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What should happen to the millions of undocumented immigrants in the United States?

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The term “undocumented” is an umbrella term that includes people in numerous different statuses. It refers to anyone who does not have proper authorization to travel or reside in a specific country. In the United States, in addition to having nationally recognized status, such as a visa, an individual may be a resident of a particular state, each of which has its own laws. These and other factors mean that resolving the documentation crisis requires concerted federal and state efforts, which include legislation, law enforcement, and due process. This answer concerns two of the most common documentation issues.

The most common way that a foreign national becomes undocumented in the United States is what is informally called the “overstay.” This means that the person entered the country with proper documentation, often as a tourist, student, or temporary worker, that included a time limit. When this period expires, that individual stayed in the country and thus became undocumented. During their period in the country, however, they may have tried to obtain an extension or a different type of documentation but did not succeed before the deadline. For example, an individual arriving as a tourist might apply to school and try to obtain a student visa while still in the country. There are large backlogs in processing applications. Increasing the number of personnel and revising the application process would reduce the backlog and enable more people to obtain the necessary documents.

Another type of documentation problem pertains to children who have lived most of their lives in the country but who became undocumented because their parents are undocumented. These children are referred to as “dreamers.” Improving the application process for the children to obtain legal status is an important issue. One way to achieve this would be through continuation of the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) program.

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