Long Residency Requirements Should Not Be in Immigration Reform


This is the third in a series on what should be avoided in any immigration reform plan.

Marco Rubio is floating word that he may introduce an alternative to a White House-backed immigration reform plan. He recently told the Christian Post that any undocumented immigrant applying for legalization “would have to prove they’ve been here for an extended period of time” under his plan.

The notion that people applying for legalization must have been here a long time to be worthy of legalization is not unique to Rubio’s potential proposal. The Reagan Amnesty of 1986 required that an applicant prove he or she entered five years earlier. The Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program announced by President Obama also requires that an applicant prove that he or she entered five years earlier, by June 15, 2007.

One problem with long residency requirements is obvious. Assuming that half-a-million undocumented immigrants arrive every year, making the cutoff date for eligibility a year earlier than the date of the law’s enactment means that 500,000 people will not be covered by it. If the cutoff is 2007, the new program could leave 2.5 million people out. A legalization program with a cutoff date five or ten years in the past will result in millions of undocumented immigrants remaining undocumented because they simply will not qualify.

It is not only those who arrive after the cutoff date who are disqualified by requiring a long residence. To be eligible to apply, undocumented immigrants will need to find documentation to be used as evidence of being in the United States by the cutoff date. It is much easier to prove you were here a few months ago than to prove you were here in 2007, even if you were here by that date. So millions of people who were here by the cutoff may just find that it is impossible recover documents to prove it.

In addition, if you have to prove that you were here five or ten years ago, it is much more likely that you moved around. So instead of just going to your local school or city hall to get documents, you may have to travel around the country assembling the paperwork. The further back the cutoff date, the more time consuming and expensive it will be to assemble your proofs.

Programs like Temporary Protective Status don’t have requirements that applicants prove-back long periods of residence. The proof requirements focus on the applicant’s identity and lack of a dangerous criminal record and not on some arbitrary date in the distance past.

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Patrick Young blogs daily for Long Island Wins. He is the Downstate Advocacy Director of the New York Immigration Coalition and Special Professor of Immigration Law at Hofstra School of Law. He served as the Director of Legal Services and Program at Central American Refugee Center (CARECEN) for three decades before retiring in 2019. Pat is also a student of immigration history and the author of The Immigrants' Civil War.