Four ways for broad legalization of unauthorized persons

Now that both parties have released at least the outlines of a plan, we now see several ways to legalize the status of a larger number of unauthorized persons. I draw in part on a Migration Policy Institute report. All approaches implicitly recognized that 60% of unauthorized persons are estimated to have been in the U.S for at least ten years; hence, a legalization policy must be broad-based to avoid being severely draconian.

A relatively fast all-inclusive Biden policy. Biden’s U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 proposes this approach. This bill, per the White House, “allows undocumented individuals to apply for temporary legal status, with the ability to apply for green cards after five years if they pass criminal and national security background checks and pay their taxes. Dreamers, TPS holders, and immigrant farmworkers who meet specific requirements are eligible for green cards immediately under the legislation.” Generally, persons had to be in the U.S. on January 1, 2021. The person will wait five years on a temporary visa before getting a green card. Citizenship is then accessible.

A narrower policy, as applied by the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. Of the approximately 3.2 million unauthorized immigrants living in the United States at the time of the bill’s passage, 1.6 million legalized through IRCA’s general legalization, and another 1.1 million farmworkers and 38,000 Cubans and Haitians. Applicants had to demonstrate continuous residence since 1982 and meet certain criteria.

Per the MPI, the farmworker eligibility provisions were considered too lenient and as inviting fraud. The accompanying employer sanctions for hiring unauthorized immigrants proved easy for employers to evade and difficult for the government to enforce. The resources for border enforcement included in the legislation were inadequate. The unauthorized population surged in the 1990s and early 2000s. I describe why this surge happened here.

The relatively slow new Republican Dignity bill approach. I outlined here a draft of this act which was just released. Provisions includes, for all undocumented persons, a 10-year enrollment in a temporary program, followed by a five year program before gaining regular green card status. Citizenship appears not available. The draft act is silent on the cut-off date to be eligible. This is not in the Republican Party platform of 2020.

A more narrow, but fast working old registry approach. The MPI says that Registry has been part of U.S. immigration law since 1929 when the Registry Act was enacted. Registry aims to resolve the issue of legal status for those who have been in the country for an extended period. The rationale is akin to that of statutes of limitation, which do not exist in immigration law. That is, that at a certain point no further public interest is served by pursuing long-ago violations. In the past, the registry date has been between 8 and 18 years prior to the passage of the registry act. If the date is 10 years before 1/1/21, it would include about 60% of the unauthorized population.

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