Last fall, we threw out a simple question after a show about U.S. immigration policies: What do you wish you knew about immigration?

Across the country, listeners responded with hundreds of text messages – from small towns in Iowa, Colorado and Massachusetts to big cities such as Los Angeles, Atlanta and Chicago.

We chose four questions and took our team of reporters and producers to task to answer them.

To figure out the answers, we go deep into immigration court, help one listener uncover her grandfather’s secret past about entering the country and break down the path to legal citizenship. On the way, we meet scam artists, attorneys, asylum seekers and do-gooders learning immigration law for kicks.

Dig Deeper

  • Read: Immigrant families face new threat to children’s health: Uncertainty
  • Read: Why it’s so hard to catch – or even count – fake immigration lawyers
  • Listen: Inside Trump’s immigration crackdown


Edited by Brett Myers and Laura Starecheski. Produced by Anayansi Diaz-Cortes, Patrick Michels, Laura Benshoff and Stan Alcorn. Thanks to WHYY in Philadelphia for production help.

Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation, The John S. And James L. Knight Foundation, the Heising-Simons Foundation and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation.

Reveal is a co-production of The Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.


Reveal transcripts are produced by a third-party transcription service and may contain errors. Please be aware that the official record for Reveal’s radio stories is the audio.

 Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 – 00:18:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Al Letson:From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Today, we’re doing something a little different. Our reporters have been getting to the bottom of questions that you asked.
Jeanette:Hi, my name is Jeanette, and I’m a teacher from Atlanta, Georgia.
Jack:This is Jack from Dallas, Texas.
Wendy Robinson:Wendy Robinson. I live in North Hampton, Massachusetts.
Al Letson:We put the word out last fall that we wanted to know what you wanted to know about immigration.
Jeanette:Who decides how many immigrants should be allowed in the country each year?
Wendy Robinson:What happens to people when they’re deported? Do they just get put on an airplane and then kind of dumped at the airport?
Jack:I’m wondering about how Trump’s stance on immigration will affect our ability to secure a Green Card for my wife.
Al Letson:Today, we’re gonna answer some of the more than 300 questions we got back, starting with a question from a listener who does a lot of listening.
Alex Padyuk:Oh my God, all day long. I actually have to take a break sometimes ’cause I feel like I’m gonna lose my mind.
Al Letson:His name is Alex [Padyuk 00:01:06], and he keeps the radio on while he’s working.
Alex Padyuk:See, I’m a truck driver, and I’m actually driving right now. I’ve got about 236 miles still left to do today.
Al Letson:It was one of these long drives that first took him to the U.S.-Mexico border.
Alex Padyuk:And I parked the truck, and I walked out into the desert, into the mesquite bushes, and everywhere you looked there was backpacks and canned food, and it was obvious that people were traveling through the desert.
Al Letson:The question he had was why? Why would all these people risk everything to sneak into the United States?
Alex Padyuk:I thought all number of things. I thought, “Okay, these are probably families or could be drug dealers, of course.” I mean, everyone has a different reason, and I just … I’d like to know more about that. What motivated you to come here?
Al Letson:The number of people crossing the border illegally is higher than last year, but way down over the long term. It’s half of what it was back in the ’90s, but it’s still hundreds of thousands people. And like Alex said, each one has a different reason. So instead of answering Alex’s question of why people come with one person’s story, we thought we’d bring you a roomful, by listening in to a Monday morning in a federal courthouse in Del Rio, Texas.
Speaker 1:Order in the court. All rise.


Stan Alcorn:This is where the Trump Administration a couple months ago said it would try to send every person caught crossing the border …


Al Letson:That’s Reveal Reporter Stan Alcorn.


Stan Alcorn:… a federal courtroom where they’re criminally prosecuted and given prison time for illegal entry.


Collis White:Thank you. Please sit down.


Stan Alcorn:So the judge here is not an immigration judge. He’s a federal magistrate. His name is Collis White.


Collis White:Sorry we’re getting started a little late this morning.


Stan Alcorn:He’s got white hair, a black robe, and he’s looking down at a courtroom packed with 46 men and women, each wearing an orange jumpsuit, what looks like a paper surgical mask, a headset to hear the English-Spanish translation, and shackles. They have shackles on their ankles, waists, and wrists. They’re all connected with these metal chains.


Collis White:The first thing we’ll do is administer an oath. I know it’s hard with the shackles, but I want you to raise your right hand as well as you can.


Stan Alcorn:One of the stranger things about this legal process is you don’t really hear from the people at the center of it. In that hour and a half I spent watching this back in 2015, the only thing the 46 defendants said was “Yes,” “No,” “Guilty,” just one-word answers to questions from the judge.


Collis White:Do each of you solemnly swear to tell the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, so help you God. Yes or no, beginning with you, Mr. [inaudible 00:03:54] [Guadarrama 00:03:54]


A. Guadarrama:Si.


Collis White:Sir?


A. Guadarrama:[inaudible 00:03:58].


Collis White:You can sit down after you’ve answered the question.


A. Guadarrama:[inaudible 00:03:58]. Thank you.


Stan Alcorn:But the reason I thought of this courtroom when I heard the listener’s question is that you do hear why each person came. You hear it from their lawyer.


Jack Stern:Judge, this gentleman has been married for 17 years. This is the first time he’s been outside of the presence of his family.


Stan Alcorn:Jack Stern is the defense attorney for 14 men and 4 women in that courtroom, and the only defense he really has is to tell each of their stories and hope the judge will shorten their prison sentences.


Jack Stern:He was a witness to a murder in his neighborhood. He waited for the assassin to leave and went outside. Apparently another neighbor heard gunshots and then came out. When the other neighbor was interviewed, he advised authorities that the defendant had seen the entire incident. Given the lack of a thin blue line between law enforcement and gangs in Honduras, he decided for his own personal safety, he’d head north. That’s why he’s here.


Stan Alcorn:For the last couple years, most of the people crossing the border illegally haven’t been from Mexico. They’ve been coming from more than a thousand miles away, from El Salvador, Guatemala, and Honduras.


Collis White:I know things are bad in Honduras.


Stan Alcorn:And half the stories I heard from these Central American migrants were about escaping violence and persecution.


Collis White:All right.


Stan Alcorn:But most of the migrants from just across the border, from Mexico …


Collis White:Roberto Valencia [Cetina 00:05:31].


Stan Alcorn:… their stories were different.


Jack Stern:Judge, the defendant is a construction worker border vocation.


Judge, the defendant is a subsistence field worker.


He works as a packager or [crosstalk 00:05:42].


Judge, he paints, works in the fields, and has done so since he was 12 years of age.


Stan Alcorn:These are men and women doing work that doesn’t require a lot of education and doesn’t pay very well.


Jack Stern:He earns a little less than $90 a week.


[inaudible 00:05:58] $40 a week.


$10 a day. That’s not sufficient to support his household, as well as his kids’ studies.


Stan Alcorn:You can make a lot more money doing the same kind of work in the United States, and the crux of these stories is what they hope to do with that money.


Jack Stern:He put his six kids through school. He’s got six more he needs to support, and that’s why he came back. And I simply ask that you have some mercy on him.


Stan Alcorn:All these stories I heard in court, they fit with some of the best data we have on this. Surveys by the Mexican government show around 90% of Mexican migrants are coming to the U.S. to work.


Jack Stern:That’s why he’s here.


Stan Alcorn:There have been a lot of changes in immigration policy since I was in that courtroom in 2015. One of the most recent is a so-called “zero-tolerance policy” where the Attorney General Jeff Sessions has called for criminally prosecuting everyone caught crossing the border, even parents who are then separated from their children. So more people are being sent to courtrooms like the one I visited. But when it comes to what happens in court, I got a recent recording, same judge, same lawyer …


Collis White:Is there anything you’d like to say?


Stan Alcorn:… and listening back, it sounds the same.


Collis White:I understand why you come here, but, listen, you gotta stop doing this. You’ve already been in this courtroom, or at least in this courthouse, convicted of exactly the same charge. Was I the judge who sentenced you?


Speaker 2:Si, yes.


Collis White:What did I tell you? I told you that every time you come back, you go to jail for a longer period of time. Last time I gave you 13 days in jail. Today it’ll be 120. Next time it can be two years. You can sit down.


Stan Alcorn:What you hear and what Defense Attorney Jack Stern says is it’s the rare exception where the reasons people come actually convince the judge to give them less time in prison.


Collis White:[Mendes Herarro Camacho 00:07:54], 120 days of incarceration.


Jack Stern:How can I say it? Just a grinder, that’s all it is. I mean, it’s just continual, okay? You hear the same stories, and most of them, they’ll grab your heart. And for the most part, there’s not squat you can do for them.


Al Letson:That story is from Reveal’s Stan Alcorn.


Prison sentences for crossing the border can range from a few days to years, but what happens at the end is almost always the same: deportation. After that, some deported men and women end up just across the border in the town of Acuña at the Case del Migrante, a shelter for the recently deported, started at a local Catholic church.


A. C. Acosta:Hello.


A. Diaz-Cortes:[foreign language 00:08:52].


Al Letson:Reveal’s Anayansi Diaz-Cortes gave them a call on a recent Wednesday just after a group of men arrived.


A. C. Acosta:[foreign language 00:09:01].


Al Letson:[Alvaro Corona Acosta 00:09:03] is 22 years old and lives in Ciudad Obregon, an agricultural city 300 miles south of Tucson.


A. C. Acosta:[foreign language 00:09:12].


Speaker 3:I have two daughters, and I work very hard for them, but it wasn’t enough here in Mexico.


A. C. Acosta:[foreign language 00:09:20].


Al Letson:He says he had to work three jobs to pay the bills. He was struggling to buy a refrigerator in installments, and he just didn’t make enough to get through the week. And so over and over, he would cross the border to the U.S. to make more money, only to be caught and deported. This last time, after spending six months in prison.


A. C. Acosta:[foreign language 00:09:43].


Speaker 3:I was scared, you know, because I wouldn’t be able to see my daughter for a long time.


A. C. Acosta:[foreign language 00:09:51].


Speaker 3:They grab you and they throw you into jail. They don’t care if you have family or not. They just wanna hammer you.


A. C. Acosta:[foreign language 00:09:59].


Al Letson:Has it always been this way? Has the U.S. always been so hard on people crossing the border without the right papers? Report Laura Benshoff with public radio station WHYY in Philadelphia has a question along those lines from a listener, Judy Eidelson. Hey, Laura.


Laura Benshoff:Hey, Al.


Al Letson:So, what did Judy wanna know?


Laura Benshoff:Well, Judy is wondering about the history of white people immigrating to the U.S.


J. Eidelson:I think a lot of people with European backgrounds think they somehow are more American, or they’re more legitimate in their American citizenship, and I wanna know: how did their families get here?


Al Letson:I agree with Judy. I mean, hear this sentiment a lot in our immigration debate. Really it a function of white supremacy, because if you break it down, immigration policy is about deciding who is more legitimate, which, like so many things in America, tends to be based on race.


Laura Benshoff:Right, and of course, this has been going for a long time, and Judy wants to talk about a time specifically when there were tons of people coming from Europe, what were the laws then, and were people actually following them. And she has an immigration secret in her own family’s history that she’s gonna tell us. So she came along with me on this whole reporting journey.


Al Letson:All right. I’ll let you take it from here.


Laura Benshoff:To get started, I go to Judy’s house.


J. Eidelson:Hi.


Laura Benshoff:Hi, Judy.


J. Eidelson:You found it.


Laura Benshoff:I did. Nice to meet you. Thank you.


J. Eidelson:Go [inaudible 00:11:35] on in. Nice to meet you.


Laura Benshoff:She’s a psychologist in her early 60s who lives in Bala Cynwyd, a well-off suburb west of Philadelphia. After her kids went away to college, she started working with immigrants applying for legal status in the U.S., mostly asylum. She documents their trauma to help their cases.


J. Eidelson:Let me show something. It’s upstairs. Can I?


Laura Benshoff:Sure.


We head to her home office, where she shows me a wall-sized map of the world.


J. Eidelson:This is a map my daughter created for me with a pin for each person whose case I worked on to get asylum.


Laura Benshoff:There are more than 300 push pins tacked to the map, representing people from dozens of countries. Judy knows just how high the bar is to immigrate today because she’s helped almost all of these people clear it. To answer her question about how people used to get here, we call up a historian who can tell us about when that bar was much lower. Mae Ngai is a history professor at Columbia University who focuses specifically on immigration.


Mae Ngai:You know, until the 1920s, we had virtually an open door from Europe. That is, into the United States.


Laura Benshoff:Mae says not all immigrants from Europe were viewed kindly before then, but if you could get yourself here, government officials didn’t ask too many questions.


Mae Ngai:They wanted to make sure you had a little cash in your pocket so you wouldn’t become a public charge. They wanted to make sure you didn’t have what was called the dangerous or loathsome disease. They wanted to make sure you weren’t a prostitute.


Laura Benshoff:They wanted to make sure you could work, that you’d be self-sufficient. So there was this open door, and more than 20 million Europeans streamed through it around the turn of the 20th Century. They came from Italy, from Germany, from Poland, from all over Europe. Meanwhile, Mae Ngai told me and Judy the U.S. had started banning entire groups of people based on their race.


Mae Ngai:Chinese were the first group to ever be excluded by name.


Laura Benshoff:That was the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882.


J. Eidelson:Was that just the Chinese? Mae, I’m sorry to interrupt.


Mae Ngai:Well, in 1882 it was Chinese, but later Japanese were excluded, and people from South Asia were excluded.


Laura Benshoff:So the government barred most people from Asia, and suspicion of immigrants from Southern and Eastern Europe was building. Richard White is a historian at Stanford University.


Richard White:Most people would break it down into good immigrants and bad immigrants, and good immigrants tended to be Northern European, Protestant, and white. Bad immigrants were everybody else.


Laura Benshoff:Labor unions worried immigrant workers would drive down wages, and there was a political movement to preserve the so-called “racial purity” of white America. Richard says that to justify keeping the “bad” European immigrants out, these groups relied on a list of nasty stereotypes.


Richard White:Catholics, they can’t really be Republican citizens because they’ll do whatever the Pope and the priest tells them to do. Jews, the argument was Jews have no loyalty to anybody but other Jews. They will never have loyalty to the United States.


Laura Benshoff:That list was long.


Richard White:… [crosstalk 00:14:46] ethnic [inaudible 00:14:46]. The Italians are violent. The Italians are naturally thieves. Other groups are lazy, they’re ignorant, they simply cannot be educated.


Laura Benshoff:In 1924, these anti-immigrant groups got their way. Congress passed the Johnson-Reed Act, which used quotas to encourage immigration from places like England while making it much harder for Italians and Polish people and other Southern and Eastern Europeans to come. These quotas were a game-changer, putting a number on how many people could come from each country. That meant that immigrants had to get in a line, that they could be turned away en masse. The basic anxiety driving this law, the fear that the U.S. has to many immigrants? It’s made a comeback.


Jeff Sessions:So we’re continuing on a path each year to have higher numbers than the year before, reaching … In seven years, we’ll have the highest percentage of Americans non-native-born since the founding of the Republic.


Laura Benshoff:That’s Jeff Sessions talking on Breitbart news radio in 2015, before he became Attorney General. The numbers he’s referring to come from research published by the Pew Research Center, which said about 14% of people in the U.S. were born in another country. Sessions went on to praise the Johnson-Reed Act.


Jeff Sessions:When the numbers reached about this high in 1924, the President and Congress changed the policy, and it slowed down immigration significantly, and we then assimilated and created really the solid middle class, and it was good for America.


Laura Benshoff:Those quotas he’s talking about did slow down legal immigration to the U.S., but when that door closed, some people just went around it. Historian Richard White says at the time, there was basically no border control.


Richard White:The Canadian border is wide open, and there’s just no way to patrol that border. And it’s also largely true of the Mexican border.


Laura Benshoff:In the 1920s, the U.S. Immigration Service estimated about a million and a half immigrants could have snuck into the country. Articles in the New York Times described people from Czechoslovakia and Poland paying smugglers with boats in Cuba or to get them across the U.S. border with Canada. Richard says that’s what his own Irish grandfather did in 1924. After a trip back to Ireland a few years later, he applied to live in the U.S. legally. Sort of.


Richard White:I’ve seen his petition for citizenship, and virtually everything on it except for his name is either a lie or wrong. I mean, he even has his own birthday wrong. He has his wife’s birthday wrong. He can’t list the correct number of his children.


Laura Benshoff:Lying on official paperwork? That’s also breaking immigration law, but a lot of European immigrants got away with it. By the end of that decade, the government had created an amnesty program for people who couldn’t prove how they crossed the border. When Judy hears this, she says she’s struck by the lack of consequences for people who today would most likely face jail time or deportation.


J. Eidelson:Even though there were quotas, if people snuck in and they got here one way or another, they would make their …


 Section 1 of 3          [00:00:00 – 00:18:04]
 Section 2 of 3          [00:18:00 – 00:36:04]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Judy:-there one way or another. They would make their life, they start a family, they weren’t living for the rest of their lives in fear.


Laura Benshoff:This is where we get to Judy’s family’s story. It starts with World War II when a huge and deadly consequence of these quotas emerges. These restrictions kept Jews who escaped death during the Holocaust from coming to the US. Judy’s dad was one of them.


Judy:My father’s name was [Sheika Evensky 00:18:31] and he was born in a town called Jonava in Lithuania.


Laura Benshoff:He was a teenager when the German army invaded.


Judy:He lost his parents, his brother, and his sister during the war.


Laura Benshoff:Shaika escaped to a Jewish ghetto and took a new name, essentially pretending to be someone else. Judy says for the next four years, he lied whenever he had to to stay alive.


Judy:He was in Dachau in a work camp and they needed men to paint. He said he was a painter. He was not a painter, but he said he was a painter.


Laura Benshoff:In another work camp, he said he was a carpenter. When the war ended, he made his way to a refugee camp in Germany. Shaika’s home was gone and like many Holocaust survivors he didn’t want to return to a country that worked with the Nazis. To get out of limbo and be with the woman he would marry, Judy’s dad told a different kind of lie to the US government.


Judy:It was considered a funny, whimsical story that my father had to pretend that he was going to rabbinical school, that he was gonna study to become a rabbi in order to get a visa to come into the country.


Laura Benshoff:He got a letter of admission from a school in Baltimore that he used to get a student visa. Shaika had no intention of becoming a rabbi. He later became a bookkeeper. Judy told me that he didn’t talk about this lie outside the family, and she says it didn’t really hit her until after he died that what he did was really serious.


Judy:Did he become a criminal? By US immigration laws, he did. That was immigration fraud.


Laura Benshoff:She says he carried the fear he would be deported for the rest of his life and she realized under today’s laws, it’s much less likely he would have gotten away with it.


Judy:He would never have gotten into this country and my parents would not have been married and I wouldn’t exist. That was chilling.


Al Letson:Laura, based on what you and Judy found, it sounds like a lot of white Americans could have stories like this in their past.


Laura Benshoff:Yeah, I mean, I think what Judy and I both learned is just that it wasn’t that hard for a long time if you were from Europe to gain entry to this country and then when those walls did sort of start coming up, people were very creative in the ways they came around them. We just don’t know how many people did that.


Al Letson:Even if they’d entered illegally, they were just able to become citizens?


Laura Benshoff:Yes. There were some amnesty programs that let people who didn’t have any documents to show how they came into the US get status and the big takeaway here is pre-1920s, we didn’t see the massive amounts of energy and resources put into policing immigrants that we have today.


Al Letson:Thanks to listener Judy Eidelson and reporter Laura Benchoff from WHYY Radio in Philadelphia.


Up next, we’re flashing forward.


Ira Kurzban:It’s becoming very difficult to get permanent status in the United States.


Al Letson:Breaking down today’s immigration laws. That’s coming up on the Reveal for the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.


Hey, podcast listeners. Reveal has collaborated for years with Mother Jones and they have a brand spanking new podcast I wanna tell you about, the Mother Jones Podcast. It goes deep on a big story every week. In one of their first episodes, they’re following a pro-pot, pro-[cove 00:22:28] former paratrooper who voted for Trump, and now he’s running as a Democrat who may actually be able to flip a deeply red district in West Virginia. They’re also asking, “How do you leave the hate movement once you’re hooked?” They’re going to places like the biggest solar factory in China only to learn that the US is way behind. Join as reporters and editors untangle the news and dive deep into stories that matter. Subscribe to the Mother Jones Podcast. You won’t be disappointed.


From the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. Today we’re answering questions about immigration from listeners like Carolyn Westlake, who joined us from Tampa, Florida.


Hey, Carolyn. This is Al Letson from Reveal.


Carolyn W.:Hi.


Al Letson:How are you?


Carolyn W.:I’m good, good to meet you. You sound just like you do on the radio.


Al Letson:Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us.


Carolyn W.:Oh, thank you.


Al Letson:What got you curious about immigration?


Carolyn W.:My husband and I adopted our son from China. I didn’t really deeply think about immigration until I was in the process for my son.


Al Letson:Is your son a citizen of the United States now?


Carolyn W.:He is, yes. We actually got his citizenship certificate in the mail a couple weeks ago.


Al Letson:Do you think of him as an immigrant?


Carolyn W.:I do. I don’t know if I will always think of him as an immigrant as life goes on when he stops saying “xiè xiè” for thank you, but because he is an immigrant he can never be president. As his mom, you always expect to tell your kids that they can be anything they wanna be, but that’s not true for him. I think in that context, I’ll probably always think of him as an immigrant because that choice is off the table for him.


Al Letson:I think most Americans don’t have the experience of going through all the paperwork and the process to becoming an American. When we talk about immigration in this country, that whole experience is forgotten. You have a unique vantage point to talk through that. What was that process like for you?


Carolyn W.:When you adopt, the immigration process is supposedly easier and expedited. It shocked me because it didn’t feel easy and it didn’t feel quick. I got curious as to what other people have to go through to immigrate.


Al Letson:Carolyn, thank you so much for your question.


Carolyn W.:Thank you.


Al Letson:To get an answer to Carolyn’s question, I brought in Reveal immigration reporter Aura Bogado. Hey, Aura.


Aura Bogado:Hey, Al.


Al Letson:What does it take for an immigrant to become a citizen?


Aura Bogado:To really understand how today’s immigration system works, we have to go back in history.


Speaker 4:October 3rd, 1965.


Aura Bogado:That’s when Congress passed a landmark immigration bill known as the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. It was signed by Lyndon B. Johnson at this big ceremony on Liberty Island right by the Statue of Liberty.


LBJ:It does repair a very deep and painful flaw in the fabric of American justice. It corrects a cruel and enduring wrong.


Aura Bogado:When LBJ said he was trying to fix past wrongs, he wanted to get rid of these explicitly race-based ways of getting to the United States.


LBJ:Only three countries were allowed to supply 70% of all the immigrants.


Aura Bogado:Between 1924 and 1965, more than 2/3 of all immigrants to the United States were from Britain, Ireland, and Germany. The 1965 bill got rid of that quota system. It was supposed to totally level the playing field.


LBJ:Today, with my signature, this system is abolished.


Aura Bogado:One of the big changes, 1965 allowed anyone who was already here to apply for their family members to come over. But it was also a really problematic law.


Al Letson:Okay, so, what was bad about it?


Aura Bogado:What it did was create a cap. It said that the same amount of people could come to the United States per country each and every single year, which sounds really good, right?


Mae Ngai:All of a sudden, Mexico has the same limit as New Zealand.


Aura Bogado:That’s Mae Ngai again, who we heard from in that last story. She’s a history professor at Columbia who specializes in immigration to the US. Her point is New Zealand is a small island that’s really far away from the United States. Under the 1965 law, New Zealand got to bring the same amount of people as Mexico.


Mae Ngai:High-sending nations, every year they max out on their quota.


Aura Bogado:Mexico is a high-sending nation. It’s right across the border. It has a much larger population than a country like New Zealand.


Mae Ngai:This system didn’t recognize that countries have different needs, different historical and contemporary relationships seen in its states.


Aura Bogado:Lots of US citizens are from Mexico. In act, a good portion of the United States used to be Mexico.


Mae Ngai:This is a grossly unfair system, if you ask me, because people say, “Well, everybody should just get in line and go to the back of the line.” Well, if you’re from Mexico, the line is a lot longer. It can be as long as 20 years.


Al Letson:So there’s this big shift in 1965. I know that there were changes after that like the Reagan amnesty and DACA. Tell me, where are we now? What are the ways that people are legally immigrating to the US today?


Aura Bogado:The biggest category is through family reunification. In 2016, it accounted for close to 70% of all legal immigration to the United States. Family reunification seeks to reunite people who are already in the country and have relatives in other parts of the world. President Trump calls it chain migration and he wants to eliminate this category.


Ira Kurzban:It’s becoming very difficult to get permanent status in the United States.


Aura Bogado:That’s immigration attorney Ira Kurzban. He’s the author of “The Immigration Law Source Book.” His advice? Get a lawyer.


Ira Kurzban:Three years ago, I would have said, “No, just go ahead and try and do it yourself. Fill out the forms.” Today, it’s extraordinarily difficult to do that. Why? Because first of all, if you don’t walk in with an attorney, they’re very aggressive. They’re looking for ways to trip you up. In other words, their view is, “How can we deny this application?”


Aura Bogado:Sometimes people have multiple options when applying for status.


Ira Kurzban:Strategically, a lawyer has to think, “What’s the best avenue for this person to get their residency?”


Aura Bogado:One avenue, employment visas. In 2016, they accounted for a little over 11% of all permanent visas. There’s EB1.


Ira Kurzban:That’s the section we call extraordinary ability. If a Paul McCartney wants to come into the United States, if he were alive, Pablo Picasso wants to come into the United States, or somebody wins the Nobel prize.


Al Letson:To me, it just seems like a very elite way to get in. I mean, your typical painter is not Pablo Picasso.


Aura Bogado:Yeah. These are really hard to get. Another big subcategory is EB5.


Ira Kurzban:Basically, if you invest a certain amount of money and you have a significant economic impact and you employ at least 10 US workers, you can get a green card. The amounts have been 500,000 and a million from its inception.


Al Letson:When I think of people that are immigrating over here are not executives and not elites. They’re usually the people that are doing a lot of the labor that Americans don’t want to do, right? Where does that leave them?


Aura Bogado:Well, it leaves them undocumented. That’s probably the short answer. There’s no category for an elite construction worker, a Fred Genius housekeeper, right?


Al Letson:Okay, so far we’ve talked about family reunification and employment visas. What else is there?


Aura Bogado:Al, I’m only telling you about the biggest ones. There’s so many different kinds of visas. There’s a T visa for trafficking victims. There’s a U visa for victims of really serious crimes. Anyway, it’s a really long list and I do wanna get to one last big category. First, though, I wanna introduce you to one more person.


Claudia:My name is Claudia Matoran. Right now, Wichita, Kansas, is my home. I love my home. I love Wichita.


Aura Bogado:Claudia’s story can tell us a lot about the complicated nature of immigration the US. As a kid, she grew up on the border in Tijuana.


Claudia:Living in Tijuana, we went to Disneyland when I was eight years old.


Aura Bogado:Claudia says her family came back and forth all the time. They had tourist visas.


Claudia:We used to go to San Diego a lot.


Aura Bogado:But one day when she was 10, she says something terrible happened.


Claudia:I remember walking into Grandma’s house and they took me into a room with my mom and I don’t know how my mom got the strength to tell me, but-


Aura Bogado:She says her father died in a pretty violent way. He was murdered.


Claudia:That really changed my life. My mom was left alone with four girls.


Aura Bogado:Tijuana just didn’t feel safe anymore and they had those tourist visas. They used them to come back to the US legally.


Claudia:I don’t remember thinking, “Oh, we’re breaking the law.” We just knew that the visa expired and that’s it. Really, my mom was trying to do what many others do, which is looking for a better future for their kids without thinking on any consequences.


Aura Bogado:Eventually, she moves to Wichita, Kansas. She marries a man who’s also undocumented and they start a family.


Claudia:My son was born in 2000.


Aura Bogado:And then one day, her husband gets pulled over by the police and they turn him over to ICE.


Claudia:The judge ordered deportation on my husband and the attorney said that he could appeal that, but he was asking for another $10,000. We were out of money. That’s when I told my husband there’s no way. I told him, “Let’s go to Mexico. I’m tired.”


Aura Bogado:Claudia goes back to Mexico with her husband and their son, and they experience a lot. Her husband was actually kidnapped by the police.


Claudia:I started getting very desperate. That’s when I got to the point where I’m like, “I wanna go home.” This is not my home.


Aura Bogado:Then one day, Claudia gets a call from Mohammed Abdullahi and members of the National Immigrant Youth Alliance.


Claudia:They call me and they asked me, “Claudia, we came across your story. Do you wanna come home?”


Aura Bogado:This is the point in Claudia’s story where we get to those last visas I wanna talk about, ones that made up about 13% of legal immigration in 2016, refugees and asylees.


Al Letson:What’s the difference between being a refugee and claiming asylum?


Aura Bogado:The quickest way to explain the difference is if you’re not yet in the country, you can apply to be a refugee in order to come to the United States. But asylum is something people can claim once they’re already inside the US or once they arrive at the border at a port of entry. That’s what Claudia did back in 2013 as part of the Dream 9, a group of mostly young people who grew up in the US but undocumented. As they crossed from Mexico into the US, there were friends and families and clergy chanting at the border.


Speaker 5:Bring them home! Bring them home! Bring them home!


Claudia:They were chanting and they were giving us all this energy. It was amazing.


Speaker 5:Bring them home! Bring them home! Bring them home! Bring them home!


Aura Bogado:The whole thing attracted a lot of attention, major national press in the United States and in Mexico.


Al Letson:Where is Claudia now?


Aura Bogado:First she was placed in detention in Arizona, and then after passing her credible fear interview, she moved back to Wichita. She has a count date scheduled for 2021 to see if she’ll be granted asylum.


Claudia:My father was killed. My brother-in-law was killed by police officers. My husband was kidnapped. My uncle was given a drive-by shooting in Mexico. I’m probably one of the stronger cases.


Al Letson:What are her chances?


Aura Bogado:Her case will be heard in Kansas City, Missouri. On average in Kansas City, judges grant asylum in only three out of 10 cases. That’s what she’s up against.


Al Letson:What if she doesn’t get it?


Aura Bogado:Well, she could appeal, but she also has other options. She and her husband are each applying for asylum, but if that doesn’t work out, Claudia’s best chance might be her son.


Al Letson:How would that work?


Aura Bogado:He was born in Wichita and he’s a US citizen. Soon he’ll be old enough to petition for Claudia through that first visa category I told you about, family reunification. That’s if Trump doesn’t get rid of it first.


Claudia:You know, people used to move all the time. Maybe you don’t decide where you’re born, but you should have the right to decide where do you wanna die. At this point, I wanna say I wanna die in Wichita.


 Section 2 of 3          [00:18:00 – 00:36:04]
 Section 3 of 3          [00:36:00 – 00:52:54]
(NOTE: speaker names may be different in each section)
Claudia:[inaudible 00:36:00]


Ida:Claudia has spent most of her life in the US. She pretty much told me she’s going to do whatever it takes to stay here.


Al Letson:Ida, thank you so much for breaking it down for us.


Ida:Thanks Al.


Al Letson:Claudia is going through the immigration process. Now, a lot of people do that without an attorney, which can have drastic consequences.


Speaker 6:In immigration court, we do death penalty cases, but we do it in a traffic court setting.


Al Letson:With a shortage of affordable lawyers, our listeners ask, how can I help? That’s coming up next on Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX.


You know, in this era of “Me Too,” a lot of stories have begun to surface, and actually a lot of women’s voices are being heard that may otherwise have been pushed aside. In this podcast, She Says, is the story of just that. It’s about a woman named Linda who was sexually assaulted by a stranger nearly three years ago, and she has to do her own detective work to try and track down the man who did it. You’ll hear conversations she recorded with the police while she struggled to get them to work on her case. You’ll also hear from the cops, too, and forensic scientists and attorneys to learn how the system works, and why victims like Linda say it needs to change.


Find the She Says podcast now on NPR One or wherever you get podcasts. Learn more says.


From the Center for investigative reporting and PRX, this is Reveal. I’m Al Letson. If you’ve been listening to the show so far, you know that we’re taking listener questions. Now, a lot of listeners, like Tess from Arkansas, asked some version of this.


Tess:What can I be doing now to help people that are perhaps in crisis?


Al Letson:How can I help? We’re going to close out the show with stories of people offering legal help, but first we’re going to introduce you to someone who needs it: Christopher Bailey. Reveal’s Patrick Michels takes it from here.


Patrick M:Christopher Bailey came to the US about nine years ago. He came from Jamaica on a tourist visa and he stayed after his visa expired. Then one day Christopher gets pulled over for speeding. The next thing he knows, he’s in detention, facing deportation. To make his case to stay in the US, to stay with his family, he needs legal help. His mother offers to hire a lawyer and pays $8,000 to a man named George Cameron.


Christopher B:When I first met Mr Cameron he said,” I must not worry. Trust me.” Is so like, he knew what he was doing.


Patrick M:After about four months, he gets Christopher out of detention. Pretty soon they have a date in court, and it seems like he’s in good hands.


Michael Strauss:This is immigration judge Michael W. Strauss. This is a removal hearing. Hartford, Connecticut, March 21st, 2012 in the matter of Christopher Bailey. Present on behalf of the respondent?


George Cameron:I’m George Cameron, your honor, the respondent.


Patrick M:Cameron asked for time to file more paperwork.


Christopher B:Our conditional relief is simply to proceed with the adjustment of status to refile.


Patrick M:And the judge says, okay, and sets a new court date.


Client:You are later fail to appear. You may be ordered deported. That is adjourned.


Patrick M:But then cameron gives his client some surprising advice


Client:Mr. Cameron said to me that, “okay, Mr. [inaudible 00:39:31] I don’t think it is good to go back to the judge.” I said, “why?” He said because they’re planning to deport me.


Patrick M:So his lawyer tells him not to show up for his court date because he could end up being deported. At first Christopher argues, but he trusts Cameron and Cameron promises he’ll fight for him in court.


Before we get to that, a little more about George Cameron. Clients know him by his full name Leifer, St George W Cameron, Esquire. He’s not one of those lawyers with his face on a bus bench. His businesses is pretty much word of mouth around the Jamaican community. Cameron from Jamaica too. He charges less than other lawyers. around Christmas is clients get cards from his law firm: Cameron, Cameron, and associates, Attorneys at Law.


With regular people. He can talk the talk, but sometimes in court.


Judge 2:Absolute last proceedings I found your client removable from the United States. Do you have any applications for relief?


George Cameron:The application, your honor was submitted.


Judge 2:What is it?


Patrick M:This is from a hearing in New York, it’s actually his daughter’s immigration case.


Judge 3:Is she applying on any basis for a hearing to remain in the United States of America?


George Cameron:Yes your Honor.


Judge 3:What is the provision of law for that application?


George Cameron:We had cited, your Honor, 12, 20, 6C.


Judge 3:What’s a 12, 20, 6C?


George Cameron:It’s … there is


Judge 3:What provision of law under the Immigration and Nationality Act is she seeking


Patrick M:At one point in the middle of all this, he takes a nap during a court recess.


Judge 3:I mean, you know, if you’re unfamiliar with immigration law, you may want to consult with someone who is more familiar.


George Cameron:That’s true, your Honor. That’s not my area. That’s not my area. That’s not my area. That’s true your Honor.


Judge 3:This is this woman’s life and she’s facing immediate removal.


George Cameron:Yes. It’s not my area.


Judge 3:So you really need to talk to someone about it.


George Cameron:I certainly will.


Patrick M:His daughter eventually gets a new lawyer who does get her released.


A couple of years later, another judge in Chicago has some more questions about George Cameron’s qualifications.


Judge 4:In our database, when we punch in your name, Mr. Cameron, it states that you are not able to represent respondence before the immigration court. Can you address that for me, please?


George Cameron:Yes, Judge. There is some issues here in Pennsylvania related [inaudible 00:41:56]


Patrick M:One issue, a conviction in 2014 for the unlawful practice of law. Another issue, a 1993 conviction for the same thing.


George Cameron:Or the matter has been [inaudible 00:42:06]


Patrick M:But after 25 years, George Cameron is still taking money to represent people in immigration court.


Judge 4:It’s a very unusual situation.


George Cameron:[inaudible 00:42:16]


Patrick M:A few months later, Cameron gets charged with fraud. In federal court, he insists on representing himself. He says he was only trying to help, that he even took some cases for free, but the jury finds him guilty. He’ll be sentenced in July and faces decades in federal prison.


Judge 5 MJS:This is immigration Judge Michael W. Strauss. This is a removal hearing. Hartford, Connecticut. It May 1st, 2012 in the matter of Christopher Bailey.


Patrick M:And Christopher Bailey. Remember he had a court date, but Cameron told him not to show up.


Judge 5 MJS:Responedent scheduled to appear at 8:30. It’s currently 10:40 and he’s not here. Neither is this council. There’s be no reason why the respondents not here. The court will order his removal to Jamaica.


Patrick M:Christopher got his deportation notice in the mail. He’s still fighting to stay in the country, saying that Cameron hurt his case. He’s working two jobs so he and his wife can afford to pay the new lawyer they’ve found a real one with a real office.


Al Letson:That’s Reveal’s Patrick Michels. So Patrick, this story is wild. I mean this guy has no law degree and is still able to get away with pretending to be a lawyer for more than 20 years. I mean, how is that even possible?


Patrick M:Well, for one thing, what came out in the trial is that he was using real lawyers ID numbers and nobody ever checked. The other thing that makes this possible is that it’s hard for victims to report these crimes if they’re deported afterwards. These are hard cases to win and so if you lose a lot of them, it doesn’t always attract much attention.


Al Letson:Okay. So did we just find the one guy who’s breaking the law? I mean, how big is this problem?


Patrick M:No, it’s very widespread. It’s an old problem. There was a fake lawyer case in immigration in 1939 in New York. A lot of times someone who is an immigration consultant; a legal consultant, even a tax preparer, a travel agent, or notary.


In the Spanish Language press, there are often these warnings about not falling for this kind of thing. And it’s commonly called Notario fraud. In a lot of other countries, notaries have a sort of legal license that they don’t have here.


Al Letson:Okay, so correct me if I’m wrong, but immigration court is different than your typical legal procedure because, well, you’re not problems to lawyer here, right?


Patrick M:Exactly. It’s not like a criminal court. You’re not guaranteed a lawyer, so if you can’t hire one yourself, you have to face the judge alone.


So the evidence here and the case is basically your life story. I’m going to come in there and there’s one big question and that’s: is there some reason that I should be allowed to stay in the country?


Danna Marks:Very often lawyers have to meet with their clients two, three, four, five times before they get the full story out.


Patrick M:Dana marks is an immigration judge in San Francisco. She’s got this striking white curly hair and she tells me that she’s always been an immigration law nerd. Most immigration judges can’t talk to the press right, but she can because she’s also a representative of the Judges Union.


In court, she says that she does her best to try to learn people’s backstories, but the system doesn’t give her much time. So she’s kind of famous for this line she has about that


Danna Marks:In immigration court, we do death penalty cases, but we do it in a traffic court setting.


Patrick M:Meaning that these are very complex, high-stakes cases and they go through the court rapid fire.


Danna Marks:20 to 30 cases in a morning or an afternoon.


Al Letson:So how many people are doing this without a lawyer?


Well, a lot.


Danna Marks:Across the country, 40 percent of people in removal proceedings do not have attorneys to represent them. And that number jumps to 85 percent. If people are held in detention settings.


Al Letson:85 percent of these defendants don’t have legal representation, I mean, how’s that even possible? Well, what chance do they have without a lawyer?


George Cameron:Well, your chance of winning your cases way, way higher if you’ve got a lawyer with you. In New York City, since 2014, there’s been this program to give almost every detained immigrant a free lawyer. And for those folks, their odds of winning went up 12 times from four percent to 48 percent. So there’s a huge need for lawyers people can afford.


And this all relates back to that question we got from a lot of listeners: how can I help? And so while I’ve been reporting on immigration courts, I learned about a surprising twist. There’s a way for people who aren’t lawyers to help in court, basically practicing law.


Al Letson:Wait a second. Come on man you just played me a story about a guy without a legal degree working in immigration courts causing havoc. I mean, I don’t know Patrick. This does not sound like it’s a good idea.


Patrick M:Yeah. We did just hear the story about George Cameron and all the damage he did with his fake law practice, but the key thing here is that these folks do it with training and then supervision from lawyers. And that immigration judge Dana Marks; she told me that she’s seen some who are actually as good as real lawyers in court. For most of them, it starts with a class, so I went to check one out.


I went to New York, Midtown Manhattan to meet a guy who’s training to do that. Yeah, Anthony Persy. He’s a big guy in thick black glasses and a pink collared shirt.


Homen:I would say practically everybody in New York is either an immigrant or a child of immigrants. I know I am.


Patrick M:For decades, Anthony worked as a financial contract negotiator. He’s got an apartment in the West village.


Homen:You don’t get warm and fuzzy doing contracts for hedge funds. Believe me, it’s … You make a lot of money, but it’s not a missionary business.


Patrick M:So instead, tonight at 60 years old, he’s heading the class beginning his formal education in immigration law.


At a Catholic Church on West 31st street. Anthony joins two dozen other students. They’ve all paid $700 to learn the basics of immigration law. They’re welcomed into the legal lifestyle by an enormous textbook. It’s like a cube of paper. I just can’t get over how big the books are.


Student:I know, I feel like I’m back in school. It’s pretty intense. It’s 14 weeks.


Patrick M:For 60 years, the justice department has allowed regular people to practice immigration law under a program with this exciting name: Recognition and Accreditation. Today, about 2000 people have one of these licenses. Some can argue in front of judges, most use it to help people fill out immigration forms, and for Anthony it was actually the paperwork that first appealed to him.


Homen:It’s the first time in my life I could make a difference in something and that my skills could help. This happens to be my particular [inaudible 00:48:53] and I would say in my late Middle Age, I’m kind of happy I found it. It’s a matter of life and death.


Patrick M:For Anthony to get fully certified, he’d have to apply to the Justice Department, show them he’s finished this class, prove that he has quote “a good moral character” and he’d need a sponsor. That’s usually a nonprofit or a religious group. But lately there’s a new kind of place where regular folks are getting trained for this program.


I visited the downtown branch of the Hartford Public Library in Connecticut. It’s a big day. Dozens of people are about to become citizens of the United States. A big auditorium is filling up with families and suits and fancy dresses. Homen Effacy runs the immigration program at the library.


Homen:People still think that libraries are just, not just because I love to read, but it’s just the place that you’ll get a novel, but it’s not it’s so much bigger.


Patrick M:The library happens to be right next door to a citizenship office. People would go in there, learn all about the complicated forms they’d have to fill out online and then they’d go back to the only free computers around at the library. Hartford librarians wound up helping people fill out these forms and realized they’d better learn the law. They’ve helped 600 people become citizens.


As the ceremony kicks off, the library becomes a courtroom.


Speaker 7:All rise, ladies and gentlemen, all rise. Oyez. Oyez.


Patrick M:Before a judge, they take an oath to the United States. One of them is Ivy Rose Amagadu. From Ghana. And so you’ve, you’ve just become a citizen of the US.


Ivy Rose A:Yes.


Patrick M:How does it feel now?


Ivy Rose A:Oh, I feel at home. I was expecting it to be longer than we thought, but it was short. The library helped Ivy apply. She says it was easier than she expected.


Ivy Rose Amagadu, Ghana.


Patrick M:As the ceremony closes, the new citizens stand at the front of the room, smiling at their families in the back, waving little American flags in the air.


Judge 5 MJS:I want to congratulate once again on behalf of a grateful nation, our new citizens. Thanks for choosing Connecticut. Have a great afternoon.


Patrick M:That was Reveal’s Patrick Michels.


Thanks to all of our listeners for sending in your questions. Our Lead Producer this week was Ani Yanzi Diaz Cortez. The show was also produced by staying Stan Alcor, Laura Benchoff and Patrick Michels. Special thanks to WHYY in Philadelphia for production help and to Andre Soto who did our voiceover work. Fred Meyers and Laura Starcheski edited today’s show. Our Production Manager’s Wonday Anaosa. Our sound design team is the dynamic duo J Breezy. Mr Jim Briggs, and Fernando, my man, Yoruda. They had help this week from Catherine Raymondo. Our acting CEO is Christa Scharfenberg. Amy Pyle is our Editor in Chief. Our executive producer is Kevin Sullivan. Our theme music is by Comorado Lighting. Support for Reveal is provided by the Reva and David Logan Foundation, the John D and Catherine T MacArthur Foundation, the Jonathan Logan Family Foundation, the Ford Foundation, the Heising Simons Foundation, and the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation. Reveal is a co-production of the Center for Investigative Reporting and PRX. I’m Al Letson and remember, there is always more to the story.


 Section 3 of 3          [00:36:00 – 00:52:54]

Brett Myers is an interim executive producer for Reveal. His work has received more than 20 national honors, including a George Foster Peabody Award, four nationalEdward R. Murrow Awards and multipleThird Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Competition awards. Before joining Reveal, he was a senior producer at Youth Radio, where he collaborated with teenage reporters to file stories for "Morning Edition," "All Things Considered" and "Marketplace." 

Prior to becoming an audio producer, Myers trained as a documentary photographer and was named one of the 25 best American photographers under the age of 25. He loves bikes, California and his family. Before that, he was an independent radio producer and worked with StoryCorps, Sound Portraits and The Kitchen Sisters. Myers is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Laura Starecheski is a former senior radio editor for Reveal. Their radio work at Reveal has won a national Edward R. Murrow, a duPont-Columbia, and a Peabody, among other awards. Previously, they reported on health for NPR’s science desk and traveled the United States with host Al Letson for the Peabody Award-winning show “State of the Re:Union.” Their Radiolab story “Goat on a Cow” won a silver award for best documentary from the Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Foundation, and SOTRU's “The Hospital Always Wins” won a national Murrow Award. They have been a Rosalynn Carter fellow for mental health journalism and a Knight-Wallace fellow at the University of Michigan. Starecheski is based in Philadelphia.

Anayansi Diaz-Cortes is a reporter and producer for Reveal. Her work has been featured everywhere from All Things Considered to  Radio Ambulante and  This American Life. She is a recipient of the Overseas Press Club Award, the Edward R. Murrow Award, and the Third Coast/Richard H. Driehaus Foundation award. She was the creator and lead producer for KCRW’s Sonic Trace, a storytelling project that was part of AIR’s Localore initiative. Previously, she produced for Radio Diaries and has done extensive reporting in both the U.S. and Mexico. She is based in Reveal's Emeryville, California, office.

Stan Alcorn is a former senior reporter and producer for Reveal. His radio work at Reveal has won awards including a Peabody Award, several Online Journalism Awards, an NABJ Salute to Excellence Award, and a Best of the West Award, as well as making him a finalist for a Livingston Award for Young Journalists. He previously was a reporter for Marketplace, covering business and economic news – from debit card fees levied on the formerly incarcerated to the economic impact of Beyoncé's hair. He has helped launch new shows at Marketplace, Slate, and WNYC; contributed research to books by journalists at Time and CNBC; and reported for outlets including NPR, PRI's The World, 99% Invisible, WNYC, FiveThirtyEight, Fast Company, High Country News, Narratively, and Digg.

Patrick Michels is a former reporter for Reveal, covering immigration. His coverage focused on immigration courts and legal access, privatization in immigration enforcement, and the government's care for unaccompanied children. He contributed to Reveal's award-winning project on indigenous land rights disputes created by oil pipelines. Previously, he was a staff writer at the Texas Observer, where his work included an investigation into corruption at the Department of Homeland Security and how the state's broken guardianship system allowed elder abuse to go unchecked. Michels was a Livingston Award finalist for his investigation into the deadly armored car industry. He has a bachelor's degree in journalism from Northwestern University and a master's degree in photojournalism from the University of Texas at Austin, where his work focused on government contractors grappling with trauma and injuries from their time in Iraq.