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A Look At Where Former Vice President Biden Stands On Immigration


People need to get in line. It's a common talking point in the debate over immigration. Both parties have used it, and it came up Wednesday night in the Democratic presidential debate when former Vice President Joe Biden said this.


JOE BIDEN: The fact of the matter is that, in fact, when people cross the border illegally, it is illegal to do it unless they're seeking asylum. People should have to get in line. That's the problem.

SHAPIRO: Other candidates on the debate stage criticized him for saying that. To talk about whether the line actually exists and how people get in it, we're joined now by University of San Francisco law professor Bill Hing. Welcome.

BILL HING: Thank you.

SHAPIRO: What is the line that Biden is referring to?

HING: Well, I'm not sure what he's talking about because the truth is, there is not a line. The immigration system is very, very categorized that you've got to have certain, very close relatives to qualify. And incidentally, those relative categories are backlogged for many countries. And - or you need to have a very special job skill. And only then can you apply for certain categories. So there's not a general line that somebody can sign up for.

SHAPIRO: Well, let's break down some of the categories of people who are allowed to enter the country legally. There are waiting periods for green cards. There are waiting lists for immigrant visas. Would you consider those to be lines?

HING: Those are definitely lines. But you have to fall into one of the categories in order to sign up for that particular category. For example, spouses of U.S. citizens does not have a waiting list. So you can - if you marry a U.S. citizen, you could conceivably sign up to immigrate. There is a wait list, for example, for siblings of U.S. citizens that's well over 20 years long for people from Mexico and the Philippines. So that line is kind of unachievable.

For categories of people with special job skills, Silicon Valley engineers, the line is much shorter, but you have to have a special job skill. You've got to have a PhD, or the employer has to go to bat for you and say that there's no one else in the country who the employer can find, and so they need this immigrant. So it's a process before you can get in that line.

SHAPIRO: What about to become a U.S. citizen? Is there a line to become a citizen?

HING: Definitely. After you obtain lawful permanent resident status, you have to reside in the United States for five years. That's a general rule - unless you're married to a citizen, it's only three years. Then you apply for naturalization, which is a process to become a U.S. citizen.

And up until a couple of years ago, the waitlist for naturalization was only a few months around the country. But given the priorities that have been changed within the Trump administration, the waiting period for naturalization is well over a year, and in some cases, two to three years in certain parts of the country.

SHAPIRO: And these are all distinct from the process of applying for asylum in the U.S. In that case, there actually is a line on the Mexico side of the border. People are assigned numbers, and they actually do slowly march to the front of the line over weeks or months, right?

HING: Exactly. The Trump administration imposed that line in partnership with the Mexican government. The Border Patrol has authorized the Mexican government to create a lists that people sign up for, and I've seen this list at the Tijuana station. And the migrants are very orderly. They put their name on. They dutifully show up at the border each day to see if their number is called. And unfortunately, those numbers are not moving very quickly. The backlog is several weeks, if not a couple months at the El Paso border.

SHAPIRO: Do you think there's a better metaphor, a better catch phrase than wait in line?

HING: I think the better way to state it is those of you coming for asylum should be provided due process. The other people that are not applying for asylum, well, let's figure out if the immigration system is broken. Are there different categories that we should create that reflect society and the global movement of people today? That's what we ought to be looking at.

SHAPIRO: Bill Hing is a law professor at the University of San Francisco and author of "American Presidents, Deportation And Human Rights Violations."

Thanks a lot.

HING: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.