By Attorneys Eric R. Welsh & Nancy E. Miller
The New Year is here, and the time for change has come. Now is the time to look ahead and make concrete plans for 2014. Make this the year that you address your immigration problems. Many will be tempted to wait for a “fix-all” solution from Congress but hope and a concrete solution for many already exists today. Consult an experienced and knowledgeable attorney about your rights and options. Keep your New Year’s resolution, and seek the help that you need to confront your immigration woes.
While Congress has not yet reached an agreement on immigration reform, the executive branch of government has instituted many encouraging changes in policy. Prosecutors have always had the authority to determine whether to actively pursue a case that they have a legal right to prosecute. However, the enforcement branch of the Department of Homeland Security has rarely exercised that authority. DHS has begun limiting the expenditure of its resources to those areas it believes are most egregious. Unfortunately, not everyone agrees with their definition of egregious but the policy has allowed some noncitizens subject to removal to seek temporary relief from that threat. Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) has dramatically improved the lives of many undocumented immigrants who entered this country as children. The Provisional Waiver program allows certain immigrants who are not eligible to adjust status in the United States to obtain their waiver of inadmissibility before leaving the country to complete the immigration process via consular processing. This has significantly shortened the time during which family members are separated while awaiting the grant of lawful status.
The year ahead is ripe with promise for immigration reform and new opportunities for noncitizens. California governor Jerry Brown has signed into law new legislation that will permit undocumented aliens to apply for driver’s licenses. California will join Nevada and nine other states that already permit undocumented aliens to drive legally. The State Legislature has passed a bill that would make it illegal for an employer to threaten to report an employee to immigration authorities as a form of retaliation. States like California are recognizing the realities of the predicament that undocumented aliens are in and are making significant strides towards empowering and assisting those who cannot easily fix their immigration status.
On the federal level, many important changes appear on the horizon. We are currently awaiting a decision from the U.S. Supreme Court on a class-action lawsuit that has the potential to help those immigrants who aged-out (turned 21) while waiting for the petitions filed for their parents to become current. Congress continues to debate comprehensive immigration reform, including a bill that passed the Senate last year that would grant lawful status to undocumented aliens and provide a path towards permanent residency. For the first time, the House seems poised to seriously consider such reform (although they still are unwilling to consider citizenship as the ultimate goal). Legislation that would expand employment-based visa categories and make employment authorization more readily available remains popular among members of both political parties. Other members of Congress are focusing on their commitment to humanitarian and family-based reform. Members of both political parties are beginning to look to elections in 2014 and 2016. They recognize the need to address the issues most important to those in the Hispanic and Asian communities. Immigration reform takes a central position the concerns of citizens in these communities. In short, Senators and House Representative are facing the fact that society expects them to do their job and fix the broken immigration system and that failing to do so may cost them votes.
We have been poised for immigration reform in the past and been disappointed. For that reason, those who need help should seek it now. And help is available. The current law does provide relief for many with immigration problems. Ignoring the problem will not make it go away. A pessimistic outlook may simply be the result of the fact that the issues have not been considered in detail or creatively by an experienced and knowledgeable immigration attorney. Currently existing laws and procedures provide options for reopening old deportation or removal proceedings; obtaining permanent residency in immigration court through cancellation of removal or other relief; applying for a green card with a waiver for past criminal offenses or prior fraud (including entry with a false name or misrepresenting marital status); asylum; and countless other options. The best way to explore these options and to find out how they might apply to you is to speak to an immigration attorney today.