Most news stories about immigration focus on the people who cross the country’s southwest border, the place where President Donald Trump wants to build a wall.

But there is another wall that gets less attention — a bureaucratic one that blocks legal residents from becoming citizens.

Since Donald Trump came to office, the backlog of unprocessed applications to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has risen to historic levels, with three-quarters of a million people waiting to have their cases handled. Even as the applications for citizenship have declined, the waiting list has grown, indicating that the slowdown is intentional.

Called the “Second Wall” by the National Partnership for New Americans, the administration’s obstructionism puts the lie to Trump’s claim that he is opposed only to what he calls “illegal immigration.” But there is nothing illegal about this group of people who are suffering from discrimination.


Applicants for citizenship are “green card” holders, legal permanent residents, who have been present in the United States for at least five years, often much longer. They have paid an application fee and filled out a 21-page form and provided their fingerprints and confidential records for a complete background check.

They are ready to take a written test (in English) that many native-born Americans could not pass and to take an oath to “support and defend the Constitution against all enemies.”

When immigration hawks argue against offering a path to citizenship to people who entered the country illegally, they often say that it’s because they don’t want to be unfair to the people who have “waited in line” and “played by the rules.” But the people who have “waited in line” are exactly the people who are stuck in this paperwork quagmire, waiting for the government to do its job.

Our immigration law has been a mess for decades, with an estimated 11 million undocumented people living and working in every corner of the country. A single family could have some members who are citizens, some members who are green card holders and some who don’t have legal status.


An estimated 1.8 million people are believed to have entered the country without authorization as children, sometimes as infants, and have grown to adulthood knowing no other homeland. Of that group, 800,000 have come forward and registered with the Obama administration’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program. They now face deportation because Trump and other hardliners refused to agree to legislation that would have settled their status.

These are complicated issues, which can be the focus of legitimate controversy in an atmosphere of drummed-up fear-mongering. But at least rhetorically, there has been no controversy about legally present people who meet the requirements to accept the protections and responsibilities of U.S. citizenship.

Regardless of the words taken out of the Citizenship and Immigration Services mission statement, this is a nation of immigrants, and every American generation has been enriched by the addition of new Americans who happened to have been born somewhere else.

There should be no talk about cracking down on illegal immigration until the national government shows respect for our laws and the people who abide by them.

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