President Obama's re-election has renewed hopes of possible comprehensive immigration reform to permit undocumented foreign nationals to obtain legal immigration status. Especially considering the impact of people of color on this election, immigration reform is getting much more Republican support than in prior years, increasing the likelihood that such legislation may pass. President Obama has said he hopes to "seize the moment", and anticipates comprehensive immigration reform legislation will be introduced in Congress shortly after the inauguration of his second term.
The prospect of comprehensive immigration reform has generated a lot of excitement, and will likely to continue to do so if the legislation progresses. Nonetheless, there is also a tremendous amount of uncertainty about whether there will actually be a new law, and what it would look like.
With that in mind, here are some preliminary pointers for people who may be interested in applying for any comprehensive immigration reform benefits, should they become available:
1. There is no comprehensive immigration reform now. Therefore, no one should pay anyone to prepare an application, or sign any papers purporting to be an application under the new program. Unfortunately, when there are new benefits in the news, dishonest document preparers or others will often take advantage of the excitement and hopes by charging to prepare non-existent applications. Since the program does not exist yet, any supposed application for comprehensive immigration reform benefits is fraudulent.
2. There may not be comprehensive immigration reform next year. While we certainly hope there will be comprehensive immigration reform soon, there is certainly no guarantee that it will pass. There have been a number of prior attempts at comprehensive immigration reform in the past decade, and all have failed. While people are more hopeful now because of the increased Republican support, that does not mean it will pass. For example, President Bush was in favor of comprehensive reform, and efforts under his term still failed.
Therefore, people who are eligible for some sort of other immigration benefit, such as family-based residency, a U Visa, or DACA, should still pursue those opportunities as well. You should also follow reputable news sources to learn when and if there is actually going to be a new law.
3. Pay taxes. Prior versions of comprehensive immigration reform required applicants to have paid their taxes, or pay back taxes for years they may have missed. President Obama has also said that filing taxes is part of his proposal for comprehensive immigration reform. Additionally, paying taxes is required by law, so it is certainly advisable even if there is no comprehensive immigration reform in the near future.
Even those without a social security number can pay taxes by applying for an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number, or "ITIN". It is worth noting, however, that getting an ITIN next year may require the government to hold onto identity documents for a period, rather than just take a copy. Therefore, new tax-payers may want to file early next year to reduce delays.
4. Hold onto old and new paperwork. Proposed versions of comprehensive immigration reform require applicants to prove they were here in the United States a certain amount of time--often several years. Therefore, would-be applicants should hold onto any documents showing their presence in the U.S., such as bills, school transcripts, receipts and legal documents. Now is not the time to throw out old papers.
5. If the law passes, keep proof you were here the day it passed. Most benefits require applicants to prove they were in the U.S. on the day that the new law passed. First, would-be applicants should follow the news regularly to know if the law is likely to pass soon, and be extra careful about holding on to paperwork from around that time. Stay particularly tuned in to online news sources, as they will likely announce any new law on the day it has been passed. Once you hear the law has passed, it is especially important to hold on to documents showing your presence the day the law passes. For example, it may be advisable to conduct one or two transactions that day to establish presence (such as purchases creating a receipt with your name on it, bank withdrawals, medical visits, etc.).
Again, this advice is very preliminary, and any would-be applicants should act on the most recent information as it becomes available. Please review this blog, the news, and even the USCIS website for updates if comprehensive immigration reform develops.
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