A border wall, ICE raids, detention centers, and street protests – immigration has been one of the hottest political issues over the past year. But how much do you know about the process that made America “a nation of immigrants?” On this Week’s Friday Forum, WNIJ’s Susan Stephens sat down with immigration attorney Sara Dady, who’s with the Rockford law firm Dady and Hoffmann.
Dady has been practicing immigration law for more than a decade, specializing in family-based immigration law and visas for crime victims who cooperate with law enforcement. She said she found her passion for immigration law as a volunteer for Minnesota Advocates for Human Rights. Her first assignment was an asylum case. “After that, I realized it was all I wanted to do,” Dady said. “I have always been a proponent of the underdog. Immigrants are the ultimate underdogs. The entire resources of the U.S. government are marshaled against someone who has nothing, comes from nothing, and just wants to be part of this country. There’s no greater satisfaction than helping that person achieve their dream.”
Since immigration is federal, Dady spends most of her court time in Chicago’s immigration court. It’s a slow process. In fact, she said that court, which serves most of Illinois, part of Indiana, and southern Wisconsin, has more than 23,000 cases pending. “I was in court two months ago,” she said, “and second hearing dates were being set out to 2020, 2021. That’s how many years pass between hearings.” And that’s a drop in the bucket of time it takes to become a U.S. citizen. Obtaining a visa can take between 3 and 26 years, depending on the immigrant’s preference category and home country.
It’s a difficult road. Dady said one of the biggest myths about undocumented immigrants in the U.S. is that they are not applying for a green card. The first step to becoming a U.S. citizen is getting an immigrant visa. Dady said, “In order to apply for an immigrant visa, you need someone to petition for you -- a certain family member or an employer. If don’t have a petition, then you need to live in a country that participates in the diversity lottery. You put your name in the hat, meet the requirements, and then you can come in as a permanent resident. Mexico doesn’t have a diversity lottery. If you have no petitioner and are not from a diversity lottery country, there’s no way to apply for permanent residence in the U.S.”
And the rules have gotten tougher over the years. Dady said in 1997, President Bill Clinton signed legislation disqualifying some people from acquiring legal status. It set a ten-year ban on re-entering the country for some violations of immigration law. Why ten years? Dady said discouraging people from entering without permission was Congress’s intention. She said, “We set up a rigged game. Workers came in and followed our crooked rules, and now we turn around and call them the cheaters. People would not risk their lives to come and work if they had a lawful way to apply for a visa to come here! The sad fact is that only 5000 green cards for low skilled workers are allowed each year for the entire country.” Wisconsin alone needs that many for seasonal work, not to mention more for year-round work with dairy farmers, according to Dady.
President Trump’s recent executive orders regarding immigration are meant to make it tougher to get into the U.S. Dady said fear running through the immigrant communities has ramped up since Trump’s election. And it’s not just the undocumented immigrants. Dady said she receives calls every day from naturalized citizens who want to know if it’s okay for them to travel. “As an attorney, I have to advise.” she said, “It should be ok, but honestly, I don’t know. I never thought I’d see the day that someone with a green card was not allowed to board a flight back to the U.S. That’s what we saw in January."
Dady said politicians should be able to get together on immigration reforms. That’s demonstrated in her two suggestions for more information about immigration, the American Immigration Council and the CATO Institute.