(NewsNation) — News of border apprehensions and humanitarian crises abroad begs the question: Why not immigrate to the United States through legal channels?
The Cato Institute says it’s a task easier said than done. Now, Americans can try their hand at a simulated experience of someone trying to immigrate to the U.S. — an effort that after years of waiting and thousands of dollars spent, lands many people back at square one.
The Cato Institute, a Libertarian think tank, developed The Green Card Game to teach the public about America’s immigration system. It relies on the country’s real regulations and rules as users navigate the questions, qualifications, finances, and, sometimes, pure chance that successful legal immigration can entail.
“I frequently hear from folks who say they don’t have a problem with immigration, they just want immigrants to get in line and to do it lawfully,” said Alex Nowrasteh, vice president for Economic and Social Policy Studies at the Cato Institute.
The bureaucratic nature of the U.S. immigration system can be a barrier in itself, he said. Then there are the financial costs: Application fees, lawyers, translators, and vital records requests, to name a few.
“There’s no legal pathway for most of them,” Nowrasteh said. “And even if there is a legal pathway, it can take years or decades to even qualify for a green card.”
The game incorporates each of those elements. Players start by choosing a persona, although some information is pre-determined. Every player starts as someone outside of the U.S. with no government connections and no U.S. relatives.
From there, you provide the details. Who are you and where are you from? Are you traveling from Eastern Europe? Latin America? What are your religious beliefs? Are you vaccinated against a dozen or so diseases? Have you used drugs in the past week? Are you a communist? A terrorist? Even if you have no convictions, have you ever committed a crime? Answer wisely. Lying could land you in prison. Perhaps you want to consult a lawyer while you’re filling out some of this paperwork. That’ll cost you. Do you have a job? No? How much do you have in savings?
“We didn’t always have a restrictive system,” he said. “It used to be fairly easy for people to come here lawfully. And we’re really shooting ourselves in the foot by denying legal immigrants the opportunity to come to this country to work and to live.”
The immigration system landed many U.S.-born citizens where they are now hasn’t existed for about a century, he added. Ancestors who arrived at Ellis Island or earlier now would be subject to a complex process that, according to Nowrasteh, allows for only a small fraction of people to immigrate to the U.S. legally.
The Cato Institute has argued for less restrictive policies but others say the current system isn’t regulated enough.
The Center for Immigration Studies (CIS), which advocates for less immigration, called Cato’s stance on the matter “fatally flawed.” In a July post to its website, CIS said a recent Cato report criticizing U.S. immigration policies “paid little attention” to “the fact that our overall, de facto policy tolerates massive illegal migration which pays no attention at all to the rules of the game.”
Nowrasteh encourages people with similar criticism to give the game a try.
“They should really play The Green Card Game so they can figure out exactly how restrictive this system is,” he said.
The Cato Institute is still compiling its data, but anecdotally speaking, about 1% of players successfully receive a green card.
In reality, about 740,000 immigrants became lawful permanent residents, otherwise known as green card holders, in Fiscal Year 2021, according to the Migration Policy Institute. That’s a 5% increase compared to 2020. It also was the lowest number since 2003 and the first time the figure fell below 1 million in nearly a decade, according to MPI.