Illegal Immigration has been a hot topic in the presidential election, but legal immigration is far more common and impactful on our country and our state. Legal immigration is at near historic highs.
Fernanda Sullivan immigrated to the US from Brazil shortly after college.
“My dad helped me with the ticket and maybe a thousand dollars,” she explained. “That’s not much if you’re coming to another country.”
She planned to take English classes to improve her language skills. Then she met Sean.
“I met Sean in a bar,” she said smiling. “In an Irish bar.”
The couple has been married now 11 years. They have two daughters, and Fernanda runs her own business.
“I started from zero,” Fernanda said. “I was like, ‘oh my god, what am I doing?’
She said the first house she cleaned was large, but she was ready for the challenge.
Since starting her business, Pretty in Pink Maids, she’s hired a staff. They do most of the cleaning now, which leaves Fernanda to run operations.
We met Fernanda on a very emotional day. It was a naturalization ceremony, where each of the immigrants would swear their allegiance to the US and trade their green cards for real citizenship.
Since 2003, the number of people naturalized in South Carolina increased by more than 250%.
“A lot of people are trying to get in before the election,” Leander Holston, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Field Office Director, explained.
He said each of the immigrates going through the naturalization process have lived in the country for at least three years and passed a series of background checks. They must be sponsored by employer or family member; and read, write, and speak English; and understand basic American civics.
“It can be difficult,” he said.” It can be long sometimes.”
The U.S. has the world’s largest immigrant population, holding about one-in-five of the world’s immigrants
Most come from Asia, followed by North American, Europe, Africa, and South America, according to a report from the Department of Homeland Security.
According to the report, in 2013 nearly 72,000 immigrants came from China. Some 68,000 came from India.
“There are numerical limitations. Only a certain number of people can come to the United States in any certain year. Those numbers are set by congress,” Holston explained.
But a closer look by the News 2 I-Team found thousands come without a country of origin, and we wanted to know why.
“If they were stateless people, refugees, young refugees that didn’t know where they were born,” Holston explained.
Legal immigrants significantly outnumber illegal immigrants. According to the Pew Center for Research, there are 11.3 million people living illegally in the US. That’s about 3.5% of the population. Documented, legal immigrants account for 45 million people or 14% of the our population.
“We all forget that we came from somewhere,” Holston said. “We all came here as immigrants.”
Back at home, Fernanda says she’s ready to vote. That’s a new right as a naturalized citizen.
“Now I can really be a part of the context.”