Documented immigrants face bureaucratic hurdles, too

May 1, 2015

By Courtney Kueppers
NNAF News Fellow | University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire

Liliana Romero grew up in a cultural hotbed filled with food and family among the hustle and bustle of Mexico City. For her, following her dreams across the counties’ northern border to America was relatively easy.

She ventured north for a few short stints to visit her family members in Nebraska, Texas and California before applying to study in America for a year. For the 2014-15 school year, she has been studying at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire, a state school of about 10,000 students in the western part of America’s dairy land state.

For Romero, who studies finance, working in New York City or Chicago is her long-term goal. Although she will head back to her home country at the end of the academic year, Romero hopes to return to America to follow her stock market dream, she said.

“It’s the real American dream,” she said.

Romero knows she’s among an elite class of people in Mexico. Because she lives in her nation’s capital—where it is much more common for young people to attend college—she acknowledged the opportunities she’s been granted.

“If you are a student you don’t have the need to go illegally,” she said of moving to America. “I haven’t heard of anyone who does that.”

Although it’s not common to emigrate from Mexico to America illegally in the circles she runs in, Romero knows it happens. She said it’s more likely to happen with low-income people in the northern part of Mexico.

The numbers show Romero’s perception is correct. Although Romero is in Wisconsin temporarily and legally, she is studying in a state with a growing Mexican population. According to the Migration Policy Institute, Mexican immigrants make up more than half of Wisconsin’s immigration population.

MPI reports between 30 and 39 percent of this population to be undocumented. An attractive part of Wisconsin can be the easy access to labor, according to MPI, which sites jobs in turkey, beef and pork processing as common trades for immigrants in the upper Midwest.


Both sides want reform

Nationwide, lawmakers from different political parties disagree on how to handle the issue of immigration, and Wisconsin is no different.

Despite President Barack Obama’s executive action in November, groups on both sides of the aisle are still hungry for comprehensive immigration reform, said Laura Vazquez, senior immigration legislative analyst for the National Council of La Raza.

NCLR, a group that advocates for Hispanic civil rights, works for such reform to have components of border security, future avenues of immigration and legalization of immigrants already in the U.S., Vazquez said.

In 2013, when the House of Representatives didn’t take up a bipartisan Senate bill on comprehensive immigration reform, NCLR was extremely disappointed, Vazquez said.

At that point, NCLR pushed for Obama to use his authority to address immigration, Vazquez noted his actions in November could provide some stability to families who live with fears of deportation.

“We know that a permanent solution through legislation is what is ultimately needed,” Vazquez said. “We think that this is not just an issue that impacts the Latino community, and that’s why we think it’s an important issue.”

Vazquez said she believes one of the most interesting aspects of the immigration debate is how many sectors it brings to the table, noting during her 2013 work with NCLR for comprehensive reform, everyone from “Fortune 500 companies to farmers” had an interest in seeing the immigration issue resolved through legislation.

Conservatives believe America needs to secure and control the southern border, then have some kind of legalization process for the illegal immigrants, Conn Carroll, White House correspondent for, said. However, no one really knows what securing the border is, Carroll said, noting most conservatives also rally for some kind of e-verify program.

He said there is a better way for the State Department to track people granted visas on where they go after entering the country, and if they leave when their visa expires.

The big problem in politics right now is that the lawmakers aren’t “having a real honest conversation” about immigration, Carroll said.


Wisconsin’s legislators

Wisconsin governor and likely 2016 GOP presidential candidate Scott Walker has recently flip-flopped on his immigration policy stance. Although many news sources reported in late March that Walker expressed support for a pathway to citizenship at a private New Hampshire dinner, the governor recently expressed to FOX News’ Sean Hannity a more rigid stance. He stated a need for an e-verify system and tight border control.

Carroll said Walker is not alone in “tripping over this issue in the primary field,” noting he thinks lawmakers will continue to struggle with the issue of immigration for a long time to come.

Walker’s fellow Republican Wisconsin lawmaker, Rep. Paul Ryan, believes the nation cannot proceed on the other immigration issues without first securing the border, according to the congressman’s staff.

Kevin Seifert, Ryan’s Washington chief of staff, said the president’s executive order is constitutionally suspect and has harmed the chances for immigration reform from Congress in the near future.

“I think by going around Congress rather working with Congress, he essentially poisoned the well on immigration reform for the next two years,” Seifert said.

Ryan’s coworker, Rep. Ron Kind, D-WI, states his immigration policy as needing an e-verify program to prevent illegal employment, but to also help small business owners, providing a practical path to citizenship for people already here and fixing a broken H-2A agricultural worker visa program, according to Kind’s website.


In Congress’ court

White House officials are quick to note that Obama’s actions are not unprecedented and that it is within his constitutional rights to expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

There is wide support from the American public and lawmakers to fix the immigration system, but gridlock remains, the officials said.

“This is one of the largest announcements we have made,” White House officials said of the president’s executive order. “The president is going to continue to put pressure on immigration … it’s in Congress’ court to fix it, they’re the ones that actually have the key to do something that’s permanent.”

Liliana Romero has greatly enjoyed her time in America, she said. Although she’s anxious to go back home to see her family and finish up her schooling, she hopes to someday return to America.

In order to do so, Romero will have to tackle the complex American immigration and visa system. Once she’s graduated from college and doesn’t have a university to partner with on the other side of U.S.-Mexico border, Romero knows that process may not be as easy.

However, she’s hopeful to follow her American dream. She’s seen her family members come to America for work and may someday follow their path.

“They made their life here,” Romero said of the people in her family who live in Nebraska, California and Texas. “They have kids, and they are citizens now.”