My Time in Line: What It Really Takes for U.S. Immigrants to Get Legal Status

With the immigration debate back in the national conversation, there’s a rallying cry that comes up again and again: “Get in line!”

But what does this “line” really look like? Does it even exist?

About 45 million immigrants live in the United States; around a quarter of them are undocumented. Millions await their green cards, often for years. (In 2013, roughly 990,000 people won permanent legal status.) Meanwhile, nearly 655,000 immigrants gained citizenship last year. And in the last three years alone, the government deported more than a million immigrants.

Immigrants have vastly different experiences getting legal status depending on their income, relationships, access to good lawyers, and other factors. With every step, there’s new paperwork to be filed, more fees to pay, and more hoops to jump through. But many Americans have never had to deal with ever-changing immigration laws or agencies. Those who do often find them bureaucratic and confusing, an endless labyrinth of forms and acronyms.

So as the immigration debate continues, immigrants can pull back the curtain how the immigration system really works.

In a new Medium series, immigrants are sharing their experiences of what it’s really like to get legal status.

Join the conversation

Write your own post here on Medium using the tag MyTimeinLine, or share your perspective replying to this post.

What was your journey like to live in the U.S.? Did you start out on a visa or undocumented? Do you have a green card, or are you trying to get one? Did you experience a long wait? Are you still waiting?

(You can also steal the GIF above and put it at the bottom of your post — kudos to Vikram for creating it.)

Read stories

Green card sagas

Navigating visa limbo

Becoming a refugee

Winning citizenship

Giving up on the line

Surviving bureaucracy