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.)
Green card sagas
- Dan-el Padilla Peralta, an Ivy League professor born in the Dominican Republic, recounts his odyssey of fighting for legal status.
- Ben Huh, an entrepreneur born in South Korea, writes about how his family fell victim to a green card scam and was almost deported.
- Prerna P. Lal, an immigration lawyer born in Fiji, tells the story of how it took two Supreme Court decisions for her to get legal residency.
- Vikram Babu, a writer/designer born in India and raised in Canada, details his journey from being undocumented to getting a green card.
- Nandini Nag, born in India, details her odyssey as a business professional trying to get a green card.
- Jason Chatfield, born in Australia, explains how he got a green card through an “extraordinary abilities” visa.
- Rishi Misra, born in India, writes about his long and bumpy road to a green card while living in the U.S. on a business visa.
Navigating visa limbo
- Gareth Kelly, an entrepreneur born in England, explains how it’s possible to do everything by the book and still end up undocumented.
- Francis Madi Cerrada, born in Venezuela, writes about how applying for executive action feels like being in limbo.
- Ćris, born in the Philippines, shares how he missed the cut-off for executive action by one year, leaving him without viable options.
- Emerson Malca, born in Peru, shares his experience of meeting a tight deadline to get a tough visa, and the personal sacrifices he had to make.
- Gabriella Bregman, born in the Netherlands, details her struggles being undocumented and trying to get a visa for crime survivors.
Becoming a refugee
- Arnesa Buljusmic-Kustura, born in Bosnia, tells what she and her family went through to get a refugee visa after surviving a war.
- Ghada Mukdad, born in Syria, explains what happens when those escaping war come on tourist visas and then apply for refugee status.
- “Ella,” born in Eritrea, writes about her more than decade-long journey to getting permanent residency and battling her mother’s deportation.
- Angy Rivera, an activist born in Colombia, writes about how surviving a traumatic crime put her on a path to citizenship.
- Fernando Sacoto, a contractor born in Ecuador, explains how he went from undocumented to citizen thanks to his military service.
- Tania Zapata, an entrepreneur born in Colombia, shares the story of how she and her husband found each other — and legal status.
- Laila Alawa, born in Denmark, tells how she waited nearly a decade for a green card and later became a citizen.
- Nadia Alawa, Laila’s mother, writes about her 16-year journey to winning her citizenship.
Giving up on the line
- William Han, a lawyer born in Taiwan and raised in New Zealand, explains he couldn’t find legal means to stay — and left the U.S.
- Polyana F. de Oliveira, a tourism professional born in Brazil, recounts why she gave up waiting in the U.S. to change her status.
- Creatrix Tiara writes about her struggle to get a work visa and her decision to leave the U.S.
- Margaret Linandjaja writes about how she tried to stay in the U.S. after getting her college degree — and why she couldn’t.
- Eddy P, born in Trinidad, shares his experience of managing multiple visas and having his marriage under the microscope.
- Luis Dominguez explains how he did everything right, but nearly lost his job and status because of a bureaucratic error.
- sihem.fekih, born in France, writes about her experience winning the green card lottery and what she had to do after she won.
- Eliseu Cavalcante and I detail all of the steps that go into applying for a fiancé visa, and then a green card and citizenship.