Kenneth T. Cuccinelli II, the acting chief of United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, whose signature was on my naturalization certificate, had even said that the lines “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” on the base of the Statue of Liberty, referred to “people coming from Europe.”
Mr. Cuccinelli has assumed responsibility for a system of legal immigration whose problems did not start with the Trump administration but have significantly worsened in recent years. It took my family seven years to obtain permanent residency in the United States as a result of being categorized as lower priority, “Family 3rd Preference.” But now, seven years is about the average time for all cases, regardless of priority.
The Immigration Act of 1990 sets per-country limits on legal immigration, so the countries with the most applicants have the longest waits. Immigrants from Mexico wait in the longest line of all: No more than 25,620 of the 1.2 million applicants will be granted a green card this year. Today, someone “going to the back of the line,” as President Barack Obama put it in 2013, could be waiting 46 years to get an application approved.
Because I was born in Antigua and Barbuda, which had a population of only 80,000 when my family applied, I had much less of a wait. There are more people now applying for green cards in Haiti, with 94,000 applicants in line, than there are people living in my home country.
And I was sponsored by my family, a product of the “chain migration” that Mr. Trump has criticized and vowed to end. Indeed, my “chain” starts seven degrees of sponsorship away, with my father’s sister’s husband’s brother. Looking back at every stage of my journey to becoming an American, the window of opportunity for immigrants appears to be getting smaller and smaller.