Trump’s Baseless Immigration Claim

Arguing for a merit-based immigration system, President Donald Trump offered a muddled, inaccurate and unsubstantiated critique of a program that annually provides visas by lottery to qualified and screened applicants from countries with low immigration rates.

Trump said that other countries are gaming the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program to “take their worst” and “put them in the bin” so that when the lottery occurs, “they have the real worst in their hands. … And we end up getting them.”

There’s no evidence for that.

The Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, or DV program, uses a computer lottery system to randomly issue up to 50,000 immigrant visas each year to applicants from countries with low rates of immigration to the United States. Millions of applicants apply annually for the diversity visas.

Trump has thrown his support behind the RAISE Act, a bill that seeks to halve legal immigration into the U.S. by reducing the number who gain entry based on family ties, capping the yearly number of refugees admitted and emphasizing a “merit-based” immigration system. It also would do away with the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program.

Trump’s most recent critique of the DV program came during a rally in Pensacola, Florida, on Dec. 8.

Trump, Dec. 8: How about the lottery system, folks? Do you see that? That’s the guy in New York City, the lottery system, where they put names in a bin. You know, you think these countries are legit when they do their lottery system. So what they do, I would say, but more than just saying, they take their worst and they put them in the bin. And then when they pick the lottery, they have the real worst in their hands, oh, here they go. And we end up getting them. No more lottery system. We are going to end that. We have already started the process. We want people coming into our country who love our people, support our economy, and embrace our values. It’s time to get our priorities straight.

Trump’s reference to “the guy in New York City” is to Sayfullo Habibullaevic Saipov, an Uzbekistan-born immigrant charged with killing eight people in New York City on Oct. 31. Trump rightly notes that Saipov came to the U.S. legally in 2010 through the diversity visa program, as was confirmed by the Department of Homeland Security.

But his appraisal of the program unravels after that.

Let’s start with the claim that the DV program is bringing “the real worst” from other countries.

There were nearly 9.4 million qualified entries in the lottery in 2015, and the DV program ended up bringing 47,934 new legal permanent residents to the U.S. — about 4.6 percent of all of those who obtained lawful permanent resident status through various immigration programs that year.

In order to be eligible for the lottery, applicants must demonstrate that they have a high school education or its equivalent or “two years of work experience within the past five years in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience to perform.”

But that’s not all. If one is selected through the lottery, he or she still has to go through a background security vetting process.

“It is a complicated and lengthy process,” explained Stephen W. Yale-Loehr, who teaches immigration law at Cornell Law School. “Among other things, the consular officer must make sure the individual is not ‘inadmissible.’ This means that the person has not committed a crime, doesn’t have a serious health problem, isn’t a terrorist, hasn’t committed fraud, and hasn’t overstayed in the U.S. before.”

There are more than a dozen grounds of inadmissibility, including, as Yale-Loehr said, health issues, criminal activity, national security concerns and the “likelihood of becoming a public charge,” meaning “a person who is primarily dependent on the government for subsistence.”

“National security is our top priority when adjudicating visa applications,” a State Department official told us via email. “Every prospective traveler to the United States undergoes extensive security screening. No visa can be issued unless all concerns raised by the screening are fully resolved.

“Applicants are continuously screened, both at the time of their visa application and afterwards, to ensure they remain eligible to travel to the United States,” the official said. “This screening draws on information from the full range of U.S. government agencies, including thorough biographic and biometric screening against U.S. law enforcement and counterterrorism databases. Biometric screening includes checks based on fingerprints and/or facial recognition software.”

The screening process also includes an interview by consular officers with a line of questioning “tailored to the circumstances of each applicant,” the State Department official said.

In a press briefing on Dec. 12, Francis Cissna, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, contended “the criteria [for the DV program] are very low.” As a result, he said, “either you have no education at all and very little skills, or you have a minimum of education and no skills at all.”

But that’s not borne out by the statistics.

According to a 2011 report from the Congressional Research Service, a higher percentage of immigrants who entered the U.S. through the DV program had managerial and professional occupations than green card holders overall. Specifically, the report states, 24 percent of diversity immigrants reported managerial and professional occupations in 2009, compared with 10 percent among all green card holders that year. Diversity immigrants also had a lower unemployment rate (3 percent) than all green card holders (8 percent) that year.

More recent data from the Department of Homeland Security’s 2015 Yearbook of Immigration Statistics show 32 percent of those who came through the DV program in 2015 were employed in management, professional and related occupations; another 36 percent were students or children. That’s a lower percentage in management, professional and related occupations than among immigrants who came to the U.S. via employment-based preferences (41 percent). But it’s far higher than the percentage among those who came via family-sponsored preferences (12 percent) or among those who were granted green cards because they were immediate relatives of U.S. citizens (9 percent). That year, 497 of the 47,934 DV immigrants were listed as unemployed, or about 1 percent. That’s far lower than the percentage of unemployed people among all green card recipients (5.1 percent).

It is unclear, exactly, how Trump is suggesting other countries “take their worst and they put them in the bin” so that after the lottery, “we [the U.S.] end up getting them.” The White House press office did not respond to our email seeking clarification.

But there is no evidence to support Trump’s claim of any sort of organized effort by foreign governments to steer their “real worst” to the U.S.

“The diversity lottery is a true lottery,” Yale-Loehr told us via email. “There is no way a foreign government can game the lottery to offload the worst of their citizenry.”

Cissna noted that in 2003, the State Department’s Office of the Inspector General warned about problems with fraud in the program and cautioned that the DV program “contains significant risks to national security from hostile intelligence officers, criminals, and terrorists attempting to use the program for entry into the United States as permanent residents.”

A 2007 Government Accountability Office report warned that the DV program was “particularly vulnerable to manipulation” and fraud risk, even though researchers had found “no documented evidence of DV immigrants from state sponsors of terrorism committing terrorist acts.” The authors note that the State Department, then under President George W. Bush, “was disappointed with the report’s findings and did not agree with the recommendations” and rejected them.

A 2011 Congressional Research Service report similarly said that “[c]ritics of the diversity lottery warn that it is vulnerable to fraud and misuse and is potentially an avenue for terrorists, citing the difficulties of performing background checks in many of the countries eligible for the diversity lottery. Supporters respond that background checks for criminal and national security matters are performed on all prospective immigrants seeking to come to the United States, including those winning diversity visas.”

At the start of his remarks on Dec. 12, Cissna noted that there was also a DV connection related to Akayed Ullah, who is alleged to have set off a pipe bomb in a bungled suicide attack at a bus terminal in New York on Dec. 11. Ullah came to the U.S. based on a family connection to an uncle who originally came to the U.S. through the DV program. But Ullah is not an example of a terrorist who sneaked into the country through any immigration program. According to the criminal complaint filed against Ullah, he came to the U.S. in 2011 and his radicalization began about three years later, in at least 2014.

The State Department warns about the possibility of fraudulent emails sent to lottery applicants that purport to be from the U.S. government “in an attempt to extract payment from DV applicants.”

“So even if a government tried to game the lottery, it should be caught,” Yale-Loehr said. “If people are caught committing fraud, they can’t immigrate. I have never heard of a foreign government trying to game the diversity lottery system. … The bottom line: President Trump’s statements about how the diversity visa program works are false. ”

The DV program has been in Trump’s crosshairs for months, but he renewed calls for its elimination in the wake of Saipov’s attack in New York City. At the time, Trump criticized Sen. Chuck Schumer for helping to create the DV program. As we wrote, Schumer was instrumental in helping to create the program back in 1990 — which was initially intended in large part to benefit Irish immigrants. Schumer, the Democratic leader in the Senate, also was part of the bipartisan Gang of Eight in 2013 that sponsored an immigration overhaul that would have done away with the DV program.

The demographics of those who benefit from the DV program have changed dramatically since its inception. In 2015, DV program visas were offered to residents of 182 different countries, with the largest contingent coming from the African countries of Cameroon, Egypt, Ethiopia, Liberia and the Democratic Republic of Congo, as well as from Nepal and Iran. Excluded are those from countries with high rates of immigration to the U.S. In 2015, that included 19 countries, such as Mexico, India, the Philippines, China, Canada and the United Kingdom.

The program may not enjoy the political support it once did, and Trump is, of course, entitled to his opinion about the need to pivot to a more merit-based immigration system. But we find no basis for his warning that countries are gaming the lottery system and sending “the real worst” of their citizens to the U.S.

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2017-12-14 18:46:52 UTC



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No Evidence

Foreign countries game the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program to send “their worst” citizens to the U.S.

Pensacola, Florida

Friday, December 8, 2017


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Divisions Over Immigration Expose EU’s Fault Lines at Summit

A bloc of Eastern European countries advocated for a toughening of the European Union’s immigration policy, setting the stage for a heated exchange at a summit on Thursday.

When it comes to the future of the euro, “the divide is between North and South, when it comes to migration it is between East and West,” said European Council President Donald Tusk. “These divisions are accompanied by emotions which make it hard to find even common language.” 

EU leaders are in Brussels to discuss defense, foreign policy and the state of negotiations over the U.K.’s withdrawal from the union. Among the most divisive issues is that of mandatory quotas for the allocation of refugees between member states.

In a note sent to heads of state and governments ahead of the gathering, Tusk called the quotas “ineffective”, drawing criticism from the EU’s commissioner for migration, who called the paper “anti-European.” Tusk proposed an approach focused on stemming migration flows outside the bloc and omitting any references to the need to distribute the burden internally.

“Some Brussels bureaucrats continue to organize and promote illegal migration,” Hungary’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade Peter Szijjarto said in a statement. “Donald Tusk is now being attacked in a vile and sanctimonious manner by those who have been representing for years now the obviously misguided migration policy of the European Commission.”

Eastern Europe United

Tusk’s line received support from countries including his native Poland, Hungary, Slovakia, and the Czech Republic, during the summit, while drawing criticism from Germany and Greece.

The so-called Visegrad Four countries issued a statement saying that the “migratory pressure on Europe can only be efficiently tackled by ensuring the protection of external borders, while addressing the root causes,” and committed 35 million euros ($41 million) to a project aimed at protecting EU’s borders in Libya.

The money was hailed as a welcome show of solidarity by European Commission President Jean-Claude Juncker, though it won’t be seen as enough. “We don’t only need solidarity on controlling and steering migration on the outside,” German Chancellor Angela Merkel said. “We also need solidarity on the inside, there cannot be selective solidarity among EU members,” she said.

More Division

The fault line doesn’t end with migration. Hungary and Poland have also been accused by some of their Western European partners of undermining the rule of law, disrespecting EU decisions, and inciting racial hatred. The commission will discuss Poland on Dec. 20, according to Frans Timmermans, vice-president of the bloc’s executive arm.

Asked by reporters whether the commission will launch a legal procedure that could result into sanctions against Poland, Timmermans declined to answer.

More EU Summit Coverage:

— With assistance by Zoltan Simon, Slav Okov, Ewa Krukowska, John Follain, Arne Delfs, and Jonathan Stearns

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Could ICE arrest immigrant family in church sanctuary?

Might federal immigration authorities barge into the Church of the Advocate to arrest the Hernandez family, who have taken sanctuary there to avoid deportation?

In theory, they could. In reality, they probably won’t.

As a police arm of the Department of Homeland Security, Immigration and Customs Enforcement, known as ICE, asserts the right to arrest undocumented immigrants wherever they may be found. But ICE guidelines generally steer agents away from action at places designated as “sensitive locations.”

Those include schools, doctors’ offices, colleges, hospitals and churches, along with weddings, funerals and protest marches.

What’s known in immigration circles as one of the “Morton memos,” issued in 2011 by then-ICE director John Morton, outlined how enforcement actions at sensitive places should generally be avoided. However, he wrote that actions could be taken if they involved national security, terrorism, or imminent risk of death, violence or physical harm to someone. ICE sets out similar conditions on its website today.

Unstated is that ICE arrests at a church or school risk a public-relations disaster. Imagine the video, in the Hernandez case, of armed officers dragging a mother and four children from a church.

All that offers the Hernandez family some security, as long as they stay inside.

“Congregations are calling for welcome, for sanctuary for the stranger, so for ICE to enter would be a real unveiling of what they’re doing,” said Peter Pedemonti, director of the New Sanctuary Movement of Philadelphia, an interfaith immigrant advocate that is assisting the family. “It’s not about criminality. It’s about dragging people down and getting rid of them.”

Nationally, some immigrant advocates accuse ICE and its companion agency, Customs and Border Protection, of violating their own policies. This fall Democrats in Congress charged that agents were creating a climate of fear by arresting people near hospitals and churches, if not actually inside them.

In October, federal border patrol agents in Texas stopped an ambulance at a checkpoint, then followed it to a hospital. Agents waited while an undocumented 10-year-old girl underwent surgery, then took her away to a juvenile detention center. Authorities released Rosa Maria Hernandez, who has cerebral palsy, after the American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit.

More Coverage

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Cuatro cubanos detenidos en redada contra inmigrantes en Nueva Jersey y Nueva York

En una redada por 17 condados de Nueva Jersey y Nueva York, agentes de la oficina de Inmigración y Aduanas (ICE) detuvieron a 101 inmigrantes, de ellos el 70 por ciento son hispanos.

El operativo que duró 11 días, terminó el pasado sábado y según la agencia federal, 82 de los detenidos tenían antecedentes penales, entre los que destacan cargos relacionados con agresión sexual, drogas y fraude. Quince de los individuos tienen cargos penales pendientes y 37, órdenes finales de deportación, y 9 fueron puestos en custodia de ICE, informó la agencia Efe

De acuerdo a los datos de ICE, entre los detenidos se encontraban cuatro cubanos.

El objetivo era capturar a “extranjeros delincuentes en general, personas que reingresaron ilegalmente al país y otros infractores de inmigración”, explicó en un comunicado ICE.

“Los resultados continuos de nuestros oficiales de Operaciones de Fugitivos y sus socios encargados de hacer cumplir la ley subrayan el compromiso continuo y constante de ICE con la seguridad pública”, dijo John Tsoukaris, director de la oficina de campo de ERO Newark. 

“Como parte de esta operación, continuamos enfocados en el arresto de individuos que son criminales y que son una amenaza para la seguridad pública y la seguridad nacional”, agregó.

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WH ramps up calls for immigration overhaul after NYC terror attack

The White House on Tuesday sought to drive home its case for tougher immigration laws in the wake of this week’s attempted terror attack in New York City.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpHouse Democrat slams Donald Trump Jr. for ‘serious case of amnesia’ after testimony Skier Lindsey Vonn: I don’t want to represent Trump at Olympics Poll: 4 in 10 Republicans think senior Trump advisers had improper dealings with Russia MORE called on Congress to end certain immigration preferences for family members of U.S. citizens, saying they pose a national security threat.

Trump pointed out that the suspected attacker, Akayed Ullah, entered the country through “chain migration” — a practice that allows foreigners to obtain visas if they have family members who are U.S. citizens. 

“We’re going to end ‘em. Fast,” the president said.


Lee Francis Cissna, the director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, later made an appearance at Tuesday’s White House press briefing to reinforce the president’s message but ended up muddling it instead.

Cissna described in detail how Ullah secured a visa as the nephew of a U.S. citizen, which he called “the most extreme, remote family-based connection you can have.”

Ullah’s uncle came to the country through the visa-lottery program, another program Trump has argued can be taken advantage of by terrorists.

“What we need is an immigration system that is selective,” Cissna said. “We want to be able to select the types of people who are coming here based on criteria that ensures their success.”

The director then claimed that people who arrive in the U.S. through chain-migration are more likely to be radicalized by terror groups. Asked if he had data to back the claim up, Cissna said, “no.”

And Cissna said he did not “have a command of the facts” when asked if Ullah had been radicalized prior to coming to the U.S. from Bangladesh in 2011.

Trump’s tendency to seize on terror attacks to push his immigration agenda has been the subject of fierce debate in Washington. 

The president’s immigration proposals — most notably his travel ban — have drawn legal challenges from opponents who say they target Muslims and Hispanics.

Democrats and immigrant rights advocates also argue the U.S. already has tough screening procedures to keep potential terrorists out of the country.

But it was no surprise Trump decided to highlight Monday’s failed attack in his hometown.

Ullah attempted to detonate a bomb in the New York subway system, but the explosion failed and the 27-year-old suspect was the only person who suffered serious injuries.

The suspected attacker reportedly told police he was inspired by the Islamic State in Iraq and Syria to carry out the bombing.

Federal prosecutors said Ullah called out Trump on Facebook just before the attack, writing in a post that “you failed to protect your nation.”

Trump reacted similarly to an attack in New York last month, calling for an end to the visa lottery after a suspect in a separate attack was found to have come to the U.S. using that program. 

The president has demanded an end to chain migration and the visa lottery as part of a broader crackdown on what he sees as lax immigration and border security policies.  

“Diversity lottery. Sounds nice. It’s not good. It’s not good. It hasn’t been good. We’ve been against it,” Trump said last month.

The White House submitted a set of immigration demands, including a border wall, in exchange for a legislative fix for the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which Trump announced in fall he would end in March.

DACA, which was created by former President Obama, allows young immigrants brought to the U.S. illegally as children to live and work without fear of deportation.

Democrats have rejected Trump’s demands as too extreme.

The White House’s decision to turn its focus to immigration comes at a time when the president is facing renewed scrutiny over allegations of sexual misconduct against him. 

Three women who accused Trump of sexual harassment or misconducted banded together for a media tour Monday, where they called for a congressional investigation into his conduct.

Several Democratic senators have called on Trump to resign, adding fuel to a story that has dominated news coverage over the past two days. 

After Cissna’s appearance during the White House briefing, press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was peppered with questions about Trump’s suggestive claim that one of the senators, Kirsten GillibrandKirsten Elizabeth GillibrandDemocrats turn on Al Franken Report: Franken will resign Thursday Minnesota’s largest newspaper calls on Franken to resign MORE (D-N.Y.) “would do anything” for a campaign contribution from him.

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Cancillería desmiente retiro de asilo político a Julian Assange

La Cancillería del Ecuador aclaró, a través de sus redes sociales, que los rumores sobre un supuesto retiro del asilo político a Julian Assange son falsos. Según la cartera de Estado, “no hay ningún cambio en el estatus de asilo” para el fundador de WikiLeaks.

El Ministerio de Relaciones Exteriores ratificó que el australiano se mantendrá en la embajada ecuatoriana en Londres mientras “continúen en peligro sus derechos humanos”. Desde junio de 2012 reside en la oficina el diplomático, sin opciones de salir de ella, por una orden de captura de la policía británica.

Si bien Assange es investigado por la justicia sueca a causa de una presunta violación, su temor radica en una extradición hacia los Estados Unidos por publicar contenido clasificado en el portal Wikileaks.

La mañana del martes 12 de diciembre se convirtió en tendencia en Twitter por las especulaciones de que el presidente Lenín Moreno habría dado la orden de no permitir que Assange se mantenga en la embajada.

En declaraciones anteriores, Moreno le pidió al australiano que “deje de opinar de la política de Ecuador”. Sin embargo, su condición de asilado no ha sido revocada. (I)

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Alabama Win Gives Democrats More Leverage on Budget, Immigration

Senate Democrats gained significant new leverage to stymie the Republican agenda and make demands on spending and immigration in Congress next year after Tuesday’s upset victory by their candidate, Doug Jones, in Alabama’s Senate race.

Jones, who became the first Democrat to win statewide in Alabama in a quarter century, isn’t likely to be sworn in before January. So if Republicans make their self-imposed deadline of passing major tax legislation by next week — and they now have even greater incentive to do so — the tax overhaul will be on President Donald Trump’s desk before Jones takes his seat in the Senate.

But his arrival in the Capitol will pare back the Republican Senate majority to just one vote in the 100-member chamber at a time when GOP leaders are struggling to overcome differences within their party while trying to pass a full funding plan for the government, raise the federal debt limit and jump-start a broad debate on immigration and border security.

Second-ranking Senate Republican John Cornyn of Texas said the Alabama election provided “an age-old lesson, which is that flawed candidates lose.” Still, he said he saw little difference in the challenge of managing a 51-49 majority instead of this year’s 52-48 margin. “None of those are easy,” he said.

The already narrow Republican majority has bedeviled GOP leaders at several points this year, forcing them to bring in Vice President Mike Pence to break tie votes on key matters — including the confirmation of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos — and dashing their drive to repeal Obamacare in July when three Republicans voted against a trimmed-back replacement.

Asked whether a 51-49 Senate will empower her and other moderates, GOP Senator Susan Collins of Maine smiled and said, “Let’s hope so.”

She and Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski have withheld support for proposals to win key concessions before. Two other independent-minded GOP senators, Jeff Flake of Arizona and Bob Corker of Tennessee, are retiring and have little to lose in working with other senators to gain leverage on party-line matters.

Democratic Unity

Senate Democrats under Minority Leader Chuck Schumer of New York have demonstrated solid unity in opposition to the health care, tax and other parts of the Republican agenda, and he suggested on Wednesday that the result in Alabama gives his party more reason to hold firm with congressional elections coming up next November.

“If they continue to run the government for the benefit of the few, the special, the powerful, the wealthy interests, there will be many more Alabamas in 2018, many more,” Schumer told reporters.

Missouri Senator Roy Blunt, a member of the GOP leadership, said he sees no changes to the party’s agenda following Republican Roy Moore’s loss in Alabama. “I think we’ll get this tax bill done and then move on just like we were going to,” Blunt said.

The most immediate impact of Jones’s presence will be on the budget debate. The government is currently operating on temporary spending authorization that expires after Dec. 22. Leaders from both parties are angling for another temporary extension to keep the government open until mid-January amid a pileup of difficult issues at the end of this year.

Budget Debate

One of the thorniest debates is over spending caps on defense and domestic programs imposed by a 2011 law. House Republicans want to raise the defense cap by as much as $73 billion to $622 billion and GOP conservatives want to hold the line on non-defense programs. Democrats insist that any defense spending increase must be matched with dollar-for-dollar increases for domestic funding.

Officials in the Trump administration and Republican leaders in Congress have indicated willingness to raise some non-defense spending in exchange for spending cuts or fee increases elsewhere, similar to deals reached by both parties in 2013 and 2015. Jones’ victory could give Democrats an added edge in talks designed to reach a deal on budget caps in the coming weeks. He’ll be present early next January when program-by-program spending details are worked out in a trillion-dollar package.

Under Senate rules, 60 votes will be required to move forward on a spending deal. That means Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell will now need the assent of nine Democrats.

Second-ranking Senate Democrat Dick Durbin of Illinois said Republicans also will need Democrats’ help if they pass a major tax bill and need to make technical corrections later.

“Here’s a news flash: Technical corrections will take 60 votes,” Durbin said.

Schumer’s ‘Veto’

North Carolina Republican Mark Meadows, chairman of the conservative Freedom Caucus in the House, said Jones’s election won’t make much of a difference.

“I don’t know that it impacts what’s going to happen legislatively here,” he said Wednesday at the Capitol. “Schumer’s had an eight-vote veto power, now he has a nine-vote veto power.”

Immigration policy has been one of Democrats’ biggest priorities since Trump said he would end Obama-era protection against deportation for people who were brought to the U.S. illegally as children. Congress has until March to come up with a legislative replacement for the program, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

Complicating the immigration debate is Trump’s demand for $1.6 billion to fund the start of a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, which Democrats strongly oppose.

Meanwhile, Jones’ support for keeping Obamacare unless Congress comes up with what he sees as a suitable replacement could dampen a proposal by Republican Senators Lindsey Graham of South Carolina and Bill Cassidy of Louisiana to turn most health care spending over to the states as an alternative. They’ve failed to get enough GOP support so far, and losing another Republican seat would make it more difficult next year.

Still, Bob Corker, who is leaving the Senate after 2018, expressed optimism Wednesday. “It’s unfortunate for us that we lost an easily attainable seat, but the outcome is good for our country and ultimately good for our party.”

— With assistance by Steven T. Dennis, and Ari Natter

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Why don’t Mexicans just apply for citizenship?

Mexicans are the largest group of immigrants living in the U.S. They’ve been under pressure since President Donald Trump called for construction of a wall between the U.S. and Mexico and said Mexico wasn’t sending its “best people.”  So why don’t Mexicans and other immigrants just get in line for their green cards so they can later apply for citizenship?

Well, it’s not that easy. Six reasons why:

You need a green card. And they’re hard to get.

Immigrants must qualify for a green card, which allows them to live and work in the U.S. legally. Permanent residency is usually obtained because an employer needs the immigrant to work a particular job, or because the immigrant has a close relative living in the U.S. The immigrant must show he or she won’t become a public charge of the government, must pass a medical exam and, in many cases, get a sponsor who will attest to accepting financial responsibility for the immigrant.

But it can take years and, in the case of Mexicans, even decades.

Why does it take so long?

A backlog is built into the system: About 1 million green cards are issued each year, but there are limits in some categories. There are no limits on immediate family — spouses and unmarried sons and daughters younger than 21 and parents of U.S. citizens 21 or older. The largest number of green cards is given to immediate relatives.

But the federal immigration act provides for an annual limit of 226,000 slots for immigrants under family-sponsored categories where no immediate relative is applying: For example, brothers and sisters of adult U.S. citizens. It also calls for an annual limit of 140,000 under the employment-based categories.  That’s further complicated by limits on the number of people who can come from each country. One can also get a humanitarian visa, or a diversity visa. All in all, about 1 million people get residency each year.

What countries have the longest wait times?

Wait times vary based on how a person might qualify for a green card. For example, as of this month, it takes at least 22 years for people from Mexico to get a green card if they’re the married son or daughter of a U.S. citizen.

The four countries with the longest wait times for family and for employer-sponsored permanent visas are Mexico, India, China and the Philippines. So the line is very long.

The State Department publishes a monthly bulletin updating applicants on the earliest month and year of the green card applications that are being reviewed.

Why so long for Mexicans?

Mexico is the U.S.’s largest source of immigrants — both lawfully and unlawfully here. They made up about 28 percent of all immigrants in 2014, according to the Pew Research Center. Because Mexico is our neighbor and has so many immigrants with deep ties to the U.S., there are many more Mexicans waiting for green cards. Right now, about 1.3 million Mexicans are waiting to learn whether they can get family-sponsored green cards, according to a federal government report. And that’s just those living outside the U.S.

This is how far behind they are: The State Department is now processing visas for the Mexican married sons or daughters of U.S. citizens who have been waiting in line since May 1995. It’s slightly worse for Filipinos who have visa dates of March 1995 for the same family relationship.

Another example: A brother or sister from Mexico of an adult U.S. citizen would have to be waiting in line since October 1997. But because fewer are applying from India and the caps for India are different, a brother or sister from India would have to be waiting in line since November 2003.

Can an unauthorized immigrant already living in the U.S. apply for legal permanent residency?

It depends, says Dan Kowalski, an immigration attorney and the editor of Bender’s Immigration Bulletin. Immigrants can apply for a waiver for the fact they are already here unlawfully, if they have a qualifying relative or another way to apply, Kowalski said. But getting such waivers is difficult, he said.

Are there efforts afoot to limit legal immigration?

Legal immigration is in the limelight now as Congress considers legislation that would cut in half the number of green cards awarded each year. The biggest target are those green cards that reunify family members who are non-immediate relatives, Kowalski said.

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