What is the Senate's immigration reform legalization program?

Yesterday I reported that the U.S. Senate passed a comprehensive immigration reform bill entitled the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act (S. 744). (Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act" (S. 744).

The document consists of approximately 1200 pages and it is important to emphasize that it is only a proposal at this time. The U.S. House of Representatives has yet to introduce and pass its own comprehensive immigration reform bill. Then, President Obama has to sign a legal bill that has been approved by Congress.

One of the main components of the proposal is the creation of a legalization program that could grant legal status to millions of undocumented immigrants.

I am reviewing the bill carefully to provide you with a summary and analysis of what it means for immigrants in this country. This is part one, devoted to the section of the bill that describes how the legalization of millions of undocumented people would be accomplished.

Provisional Registered Immigrant Status

Under the proposal, eligible undocumented immigrants will be able to obtain Registered Provisional Immigrant Status (RPI).

After meeting all the requirements, people with RPI status may be able to obtain permanent residency in the United States. But this will take more than 10 years, unless the person is eligible for the DREAM Act, or is an agricultural worker.

The bill establishes that undocumented immigrants will not be able to obtain RPI until the Secretary of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) provides Congress with evidence that the border security strategy is working. This requirement does not apply to persons who are eligible for the DREAM Act, or are agricultural workers.

The proposed strategy includes increased surveillance, technology, infrastructure and reinforced border walls.

The bill is setting as a benchmark of effectiveness that the border security strategy is successful in stopping the 90% of illegal immigration flow at the border.

Eligibility for RPI status 

To be eligible for RPI status, an individual must meet the following requirements:

1. Have lived in the United States since before January 1, 2012 and have been physically present in the United States continuously since then.

2. Pay a fine of $1000 and other costs to process the application for RPI status. The fee may be paid in installments. Persons under 21 years of age or those who are eligible for the DREAM Act will not have to pay the fee.

3. Be current with the payment of income taxes required by section 6203 of the U.S. Internal Revenue Code. It is of utmost importance that you consult with a licensed and experienced accountant/bookkeeper for advice on tax laws.

4. Be a person of good moral character.

**Spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21 of persons who have RPI may be petitioned as derivatives of the principal applicant as long as these family members have been living in the United States since before January 1, 2013 and at the time of filing for RPI as a derivative relative.

Who is NOT eligible

A person is not eligible for RPI status if:

* Has been convicted of a felony

* Has been convicted of 3 or more misdemeanors, unless granted a pardon for compassionate reasons

* Has been convicted of a foreign crime that would make the person inadmissible or deportable if he or she had committed the crime in the United States.

* You have voted illegally

* Not admissible to the country for criminal, national security, public health, or other reasons related to moral misconduct.

Deported immigrants 

The bill provides that certain immigrants who were deported may apply for reentry to the United States and obtain RPI status.

The person must have lived in the United States prior to January 1, 2012 and be the spouse, parent, or unmarried child under the age of 21 of a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident.

In order to qualify, the deportation cannot have been for criminal reasons (i.e., for having committed a crime).

Individuals who came to the United States as children (DREAMers) and are eligible for the DREAM Act may also apply for reentry.

Immigrants in removal proceedings and individuals with removal or deportation orders

Individuals who are currently in removal or deportation proceedings may apply for RPI status as long as they demonstrate their eligibility.

DHS must give these individuals an opportunity to apply for RPI status and the immigration court must close these cases unless the alien or DHS objects.

Individuals who have removal or deportation orders against them may apply for RPI status. If RPI status is granted, individuals will have to file a motion to reopen their cases. Generally, it will be approved unless the federal government demonstrates that the person is not eligible for RPI status.

Enrollment period and process

The initial deadline to apply for RPI status will be one year from the time the law is published in the Official Gazette. Federal Register. There is the possibility of an extension of 18 more months, granted by DHS.

RPI applicants must complete and submit an application form during the established period.

Families will be allowed to submit only one application. An interview may be required.

The Secretary of DHS will charge additional fees to cover the cost of processing applications for RPI status.

Duration of RPI 

The RPI status will have an initial duration of 6 years. The RPI will be renewable if the immigrant does not commit any act that would make him/her subject to deportation.

At the end of 6 years, the immigrant will have to pay an additional fine of $1000 to renew the RPI status.

Benefits of RPI

If a person obtains RPI status, he or she will be considered to be lawfully in the United States for all legal purposes, as long as the person maintains the status.

Immigrants with RPI status may work for any employer and travel outside the United States.

Restrictions

With few exceptions, a person in RPI status is not entitled to any federal public benefits including subsidies to purchase health insurance.

Proof of RPI status

Persons who obtain RPI status will receive an identity card that will serve as proof of their status. The document will authorize you to travel and work, although employment authorization is limited to three years.

Permanent Residence

After 10 years, aliens in RPI status will be able to apply for lawful permanent residence in the United States through the same "Merit-Based System" that everyone will have to use to obtain a green card.

In addition, the applicant must demonstrate that:

* Maintained continuous physical presence

* Has paid all taxes due during the period that they are in RPI status

* He has worked in the United States on a regular basis.

* Has basic knowledge of English and civic education.

* You have paid a fine of $1,000. Persons under 21 years of age when the bill was introduced in the Senate or those who are eligible for the DREAM Act will not have to pay the fine.

The "end of the line" 

Aliens who have filed family or employment-based petitions for permanent residence before the bill is passed and RPI status is established will have priority for obtaining an immigrant visa.

Only after these immigrants obtain visas granting permanent residency will permanent residency begin to be granted to those aliens who have obtained RPI status and met all of the requirements set forth in the immigration reform bill.

DREAM Act and Agricultural Program

People who are eligible for the DREAM Act or the Agricultural Program can obtain their permanent residency in 5 years.

Individuals who qualify under the DREAM Act will be eligible for U.S. citizenship immediately upon obtaining their permanent residency.

I will write more in the future about the immigration benefits this bill would provide to DREAMers and farmworkers.

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