It took a while for me to get on here, but I'm glad I finally was able to! My name is Nicole Cudiamat, and I hope that I can provide some knowledge about immigration happenings in the United States. Many of you have probably heard a few things about immigration reform this past year. Now that the Federal government has resumed operations, more attention can be paid to changing the U.S. immigration landscape. This is the first in a series of posts designed to help readers understand the basics of comprehensive immigration reform (CIR). Here, I’ll do a quick overview of the bill itself and then delve into one of more hotly debated aspects of CIR – a pathway to citizenship.
On April 17, 2013, the “Gang of Eight”—a bipartisan Senate group-- released its first attempt at immigration reform. Democratic Senator Charles Schumer announced the proposed “Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act,” (also known as S.774) highlighting his hopes for the bill: “We are undergirded by the fact that Americans will be fair, balanced, and filled with common sense for legal immigrants and the 11 million here living in the shadows, as long as they believe we will not have future waves of illegal immigration. I believe our bill meets that test.”
Senator Schumer originally had a goal of passing CIR by July of last summer; of course, this did not happen. The Gang of 8 (now disbanded) successfully passed S.774 through the Senate, with a few amendments, but the bill came to a predicable halt in the House. The bill was never introduced, and instead was broken down into piecemeal bills to be introduced in the House. None of these subsequent bills have been brought to the floor for a vote to date.
Interestingly, a group of House Democrats introduced a new CIR bill during the government shutdown. H.R. 15, however, is not a profound piece of new legislation, but rather an almost identical copy of S.774. President Obama has since called upon Congress to renew the effort for immigration reform.
The introduction of the bill brought about a polarized reaction to the inclusion of a path to citizenship for the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Such a path has been criticized as tantamount to amnesty for people who have broken the law by being present in the U.S. unlawfully. By contrast, polls have indicated that the majority of the American people support a path to citizenship. These people say that undocumented people who obey the law, pay their taxes, pay a penalty, and learn English should be given an opportunity to become legalized. Currently, there is no way an undocumented immigrant can conceivably become a citizen.
The bill creates a new type of status called Registered Provisional Immigrant status (“RPI”). This type of status allows for an undocumented person, who meets certain criteria and does certain things, to obtain work and travel permits, eventually apply for a green card and subsequently, for U.S. citizenship. There are several requirements that must be met in order to qualify for RPI status:
1. The applicant must have been physically present in the U.S. before December 31, 2011 and on the date the application is submitted.
2. The applicant must not have any serious criminal convictions on his or her record. Such convictions include any felony (except for status based or immigration offenses), an aggravated felony under the INA[i], three or more misdemeanors other than traffic offenses, crimes committed in a foreign country that would make a person inadmissible or deportable if committed in the U.S., and unlawful voting.
3. The applicant must pay any back taxes owed (if any).
4. The applicant must pay certain fines: a $500 fine in addition to the filing fees. If RPI status is granted, it lasts for only six years, at which time the RPI must again apply to renew his or her status. At this time, the RPI must pay another $500 file on top of filing fees, and be subject to more background checks to see if he or she has been acting lawfully. After ten years of RPI status, then one can apply for a green card at a cost of a $1000 fine plus filing fees. Once he or she attains Legal Permanent Resident status (“LPR”), then he or she may be eligible for naturalization as soon as three year after attaining LPR status.
The entire RPI process from initial application to application for citizenship will take over thirteen years for most, and will cost $2000 in penalty fines in addition to the normal filing fees for the application process.
There is a special provision for certain RPIs who were are “DREAMers”. This portion contemplates the passage of the Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act of 2013 (DREAM), which has been in the works since 2000. DREAMers are undocumented people who meet certain criteria under the Act—essentially having been brought to the U.S. as a child. Though the DREAM Act has not been passed, in June 2012, President Obama announced that he would not deport people who would be classified as DREAMers. This created a new processed called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, or DACA as it is popularly referred to as. DACA does not confer legal status on the applicant, but rather makes a formal acknowledgement of the applicant’s lack of status, and allows to applicant to remain and work lawfully in the U.S. for a two year period.
But I digress... these “DREAMers” would be eligible to apply for RPI status. If it is granted, they would be aable to participate in an expedited process that allows them to be eligible for a green card after only five years in RPI status. The inclusion of DREAMers into this measure, according to Senator McCain, was a compromise by Republicans in exchange for more effective border control measures.
If this provision were to pass, it is expected that many of the 11 million undocumented immigrants will come out of the shadow to be counted, which is an important goal of immigration reform. It would result in the payment of potentially billions of dollars in back taxes and some additional revenue for the government from the penalties that would be paid. Whether you are for or against including RPI status in CIR, that factor alone might be enough to keep RPI on the books. Stay tuned for the next look at the comprehensive immigration reform movement: changes to family-based immigration.
[i] The term “aggravated felony” is exclusive to immigration law. The INA states that an aggravated felony includes crimes such as, but not limited to, murder, rape, or sexual abuse of a minor, illicit trafficking of a controlled substance or firearms, a crime of violence for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year, a theft offense for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year. INA, 8 U.S.C. at § 1101(a)(43).