BACKDOOR AMNESTY – NOT!

By Robert L. Reeves & Nancy E. Miller

Rumors abound in immigration law.  Sometimes the rumors raise the non-citizen’s hopes beyond all expectation.  Sometimes, they cause the immigrant to sink to the depths of despair.  Regardless of the emotional reaction, it is imperative that the immigrant realize  that, first and foremost, they are dealing with rumors.  Rumor is defined as a currently circulating story or report of unverified or doubtful truth.  The key here is unverified or doubtful truth.  In other words, the story may not be true.  If the story is untrue but neutral, it will cause no harm.  The worst kind of rumor, however, is the one that causes the immigrant to take action that can result in great harm or disaster.

A current rumor is circulating around the immigrant community that has the potential to cause enormous harm.  Newspapers, media and other organizations are spreading a story that there is a “backdoor” amnesty program out there.  As with most rumors, there is an element of truth to the story but the reality is very different from the rumor. 
 
According to some of these stories, immigrants currently in proceedings will have their court cases dismissed as long as they do not have serious criminal convictions. 
They would not be able to obtain legal status but they would not be deported.  While this story is untrue, it is harm neutral in that the non-citizen is already in proceedings through no action of his own.  Individuals in deportation will be disappointed when they realize that they will still need to fight removal, but that should not come as a great surprise. 

According to another, much more dangerous story, immigrants who have deportation orders can apply for this program and get their green card despite the fact that they have been ordered removed from the United States. If this were true, it would be welcome news, indeed, for deportees. But it is not true.  Anyone with an existing deportation order who reports  to the Department of Homeland Security for “backdoor amnesty” will face immediate execution of their deportation order.  In other words, they will be taken into custody and removed from the United States.
 
So what is the truth?  The Office of the Chief Counsel for Immigration & Customs Enforcement (the lawyers for ICE) have recognized that there are some cases that are handled in court, but could be handled at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).  In order to alleviate court backlog, they have made a policy decision that court cases may be terminated where the alien has relief immediately available and does not have a criminal record.  The most common examples of eligible immigrants for dismissal of their deportation case are when an alien marries a U.S. citizen or has an approved immigrant visa petition from a family member and the quota is current, and they are otherwise eligible for a green card. The government lawyer asks the judge to terminate the court case and let  the alien complete the process for the immediately available green card with the USCIS.  The court case will be closed.  The alien will get his green card (which he would have gotten anyway) from the USCIS instead of the court. 

As with most things, the reality is not nearly as dramatic as the rumor.  As is also always the case, one should always distinguish the reality from the rumor before taking any  action in furtherance of the rumor.  We are heading into a mid-term election and a possible lame-duck Congress.  Both pro and anti immigration reform factions will be very active.  One can expect rumors to fly.  Many of those rumors will contain an element of truth but not a complete truth.  The wisest course of action is to contact a knowledgeable and experienced immigration attorney to get the true story before taking any action.