Horizon, Host: Ted Simons

April 13, 2006


Host: Michael Grant

Illegal Immigration Economics


  • Dawn McLaren, research economist with the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University, will talk about the economic impact of illegal immigration.
Guests:
  • Dawn McLaren - research economist, W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University
  • Jeanne Kent - supervisory district adjudications officer,United States citizenship and immigration services


View Transcript
Michael Grant:
Tonight on Horizon, how do undocumented workers affect our economy? The area of taxes, social benefits, wages, social benefit costs. We'll talk to an ASU economist about that. Plus, before 1924, an immigrant from Mexico can come into the U.S. by paying a nickel for a Visa. It's a lot more complicated now. We'll explore the process needed to come here legally. More on that next on Horizon.

Announcer:
Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of 8, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Michael Grant:
Good evening. Welcome to Horizon. I'm Michael Grant. Before we get to the main topics tonight, here is the latest news. Finally some movement on the republican budget at the state capitol. Republican legislative leaders say they have reached consensus on a state budget for the next fiscal year. Senate president Ken Bennett said today they hope to meet with the governor soon about the budget. A spokesperson for the governor says she wasn't aware of any meeting set-up yet. Bennett didn't say much about the budget's details but did reveal it includes $250 million in tax cuts as well as cash for border security. Part of the debate raging over illegal immigration is the cost or the benefit to society. Recently a "New York Times" columnist and economist Paul Krugman wrote a column that suggested that illegal aliens resulted in a small increase in overall income but a decrease in the lowest paid native-born workers in society. Here now to talk about it costs and benefits of illegal immigration is Dawn McLaren. She is a research economist with the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. Dawn, good to see you again.

Dawn McLaren:
Good to be here.

Michael Grant:
Let's go to Krugman's point. People were surprised by it because he's a liberal columnist.

Dawn McLaren:
You would expect he would say that we should have these illegal aliens here. And that would be wonderful and they must be such a benefit to society.

Michael Grant:
What he was basically saying was this, although there's a slight net benefit, that the impact that they have is to drive down wage levels for the lowest paid native-born workers in our society.

Dawn McLaren:
And what he was doing there is he took information from other sources and looked at it and took their assumptions as a conclusion. And decided to make his conclusion based on that, not realizing that those assumptions were based on other assumptions and other assumptions. By the time you get to the end of it the information is very unreliable. What we know about the illegal community, what we know about the impact they have on society is very little whether it comes to costs or benefits. And we have to face that. We have to realize that we simply don't know so much about this that it's hard for us to say whether it's a net cost or net benefit.

Michael Grant:
Well, we can quantify costs, I think, a little easier than we can quantify benefits, can't we?

Dawn McLaren:
Possibly, but even there--

Michael Grant:
When you look at incarceration, health care, those kinds of things.

Dawn McLaren:
For instance, health care, the hospitals. Hospitals have some information as to who is uninsured, information as to demographics, but they are not sure as to who is illegal and who is not. And this is what comes down to the end of it every single time. You can say, well, illegal aliens are probably in this larger group of people but you still have to make an assumption as to what part of that larger group of people, whether it's a group of Mexican-born foreign people here, not U.S. citizens, or whether it's a group of uninsured people, whatever it is, you're having to make some assumptions based on that group.

Michael Grant:
Let me go though-- I don't think you need a PhD in economics on this, but you can test me.

Dawn McLaren:
Okay.

Michael Grant:
What is wrong with the basic premise, though, which I think was Krugman's premise. Take just hypothetically, 1 million people, 1 million illegal immigrants, willing to, and let's stick with a semi skilled trade. Willing to work in that semi skilled trade for $12 an hour whereas an American worker otherwise absent that supply would work in that trade at $18 an hour.

Dawn McLaren:
Right.

Michael Grant:
Won't that depress that level?

Dawn McLaren:
That might if we didn't already have a labor shortage. The problem is we don't have those American workers ready to replace those illegal immigrants. If we did, then I would say fine, we have an oversupply of labor. What we have is people making a choice between whether they are going to pick crops, capital equipment machinery or a person. And the machinery will be a lot more expensive than the $18 an hour you may pay an American, but we are not going to draw Americans from the places where they may be unemployed. I think one of the groups came up with a figure of 4 million unemployed Americans ready to take these jobs that they say the same group says that 20 million illegal aliens are here. Well, obviously, we just do not have enough in that labor pool. That's the labor pool of about age between 15 and 24, the group that would be in high school and college, the group when you were of that age you probably had people going out and doing construction jobs over the summer, painting a house, picking a crop, and that type of thing.

Michael Grant:
Usually teenagers, say older teenagers or we're talking about entry-level jobs.

Dawn McLaren:
Right. The kid who would come by with his dad's lawn mower to mow your lawn--

Michael Grant:
Right. Sure.

Dawn McLaren:
That has dried up. It's dried up for a couple of reasons. First of all, we didn't have enough children to be in that age group right now. And also they have other things they can do. Those kids can work in computer help desks. They have lived with computers all their lives. They don't have to go out and do manual labor, unskilled labor. They have computer skills and other things.

Michael Grant:
Given that the baby boom echo has had babies--

Dawn McLaren:
Yes.

Michael Grant:
We're going to see that population segment-- in fact we are already seeing it, but we are going to see it ramp up--

Dawn McLaren:
Right.

Michael Grant:
That will create some increase in supply for those kinds of jobs.

Dawn McLaren:
Exactly. We had this happen before. If you look at it over time, basically the group of people between the ages of 44 and 64, that group of people that makes more money, mid career, getting to the end of their career, that is their highest paid time of life, they demand more services and goods. That proportion has been growing and growing, in percentage of the population as a whole, since about 1900. It's been growing and growing and growing. The other way, the 15 to 24-year-olds have been decreasing. Occasionally we have had a bump up. In the 1960's we faced same thing, where we had not enough people in that age group. Government knew how to react.

Michael Grant:
50's or 60's?

Dawn McLaren:
End of the 40's, ending in 1962. So before that, after World War II going up to 1961 or 1962.

Michael Grant:
Basically the baby boom--

Dawn McLaren:
Right. The same generation. Exactly. So then those kids managed to go into all these jobs and what we have seen is that all of a sudden has tailed off again. We need to face the fact that our market is demanding these laborers to come in for a period of time. Not necessarily forever, and I don't think they necessarily want to be here forever. They don't necessarily want a path to citizenship. They want to be able to work, send money home, send remittances home, and feed their family for a while, build a house, and then go home where they want to be.

Michael Grant:
There were 3 million, obviously, in the mid 1980's who wanted to stay. There's now 10 to 12 million. That would seem to indicate that there is some-- if not permanency to individual, let's say permanency to class.

Dawn McLaren:
Part of this is what we have done also in terms of our setting up public policy. NAFTA, we closed in-migration from the southern part of that country up to that northern border.

Michael Grant:
We required plants be located within 75 miles of the bored.

Dawn McLaren:
Precisely. So now those plants go to china or where it may be cheaper, you have people who have already broken ties with their family. This is partly why you won't get a laid off worker in Michigan to come to work in Arizona. He has his family. He has his network. And are we going to say you have to go and work down in Arizona or we are going to give them benefits in Michigan? And that's part of the trouble. We set it up that way.

Michael Grant:
Well, okay. Dawn McLaren, tough issue to sort through. But we appreciate your help in trying.

Dawn McLaren:
Thank you.

Michael Grant:
In all the talk about illegal immigration, it is worth noting that there are approximately 1 million new legal immigrants to the United States each year. Many may wonder why illegal immigrants don't take the legal route. One possible explanation, it is a matter of time. Larry Lemmons reports it can take years to become an American citizen no matter where you were born.

Diane Brennan:
The white house is not disputing the disclosure that president Bush gave the go-ahead to a leak of pre-war Iraq intelligence.

Larry Lemmons:
Diane Brennan anchors the news at KTAR. She's worked at the station for nearly four years. She's also categorized as a permanent resident. A Canadian at birth, she has a green card now and wants to become an American citizen.

Diane Brennan:
My green card is good for 12 years. But I would. I would like to become a citizen here. I love the country. I'd like to vote and would like to do a few other things. I want to apply in amazing race and you actually have to be a citizen to do. So I'm like, I'm there.

Larry Lemmons:
All kidding aside, the subject of citizenship has been no joke to Brennan.

Diane Brennan:
The experience was definitely a nightmare. From what I was told what would happen in the process was completely different than what I actually had to do. At the time-- I've been in the states for nine years. For example, there was a lot of miscommunication. I'd speak with one person at immigration they'd say file this form. I would speak with another one and they would say, no, that was wrong. I don't know who told you that. Fill out this form. My documents were lost. I.N.S. had lost them so I had to reapply and pay the fine again. My green card they actually sent to the wrong address and I had to wait a year until a certain date to be able to contact them and say, what happened to my green card. So I had to wait a year. And the whole time it was lost. I wasn't allowed to call earlier to find out. I had to wait a whole year. Then I had to reapply again and pay the other forms even though I sent them the address change. So it was very frustrating.

Larry Lemmons:
The most common misconception we may have about legal immigration is that it's a relatively easy and quick process. We think about the images of the immigrants on Ellis Island, the immigration process was much easier back then. Not so much today.

Jeanne Kent:
Okay. Well, let's try and do it the easy way. First thing someone has to do is immigrate to the United States as a lawful, permanent resident. And generally there are two ways to do that: either through a family-based petition or employment-based petition. And obviously a family-based petition means someone that's already here in the United States either as a lawful permanent resident themselves or U.S. citizens can file a petition to immigrate that person to the United States. And with the employer petition, a similar process in that an employer files a petition looking for someone that has a special work skill that's needed and maybe there aren't enough Americans that have that skill and they'll immigrate the person. Once the person gets here to the United States, generally they have to be a permanent resident and be here for five years before they can qualify to file for citizenship. There are certain exceptions for military personnel and for spouses of U.S. citizens. They only have to wait three years. So once they are ready, they have put their time in, then they can file an application for citizenship or naturalization, we call it. And to do that, they fill out an application. They can submit it to their service center. They go through fingerprinting and security checks. They come to the office for an interview that covers the items that are in their application. They also have to take an English and civics test. And assuming everything goes well with that and they pass their interview then they're scheduled for a ceremony. So that's the process in a nutshell. Of course, it sounds easier than it really is. Depending on the person.

Larry Lemmons:
There are other ways to come into the country legally without becoming a citizen. There are work visas and other possibilities. But if you are intent on being a citizen it will take you longer if you are from China, Mexico, India or the Philippines. That's because there's so much of a backlog from those countries of people wanting to become citizens.

Jeanne Kent:
There's four different preference categories for those visa numbers. And the categories can get quite large so the backlog in certain categories can be quite years long. So for people like China and the Philippines is used often as an example someone that's a brother or sister living in the Philippines has about a 20-year wait.

Larry Lemmons:
Congress sets the rules as to what preferences and question as are in place. The quota for country puts citizens or larger countries at a disadvantage because they are all under the same quota based on worldwide immigration. And the rules can change quite often over the years.

Diane Brennan:
Well, first with the different administration coming in the immigration laws change. At one point in my life I tried to seal if I was eligible and I wasn't. Then four years later the rules changed and that's when I found out that my mother could get her U.S. citizenship and she could sponsor me for a green card. So that was the first step. And I chose that visa because I was eligible for it. I could also come down on a NAFTA agreement, North American Free Trade Agreement, but it's a year visa you have to renew every year and it's up to the border guards whether or not to renew it. So basically your life is in a border guard's hands whether he says yes or no. So I wanted a permanent visa.

Larry Lemmons:
Brennan's next step is to take the citizenship test. That will take another year. She says being an immigrant helps her understand why people want to come to the United States.

Diane Brennan:
So I can understand the desire of the Mexican people to want to come here and do better. I pretty much came for the same reason. I went as far as I could in my field that if was trying to do in Canada. So in order to better myself and want a better future for myself I wanted to come to the U.S. because I was allowed to do that. So I can relate to what they want to do.

Jeanne Kent:
When I'm at a naturalization ceremony and see the emotion in the person's eyes that just became a citizen, you really have to see it. It makes you feel so good about being a citizen of the United States, how lucky we are.

Michael Grant:
Joining us now to talk more about the legal immigration process, Jeanne Kent is back. She is the supervisory district adjudications officer for the United States citizenship and immigration services. And Rudy Bustamante, community liaison officer for the same agency. It's good to see both of you.

Jeanne Kent:
Thank you.

Michael Grant:
So Jeanne, if I understand correctly, the two largest categories of people coming here are either family sponsored or employment sponsored.

Jeanne Kent:
That's correct.

Michael Grant:
Now, the story mentioned that the immigration process has changed over the years. How has it changed in its major respects?

Jeanne Kent:
Well, are we talking just to become a permanent resident? One change we have seen since September 11th is obviously the background checks. That's changed in one aspect, slowed the process down. There have been new requirements added, for example, someone that's coming to be a permanent resident has to go through a medical exam. Those requirements have been added. Affidavits of support are required for people. For example, a family-based petition has to show they have enough income to support that person in the United States should they fall on hard times and not be able to support themselves.

Michael Grant:
Quotas obviously change. The number of total people allowed in the country I suppose. Are there also regional shifts from time to time where we say, let's say, it's a universe of 1 million where we will say, all right, people from this region, it will be 250 ,000, and then maybe later we'll say, no, we're only going to do 150 ,000 as part of the overall quota?

Jeanne Kent:
Those changes have happened historically. Those numbers are set by congress. That is something that congress would change maybe according to what's needed in the United States or maybe in reaction to public outcry or other political events that are happening.

Michael Grant:
I guess the other things we think of in terms of getting into the country legally, are visas, student visas come to mind. Just travel, vacation visas, but that's really different. That's not people coming here wanting to live here.

Jeanne Kent:
Right. There are two basic types of visas. There's immigrant visas and nonimmigrant visas. So an immigrant visa is given to someone that intends to come to the United States to live permanently. A nonimmigrant visa is someone that's coming for a temporary period, a visitor, a student, and even certain types of employment-based visas where they will work for maybe a short one or two year period then return to their home country.

Michael Grant:
But Rudy, obviously, minds can change.

Rudy Bustamante:
Yes, they can.

Michael Grant:
And circumstances can change. A person can come on a student visa, not intending to stay, but I don't know, romance happens--

Rudy Bustamante:
They fall in love, and marry, or-- and then they decide they want to stay here in the U.S., so they adjust their status.

Michael Grant:
But a lot of them don't, but let's say-- in other words, some just overstay their visas. But if things do change, is there a process where the student can call up and say, well, I'm deeply in love and now I would like to move to more permanent status?

Rudy Bustamante:
Yes, there is a process. There is a process where they can adjust their status.

Michael Grant:
Now, Diane, the KTAR news anchor, referred to her process getting in here from Canada as a nightmare. As I understand it, it's sort of your function to try to make that less nightmarish.

Rudy Bustamante:
Well, my function is to help with the resources available to those applying for immigration status. There are a lot of times where people don't know where to get information, how to get information. My job is to do outreach with the community and have the information accessible to them, whether it be through internet, flyers and so forth, just to educate the community on where they can obtain information and how to obtain it.

Michael Grant:
Jeanne, how do people come in contact-- I'm sure it's through a wide variety of different mechanisms, but how in general does someone come into the process?

Jeanne Kent:
To get information?

Michael Grant:
Yes.

Jeanne Kent:
Used to be they would just come to a local office, stand in line and come into the office and speak with an immigration information officer. The service I'm very happy to say has done great steps in making that process easier for people where they don't physically have to come to the office. We have an 800 number people can call and speak to someone in their own language. We have an excellent website, uscis.gov where people can spend their time at home browsing online or going to a public library if they don't have their own computer, and they still can make an appointment and talk to someone.

Michael Grant:
Let's say I'm illustratively in Scotland and I would like very much to come to the United States and work.

Jeanne Kent:
Right.

Michael Grant:
How would I-- I'm sure I could use the website.

Jeanne Kent:
That's right, you could. The internet is everywhere nowadays. And I suppose if you were in Scotland you could go to your local, hopefully local, consulate or U.S. Embassy and get information. But I think with the information so available on the internet, we are really encouraging people to take that opportunity because you don't have the pressure of having to wait in line, maybe out in the elements. From the comfort of your own home you can go on and browse the website. It has a wealth of information.

Michael Grant:
Rudy, I like to on these kinds of stories that we do, try to personalize this. Could you give us a couple of examples of people who will have gotten in touch with you? I don't mean by name or anything--

Rudy Bustamante:
Right.

Michael Grant:
But situations where they are sort of fumbling around looking for help or who do I go to or whatever?

Rudy Bustamante:
Well, one of the first things I did when I started with the service five years ago is my business card, I added my cell phone, my office phone, and my email address. So on our main website, our main immigration website, it lists each individual district office. In there it's got my name as community liaison officer and it has my email address and my office phone number. So anybody throughout the world that searches the web can find my name.

Michael Grant:
Oh, here's Rudy's cell phone number.

Rudy Bustamante:
Right.

Michael Grant: Give me an example.

Rudy Bustamante:
I have had phone calls from all over the world. I have had phone calls from Palestine, phone calls and emails from naval ships, U.S. Naval ships, from service people who are green cardholders and want to start the process to become naturalized. So they will email me, asking me, and shortly after that I connect them to the right people and so forth, make sure they are being helped out. I will get further emails from other naval ships because the word gets out. So from all over the world I get contacted.

Michael Grant:
Jeanne, there's obviously a lot of focus on illegal immigration. There's also a focus on the backlog. The backlog is a product, is it not, of the quotas established by congress?

Jeanne Kent:
I think the backlog is a product of the popularity of our country. So many people have applied, and we only have so many officers to process those applications. There are changes in the law. For example, we did have congress had passed a law that allowed people in the united states illegally instead of returning home to apply could pay a fee, an extra fee, and actually stay in the United States and get their status adjusted. That law ended in April of 2001, and we're just now coming to the point where we're seeing the end of those cases. So we're getting the backlog reduced in great numbers. But that's one of the main issues facing our agency is to reduce those baklogs.

Michael Grant:
If you want to get here legally from Mexico, how long on average does it take? I have heard five years.

Jeanne Kent:
That's such a complicated question because again we go back to do you have a family member applying for you or an employer applying for you? Is that family member that's applying for you a citizen or a lawful permanent resident? So I can never give you such a general answer, unfortunately.

Michael Grant:
Family member is three and worker is seven, averaging five?

Jeanne Kent:
I think of a family member as a U.S. citizen you'll get here a lot quicker than if your family member is a lawful permanent resident because of those categories and what numbers are available.

Michael Grant:
Jeanne, thank you very much for coming. We appreciate the information.

Jeanne Kent:
Thank you.

Michael Grant:
Rudy Bustamante, thanks to you as well.

Rudy Bustamante:
Thank you.

Michael Grant:
If you'd like information about upcoming shows or about past shows please visit our website at www.azpbs.org.

Mike Sauceda:
The week starts off with the march over 100,000 people protesting legislation that would make being here illegally a felony. Later on in the week the Arizona legislature passed a bill making it a misdemeanor it to be an illegal immigrant in Arizona. We'll talk about those issues and more at the Journalists' Roundtable Friday at 7:00 on Horizon.

Michael Grant:
And we will also discuss undoubtedly what progress is being made on the state's budget. Hope you can join us on the Friday edition of Horizon. Thanks for being here on Thursday. I'm Michael Grant. Have a great one. Good night.

Announcer:
If you have comments about Horizon, please contact us at the addresses listed on your screen. Your name and comments may be used on a future edition of Horizon. Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of 8, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Immigration Process


  • Find out what it takes to become a legal U.S. immigrant.
Guests:
  • Dawn McLaren - research economist, W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University
  • Jeanne Kent - supervisory district adjudications officer,United States citizenship and immigration services


View Transcript
Michael Grant:
Tonight on Horizon, how do undocumented workers affect our economy? The area of taxes, social benefits, wages, social benefit costs. We'll talk to an ASU economist about that. Plus, before 1924, an immigrant from Mexico can come into the U.S. by paying a nickel for a Visa. It's a lot more complicated now. We'll explore the process needed to come here legally. More on that next on Horizon.

Announcer:
Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of 8, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

Michael Grant:
Good evening. Welcome to Horizon. I'm Michael Grant. Before we get to the main topics tonight, here is the latest news. Finally some movement on the republican budget at the state capitol. Republican legislative leaders say they have reached consensus on a state budget for the next fiscal year. Senate president Ken Bennett said today they hope to meet with the governor soon about the budget. A spokesperson for the governor says she wasn't aware of any meeting set-up yet. Bennett didn't say much about the budget's details but did reveal it includes $250 million in tax cuts as well as cash for border security. Part of the debate raging over illegal immigration is the cost or the benefit to society. Recently a "New York Times" columnist and economist Paul Krugman wrote a column that suggested that illegal aliens resulted in a small increase in overall income but a decrease in the lowest paid native-born workers in society. Here now to talk about it costs and benefits of illegal immigration is Dawn McLaren. She is a research economist with the W.P. Carey School of Business at Arizona State University. Dawn, good to see you again.

Dawn McLaren:
Good to be here.

Michael Grant:
Let's go to Krugman's point. People were surprised by it because he's a liberal columnist.

Dawn McLaren:
You would expect he would say that we should have these illegal aliens here. And that would be wonderful and they must be such a benefit to society.

Michael Grant:
What he was basically saying was this, although there's a slight net benefit, that the impact that they have is to drive down wage levels for the lowest paid native-born workers in our society.

Dawn McLaren:
And what he was doing there is he took information from other sources and looked at it and took their assumptions as a conclusion. And decided to make his conclusion based on that, not realizing that those assumptions were based on other assumptions and other assumptions. By the time you get to the end of it the information is very unreliable. What we know about the illegal community, what we know about the impact they have on society is very little whether it comes to costs or benefits. And we have to face that. We have to realize that we simply don't know so much about this that it's hard for us to say whether it's a net cost or net benefit.

Michael Grant:
Well, we can quantify costs, I think, a little easier than we can quantify benefits, can't we?

Dawn McLaren:
Possibly, but even there--

Michael Grant:
When you look at incarceration, health care, those kinds of things.

Dawn McLaren:
For instance, health care, the hospitals. Hospitals have some information as to who is uninsured, information as to demographics, but they are not sure as to who is illegal and who is not. And this is what comes down to the end of it every single time. You can say, well, illegal aliens are probably in this larger group of people but you still have to make an assumption as to what part of that larger group of people, whether it's a group of Mexican-born foreign people here, not U.S. citizens, or whether it's a group of uninsured people, whatever it is, you're having to make some assumptions based on that group.

Michael Grant:
Let me go though-- I don't think you need a PhD in economics on this, but you can test me.

Dawn McLaren:
Okay.

Michael Grant:
What is wrong with the basic premise, though, which I think was Krugman's premise. Take just hypothetically, 1 million people, 1 million illegal immigrants, willing to, and let's stick with a semi skilled trade. Willing to work in that semi skilled trade for $12 an hour whereas an American worker otherwise absent that supply would work in that trade at $18 an hour.

Dawn McLaren:
Right.

Michael Grant:
Won't that depress that level?

Dawn McLaren:
That might if we didn't already have a labor shortage. The problem is we don't have those American workers ready to replace those illegal immigrants. If we did, then I would say fine, we have an oversupply of labor. What we have is people making a choice between whether they are going to pick crops, capital equipment machinery or a person. And the machinery will be a lot more expensive than the $18 an hour you may pay an American, but we are not going to draw Americans from the places where they may be unemployed. I think one of the groups came up with a figure of 4 million unemployed Americans ready to take these jobs that they say the same group says that 20 million illegal aliens are here. Well, obviously, we just do not have enough in that labor pool. That's the labor pool of about age between 15 and 24, the group that would be in high school and college, the group when you were of that age you probably had people going out and doing construction jobs over the summer, painting a house, picking a crop, and that type of thing.

Michael Grant:
Usually teenagers, say older teenagers or we're talking about entry-level jobs.

Dawn McLaren:
Right. The kid who would come by with his dad's lawn mower to mow your lawn--

Michael Grant:
Right. Sure.

Dawn McLaren:
That has dried up. It's dried up for a couple of reasons. First of all, we didn't have enough children to be in that age group right now. And also they have other things they can do. Those kids can work in computer help desks. They have lived with computers all their lives. They don't have to go out and do manual labor, unskilled labor. They have computer skills and other things.

Michael Grant:
Given that the baby boom echo has had babies--

Dawn McLaren:
Yes.

Michael Grant:
We're going to see that population segment-- in fact we are already seeing it, but we are going to see it ramp up--

Dawn McLaren:
Right.

Michael Grant:
That will create some increase in supply for those kinds of jobs.

Dawn McLaren:
Exactly. We had this happen before. If you look at it over time, basically the group of people between the ages of 44 and 64, that group of people that makes more money, mid career, getting to the end of their career, that is their highest paid time of life, they demand more services and goods. That proportion has been growing and growing, in percentage of the population as a whole, since about 1900. It's been growing and growing and growing. The other way, the 15 to 24-year-olds have been decreasing. Occasionally we have had a bump up. In the 1960's we faced same thing, where we had not enough people in that age group. Government knew how to react.

Michael Grant:
50's or 60's?

Dawn McLaren:
End of the 40's, ending in 1962. So before that, after World War II going up to 1961 or 1962.

Michael Grant:
Basically the baby boom--

Dawn McLaren:
Right. The same generation. Exactly. So then those kids managed to go into all these jobs and what we have seen is that all of a sudden has tailed off again. We need to face the fact that our market is demanding these laborers to come in for a period of time. Not necessarily forever, and I don't think they necessarily want to be here forever. They don't necessarily want a path to citizenship. They want to be able to work, send money home, send remittances home, and feed their family for a while, build a house, and then go home where they want to be.

Michael Grant:
There were 3 million, obviously, in the mid 1980's who wanted to stay. There's now 10 to 12 million. That would seem to indicate that there is some-- if not permanency to individual, let's say permanency to class.

Dawn McLaren:
Part of this is what we have done also in terms of our setting up public policy. NAFTA, we closed in-migration from the southern part of that country up to that northern border.

Michael Grant:
We required plants be located within 75 miles of the bored.

Dawn McLaren:
Precisely. So now those plants go to china or where it may be cheaper, you have people who have already broken ties with their family. This is partly why you won't get a laid off worker in Michigan to come to work in Arizona. He has his family. He has his network. And are we going to say you have to go and work down in Arizona or we are going to give them benefits in Michigan? And that's part of the trouble. We set it up that way.

Michael Grant:
Well, okay. Dawn McLaren, tough issue to sort through. But we appreciate your help in trying.

Dawn McLaren:
Thank you.

Michael Grant:
In all the talk about illegal immigration, it is worth noting that there are approximately 1 million new legal immigrants to the United States each year. Many may wonder why illegal immigrants don't take the legal route. One possible explanation, it is a matter of time. Larry Lemmons reports it can take years to become an American citizen no matter where you were born.

Diane Brennan:
The white house is not disputing the disclosure that president Bush gave the go-ahead to a leak of pre-war Iraq intelligence.

Larry Lemmons:
Diane Brennan anchors the news at KTAR. She's worked at the station for nearly four years. She's also categorized as a permanent resident. A Canadian at birth, she has a green card now and wants to become an American citizen.

Diane Brennan:
My green card is good for 12 years. But I would. I would like to become a citizen here. I love the country. I'd like to vote and would like to do a few other things. I want to apply in amazing race and you actually have to be a citizen to do. So I'm like, I'm there.

Larry Lemmons:
All kidding aside, the subject of citizenship has been no joke to Brennan.

Diane Brennan:
The experience was definitely a nightmare. From what I was told what would happen in the process was completely different than what I actually had to do. At the time-- I've been in the states for nine years. For example, there was a lot of miscommunication. I'd speak with one person at immigration they'd say file this form. I would speak with another one and they would say, no, that was wrong. I don't know who told you that. Fill out this form. My documents were lost. I.N.S. had lost them so I had to reapply and pay the fine again. My green card they actually sent to the wrong address and I had to wait a year until a certain date to be able to contact them and say, what happened to my green card. So I had to wait a year. And the whole time it was lost. I wasn't allowed to call earlier to find out. I had to wait a whole year. Then I had to reapply again and pay the other forms even though I sent them the address change. So it was very frustrating.

Larry Lemmons:
The most common misconception we may have about legal immigration is that it's a relatively easy and quick process. We think about the images of the immigrants on Ellis Island, the immigration process was much easier back then. Not so much today.

Jeanne Kent:
Okay. Well, let's try and do it the easy way. First thing someone has to do is immigrate to the United States as a lawful, permanent resident. And generally there are two ways to do that: either through a family-based petition or employment-based petition. And obviously a family-based petition means someone that's already here in the United States either as a lawful permanent resident themselves or U.S. citizens can file a petition to immigrate that person to the United States. And with the employer petition, a similar process in that an employer files a petition looking for someone that has a special work skill that's needed and maybe there aren't enough Americans that have that skill and they'll immigrate the person. Once the person gets here to the United States, generally they have to be a permanent resident and be here for five years before they can qualify to file for citizenship. There are certain exceptions for military personnel and for spouses of U.S. citizens. They only have to wait three years. So once they are ready, they have put their time in, then they can file an application for citizenship or naturalization, we call it. And to do that, they fill out an application. They can submit it to their service center. They go through fingerprinting and security checks. They come to the office for an interview that covers the items that are in their application. They also have to take an English and civics test. And assuming everything goes well with that and they pass their interview then they're scheduled for a ceremony. So that's the process in a nutshell. Of course, it sounds easier than it really is. Depending on the person.

Larry Lemmons:
There are other ways to come into the country legally without becoming a citizen. There are work visas and other possibilities. But if you are intent on being a citizen it will take you longer if you are from China, Mexico, India or the Philippines. That's because there's so much of a backlog from those countries of people wanting to become citizens.

Jeanne Kent:
There's four different preference categories for those visa numbers. And the categories can get quite large so the backlog in certain categories can be quite years long. So for people like China and the Philippines is used often as an example someone that's a brother or sister living in the Philippines has about a 20-year wait.

Larry Lemmons:
Congress sets the rules as to what preferences and question as are in place. The quota for country puts citizens or larger countries at a disadvantage because they are all under the same quota based on worldwide immigration. And the rules can change quite often over the years.

Diane Brennan:
Well, first with the different administration coming in the immigration laws change. At one point in my life I tried to seal if I was eligible and I wasn't. Then four years later the rules changed and that's when I found out that my mother could get her U.S. citizenship and she could sponsor me for a green card. So that was the first step. And I chose that visa because I was eligible for it. I could also come down on a NAFTA agreement, North American Free Trade Agreement, but it's a year visa you have to renew every year and it's up to the border guards whether or not to renew it. So basically your life is in a border guard's hands whether he says yes or no. So I wanted a permanent visa.

Larry Lemmons:
Brennan's next step is to take the citizenship test. That will take another year. She says being an immigrant helps her understand why people want to come to the United States.

Diane Brennan:
So I can understand the desire of the Mexican people to want to come here and do better. I pretty much came for the same reason. I went as far as I could in my field that if was trying to do in Canada. So in order to better myself and want a better future for myself I wanted to come to the U.S. because I was allowed to do that. So I can relate to what they want to do.

Jeanne Kent:
When I'm at a naturalization ceremony and see the emotion in the person's eyes that just became a citizen, you really have to see it. It makes you feel so good about being a citizen of the United States, how lucky we are.

Michael Grant:
Joining us now to talk more about the legal immigration process, Jeanne Kent is back. She is the supervisory district adjudications officer for the United States citizenship and immigration services. And Rudy Bustamante, community liaison officer for the same agency. It's good to see both of you.

Jeanne Kent:
Thank you.

Michael Grant:
So Jeanne, if I understand correctly, the two largest categories of people coming here are either family sponsored or employment sponsored.

Jeanne Kent:
That's correct.

Michael Grant:
Now, the story mentioned that the immigration process has changed over the years. How has it changed in its major respects?

Jeanne Kent:
Well, are we talking just to become a permanent resident? One change we have seen since September 11th is obviously the background checks. That's changed in one aspect, slowed the process down. There have been new requirements added, for example, someone that's coming to be a permanent resident has to go through a medical exam. Those requirements have been added. Affidavits of support are required for people. For example, a family-based petition has to show they have enough income to support that person in the United States should they fall on hard times and not be able to support themselves.

Michael Grant:
Quotas obviously change. The number of total people allowed in the country I suppose. Are there also regional shifts from time to time where we say, let's say, it's a universe of 1 million where we will say, all right, people from this region, it will be 250 ,000, and then maybe later we'll say, no, we're only going to do 150 ,000 as part of the overall quota?

Jeanne Kent:
Those changes have happened historically. Those numbers are set by congress. That is something that congress would change maybe according to what's needed in the United States or maybe in reaction to public outcry or other political events that are happening.

Michael Grant:
I guess the other things we think of in terms of getting into the country legally, are visas, student visas come to mind. Just travel, vacation visas, but that's really different. That's not people coming here wanting to live here.

Jeanne Kent:
Right. There are two basic types of visas. There's immigrant visas and nonimmigrant visas. So an immigrant visa is given to someone that intends to come to the United States to live permanently. A nonimmigrant visa is someone that's coming for a temporary period, a visitor, a student, and even certain types of employment-based visas where they will work for maybe a short one or two year period then return to their home country.

Michael Grant:
But Rudy, obviously, minds can change.

Rudy Bustamante:
Yes, they can.

Michael Grant:
And circumstances can change. A person can come on a student visa, not intending to stay, but I don't know, romance happens--

Rudy Bustamante:
They fall in love, and marry, or-- and then they decide they want to stay here in the U.S., so they adjust their status.

Michael Grant:
But a lot of them don't, but let's say-- in other words, some just overstay their visas. But if things do change, is there a process where the student can call up and say, well, I'm deeply in love and now I would like to move to more permanent status?

Rudy Bustamante:
Yes, there is a process. There is a process where they can adjust their status.

Michael Grant:
Now, Diane, the KTAR news anchor, referred to her process getting in here from Canada as a nightmare. As I understand it, it's sort of your function to try to make that less nightmarish.

Rudy Bustamante:
Well, my function is to help with the resources available to those applying for immigration status. There are a lot of times where people don't know where to get information, how to get information. My job is to do outreach with the community and have the information accessible to them, whether it be through internet, flyers and so forth, just to educate the community on where they can obtain information and how to obtain it.

Michael Grant:
Jeanne, how do people come in contact-- I'm sure it's through a wide variety of different mechanisms, but how in general does someone come into the process?

Jeanne Kent:
To get information?

Michael Grant:
Yes.

Jeanne Kent:
Used to be they would just come to a local office, stand in line and come into the office and speak with an immigration information officer. The service I'm very happy to say has done great steps in making that process easier for people where they don't physically have to come to the office. We have an 800 number people can call and speak to someone in their own language. We have an excellent website, uscis.gov where people can spend their time at home browsing online or going to a public library if they don't have their own computer, and they still can make an appointment and talk to someone.

Michael Grant:
Let's say I'm illustratively in Scotland and I would like very much to come to the United States and work.

Jeanne Kent:
Right.

Michael Grant:
How would I-- I'm sure I could use the website.

Jeanne Kent:
That's right, you could. The internet is everywhere nowadays. And I suppose if you were in Scotland you could go to your local, hopefully local, consulate or U.S. Embassy and get information. But I think with the information so available on the internet, we are really encouraging people to take that opportunity because you don't have the pressure of having to wait in line, maybe out in the elements. From the comfort of your own home you can go on and browse the website. It has a wealth of information.

Michael Grant:
Rudy, I like to on these kinds of stories that we do, try to personalize this. Could you give us a couple of examples of people who will have gotten in touch with you? I don't mean by name or anything--

Rudy Bustamante:
Right.

Michael Grant:
But situations where they are sort of fumbling around looking for help or who do I go to or whatever?

Rudy Bustamante:
Well, one of the first things I did when I started with the service five years ago is my business card, I added my cell phone, my office phone, and my email address. So on our main website, our main immigration website, it lists each individual district office. In there it's got my name as community liaison officer and it has my email address and my office phone number. So anybody throughout the world that searches the web can find my name.

Michael Grant:
Oh, here's Rudy's cell phone number.

Rudy Bustamante:
Right.

Michael Grant: Give me an example.

Rudy Bustamante:
I have had phone calls from all over the world. I have had phone calls from Palestine, phone calls and emails from naval ships, U.S. Naval ships, from service people who are green cardholders and want to start the process to become naturalized. So they will email me, asking me, and shortly after that I connect them to the right people and so forth, make sure they are being helped out. I will get further emails from other naval ships because the word gets out. So from all over the world I get contacted.

Michael Grant:
Jeanne, there's obviously a lot of focus on illegal immigration. There's also a focus on the backlog. The backlog is a product, is it not, of the quotas established by congress?

Jeanne Kent:
I think the backlog is a product of the popularity of our country. So many people have applied, and we only have so many officers to process those applications. There are changes in the law. For example, we did have congress had passed a law that allowed people in the united states illegally instead of returning home to apply could pay a fee, an extra fee, and actually stay in the United States and get their status adjusted. That law ended in April of 2001, and we're just now coming to the point where we're seeing the end of those cases. So we're getting the backlog reduced in great numbers. But that's one of the main issues facing our agency is to reduce those baklogs.

Michael Grant:
If you want to get here legally from Mexico, how long on average does it take? I have heard five years.

Jeanne Kent:
That's such a complicated question because again we go back to do you have a family member applying for you or an employer applying for you? Is that family member that's applying for you a citizen or a lawful permanent resident? So I can never give you such a general answer, unfortunately.

Michael Grant:
Family member is three and worker is seven, averaging five?

Jeanne Kent:
I think of a family member as a U.S. citizen you'll get here a lot quicker than if your family member is a lawful permanent resident because of those categories and what numbers are available.

Michael Grant:
Jeanne, thank you very much for coming. We appreciate the information.

Jeanne Kent:
Thank you.

Michael Grant:
Rudy Bustamante, thanks to you as well.

Rudy Bustamante:
Thank you.

Michael Grant:
If you'd like information about upcoming shows or about past shows please visit our website at www.azpbs.org.

Mike Sauceda:
The week starts off with the march over 100,000 people protesting legislation that would make being here illegally a felony. Later on in the week the Arizona legislature passed a bill making it a misdemeanor it to be an illegal immigrant in Arizona. We'll talk about those issues and more at the Journalists' Roundtable Friday at 7:00 on Horizon.

Michael Grant:
And we will also discuss undoubtedly what progress is being made on the state's budget. Hope you can join us on the Friday edition of Horizon. Thanks for being here on Thursday. I'm Michael Grant. Have a great one. Good night.

Announcer:
If you have comments about Horizon, please contact us at the addresses listed on your screen. Your name and comments may be used on a future edition of Horizon. Horizon is made possible by contributions from the friends of 8, members of your Arizona PBS station. Thank you.

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