5 Things You Didn't Know About Immigration


October 2014

With the influx of children entering the U.S. from Central America, immigration has been on everyone’s mind lately. Many discussions and policies try to address the issue, but immigration can be a complex and nuanced affair. How much do you know about immigration? We did some research and pulled five facts that might surprise you!

1. Immigration is a civil issue, not a criminal issue.

Entering the country without permission is not a crime, but a civil infraction. Calling someone an “illegal” or “illegal immigrant,” defines him or her as a criminal. More accurate terms for these immigrants are “undocumented immigrant” or “unauthorized immigrant.” This also means that the protections and rights guaranteed to a person in a criminal case to do not apply as explained by the Supreme Court in Fong Yue Ting v. United States:

The order of deportation is not a punishment for crime… and the provisions of the Constitution securing the right of trial by jury and prohibiting unreasonable searches and seizures and cruel and unusual punishments have no application.

2. Only 46% of all immigrants are Hispanic or Latino.

Of the approximately 40 million immigrants living in the U.S., only 46% are Hispanic or Latino. The rest are non-Latino white, black and Asian immigrants. News sources often report on undocumented immigrants from Mexico, but between 2000-2011, Mexicans were the largest group of legal immigrants.


3. There are very few options for getting to “the back of the line.”

Many people don’t understand why immigrants can’t simply go to “the back of the line” and wait for legal documentation. The paths to immigration are very limited, and the wait-time for some visas can be up to twenty years.

  • Path 1: Through a family member. This category is limited to parents, spouses, children, or siblings. Even for some of these relationships, the line for processing applications can be extremely long, in some cases between 12-23 years.
  • Path 2: Through employment. This requires finding permanent employment in the U.S., making an investment that creates U.S. jobs, or possessing a special skill. Many of these categories have numerical limitations and are maxed out every year.
  • Path 3: Through the visa lottery. Immigrant visas are drawn at random, but only from certain countries.
  • Path 4: Through special humanitarian visas. These are also numerically limited and have many contingencies. For example, there are only 10,000 U visas for victims of crime available each year. Once that cap is reached, all applicants are placed on a waitlist that currently has applications that will not be processed until 2016.

Still doesn’t make sense? Here’s a visual.


4. Only 5% of the workforce is unauthorized immigrants

The Pew Research Center estimates that 1 in 20 workers do not have authorization to work. This makes up for approximate 5% of the U.S. workforce, and this rate has remained mostly constant since 2006.


5. The President can take some administrative action for unauthorized immigrants.

While the President cannot single-handedly change immigration laws, he does set priorities for enforcing immigration policies. Enforcement agents, such as Border Patrol, implement the priorities established by the President.

Opening Doors helps victims of human trafficking and other violent crimes apply for humanitarian visas on a pro bono basis. Our Immigration Legal Services program also offers low-cost immigration services for people looking for family-based immigration assistance, citizenship, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA), and refugee adjustment of status.


Read other articles from October 2014:

Refugee arrivals have nearly tripled, and we need your help!

Meet Estella: Mother and Entrepreneur