Six years after he came here from Mexico, David E. has a steady job in a poultry plant, a tidy mobile home and a minivan. Some days he almost forgets that he does not have legal documents to be in this country.
David's precarious success reflects the longtime disconnect between the huge number of Mexican immigrants the American economy has absorbed and the much smaller number the immigration system has allowed to enter legally.
Like many Mexicans, David — who spoke in Spanish and whose last name is being withheld because he feared being fired or deported — was drawn by the near-certain prospect of work when he made his stealthy passage across the desert border in Arizona to this town among the cucumber fields of eastern North Carolina.
"If I had the resources and the connections to apply to come legally," said David, 37, "I wouldn't need to leave Mexico to work in this country."
By big margins, Mexican workers have been the dominant group coming to the United States over the last two decades, yet Washington has opened only limited legal channels for them, and has then repeatedly narrowed those channels.
"People ask: Why don't they come legally? Why don't they wait in line?" said Jeffrey S. Passel, a demographer at the Pew Hispanic Center, a research organization in Washington. "For most Mexicans, there is no line to get in."
The United States offers 5,000 permanent visas worldwide each year for unskilled laborers. Last year, two of them went to Mexicans. In the same year, about 500,000 unskilled Mexican workers crossed the border illegally, researchers estimate, and most of them found jobs.
"We have a neighboring country with a population of 105 million that is our third-largest trading partner, and it has the same visa allocation as Botswana or Nepal," said Douglas S. Massey, a sociology professor at Princeton.
For Mexicans who try to immigrate legally, the line can seem endless. A Mexican who has become a naturalized United States citizen and wants to bring an adult son or daughter to live here faces a wait of at least 12 years, State Department rosters show. The wait is as long as seven years for a legal resident from Mexico who wants to bring a spouse and young children.
Although David E. graduated from a Mexican university, he does not have an advanced degree, a rare skill or family ties to a legal United States resident that might have made him eligible for one of the scarce permanent visas.
Instead, he said, after he despaired of finding work at a decent wage in his home city, Veracruz, he discovered an alternative immigration system, the well-tried underground network of word-of-mouth connections. Contacts he made through the network helped him to make the trek to Arizona, traverse the country in a van loaded with illegal Mexicans and land a job eviscerating turkeys at a poultry plant in Mount Olive three weeks after he arrived.
David has been at the plant ever since, rising to become the chief of an assembly line but still working as much as 12 hours a day on a red-eye shift that ends at 3 a.m.
From time to time he has made inquiries about becoming legal. But he said he was detained twice by the Border Patrol when he first tried to cross into the United States, and with that record, he feared that any approach to the immigration authorities might end in deportation.
Emphasis mine. So great, we're going to demonize people for coming to the United States illegally when there are no channels for them to come here legally. This grossly unfair visa distribution must end. Thanks to Mountain Man at DailyKos for the catch.