According to a Pew Research Center article, the latest statistics we have indicate that there are approximately 10 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. Of these two-thirds, or six and a half million, were in the United States for over 10 years. That’s a lot of immigrants who have nothing better to do than live in the shadows, work under the desk, and hope that one day they can somehow emerge and enter mainstream American society. A group of House Democrats has just tabled a bill called the Renewing Immigration Provisions of the Immigration Act of 1929, which would allow such undocumented immigrants to apply for immigration papers after seven years in the country. The bill contains a rolling component, so future legislation will not be required to update what is known as the “registration date”. It is estimated that around eight million immigrants could benefit from the passage of the law. However, what has not been sufficiently emphasized is how the American immigration system and America as a country would also benefit from the passage of this law.
The Register Act of 1929, the predecessor of this current bill, introduced the register provision for the first time. Immigrants who had been in the country continuously since June 3, 1921, were of “excellent moral character” and were not otherwise deported were eligible to apply for permanent resident status under this law. The registration deadline has since been brought forward four times, usually as part of other major immigration reforms. The requirement that applicants be safe from deportation was repealed in 1958 by a law that updated the registration date to 1940. This change made it possible for anyone who had entered the country illegally or overstayed their visa to apply for a green card.
Current eligibility requirements for registration
The following requirements must currently be met in order for a person without a legal residence permit to be registered:
The applicant must:
- entered the United States before January 1, 1972,
- have resided in the United States continuously since entering the country,
- be physically present in the United States at the time of application,
- have good moral character
- are not barred from entering the United States for specific reasons (for example, because you have been convicted of specific crimes),
- are not entitled to a waiver of inadmissibility or any other form of legal protection, and
- are not excluded from entry for other reasons.
- shall not be disqualified from citizenship or deported on terrorism grounds, and
- deserve the favorable exercise of discretion
What is significant about the provision is that no medical test, financial affidavit or US applicant is required for enrollment candidates to be successful. Instead, an applicant simply needs to submit a status adjustment request along with the appropriate fee to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
However, it is a long way from the introduction of a bill in the House of Representatives to the passage of legislation through Congress. So why should we concern ourselves with this?
The registration date was introduced for several reasons. First, it was felt that there came a point at which an undocumented immigrant’s contribution to that country outweighed the damage done. The other was Registry’s realization that it’s not practical to hunt down such people forever. As in the law, where there are statutes of limitations on prosecuting criminals, fairness required some means of allowing certain long-term residents to make amends.
Of course, some criminal immigrants deserve and should be deported. We can all agree. It is estimated that there are around a million such immigrants. We’re not talking about these people here.
But when considering how to deal with America’s remaining undocumented immigrants, it’s important to realize that removing these individuals will not be so easy. For example, they are protected by the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments, which give them the right to due process. Undocumented immigrants also have other legal protections, including the right to legal assistance, albeit at their own expense.
All of this means that removing all undocumented immigrants from America would require hearings in courtrooms with judges, prosecutors, defense attorneys, as well as the individuals concerned, all trying to coordinate their calendars to set amicable dates for hearings before the undocumented immigrant can be deported. Multiply that by about 9 million cases and you have a better idea of why legally removing America’s undocumented immigrant population will take a long time and be very expensive. In short, deporting all remaining long-term undocumented immigrants is an impossible mission given the other priorities America must address.
So this new initiative, hopeless as it may seem, makes sense. These longtime undocumented immigrants now have deep roots in America. They have built a life here for themselves and their families. They came to share the same values that other Americans share. They belong to the same community organizations, their children attend the same schools, and many attend the same churches and share the same hopes and fears as other Americans.
Enacting such a relief measure by setting the registration date would relieve America of one of its greatest burdens and free the country to focus on more pressing matters. The American immigration system would finally be able to address the important problems it faces today if it had freed itself from the burden of this legacy of the past.