"I am looking for some information as what to do now. I was so sure I would be on the way to legalization by now. I have been here 11 years and have tried every lottery, spoken to lawyers and I'm still stuck in the same situation. I need to know should I approach a lawyer again, and can I somehow pay taxes? I have such a fear that all I have worked for can be taken away from me because of my status."
"I have been here for 12 years. I am living in New Jersey and working/paying taxes. There is such disappointment over the Senate bill. But is it true that people who have been here undocumented for several years can legalize themselves under an old law?"
The failure of the immigration bill to earn a Senate majority last week has dashed the hopes of millions, needless to say. We've had a few questions such as the ones above since the bill went down the drain. Unfortunately, there are no easy answers for anyone.
Should the first questioner approach a lawyer? Should back taxes be paid? (We can never in this column argue against paying taxes, which is a requirement for all income earners in the U.S., citizen or undocumented.)
As the situation now stands, short of marrying a U.S. citizen, becoming legal is going to be difficult for both of the above questioners. Should the opportunity of a visa arise, the person would have to return to a U.S. consular post abroad for processing, at which point the 10-year bar to entering the U.S. would kick in. (Those who have amassed a year of undocumented residence here, travel abroad and attempt to return are subject to such a ban.)
Are there limited exceptions to this rule? Of course. The application of immigration law is far from perfect, as we all know from past experience.
Yes, we have heard about some folks in the Bronx getting successfully sponsored for work visas though they'd been here for a long-term period of time, but there are also many, many others who have incurred the ban. Just today we received a letter from a Spanish woman desperately seeking guidance after going home for her mother's funeral for a week, and being hit with the 10-year ban when returning. She had been living here for 17 years, and owns a home, car, etc.
Should the first questioner consult with a lawyer? It's always a good idea to seek out qualified professionals when it comes to navigating U.S. immigration law, but it would be wise not to be too hopeful in setting up such a meeting, at least as the situation presently stands.
The second questioner asks about possible legalization for those who have been here for several years. There is a provision in immigration law which does offer status to such people, but -- and it's a big but -- they must have been residing in the U.S. continuously prior to January 1, 1972.
The process is known as registry, and it's a part of the Immigration and Nationality Act. Those who have lived here since the start of 1972 would be eligible for permanent resident status if they can show good moral character, and would otherwise be eligible for U.S. citizenship except for the legal residence requirement.