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Dublin: 3 °C Tuesday 12 November, 2019
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Column: What immigration reform will mean to undocumented Irish in the US

Limerick-born immigration lawyer Caro Kinsella explains what the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill, being discussed by US government now, will mean for undocumented Irish people living in America.

Caro Kinsella

“CONGRESS NEEDS TO ACT, and the moment is now!” In the wake of President Barack Obama’s call to action speech, the US Senate formally voted to take up the Comprehensive Immigration Reform Bill earlier this month. Public interest is at an all time high as the debate lingers, sentiments rage and the bill gains momentum. Results of a poll recently released by USA Today and the PEW Research Center show that three out of four Americans agree with arguments made by proponents of legislation that would allow millions of undocumented workers to stay in the United States legally.

At the same time, more than half of those surveyed also agreed with opponents of the legislation, stating that granting this legal status would drain government resources. With issues surrounding border security and enforcement at the forefront, a series of fiery debates have ensued as Senators from around the country pick apart the lengthy and extensive one thousand-page bill. The Senate is said to vote on Thursday to end debate on the bill and the final vote on Senate passage is likely to occur later this week as well.

The complexity of US immigration law

Demonstrations are being held all over the country as tensions rise surrounding the issue of immigration reform. Immigrant communities are distressed by the reports that on average, 1,400 people are deported each day, many of which are removed without being given the chance to plea their case before a judge. Those who are lucky enough to be granted their ‘fair day in court’ are often at a severe disadvantage due to the complexity of US immigration law and the overall lack of access to legal representation. The Women’s Refugee Commission similarly commented on this problem mentioning that even young children are sent to immigration court without an attorney. The average noncitizen will not have the specialised knowledge needed to obtain a just outcome; therefore without a seasoned immigration attorney to represent them many are subsequently deported.

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill, also known as CIR, in its entirety, attempts to address issues such as these as well as many other facets of the immigration process. The American Immigration Counsel commented on the bill saying, “[CIR] seeks to make changes to the family and employment-based visa categories for immigrants, provides critical due-process protections, increases the availability of nonimmigrant workers to supplement all sectors of the workforce, and provides legal status to 11 million undocumented immigrants within the United States.”

All Mexican borders must be secured

Undocumented immigrants are also a source of contention in this debate as issues surrounding boarder security are deliberated. The CIR bill includes provisions that seek to ensure all Mexican borders are secure prior to giving legal status to those who are undocumented. Opponents of the bill like Senators Ted Cruz of Texas and Jeff Sessions of Alabama have highly criticised the border security aspects of the bill, as they are predominantly apprehensive about the enforcement of these provisions.

If this bill were passed into law, as it is currently designed, a sequence of ‘triggers’ or enforcement measures would be required to go into effect prior to completion the legalisation process. This means, for example, although undocumented immigrants will almost immediately be permitted to register for a new Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) program under the bill thus affording them the opportunity to work legally in the States, they will not be allowed to apply to become green card holders, or lawful permanent residents until the Department of Homeland Security has certified 90 per cent effectiveness along the United States-Mexico border and has phased-in the mandatory E-verify programme.

List of criteria

In order to qualify for the Registered Provisional Immigrant (RPI) status a person must have been physically present in the US prior to December 31, 2011 and not have left the US since that time. Immigrants with criminal histories containing felonies, federally defined ‘aggravated’ felonies, three or more misdemeanors, foreign convictions, or people who have illegally voted will be denied programme admission. Contrarily, RPI status will be available to individuals who were deported for non-criminal reasons prior to December 31, 2011 as long as they have family members inside the US.

If enacted, individuals would have one, possibly two years from the enactment date to file for RPI status. A $500 fine plus any outstanding taxes must be paid in addition to processing fees in order to attain the RPI status. Baring any amendments made, the status would be renewable in six-year increments with a $500 fine assessed at each renewal period. The RPI program offers an eventual pathway to US citizenship, which would open once border security measures have been deemed successful, existing family- and employment-based backlogs are cleared, and the applicant has maintained RPI status for at least ten years.

Undocumented Irish will have a better quality of life in the States

The Comprehensive Immigration Reform bill and the provisions within will be particularly helpful in assisting the many undocumented Irish citizens inside the US.  Although those who are undocumented may have to wait several years for their green cards and US citizenship, they will be allowed to work legally, obtain a drivers license, social security card and over all be in a much better situation under the new RPI status that is proposed in this new bill.

My office is very hopeful that the CIR bill will be passed, and the law subsequently implemented, as once it is many undocumented Irish people will have a better quality of life here in the States, having the ability to create a better life for themselves and their families.

If you or your family member is in need of US immigration assistance, please feel free to contact me for a free legal consultation.

Caro Kinsella is an immigration lawyer, originally from Limerick and now living in Florida. You can learn more at her website here.

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Caro Kinsella

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