“Why couldn’t they just come here the legal way?” It is a question that I have heard a little too often asked by Americans who are completely oblivious of the process involved in actually immigrating to the United States.

I am an American citizen and have been in this country since I was 10. However, the process to emigrate here from Pakistan (legally) started even before I was born. While I was fortunate enough to live those 10 years safely surrounded by some of the best people I know, others aren’t nearly as lucky. The wait times since the time of application vary significantly from a couple months to 15 years. The people eligible to apply fall in three categories which are further divided into preferences that determine how long they would have to wait. The three categories are immediate relatives, family preferences and employment preferences. In my case, we fell in the third preference sphere of the second category which has an average wait time of eight years; add in a Muslim last name and the time increases by a couple more years in this post 9/11 era.

The wait times also depend on the country the applicant is applying from, and according to nationally acclaimed immigration law firm of Litwin & Smith, the Philippines and Mexico have “longer family preference backlogs than the rest of the countries in the world.”

If a Mexican family applies through a family member in the U.S., they not only have to wait the usual eight years, but additional years due to increased amount of backlogs. On top of that, China, India, Philippines and Mexico also max out on their annual visa quotas the fastest, therefore families, “have a greater likelihood of having to wait longer to be able to immigrate than persons in the same preference category from other countries.”

Keep in mind the Mexico, the Philippines, India and China all fall in the top 10 countries where US receives most of its illegal immigrants. Coincidence? I think not.

Now you might ask, “But why can’t they just wait it out? I mean, if they really want to come, might as well do it the right way.” Unfortunately, time is a luxury most of these people cannot afford. Since almost half of undocumented immigrants come from Mexico, let’s focus on a couple of those cities and see if we can determine the cause of that.

The Mexican city of Juarez, which borders El Paso, is one of the deadliest cities in the world, averaging about two murders per day at one point in 2015, renaming it to the “Valley of Death.” The murder rates are alarmingly high with approximately 54,600 young children with no school to go to. But that’s just one city, right? How about Nuevo Laredo? It’s the town bordering Laredo, Texas. Well, according to the US Overseas Security Advisory Council, Laredo has an extreme violence problem with security being a huge issue. The cartels have made it extremely unsafe to travel by any major roads in that area.

How do you tell a parent to risk their children’s lives and patiently wait for 15 years when there’s better life 20 miles across? How do you tell a young man who just lost his sibling to senseless violence without any means to support the family to wait for 15 years? Yes, I understand that the U.S. cannot take responsibility for every country that’s failing to provide for its citizen due to corruption. Yes, I also understand that we have our own veterans and homeless people to take care of before that of other nations.

A key factor people are forgetting is that illegal immigrants aren’t living in this country for free. According to a new study from the Institute of Taxation and Economic Policy, undocumented immigrants pay almost $12 billion dollars in taxes through property, sales,or excise taxes. Twelve billion dollars is no small amount. Not only that, but the study also finds that over 75 percent also pay in for the social security benefits that they do not even receive. They overpay, yet are underpaid and exploited for their services by selfish business owners using their vulnerable status against them. Nevertheless, this article isn’t about that. It is about people casually commenting on a complicated process they do not understand.

Furthermore, if you are a legal immigrant who has been through this process but still wonders why the undocumented immigrants couldn’t follow in your righteous steps, please ask yourself the following questions: Did you or your ancestors come here before 2001? If yes, feel lucky that you made it here before the laws toughened. Did you come from any of those countries listed above with backlogs or the Middle East? If no, feel lucky that you are not competing with thousands others fighting to have a shot at a better life. If yes, then also consider yourself lucky that you were not in a critical situation that allowed you to wait long years without the risk of death looming around your family.

Look, I am not advocating in favor of illegal immigration; a lawless country can never be great. However, what I am doing is answering the ever-so-ignorant question asked with privilege without knowing the right information pertaining to this issue. No one wants to cross a deadly desert in unbearable southern heat while trying to avoid getting shot by the border patrol unless they really have to. On top of that, as soon as they enter this country, they are instantly dehumanized by their newfound status and inability to speak the language. As great as this country is, no one willingly wants to lose their dignity as they hear the constant insults by their bosses who take advantage of them and say nothing in return fearing that their kids will lose their golden opportunity.

Next time someone around you argues, “Why couldn’t they just come here the legal way?” Tell them that between the desperate choice of living with morality and simply living, they chose the latter.