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federal immigration lawThe United States admits refugees seeking asylum and immigrants seeking work from all over the world into the country every year. In 2012, a record high of almost 41 million immigrants lived in the United States. On average, United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) annually receives 6 million petitions and applications from individuals and employers, but only 1,001,715 green cards are distributed to allow immigrants to work in the United States. Part of the issue may be the strict federal immigration laws imposed by the government, but other causes might be a little less organized.

Benjamin Rissing and Emilio Castilla, of Brown University and MIT, recently completed a 40-month study at a green card processing center in Atlanta, Georgia. By reviewing applications made by 198,442 from 190 countries between June 2008 and September 2011, they quickly noticed a pattern. While federal immigration law requires agents reviewing the applicants’ countries of origin, it would appear that not every agent is sticking to their training. Applicants from Latin American countries have an approval rate of 66.8%. That may seem high until you consider that Asian and Canadian applicants of comparable qualifications in similar fields have approval rates of 90.5% and 89.7%, respectively.

Thinking the disparity in Latin American business immigration could be explained by job type, the researchers looked at the numbers by industry, and they found that Latin Americans were 25.4% less likely to be approved for computer science jobs.

“We even looked at jobs in construction and restaurant cooks, jobs that might require less explicit human capital,” Rissing told The Guardian. But even in those jobs, Asians had a higher approval rate than immigrants from Latin American countries.

When the researchers interviewed the agents auditing the green card applications, they found that they could be influenced by media coverage of federal immigration law, stereotypes, and treatment of certain groups by Homeland Security.
According to Rissing, 93% of United States deportations target immigrants from eight Latin American countries, and 32% of immigrants rejected at the border are from Mexico, which may explain the greater scrutiny of their green card applications.

Even facing these challenges, 28% of the 40.8 million immigrants in the United States in 2012 were from Mexico, making them the largest immigration group in the country. While some of them may have entered the country illegally, it is also possible that they are waiting for the resolution of green card complications.

No matter how you look at it, United States immigration laws need reform, and the system for reviewing green card applications should be made more efficient, with less room for personal bias to creep in.