INside Story

How the complicated U.S. immigration system impacts undocumented Hoosiers

INDIANAPOLIS (WISH) — Navigating the U.S. immigration system can be difficult for many. It often results in immigrants spending years trying to become legal in Indiana.

A lot of people wonder why more immigrants don’t just come to the United States legally or become a citizen. In reality, many of these people are living in limbo.

“Unfortunately, most of the processes in which you become a legal permanent resident takes some time,” said Angela Joseph, an immigration attorney at Muñoz Legal.

Joseph says in some cases that process can take 20 years, or just a few years if they meet certain requirements. She says there are three general ways to become a legal resident. The first is by family, like a spouse or a child in the country who is living here legally. The second is by an employer who will sponsor them, and the third is for humanitarian reasons, like fear of persecution.

She explained what the process might look like for a child.

“Perhaps there’s somebody here, an extended relative or friend that’s willing to be their guardian. If that’s the case, that guardian, once that’s established through the state’s courts, they have the ability to petition for a special immigrant juvenile visa,” Joseph said.

But even though they are not considered legal, they are expected to pay taxes. Joseph says this happens even if they don’t have a social security number. Instead, the IRS issues Individual Taxpayer Identification Numbers, which allow them to legally file tax returns. She adds they should depend on an attorney and not rumors to navigate the immigration system.

“Sometimes we don’t find the necessary help and we sign that exit,” said an undocumented immigrant who lives in Indianapolis.

This man’s life took a turn for the worst after leaving the United States within a certain period of time without that knowledge and now he has a deportation order. He says there are a lot of immigrants who don’t seek the right kind of help. Now his kids who are U.S. citizens are under a lot of stress.

He says despite the circumstances they face here, they’re hanging onto hope.

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