That was 17 years ago. Ms. Barberena, who is from Mexico, is still waiting. Her file is inching through a backlog, and she has several years to go before she will receive the green card that will make her a permanent resident.

As Congress debates an overhaul of the immigration system, Ms. Barberena often feels like yelling with frustration. “It’s been so long and we did everything by the rule,” she said, speaking from her home near Nashville. “Now it seems everything is about illegal immigrants and nothing is about us.”…

“What is the government going to do for those people who are doing the right thing?” Mr. de Souza asked.