By Attorneys Robert L. Reeves and Frances Arroyo
On June 28 a majority of the senate voted to pass a comprehensive immigration reform (CIR) bill that would help the 11 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States acquire legal status. Immigration reform was passed in the Senate through a strong and focused bipartisan effort. This is not the case in the House of Representatives. CIR’s momentum has almost come to a standstill in the House of Representatives. Anti-immigration groups are aggressively attacking CIR and lobbying the Republicans in the House of Representatives against the Senate Bill.
The House of Representatives’ view of the immigration bill differs greatly from the current bill drafted by the infamous “Gang of Eight” in the senate which includes “provisional immigrant status” for undocumented immigrants and an eventual pathway to citizenship. The House Republicans have an alternative strategy for immigration reform. House Speaker Boehner intends to gridlock the bill if a majority of the Republican caucus does not vote in favor of the bill. That means that the immigration reform bill would be defeated without a vote in the House of Representatives.
Alternatively, the House Republicans plan to do away with the meticulously drafted bi-partisan senate bill provisions and re-draft comprehensive immigration reform as a whole. Speaker John Boehner along with the House Republicans do not intend to take up the senate bill as drafted. He plans to develop a different immigration bill narrowly tailored to the House republican agenda of border security and stringent punishments for immigration violators. But what does this mean for the provisions of the CIR bill? The House Republicans have put forward different ideas of what immigration reform should look like.
The Safe act introduced by the chair of the House of Representatives in June of 2013 gives us a clear view of what the House Republicans think immigration reform would look like if passed. The Safe Act makes it a crime to be out of status and grants state and localities full authority to arrest any person overstaying their visa or who entered without inspection. In its provisions this act also looks to eliminate the administration’s ability to implement its Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals “DACA”. This is the House Republicans idea of a Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill.
In another proposal, the House of Representatives plan to eliminate the provisional legal status in the bill and replace it with “probation status” instead. Under the Republican probation system immigrants would have to admit to their immigration violations first in order to register for benefits under the reform. In order to gain support for immigration reform from House Republicans, any provision that would include a likeness to amnesty will be eliminated and replaced with punishment wording instead.
In the meantime, many hopeful immigrants are moving forward. Instead of keeping their lives on hold, they are pursuing relief that is available today. Many avenues of relief exist today. With the Supreme Court striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, all immigrant families same-sex or opposite sex may avail themselves of benefits under the immigration laws.
For those undocumented immigrants who have lived in the United States for at least 10 years and whose U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident parent or children would suffer exceptional and extremely unusual hardship if they had to leave, getting a green card through cancellation of removal is a viable option. Applying for a family based immigrant petition is another option for those who have been patiently waiting for immigration reform to pass. Currently the backlog under F2A category (spouses and children of lawful permanent residents) is gone and the category is current. This means that children and spouses of lawful permanent residents can apply for their green card today.
A new waiver called the provisional waiver is another way for individuals to obtain a green card. Applicants who need a waiver of inadmissibility for unlawful presence may apply and obtain a waiver in the United States before they depart for their immigrant visa interview at a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad. Some other avenues still open are investor visas, employment based visas, abused spouse self- petitions, inadmissibility waivers applications, fiancé K-1 visas and alternatively self-petition for K-1s who married but spouse never petitioned them among others.
There are alternatives to just waiting for CIR. We recommend a consultation with a good immigration attorney.