The Senate immigration bill offers a “broad yet stringent” legalization program that will put most of America’s 11 million undocumented immigrants on the road to eventual citizenship. It provides for an essentially “three step process” which consists of:

  • Applying for “Registered Provisional Immigrant” (RPI) status.
  • Applying for lawful permanent resident status after 10 years
  • Applying for U.S. citizenship after three more years

This process is the “back of the line” concept translated into policy and practice—a literal roadmap quantified and qualified in years, penalties, fines, and application processing fees. Concerns are already being raised by immigrant rights experts and advocates that the waiting period, tied to enforcement triggers, seems too long and precarious. If the border triggers are not met in six years, what will happen then? For many undocumented immigrants who have waited all their lives for a chance to be fully integrated into the American economic and cultural fabric, another 10 years of waiting while legal is nothing compared to growing old and dying without papers in this country. Many have already died waiting.

The competing passions that inform the immigration debate will only get more intense—more fraught and more emotional. On the one hand, the Senate bill and its legalization components look like the real deal: a practical, no-nonsense guide to fixing the immigration system. On the other hand, it seems to continue to punish an already struggling, disenfranchised population with high fees and by balancing their future on achievement of a secure border.

Is this great policy-making or a false construct?

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  • http://www.facebook.com/harry.joe.944 Harry Joe

    The Senate bill requiring undocumented Americans to wait 10 years before being eligible to apply for permanent resident status with another three years before being eligible to apply for citizenship will be deemed by many to be unconscionable. Can it really be said that this pathway to citizenship is “meaningful and accessible” ?

    • Cynthia Buiza

      Harry Joe: What does a “meaningful and accessible” path to citizenship mean to you? Are there other ways to implement a legalization program than a ten year wait?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=100002412162814 Marie Peroy

      Think about it this way: the House “working group” (per an article in Politico tonight) is talking about 1) making undocumenteds wait until the border is “secure” (whatever way they want to verify that) before they even grant temporary status in the first place. 2) making the overall path last 20 years instead of 13.
      So all things considered (aka political context), well, this is generous even though it will be immensely frustrating.

      • ThinkImm

        Approve.

      • ThinkImm

        “Approve”

    • Roxi Dillon

      You are right! The “meaningful and accessible” is just a phrase that sounds good. Undocumented people who have been here for decades should be able to get their Work Authorization, so they can work “legally” in the USA, and should be able to apply for a Green Card after a reasonable number of years, more like 2 or 3 years, NOT 10 !!! Perhaps a margin of anyone with more than 5 years in the country would qualify for this. This would also apply to all those people who already have a Work Permit under TPS. THAT would be meaningful and accessible !!! Another topic, the “Dec. 31, 2011″ deadline of having entered the USA. So what happens to all the others who entered after that date? They all remain undocumented???

    • newbedford

      Just finished consular processing a sibling case filed in 2001. By waiting and doing everything legally they are now here in 12 years. I am sure that they would have been thrilled to have a work and travel authorization and live in the US while they waited.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=519674317 Tit Bug

    Personally I am curious about the provisions about immigrants needing to solve tax liability before they apply for RPI. The principle is understandable but full of potential pitfalls.

    What kind of process would undocumented aliens be able to use to report to the IRS without incurring criminal prosecutions – since they presumably would not have filed federal income taxes for up to decades for some of them? Since they are undocumented, most probably shied away from registering with the IRS but not filing taxes for many years is technically subject to prosecution. Since they would have to do it before the RPI is put in place and therefore would have no statutory protection to differentiate them from “regular” tax dodgers, what kind of safety guarantees would they have if they came forward to solve that before they apply?

    Also wouldn’t they have to pay huge amounts of money before they can even apply for RPIs? Sure, many are low-income but the taxes of low-income Americans are greatly reduced thanks to the earned income credit. Since the undocumented or RPIs are not entitled to any refund, they will owe the nominal tax liability that are thought as too burdensome on low-income citizens. Multiply that by several years and on top of that penalty and late fees and it can add up. Immigrant advocates have been vocal about the $500 application fee but isn’t the tax assessment a potential bigger financial barrier?

    And how would many of them document their income? Not only are many paid in cash and some do not have bank accounts but it seems particularly hard to imagine how to assess taxes owed, say, 10 years ago.

    As someone with a personal stake in the fight, I found that the relatively short and vague paragraphs on that particular issue to be a source of concern and I have not found any guidance anywhere. And I found it surprising that none of the immigration advocates who are scouting the bill for potential hurdles have commented on it despite the glaring potential problems. Or – worryingly – does that mean that most immigrants already have their taxes in order even though they are undocumented? I find it surprising. I didn’t know anything about ITIN until recently myself and I have been in the country for a decade.

    Anybody has clues or opinions on this?

    • ThinkImm

      “Approve”

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=519674317 Tit Bug

    Personally I am curious about the provisions about immigrants needing to
    solve tax liability before they apply for RPI. The principle is understandable
    but full of potential pitfalls.

    What kind of process would undocumented aliens be able to use to report to
    the IRS without incurring criminal prosecutions – since they presumably would
    not have filed federal income taxes for up to decades for some of them? Since
    they are undocumented, most probably shied away from registering with the IRS
    but not filing taxes for many years is technically subject to prosecution.
    Since they would have to do it before the RPI is put in place and therefore
    would have no statutory protection to differentiate them from
    “regular” tax dodgers, what kind of safety guarantees would they have
    if they came forward to solve that before they apply?

    Also wouldn’t they have to pay huge amounts of money before they can even
    apply for RPIs? Sure, many are low-income but the taxes of low-income Americans
    are greatly reduced thanks to the earned income credit. Since the undocumented
    or RPIs are not entitled to any refund, they will owe the nominal tax liability
    that are thought as too burdensome on low-income citizens. Multiply that by
    several years and on top of that penalty and late fees and it can add up.
    Immigrant advocates have been vocal about the $500 application fee but isn’t
    the tax assessment a potential bigger financial barrier?

    And how would many of them document their income? Not only are many paid in
    cash and some do not have bank accounts but it seems particularly hard to
    imagine how to assess taxes owed, say, 10 years ago.

    I found it surprising that none of the immigration advocates who are scouting the bill for potential hurdles
    have commented on it despite the glaring potential problems. Anybody has clues or opinions on this?

    • Ashley Gonzalez

      The only insight I have for you on this is that undocumented immigrants can file federal taxes. Instead of using a Social Security Number, they can file with an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN). I’m not sure if you have to be a citizen or not to qualify for the earned income tax credit though, which would be an additional hardship. Your point still stands though as I don’t know how many undocumented immigrants are aware that they can file taxes without risking deportation. There are many organizations that do outreach to these communities and guide them through the process, but these organizations can only do so much.

      • Cynthia Buiza

        Dear Ashley and Tit Bug: These are great questions and insights. Most undocumented immigrants are or have been low income and probably wouldn’t owe much in federal and state income taxes other then social security and medicare, for which they weren’t eligible to receive credit. The question is what would satisfy the IRS that back taxes have been filed and paid?

      • Cynthia Buiza

        Dear Ashley and Tit Bug: These are great questions and insights. Most
        undocumented immigrants are low income and probably
        wouldn’t owe much in federal and state income taxes other than social
        security and medicare, for which they weren’t eligible to receive
        credit. The question is what would satisfy the IRS that back taxes have
        been filed and paid?

    • Roxi Dillon

      Just to mention that I know MANY American-born (not children from undocumented immigrants to make it clear) who FOR YEARS, and I mean MANY years… have NOT even done their income tax because they simply do not “like” the system… they refuse to give any of their earned money to Uncle Sam. So just because some people are undocumented immigrants, it does not mean they did not do their taxes. As Gladys Rojas (see below) mentioned, many people apply for their ITIN # and report taxes, and many of them actually PAY taxes to the IRS. Not everyone thinks of “just getting a refund from the IRS”.

  • Roxi Dillon

    As incredible as it may sound, I had this idea in mind, of giving the Work Authorization to illegal immigrants as soon as they arrived in the country for many decades… and give them a special Soc. Sec. #, like starting with 2 letters (for the State where they reside, followed by the same # of digits as the regular Soc. Sec. #s for legal people)… and also allow them to apply for Driver Licenses. WHY DO THIS? It’s very simple… because it is better to have people driving legally, who must have insurance, and also contribute to the tax system (they would pay a higher flat tax rate). In cases where people have committed any criminal offenses, it would be easier to track as well.

  • http://twitter.com/MaJayDaCooLKiD MaJayDaCooLKiD

    I think the cutoffdate should be set to a more recent one , whats the sense of leaving 100000s off from.the beginning already , we would have the same problem families dealing with deportations for maybe like a million people

  • Cynthia Buiza

    I would love to explore other areas of the legalization issue, but I am also very interested in how this conversation can generate practical ideas to improve the implementation of this law. One essential issue is to create financing mechanisms to enable applicants, particularly those with low incomes, to pay the fees and any back taxes without having to resort to payday loans and fall impossibly into debt. The goal, after all, is to legalize the status and successfully integrate undocumented immigrants into society – not to financially cripple them. A workable model might be subsidized student loans, which carry a below market interest rate and don’t begin to accumulate interest immediately. In other words, what financing mechanisms can be created to increase the prospects of successful integration of immigrants into our society?

  • Debbie Rogow

    thanks for this useful framing. helping way to think about it…

  • http://www.facebook.com/love2it Josie Gomez

    I do not understand why they keep saying in “the back of the line” and there is no such line whatsoever.

  • http://www.facebook.com/harry.joe.944 Harry Joe

    “Meaningful and accessible pathway to citizenship” should not include “triggers” that totally rely upon unpredictable and politicallty charged Congressional funding and the proven inefficiency of administrative government action.

  • WendyFeliz

    Tit Bug: Our understanding of the bill is that you do not need to go back and pay back taxes, but rather if you had outstanding tax liabilities you would have to resolve them in order to apply for RPI status. Say you had an outstanding tax bill or had w-2′s or 1099′s filed and you never filed the accompanying tax returns that should have gone with them, then you would have to resolve that in advance. There will likley be some mechanism set up where RPI applicants would get something from the IRS certifying that they have no outstanding tax liability. They would file that with their applications. This is only if those sections are not amended or changed.

    • Titbug

      What a fantastic answer. Explains so much. Thanks for much for looking into and explaining it in details. Can’t thank you enough.

  • fyzado

    How will the Immigration Bill process people who have a social security numbers and expired green cards?

    • Matthew Kolodziej

      If a person’s green card expires and leaves them without a legal status in the US they may be eligible to gain a temporary lawful status as a registered provisional immigrant if they have been in the U.S. since December 31, 2011. One of the primary purposes of the bill is to provide a path to earned legal status and eventual citizenship for undocumented immigrants who are already here.
      However having a green card that is “expired” doesn’t necessarily mean the immigrant has lost legal status. Most green cards now have an expiration date and should be renewed, but green card holders are usually lawful permanent residents who are still in status even though the expiration date has passed.

      • fyzado

        Thank you, Matthew. I had a temporary green card issued for a period of 2 years, at the end of which, all things being in order, I’d be issued with a permanent card, (which would have been renewed every so many years.) However, things went sort of haywire by that time and it expired. I’m wondering whether I might be issued a renewed green card, or have to accept this new provisional status. I guess I’ll have to await passage of the law and then seek some legal advice. What do you think. Thanks again.

        • Matthew Kolodziej

          Immigrants who were issued a conditional resident status for 2 years and failed to remove the conditions on residence as required are probably now in undocumented status. They may qualify for one of the legalization programs if immigration reform passes. Since this is a forum to discuss policy and not legal advice if you need legal assistance I recommend seeing an experience immigration attorney.