I am a citizen, a voter and a resident of the U.S. I am also a citizen attorney In Houston who helps people become U.S. citizens. I have been concerned about the information available to voters regarding our immigration system for some time.
After hearing recent comments by several politicians seeking state and national offices in the upcoming election, I decided to write this blog post to provide factual information to aid citizens of the country in understanding our immigration system and some of its shortcomings.
We hear a lot of concern about our immigration system and the estimated 11 million undocumented people in the United States. However, the actual working of our immigration system as it currently stands are rarely discussed.
Our system is complicated and highly technical, so it’s hard to discuss it at all as it can easily get confusing. But it’s also important to have an understanding of how it works, even on a very general level, if you want to be an informed voter.
Key Legal Issues that Contributed to our Undocumented Immigration Population Today
In this post, I want to mention a few key legal issues for anyone interested in learning more about why we have some of the problems with our undocumented immigrant population today. Regardless of which candidate you support, I hope that this information aids in understanding why our country’s immigration system has not worked for us as a country.
How Did We Get From 1986 Amnesty to 11 Million Undocumented People Today?
I sometimes hear people say that our country had an amnesty program in 1986 under President Ronald Reagan, and that we appear to have come right back to a place of having an undocumented population now.
Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA)
It’s true that in 1986, Congress passed – and President Reagan signed into law the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA). Among other items, IRCA required employers to begin completing I-9 Forms which serve as an employer’s attestation that an employee’s authorization to work in the United States has been verified.
The program also allowed approximately 3 million undocumented immigrants to apply for legal status. In this process, these individuals did not automatically become U.S. citizens. Those who applied and were approved for the program became temporary residents, and then later had the opportunity to become permanent residents (to have a “green card”).
Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA)
In 1996, Congress passed the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) and President Clinton signed IIRIRA into law. The changes to our immigration system that were created by IIRIRA made legal immigration to the United States much more difficult for those who had entered without authorization in the past. Among other provisions, IIRIRA created several penalties that weren’t previously in our immigration law:
- 3 year bar: A person unlawfully present in the United States for more than 180 days but less than 1 year who subsequently leaves the U.S. is not allowed to return for 3 years without a waiver (special permission to return before the 3 years have elapsed). The waiver is based on hardship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent.
- 10 year bar: A person unlawfully present for more than 1 year who subsequently leaves the U.S. is not allowed to return for 10 years without a waiver (special permission to return before 10 years have elapsed). The waiver is based on hardship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse or parent.
- “Permanent” Bar: A person unlawfully present for more than 1 year OR who is ordered deported and reenters or attempts to reenter without authorization cannot apply for authorization to come back for 10 years. A person subject to the “Permanent” Bar must stay out of the country for 10 years first, then apply for a waiver to get permission to return.
- False claim to U.S. Citizenship: Person who makes a false claim to United States citizenship is inadmissible. There are only extremely limited exceptions.
These changes to our immigration laws have stopped many people from obtaining legal status where they might have otherwise been able to do so. The 10-year bar and permanent bar has also removed the incentive for many undocumented immigrants to leave the United States, as it makes returning much more difficult (and for some, impossible).
Two Common Examples of Situations an Immigration Attorney Sees are:
- An employer wants to help an undocumented employee by trying to get them legal status. However, the employee is not eligible to apply for status in the United States, and will be subject to the 10-year bar if he leaves to try to apply for a visa at an Embassy
- A parent of a U.S. born child did not make a lawful entry into the country, so even though she has a U.S. citizen child who is 21 years old, she cannot apply for legal status without going to an Embassy in their home country. She will trigger the 10-year bar if she leaves.
People in these situations are often productive employees and members of our local communities. As our law currently stands, these individuals may be left without an avenue to legalize their status. I hope that by reading this information about our laws and our system, voters will be better informed about immigration issues.
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