcuts.

If you are a star athlete or you have at least $1 million to invest in an American enterprise, you can get on the short list (12 to 18 months) for a green card, and you can be a citizen in six to seven years.


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ADVOCATE FOR IMMIGRANTS: Sarah Doll Heeke is a Dodge City attorney who practices in the field of immigration law, attempting to help immigrants gain legal status or citizenship.

This article published in the February, 2012 edition of KANSAS FARMER.

All rights reserved. Copyright Farm Progress Cos. 2012.