When a Typo Can Derail a Green Card Application, Reform is Long Overdue

When Darrell Fun was serving in the Air Force JAG Corps in Korea, his fellow airmen would come to the lawyer for advice about marrying people they’d met while serving overseas. At the time, Fun says, “high-school-educated kids could do the paperwork themselves for their own marriage.” But times have changed. “Now it would be malpractice for me to advise someone to do it themselves,” says Fun, who now works as a civilian immigration lawyer in Colorado. “The rules and regulations and requirements are just overwhelming. Even minor errors get people into trouble.”

Fun chose to practice immigration law because his parents were immigrants from China. They came to the United States in 1930, fleeing China’s civil war. At the time, China didn’t issue birth certificates, and local records were destroyed during the war. Because Fun’s parents lacked documentation, the only way they could get legal status in the United States was to serve in the U.S. military. His father served in the Army for three years, and his mother worked on an Air Force base in San Antonio.

“But the times are different now,” Fun says. “In the past, it was good enough if you agreed to serve your country honorably for three years. Then you’d have demonstrated your loyalty and you would have a path to citizenship.” Today, immigrants need documentation before they can even join the armed forces. And to join, immigrants must be legal permanent residents or members of a few selected groups, including refugees or certain other documented immigrants deemed to have critical skills under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest program. Immigrants who serve then become eligible for an expedited citizenship application, but this route really isn’t open to undocumented immigrants.

[The high cost of obtaining a visa] does cause a ripple effect throughout the economy. All the costs get passed on to the consumer.

It’s not just military service that has grown complicated for immigrants. Getting permanent residency, also known as a green card, for a spouse can take years, and Fun says the entire process can be derailed by something as simple as a typo, which can deem an application fraudulent.

Current immigration law is complicated and burdensome for employers, as well. Fun works with a number of small, mom-and-pop businesses, including farms and janitorial companies. “They’re forced to spend thousands of dollars to petition for 10 or 12 migrant workers to come in for a season,” he says. “It does cause a ripple effect throughout the economy. All the costs get passed on to the consumer.”

“There’s a mismatched, jumbled set of laws that make no sense,” Fun says of the current immigration system. For one thing, the entire process has become far more complex. The application for citizenship is now so confusing, for example, that it can be difficult for non-lawyers to understand it at all. He says most of his clients come to him because they are trying to comply with the law but can’t sort through it on their own. “It’s gotten to the point now where there does need to be some serious reform,” he says.

About NAE

New American Economy is a bipartisan research and advocacy organization fighting for smart federal, state, and local immigration policies that help grow our economy and create jobs for all Americans. More…