When you apply for a green card (lawful permanent residence status) as a spouse or parent or ummarried child of a U.S. citizen under age twenty-one, your application can be processed when it is filed, many factors that would disqualify you for other visas don't apply, and if you entered the country legally (even if you later fell out of legal immigration status) you can apply for a green card in the U.S. rather than at a foreign embassy.
But, suppose that you are a child of a U.S. citizen who is over the age of twenty-one, a brother or sister of a U.S. citizen, a spouse of a lawful permanent resident, or an unmarried child of a lawful permanent resident, how long do you have to wait in line to have your application considered a recent date?
1. Spouses and unmarried children under the age of twenty-one of lawful permanent residents: Four years if not Mexican nationals, and six years and nine months if Mexican nationals.
2. Ummarried children of U.S. citizens who are more than twenty-one years old: seven years if not nationals of Mexico or the Phillipines, seventeen years and seven months from the Phillipines, and eighteen years from Mexico.
3. Unmarried children of lawful permanent residents: eight years and nine months if not nationals of the Mexico, the Phillipines or the Dominican Republic; twelve year and seven months from the Phillippines, fifteen years from the Dominican Republic, and nineteen years and six months from Mexico.
4. Married children of U.S. citizens: eleven years if not nationals of Mexico or the Phillipines, twenty years and ten months for nationals of Mexico, and nineteen years and nine months for national of the Phillipines.
5. Brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens: twelve years if not nationals of Mexico or the Phillipines, sixteen years for nationals of Mexico, and twenty-four years for nationals of the Phillipines.
The deadlines shift from month to month.
There is no family based immigration for married children of lawful permanent residents, or siblings of lawful permanent residents, or parents of lawful permanent residents.
In these categories there are also far more reasons that you can be prohibited from filing a legal immigration application for periods of three or ten years for past immigration related issues.
In theory, it takes a minimum of three years as a lawful permanent resident for a spouse of a U.S. citizen to get U.S. citizenship, and a minimum of five years for other lawful permanent residents to get U.S. citizenship, although in practice, it takes longer in both cases.
Spouses of less than two years who are granted lawful permanent resident status have that status reviewed after two years, at which point they must have the bona fide status of their marriage re-examined by immigration officials.
The particular irony here is that people from the Phillipines were U.S. nationals (although not U.S. citizens) until 1946, when it declared independence. Mexican immigration was but unregulated until the end of World War I, was widespread despite regulation until the Great Depression, was again widespread despite regulation from the start of World War II until 1954, and was still permitted far in excess of immigration from other countries until 1968. There was also a major amnesty for undocumented workers in 1986 that particularly benefitted immigrants from Mexico. In a matter of a few decades the U.S. went from welcoming people from the Phillipines and Mexico with open arms, to placing restrictions on immigration from these countries that are far more severe than those on would be immigrants from any place else in the world.
Of course, the current system represents a compromise. The system could refuse to grant any ability to immigrate merely because you have a U.S. citizen who is your child, because your sibling is a U.S. citizen, or when you are an adult, because you have a parent who becomes a lawful permanent resident or U.S. citizens. Indeed, the long waiting times mean that many people on the waiting lists cease to be qualified to immigrate while they are waiting in line. And, many economically oriented critiques of the immigration system argue that we should narrow the scope of family relationship based immigration in favor of immigration based on education, job qualifications and other economic factors (e.g. inbound investment and trade).
But, the compromise is a rather flawed one. Generally speaking, the longer someone has to wait abroad before they are granted permission to immigrate to the United States, the less likely it is that they will every really master American English or become integrated into U.S. culture. If someone fits in a category we are willing to use as a basis for legal immigration, eventually, what is the virtue of making people wait?
If national immigration policy is to insist on maintaining quotas on immigration (from which the delays are a consequence), perhaps we would be better off denying admission entirely to lower priority categories to reduce the wait time in higher priority categories. And, if the quotas really mean a waiting period, why not simply codify the waiting period so that at least people can have some way to plan their futures? And, while country by country quotas may make conceptual sense, when the effect of those quotas it to penalize immigrants from just three countries (and only just a small subset of immigrants from one of those countries), is that really anything more than a penalty specific to Mexico and the Phillipines in all but name?
The six years and nine months of delay for spouses and unmarried children under the age of twenty-one from Mexico for lawful permanent residents (as opposed to four years for other lawful perament residents) is a particular indignity shared by no other nationality, which is deeply damaging to intense nuclear family ties.
It is hard to imagine how we could ever have come up with a system that works the way our current system does by design, but now that we have backed into the current system and it is a controversial issues politically, a real fix seems distant.