By: Whitney Traut
St. Olaf College
While in Mexico City, our group had the opportunity to visit the U.S. Embassy—an experience that touched on some of the most sensitive issues surrounding immigration, human rights, international relations, and United States foreign policy. After going through fairly stringent security to enter the building, we were greeted by a panel of United States representatives who covered issues such as immigrant and non-immigrant visas, economic relations, environmental issues, and gangs and drug trafficking. While all of these issues are of immediate relevance to the social work profession, the discussion of the extremely difficult, selective, and tedious process for visa applications was of particular interest to many in our group.
Before even discussing U.S. policy towards Mexican immigration—a controversial and often heated political and social issue—one representative prefaced that immigration reform is up to Congress and not the people in the embassy, and that the embassy has no jurisdiction in immigration laws. Thus, the employees of the embassy simply carry out the decisions made by the government. Nevertheless, the embassy described to us the application process in which those applying for non-immigrant (temporary) visas have to pay exuberant fees, prove family and social ties to Mexico—which basically comes down to possession of large amounts of accumulated wealth, property and capital—a high level of education, and a “good” job. In the “worst-case” scenario, the representative commented that the applicant navigates through the long and complicated process for up to 15 years, pays hundreds of dollars, and ultimately doesn’t qualify. Moreover, in addition to the objective criteria, many of us were startled to hear that admittance was basically subjective —one representative commented that they relied basically on a “gut-feeling” and decided within the first two minutes of an interview whether the applicant was worthy of a visa. For immigrant (permanent) visas, the process is even more complicated and selective, with a back-log of 15 years.
As social workers, we are challenged to view such policies with a critical lens and, moreover, serve as advocates for those whose voices are often silenced under layers of bureaucracy: how do we support individuals entrenched in a process that presents such extreme obstacles and challenges to issues such as family reunification and employment opportunities? In a process described by the agency itself as “subjective,” how can we help advocate for applicants and prevent discrimination based on race and class?
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