Immigration Reform: What Now for Those It Would Benefit?

6/19/2013

The proposed immigration legislation contains many new provisions that would overhaul the Immigration and Nationality Act as it exists today. Still, the focus of the commentary and controversy is the registration of an estimated eight million of our nation’s undocumented as “Registered Provisional Immigrants,” starting those individuals down an eventual path to citizenship. Even though immigration reform has not passed, it may not pass, and if it does, it is not clear at this time what it will contain, it is already having a profound impact on the lives of those who may be eligible to register.

Hope

For millions of Americans, Registered Provisional Status, as it is currently included in the proposed legislation, would mean the opportunity to come out of the shadows. Living in the shadows makes everyday life exceedingly difficult—from finding transportation to work in the morning, to making sure your children are safe and secure, to finding a place to cash a check or save hard-earned money—nothing is easy or straightforward. New lawful permanent residents or even recipients of the new Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals appear to be walking on air when they realize they do not need to hide any longer or at least temporarily.

There are numerous provisions in current immigration laws that make it impossible to obtain lawful status. It certainly isn’t a lack of will or desire on the part of the millions of undocumented living in the U.S. For example, having a child in the U.S. does not provide a path to lawful status until that child is 21. Even at that point, the undocumented parent may face other legal bars to eligibility, depending on how the parent entered the U.S. and numerous other factors. Simply put, there is no way for millions of those living among us to contribute as full members of society. Immigration reform is hope, long before it is reality.

Uncertainty

The uncertainty doesn’t only stem from an inability to predict whether immigration reform will happen at all, although it proved elusive in 2008. It also comes from a lot of misinformation and predatory actors.

Even though immigration reform has not passed, immigrants are constantly barraged with con artists, “notarios” (foreign attorneys not licensed to practice law in the U.S.) and other opportunists telling them they should “apply now!” and charging a fee long before there are any benefits for which to apply. Immigrants who fall into the trap are hoping to obtain benefits at a reduced cost, or to avoid missing out on benefits. The result may be a catastrophic loss of money or worse, if the notario or con artist actually does improperly apply for some type of benefit on the immigrants’ behalf.

Misinformation also swirls in a giant game of telephone as community members hear something about immigration reform on the many media outlets or through friends, and spread that information to others, missing important details or the point entirely.

Preparation

Prospective Registered Provisional Immigrants should seek accurate, reliable information and prepare themselves in case immigration reform is passed in a form that provides a path to citizenship for undocumented individuals. Reliable information is available at events organized by reputable organizations and through consultation about the facts of each prospective applicants’ particular case with a licensed attorney who specializes in immigration law.

Prospective applicants should prepare by taking steps such as gathering proof of physical presence in the United States since their arrival, like school records, medical records, copies of utilities bills and leases. Official identification would likely be required to register, so prospective applicants should apply for a valid passport and find birth certificates, marriage and divorce certificates, and other government issued documents.

Prospective applicants should also save money to be able to register, if and when that opportunity arises, because there will be filing fees, there may be fines, and they may want to seek the assistance of an attorney.

Depending on prospective applicants’ immigration and criminal history, other steps may be beneficial, like requesting a copy of their file through a Freedom of Information Act request.

Knudson Immigration Law Firm advises individuals on their eligibility for immigration benefits under current law, and on steps to take to prepare for the possibility of immigration reform. Call today to schedule a consultation.

Ms. Knudson will be speaking on Immigration Reform in collaboration with Mi Familia Vota and other organizations serving the Spanish-speaking community in the Denver, Colorado area on Saturday, June 22 at Regis University.