Word Power (Part 4)

migrant immigrant workers

Image Credit: Flickr / Bob Jagendorf


Welcome back to our series on words and their meaning as it relates to race, ethnicity, culture, and the like. In case you missed them, you can go back to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.


Undocumented Workers and Migrant Workers

There are a lot of terms floating around as it relates to workers in the United States. Whether these individuals are here legally or not, it seems like everyone gets thrown into two basic categories: undocumented workers and migrant workers. There is a huge difference between the two and often times neither definition applies to the worker in question.

Undocumented worker is a term describing the immigration status of people who do not have the federal documentation to show they are legally entitled to work, visit or live here. Many undocumented workers are taken advantage of and paid less than minimum wage and forced to work in inhumane conditions.

A migrant worker is simply someone who regularly travels in search of short-term or seasonal work. Many migrant workers are documented (quite a few are natural-born citizens), and many undocumented immigrants are not migrant workers. Most people think of day laborers and agricultural labors as being migrant workers. These individuals are typically thought of being immigrants from one particular country. To give you a new perspective on the concept of migrant workers, I am going to suggest that carnival employees fall under the migrant worker category. They travel regularly in search of short term and seasonal work.


Family Based Immigration and Employment Immigration

Image Credit: Flickr / Meddygarnet

Under immigration law, in order to file a family based petition, the petitioner must be either a lawful permanent resident or a US citizen or national. Immigration law also limits the specific relatives that may be petitioned for. Those relatives include spouses, children (biological, step and adoptive), parents, and brothers and sisters. Certain relatives such as aunts, uncles, cousins, grandparents, etc. may not be petitioned for as they are excluded under immigration law. Furthermore, even those who can be petitioned for may be required to follow certain additional criteria. For example, an adoptive child may only be petitioned for if the adoption was processed and completed prior to the child turning sixteen years of age.

Under employment based petitions, an employer will petition to bring an employee into the United States for purposes of working for the employer. This is a fairly tricky category even by the complex standards of immigration law as the person being petitioned for is theoretically taking an American citizen’s job, so the employer must explain the extenuating circumstances as to why an alien is required for the job. An example of this would be “Alien of Extraordinary Ability” which would be the manner that a sports team would petition for a professional athlete or an educational institution for a renowned professor.


Consular Processing vs. Adjustment of Status

Adjustment of status is the procedure for applying for U.S. permanent residence while living in the United States. Applicants submit a written application and later attend an interview at a local USCIS (U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services) office. Adjustment of status is available only to certain people. Not only does the immigrant have to be eligible for permanent residence in the first place, he or she must also (with some exceptions), be staying in the U.S. legally, with a visa or other status.

Adjustment of Status has the following characteristics:

  • Adjustment of Status may be slow. For Adjustment of Status based on an employment-based immigration petition, an average of 1 to 2 years processing time is expected. For Adjustment of Status based on a family-based immigration petition, 1 year to 3 years processing time may be expected;
  • If an alien applies for Adjustment of Status, he/she must reside in the United States at the time of filing of I-485 form (Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status);
  • An alien who chooses to apply for Adjustment of Status has the benefits of a work permit and advance parole.

Consular Processing is the only way to immigrate to the United States if a person is currently living outside of the U.S.

Consular processing has the following characteristics:

  • The time frame for Consular Processing is quicker than Adjustment of Status. From the date immigrant visa numbers become available, an average of 5 to 13 months processing time is expected;
  • Consular Processing must process in the foreign country of residence or country of birth;
  • An alien who chooses to apply for Consular Processing has no benefits of a work permit and advance parole.
  • If an alien chooses to apply for Consular Processing, he must go back to the country of last residence or country of birth for an interview and medical exam at a U.S. consulate.


Anchor baby

Anchor baby’ is a term used to describe a child born to illegal alien parents within the borders of the United States. The child is born as an American citizen and under the 1965 immigration Act, can be used to facilitate citizenship for the immediate – and ultimately the extended – family.

The 14th Amendment was ratified in 1868 to protect the rights of native-born black Americans, whose rights were being denied as recently-freed slaves. The amendment states that “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States…” In 1866, Senator Jacob Howard clearly spelled out the intent of the 14th Amendment by writing: “Every person born within the limits of the United States, and subject to their jurisdiction, is by virtue of natural law and national law a citizen of the United States. This will not, of course, include persons born in the United States who are foreigners, aliens, who belong to the families of ambassadors or foreign ministers accredited to the Government of the United States, but will include every other class of persons.”

Many people argue that undocumented residents abuse this law and purposefully give birth in the United States so that their children will be citizens and so that the mother will be potentially afforded the opportunity to reside in the U.S. legally.  This issue continues to be hotly debated.


Immigration reductionist

An immigration reductionist is one who favors a return to sustainable immigration numbers. Often those favoring immigration reduction are called racist or anti-immigrant, but the truth is that nearly all immigration reductionists favor immigrants and immigration, but at a drastically reduced level.