Institute for Justice and Democracy in Haiti

Following Legal Immigration Rules – And Getting Stuck

NBC’s Kerry Sanders reports on the costs, quotas, and legal battles in becoming a legal immigrant.

MIAMI – If you think doing your own taxes is complicated, try applying to move to the U.S. legally.

The byzantine system confounds government and legal experts on a daily basis.

The mayor of North Miami, Andre Pierre, is not only a Democrat with links to the White House, he’s an immigration lawyer and an immigrant.

A native of Haiti, Pierre oversees a city with a population of 60,000. Forty percent are Haitian-Americans.

He has endless cases of constituents slogging through federal red tape to come to the U.S. within the law. One unresolved case is personal.

Pierre has been working since 2002 to bring his brother-in-law, 16-year-old niece and 14-year-old nephew to South Florida.

“Ever since I was a little boy, I have always played by the rules,” Pierre says. “All you have to tell me is what the rules are and I will follow them. All I ask, is that the maker of the rules follow them too.”

Pierre, the mayor-lawyer, says the rules are ever-changing.

His family has provided birth certificates, blood tests, paternity tests, medical exams, “documents upon documents,” only to be told that the U.S. Embassy in Haiti lost the file or that the medical tests must be updated.

An estimated 50,000 Haitians have been told they can come to the U.S., but they’re not here because of a quota system.

The U.S. establishes how many people can move here from each country each year – a system designed to stop a flood of immigrants. There are lots of categories within those quotas, and the numbers are not hard and fast.

It’s an ill-defined, hard-to-track system, according to John Echard, a spokesman with the U.S. State Department.

But quotas mean those approved to come to the United States often wait more than a decade to get a slot.

Cheryl Little, with the Florida Immigration Advocacy Center in Miami, says the immigration system is “as insanely complicated and nonsensical as it gets. It’s incredibly confusing to understand. Bottom line, it’s a failed system for the folks who deserve to get the benefit they’re entitled to in a timely manner. Instead it’s ‘stop, do not pass go.’ It’s ridiculous.”

Phil Kent, with Americans for Immigration Control, agrees the system is complicated but says 10-year waits are justified.

“We can’t go over these quotas or we will simply be swamped. Our social system, our taxpayer-supported services, just can’t handle it. We cannot just have everyone coming in. That’s why we have the backlogs.”

Kent and others admit that while the intent is to control the flow into the U.S., the system instead encourages illegal entry – a conundrum that experts suggest won’t be resolved without congressional action.

And as the NBC/MSNBC/Telemundo poll shows, that has more and more Americans demanding action on the state level.

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