Thousands of immigrants qualify to become legal residents because their daughters or sons live in the United States, but the sheer number seeking residency from places like Mexico, China or the Philippines means wait times can run into decades. Unskilled workers also have a tougher go at it, with only about 5,000 work visas for menial labor positions handed out each year amid tens of thousands of applications. Even after waiting decades, applicants must also have a financial sponsor – in the form of an employer or a rich uncle, pass a medical exam and satisfy a number of other tough requirements. For millions of immigrants and would-be-immigrants, the path to citizenship is a maze of confusing laws, daunting wait times and endless bureaucracy. AD Quality Auto 360p 720p 1080p Top articles1/5READ MOREOregon Ducks football players get stuck on Disney ride during Rose Bowl event “People don’t understand that it’s a lengthy process and there is not always an option for legal immigration, that’s why – there being no legal alternative – people seek the illegal alternative,” said Raul Godinez, past chair of the Southern California Chapter for American Immigration Lawyers Association. As the full Senate prepares to take up immigration reform, pro-immigrant groups are pushing for a law that will loosen up the mounting backlog and speed up the glacial pace at which the immigration system moves for tens of thousands. Opponents say making immigration easier is madness, putting undue strain on the already overtaxed health, welfare and school systems. Whatever reforms are adopted, immigrant attorneys and service organizations expect they will only see more questions from clients baffled by the continuous changes in the system. And even if the number of immigrant employment and family visas, now at 366,000, are tripled, the backlog could extend for years. “The reason we set limits in the first place is because it has an impact on everyone else. Changing it will change the illegality, but it doesn’t change the impact. Immigration affects labor markets and social institutions,” said Ira Mehlman, a spokesman for the Federation for American Immigration Reform. At Hermandad Mexicana, a nonprofit immigrant service organization in Panorama City, director Gloria Saucedo weekly sees hundreds of clients asking for immigration advice. They begin lining up outside the door by 9 a.m., some want simple translations of English-language documents notifying immigrants to appear in court, others want advice on how to apply for citizenship. Paula Lopez, a 29-year old stocker at Wal-Mart in Panorama City, keeps her eyes closely on Saucedo as she shuffles through her file of documents. Lopez has been waiting since September 1994 for her family sponsorship application to be heard. Although she has a work permit, she cannot leave the country. Her father became a citizen under a massive 1986 amnesty program, but she was not here at the time to apply. Her appointment with immigration is Monday. Lopez says the first thing she will do, if she obtains residency, is visit her sickly grandmother who she last saw when Lopez was just 8. “We talk on the phone all the time,” she said weeping. “The last time I saw her, she was strong, now she is frail… I want my children to see her.” Immigration activists have long contended that piecemeal immigration laws result in families ripped apart. One rule, for instance, bars for 10 years anybody who entered the country illegally and lived here more than a year, from applying for residency. Instead of returning home to see family, immigrants call family to come here, creating even more illegal migration. “At first glance, the objectives of the law might seem good, but when you look at the practical effects, they are destroying families, it’s not,” Godinez said. His client, Leopoldo Olivas, a 52-year old janitor is appealing a deportation order. A judge found that Perez, whose 30-year-old and 14-year old sons are U.S. citizens did not qualify for residency because he had been in the country illegally. The judge determined there was no extreme hardship, even though Olivas was caring for his eldest son’s wife, who is being treated for breast cancer. “I am so worried, there is not anyone else for her to rely on,” Olivas said. “I don’t know what I am going to do. I have been here for 20 years, working with my family.” Rachel Uranga, (818) 713-3741 [email protected] 160Want local news?Sign up for the Localist and stay informed Something went wrong. Please try again.subscribeCongratulations! You’re all set!