Creation of a Roadmap to Citizenship for Undocumented Immigrants
Comprehensive immigration reform that allows undocumented immigrants to fully contribute to our families and communities honors the United States’ history as a nation of immigrants and the biblical call to welcome the stranger. Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service (LIRS) therefore applauds the Senate for passing S. 744, the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act on June 27, 2013.
The bipartisan bill, as passed by a vote of 68-32, establishes a roadmap to citizenship for undocumented immigrants and welcomes new Americans through the following provisions:
- Creation of a new “registered provisional immigrant” (RPI) status for eligible undocumented immigrants. People granted RPI status would be authorized to work and travel outside the United States. It would be possible to renew RPI status after six years. After 10 years, those in RPI status could seek to become lawful permanent residents (LPRs). Three years later, they would be eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.
- RPI status would require applicants to have been present in the United States since December 31, 2011. People in removal proceedings and those with deportation orders would be able to apply.
- Immigrants granted RPI status would be allowed to petition for RPI status for their spouse and children, provided these family members were present in the United States before December 30, 2012 and were present on the date their relative was granted RPI status.
- Young undocumented immigrants known as “DREAMers” who were brought to the United States as children and who would benefit from the DREAM Act would have an expedited path to citizenship, as would certain undocumented agricultural workers. DREAMers who spend 5 years in RPI status would be eligible to apply for LPR status. Upon receiving LPR status, DREAMers could immediately apply for U.S. citizenship.
- Greater numbers of vulnerable migrants could attain U.S. citizenship. The number of U visas granted to migrant survivors of violence who assist in law enforcement efforts would be increased. People granted temporary protected status (TPS) or who have been permitted to remain in the United States through deferred enforced departure (DED) could apply for RPI status or seek LPR status through the new merit-based immigration system.
- Coordinated federal efforts would be made to strengthen integration of new Americans into communities and to assist those who aspire to become U.S. citizens.
LIRS is concerned that criteria to achieve and maintain lawful status may pose significant challenges. For example, those on the pathway to citizenship would be excluded from federal public benefit programs including food stamps and affordable health care. Requirements must not outweigh an otherwise accessible and fair legalization process. Below are provisions of concern to LIRS:
- Financial obligations for aspiring citizens would include processing fees, back taxes and taxes due while in RPI status, and $2,000 in fines over the course of the 13-year period.
- People with certain criminal convictions, including for some minor offenses and for crimes that occurred many years ago, would be ineligible for RPI status.
- The RPI status application period would open only after the Department of Homeland Security notifies Congress of the implementation of plans to increase border security.
- RPI status holders (except for DREAMers and certain agricultural workers) may not apply for LPR status until strict border security, workforce verification, and visa tracking benchmarks are met and there has been a significant increase in Customs and Border Protection personnel and technologies.