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Visa rules work to deny citizenship to many illegal immigrants

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Residents of Washington, D.C., are familiar with political talk. A politician must tread carefully, saying enough popular statements to win the largest number of votes while avoiding saying too many unpopular statements that will drive away potential supporters.

Politicians must walk a peculiarly sharp knife's edge when talking about immigration and potential citizenship. On the one hand, they want to talk tough about illegal immigration. It resonates well with certain constituents, giving them the satisfaction that the government is drawing a line in the sand. On the other hand, they must be compassionate to the plight of illegal immigrants, whose citizen families and relatives constitute a significant voting bloc in particular states.

The equanimity that politicians present on the campaign trail and in television advertisements, however, is rather one-sided in practice. The reason is that most illegal immigrants simply are not eligible for legal admission under the current visa system. To obtain an employment-based visa, an immigrant in general needs to be educated and skilled. And to obtain a family-based visa, an immigrant must have a sibling, parent or spouse who is a U.S. citizen or green card holder.

But most illegal immigrants are from Mexico and possess few marketable skills. In addition, few of them are related to U.S. citizens or have relatives who hold green cards as permanent residents. Studies estimate that approximately half of all illegal immigrants in the United States are Mexicans who fit into neither visa class. This means that, as the rules now stand, most of them will face significant obstacles to becoming legal immigrants.

Source: The Washington Post, "A line of would-be immigrants? There isn't one." Editorial Board, Feb. 5, 2012.

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