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Cabarrus Magazine

The American Dream?

May 02, 2018 02:14PM ● By Jason Huddle

The United States Census Bureau estimates Cabarrus County’s 2017 population to have neared 207,000 people. Of that number, just under 19,000 are Hispanic – almost 10 percent.

For years, there’s been an ongoing debate over the large numbers of Hispanics entering the U.S. And while so many have assimilated here, there’s a renewed unrest among documented and undocumented alike. 

Pew Research Center is a nonpartisan fact tank that tracks American trends and issues. Its research shows that, in 2015, 43.2 million people living in the U.S. – 13.4 percent of the country’s population – were not born here. Seventy-six percent of that 43 million entered the country legally.

As of 2015, Mexicans topped the list of people living in the U.S.: 11.6 million and 27 percent of all immigrants in this country. Reasons for Mexicans entering the U.S. are varied. They leave behind poverty, drugs and crime hoping for employment opportunities, better medical care and a good education for their children here.

Other Latin American countries seeing their citizens exiting are El Salvador, Dominican Republic, Guatemala and Honduras. “Today, more non-Mexicans than Mexicans are apprehended at the border. In fiscal 2016, the apprehensions of Central Americans at the border exceeded that of Mexicans for the second time on record,” according to Pew Research. “The number of apprehensions at the U.S.-Mexico border has sharply decreased over the past decade, from more than 1 million in fiscal 2006 to 408,870 in fiscal 2016.”

This could be attributed to a new trend – more Mexicans leaving the U.S. to go back to their home country. Prior to the recession of 2007 Hispanics earned more in the U.S., bringing what is termed low-skill labor like construction, hospitality and landscaping to the American workforce. By 2010, the recession had created a reduction in the need for low-skill employees.

In addition, some families planned on remaining in this country only until they could save enough money to return home. If they were undocumented, the rise in border patrols and immigration restrictions intensified this.

Pew Research adds, “Not all lawful permanent residents choose to pursue U.S. citizenship. Those who wish to do so may apply after meeting certain requirements, including having lived in the U.S. for five years. In fiscal year 2016, 971,242 immigrants applied for naturalization. The number of naturalization applications has climbed in recent years, though the annual totals remain below those seen in previous years.

“Generally, most immigrants eligible for naturalization apply to become citizens. However, Mexican lawful immigrants have the lowest naturalization rate overall. Language and personal barriers, lack of interest and financial barriers are among the top reasons for choosing not to naturalize, cited by Mexican-born green card holders.”

In the late 19th century, when there was such an influx of western Europeans sailing to ports like New York, first- and second-class passengers were free to simply walk into the country at the Hudson or East River piers without inspection.

“Instead, these passengers underwent a cursory inspection aboard ship, the theory being that if a person could afford to purchase a first- or second-class ticket, they were less likely to become a public charge in America due to medical or legal reasons,” libertyellisfoundation.org explains. “The Federal government felt that these more affluent passengers would not end up in institutions, hospitals or become a burden to the state.”

Those having purchased a third-class or steerage ticket spent nearly two weeks in the crowded and dirty bowels of the ship.

“The steerage and third-class passengers were transported from the pier by ferry or barge to Ellis Island where everyone would undergo a medical and legal inspection,” libertyellisfoundation.org adds.          

Today, according to the U.S. Government, “A foreign citizen seeking to immigrate generally must be sponsored by a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, immediate relative(s) or prospective U.S. employer, and have an approved petition before applying for an immigrant visa.”

An immigrant visa interview is conducted at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in the applicant’s home country, with approval or denial determined at that point. Approved applicants receive a sealed immigrant packet to be presented to U.S. Customs and Border Protection upon arrival in the U.S. A visa typically has a six-month lifespan, and a payment of a USCIS Immigrant Fee is required before entering the U.S.

An immigrant becomes naturalized by filing an Application for Naturalization when he or she is 18 or older. They also have to have been a green card holder for at least five years. (A Permanent Resident Card – green card – allows immigrants to live and work in the U.S. permanently.) Some people wait years to receive their green card.

While the U.S. continues to rebound economically and development is evident in just about all areas of Cabarrus County, the Brookings Papers on Economic Activity published a year ago point to a reduction in the low-skilled labor force in Mexico and Latin America. So, if they’re needed in their home country and can make a similar wage relative to that of the U.S., they are less likely to come here.

“Whereas the U.S. baby boom came to a halt in the early 1960s, Latin America’s baby boom didn’t abate until two decades later, in the late 1970s,” the Brookings Papers say.  “This means there were more workers coming into working age in Latin America than there were in the U.S. These demographic changes mean the labor market supply of workers in Latin American is shrinking, and we can expect to see far fewer young people immigrating to the U.S.”

The number of “young, low-skilled workers will continue to slow until it reaches zero in 2050 – even without the implementation of Trump’s border policies,” they add. “The U.S. government has also intensified immigration enforcement in the interior of the country, which has led to an increase in deportations of non-criminal undocumented immigrants from 116,000 individuals in 2001 to an average of 226,000 individuals per year over 2007 to 2015.”

The Brookings Institution also points to the fact that the undocumented worker population in the U.S. is getting older, saying, “In 1980, Mexican-born individuals in the U.S. were most likely about 22. Today, that number is 40 – and will be almost 70 by 2040. Looking ahead, the Latin American-born population over 40 will grow by 82 percent in the next 15 years, while the under 40 population is projected to shrink by 6 percent.”

As the ages of undocumented individuals increase, we’re looking at more of them eventually needing Medicare or Medicaid because they have no health insurance. Add to that, the numbers of births.

“In 2015, the percentage of women giving birth in the past year was higher among immigrants (7.4 percent) than among the U.S. born (5.8 percent),” Pew Research reports.

Brookings reports that U.S. citizens’ opinions about immigration vary and are often based on political party affiliation. Sixty-three percent feel that immigrants work hard and bring a certain set of job skills to the table (Democrats). Twenty-seven percent say immigrants infringe on employment, housing and health care (Republican).

Looming on the horizon? A possible border wall that could cost as much as $21.6 billion and the repeal of DACA (The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals).

DACA was introduced by the Obama Administration in 2012. Meant to protect those who entered the U.S. as undocumented minors, it allowed these individuals to remain in this country another two years without fear of deportation and with work permit eligibility. It does not aid them in attaining citizenship here.

“As of 2012, approximately 800,000 individuals were enrolled in the program created by DACA. DACA recipients must pay a fee and undergo an extensive background check every two years. Undocumented immigrants with a criminal background do not qualify for DACA,” Wikipedia says.

CitizenPath provides interesting insight into what applying for DACA entails – a process that takes five to nine months and results in an employment authorization card (work permit).

• File I-821D (DACA Application);

• Receive e-notification about one week later, then a letter in the mail that confirms receipt of your application two to three weeks after filing;

• Receive a biometrics appointment date four to six weeks after filing your application;

• Go to a biometrics appointment six to eight weeks after filing. (This will include background checks.);

• Receive Form I-821D adjudication 10 to 16 weeks after filing – this is your approval or denial.

The DREAM Act (Development, Relief and Education for Alien Minors Act) was the predecessor to DACA. U.S. senators Dick Durbin and Orrin Hatch sponsored the 2001 act that was to aid undocumented minors in obtaining a conditional residency, then permanent residency. Conditions under the act included entering the U.S. before turning 16; proof of residency since that entrance date; graduation or GED from an American high school; good moral character; and background checks.

For permanent residency, add attendance at an institution of higher learning or at least two years of service in the U.S. military with an honorable discharge. Deportation would be enforced if all conditions were not met.

The DREAM Act went through extensive changes, was reintroduced, voted on and re-voted on without ever passing.

After President Trump took office, he announced his intention to end DACA. He gave Congress until March 5, 2018, to legalize DACA and, when they didn’t, he announced it was “dead.” However, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) is allowing Dreamers to renew their DACA status – to reapply for a two-year extension – until further action is taken.

The immigration picture is murky. Poverty breeds desperation, but those equally as hungry to live in the land of opportunity immigrate through legal channels. Those who are undocumented contribute toward the health of America’s economy, but also tax our country’s welfare and medical systems. As American-born, we cannot understand until we’ve walked in the shoes of others. Still, there are no clear answers.

Story by: Kim Cassell

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