The Path to Citizenship in the Senate’s Immigration Reform Bill


Just yesterday, the U.S. Senate passed a “border surge” amendment to the “Border Security, Economic Opportunity and Immigration Modernization Act,” paving the way for possible cloture and full senate vote on the bill on or before the July 3 target date originally set by Majority Leader Harry Reid of Nevada. This development increases the chance for immigration reform to pass this year, opening up a new path to citizenship for undocumented immigrants currently residing in the U.S.

Contrary to some published reports, the path to citizenship is neither swift nor easy, but the Senate bill – if it becomes law – will allow a large percentage of undocumented immigrants to remain in the U.S. indefinitely while they wait in line for lawful permanent resident (also known as “green card”) status. These immigrants will receive their green cards and be able to apply for full citizenship only after all other prior applications for green cards have been processed on behalf of people who have pursued a traditional path to full citizenship, and in no event shall they be allowed to obtain a green card in less than 10 years (with exceptions for certain people brought here as children or working in agriculture).

In the meantime, a large percentage of undocumented immigrants will be permitted to stay in the U.S. under a new “Registered Provisional Immigrant” program. To be eligible for this status, applicants must have been in the U.S. since Dec. 31, 2011 or earlier, and they cannot have been convicted of a felony or three or more misdemeanors. They also cannot have committed terrorist acts, or failed to pay assessed taxes or penalties. All applicants will be background-checked to insure compliance.

Applicants who entered the U.S. prior to the age of 16, have earned a high school diploma or GED, have passed an English test and certain background checks, and otherwise meet the specifications for so-called “DREAMer” status, will be able to apply for lawful permanent resident status and green cards after only five years. A similar fast-track to lawful permanent resident status will also be available for undocumented agricultural workers who have performed at least 575 hours or 100 work days or agricultural labor during a two-year period ending Dec. 31, 2012. These workers will receive a new “blue card” applicable to their special agricultural positions.

All undocumented immigrants, regardless of category, will be permitted to remain in the country under registered provisional immigrant status (if they qualify) for six years, and they will be allowed to renew their provisional status every six years, as long as they remain continuously employed or demonstrate income or resources of not less than 100 percent of poverty level, and as long as they continue to pass applicable background checks and pay all taxes and penalties assessed against them.

Those immigrants who are eligible for registered provisional immigrant status will also be immune from deportation removal actions, if the current Senate bill becomes law.

On the other hand, registered provisional immigrants will not be eligible for federally issued, means-tested public benefits, such as Medicaid, food stamps and benefits under the Affordable Care Act. But they may be eligible for certain state-supplied benefits, depending on the laws of each state.

We will be tracking continuing developments in federal immigration reform as they occur, and look forward to bringing you more information in the months ahead about the progress of proposed reforms on Capitol Hill.

DISCLAIMER: Because of the generality of this update, the information provided herein may not be applicable in all situations and should not be acted upon without specific legal advice based on particular situations.

© Ronald Shapiro | Attorney Advertising

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