Are You Ready For Immigration Reform?
This has been an exciting week for immigration law in the United States. On Monday, a bipartisan group of senators revealed a comprehensive immigration reform plan. On Tuesday, President Obama largely endorsed the senators’ plan. In the next few months, lawmakers will undertake the difficult task of drafting, and then voting on, proposed legislation.
The plans proposed by the President and the bipartisan group of senators both contain one very important element: a path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million undocumented immigrants presently living in the U.S. These immigrants would obtain a “probationary” or “provisional” legal status followed by a green card and then U.S. citizenship.
Although several details must be ironed out, the immigration reform plan that Congress and the President are likely to enact should open up tremendous new opportunities for green cards and citizenship for millions of people who where brought to the U.S. as children. This would be a big step beyond the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) plan which President Obama announced in June 2012. Through DACA, which went into effect in August 2012, young undocumented immigrants who meet certain requirements can secure a work permit and authorization to stay in the U.S. However, the deferred action plan did not create a path to permanent residency or citizenship.
If you are from China or India and are being sponsored by an employer, or if you’re sponsoring a family member from the Philippines, you are fully aware of the long waiting time for green cards. The reform plans being discussed by the President and the Senate would seek to reduce these backlogs.
The final form of this new immigration plan when it is passed by Congress and signed into law by the President remains to be seen. There is great reason to be optimistic, however, that both the desire and political motivation for genuine reform is here.
Here are some practical tips on how you can best prepare for any immigration reform legislation that is enacted:
- Pay your taxes! If you have worked in the U.S., with or without authorization, you are required to pay taxes. If you do not have a social security number, you may request an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) from the IRS. One does not need to be in lawful immigration status to obtain an ITIN. See this IRS link for more useful information. If you already pay taxes, obtaining a copy from the IRS is a good idea. Any immigration reform plan signed by the President will require the payment of any back taxes by immigrants seeking to benefit from the new legislation.
- Learn English! Unlike amnesty programs of the past, knowledge of the English language may be required for a green card, not just for U.S. citizenship. Contact your local religious or civic organization to see if an “English for Speakers of Other Languages” (ESOL) class is offered. Within the geographic area immediately surrounding the offices Livesay & Myers, P.C., such classes are provided by Northern VA Community College, Catholic Charities, and many other churches/organizations.
- Seek competent legal counsel! It probably goes without saying that, these days, many unscrupulous people are looking to make a quick buck, often at the expense of immigrants. Unauthorized legal representatives, or “notarios,” always appear when new immigration laws pass, particularly in the Northern Virginia – D.C. area. I cannot emphasize enough the significance of working with a licensed and competent attorney once reform passes. Some legal mistakes or incorrect advice can be remedied; some may result in dire consequences, such as deportation.
To help prepare immigrants across Northern Virginia, D.C. and Maryland for immigration reform, Livesay & Myers, P.C. will be hosting an Immigration Law Open House on Thursday, February 28th. On that day, we will be giving free consultations from 9:30 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. at at our Fairfax office. Appointments are filling up quickly, so please contact us to reserve your spot today.