New immigration bill could keep families together

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 13, 2001

A recently signed bill may help to keep families in Austin together as they await green cards.

Saturday, January 13, 2001

A recently signed bill may help to keep families in Austin together as they await green cards.

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On Dec. 21, President Clinton signed the Omnibus Bill and the Budget Appropriations Bill, both of which included immigration provisions. In a statement released prior to the bill signing, the INS announced that it stands behind the new law. Spokesperson Dan Kane said that "the INS supports President Clinton’s policies and hopes that Section 245-I of the immigration law is approved, because it helps those immigrants who live in the United States."

To immigrants living in Austin, the most pertinent portion of the bills signed on Dec. 21 include the restoration of Section 245(i), which allows eligible people to apply for green cards and remain within the United States.

This means that immediate family members of citizens or permanent residents can stay in the U.S. while they are applying for legal status. The reinstated provision does not grant applicants permission to work, nor does it protect them from deportation. What it does do, however, is to allow families to stay together and work while they wait for word on their green card status.

"With this reinstated law, people gain an opportunity to maintain their families," said Liliana Silvestry of The Welcome Center.

Individuals born in the U.S. or who are naturalized citizens can petition for spouses, parents, children, brothers and sisters. The petitioner (who is already here legally) must be a citizen or permanent resident. This person can petition for spouses and children that are single, divorced or widowed. The fact that individuals can stay in the U.S. provides workers for industry – in Austin and throughout the U.S.

Though the restoration of this provision will benefit those in Austin who wish to apply for green cards, certain restrictive dates are attached to the law. Beneficiaries can apply under the new provision as long as they were physically present in the U.S. prior to the Dec. 21, 2000 signing. Each applicant must fill-out the necessary paperwork prior to April 30 and must continue to reside in the U.S. while their application is being considered.

What this new law will not do is encourage further immigration, since residents must have been in the country before the signing date. The following situations may preclude a person from obtaining resident status: criminal convictions; falsely claiming to be a U.S. citizen; receipt of certain types of public assistance; any type of fraud to obtain any immigration benefit; immigration arrests or deportation; or leaving and reentering the U.S. illegally, Silvestry said.

Additionally, "they must be capable of working and be self-sufficient," Silvestry said. In other words, the government will not approve a green card application if the applicant will be a burden.

Since each case is different, an immigration attorney should be contacted before filing any paperwork with the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). The Welcome Center can provide information about immigration attorneys and legal services available in the state, as well as some of the paperwork needed to apply for a green card.

Workers at Centro Legal in Minneapolis – a legal organization which supplies support to those individuals who qualify – say that the number of immigration questions they have received since the bills were signed has multiplied tenfold. Clearly with the short window of opportunity allotted to the reinstatement of this law, immigration-related services are expected to be overloaded.

Applicants should understand that after their petition is received they could wait for over a year for a hearing. But they should also understand, as Silvestry stressed, "they don’t have to leave the country."