Immigrant Residency Status and the Cruel New Rules

Revolutionary Worker #929, October 26, 1997

The U.S. Congress is now considering a change in the immigration laws that could tear apart thousands of families.

Under the current laws, undocumented immigrants who applied for permanent residency status and are waiting for their "green cards" can legally stay in the U.S. if they pay a $1,000 fine. This provision--known officially as Section 245(i)--was added to the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1994. However, Section 245(i) was set to expire at the end of September this year. Congress extended the deadline for several weeks, until October 23.

If 245(i) is allowed to expire, immigrants will be required to return to the countries of their origin in order to apply for legal residency in the U.S. This alone will cause much hardship. But another change in the immigration laws puts immigrants in a nightmarish Catch-22 situation. This second change, which is already in effect, is part of the cruel new immigration law signed by President Clinton last year. Under this change, immigrants who have been in the U.S. without legal documents for six months and then leave for any reason--including going back to their home countries to apply for a green card--can be barred from entering the U.S. for 3 years. Those who stayed in the U.S. without documents for a year and then leave can be barred from reentering for 10 years.

The Northern California Coalition for Immigrant Rights pointed out what these Catch-22 laws will mean: "Parents may not see their children for years, or spouses could be separated for long periods of time. It is estimated that thousands of immigrants will have to suffer separation from their families if Section 245(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act is not extended." Members of the Northern California Coalition for Immigration Rights and farmworkers from California's Central Valley recently went to Washington, D.C. with 30,000 petitions demanding the extension of 245(i).

The New York Times reported on the stories of several immigrants who are being forced to leave their families because of the changes in the immigration law. Angelica Struba, 27-year-old immigrant from Germany, has been in the U.S. for 13 years. Her 11-year-old son was born here and is a citizen, but she is considered "illegal" under U.S. laws. She is returning to Germany without her son, in the hope that she can eventually return as a "legal" immigrant. Julio Sandor Sandoval lived in the U.S. for eight years and worked at a Miami TV station. His sister petitioned for a green card on his behalf in 1989, but it has not been approved. He was forced to return to Buenos Aires, where he now "roams the streets looking for a job" while he awaits approval for legal residency.

There is a debate in the U.S. ruling class over the extension of 245(i). Some bourgeois politicians worry that if 245(i) expires, this will hurt businesses because immigrants with specialized skills would be driven out of the country. But powerful forces in the ruling class are pushing to get rid of this provision, claiming that "immigrants are taking away jobs."

This system is waging a cruel war against the immigrant sisters and brothers. Heartless and chauvinist laws are making it a "crime" to be an immigrant.

This article is posted in English and Spanish on Revolutionary Worker Online
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