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Undocumented Aliens! What Are We Going To Do About Them? Are We Back To Square One, After All The Countless Months And Years Of Efforts!

by Pravinchandra J. Patel

Does anyone really know how many illegal, euphemistically known as "undocumented," aliens currently live in the United States? While one may not be inclined to believe in what CNN untiringly declares from the rooftop, that there are as many as 20 million of them, a more realistic estimate puts the number in a range of 12 to 15 million. Whether it is 12 million or 15 million or even 20 million, the number is undeniably so high that simply it cannot be ignored and slept over.

Let us ask ourselves some hard questions. Do we have the ability and resources to drive all of them out of the country? In other words, can we possibly "deport" all of them? Any sensible person will have to answer these questions in the negative. Even if such a result is achievable, do we really want to "deport" them, completely disregarding the various equitable and humanitarian circumstances attending very many, probably most of them? If we cannot or do not wish to do that, then why don't we do something about the issue itself?

Now that the Congress has accomplished a dramatic 180-degree turn around in its attempt to finding a comprehensive solution to this staggering problem, the question inevitably looms large as to what are we going to do about so many faceless individuals who are hiding behind and beyond the governmental radar screen, yet yearning to come up on the surface, have a legal status, and who can proudly declare that they are paying taxes and have become contributing members of this society.

Obviously, outright amnesty for such undocumented aliens has almost become a dirty word. Indeed, even a staggered and more measured approach toward a substantial reform was not acceptable to the current Congress. Are we then in the same doldrums of an ongoing status quo, which, everyone would readily agree, merely aggravates the problem? It is frustrating and aggravating to any and all thinking individuals who may be yearning for any viable suggestion and/or solution. It is even more frustrating to those very individuals ?teeming millions? who are desperately looking towards the leaders in the society to devise a long-term, if not a lasting, solution so that they or many of them living here for a long time may be able to come up on the surface and become legal. There cannot be any doubt that they don't like to be under a constantly hanging sword of detention and deportation over their heads.

Now that the comprehensive reform proposal that was so hotly debated and discussed recently has died a premature death, I ask is there any other or alternative suggestion, and this question immediately reminds of me of a discussion I recently had with a friend, for it revolved around an age-old concept that may have now assumed a startling relevance and importance. We discussed REGISTRY - a concept that is not new or original.

Indeed, we are all familiar with registry. We have been living with and implementing that concept for more than 50 years. Originally, in June 1952 when the current Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 was enacted, it incorporated the predecessor registry program, and advanced the eligibility entry date to June 40, 1948, which was further advanced in 1986 to January 1, 1972. Thus, the current registry program provides that a record of lawful admission for permanent residence may be made in the case of any alien, if certain conditions were satisfied (that if the alien entered this country prior to July 1, 1924, then the record is created as of that date; or as of the date of the approval of his or her application, if otherwise admissible and he or she entered prior to January 1, 1972; that he has continuously resided here since such entry; is a person of good moral character, not ineligible to citizenship, and is not deportable for any terrorist activity or association with terrorist organization). See INA 249.

It should be clear from the governmental records that although "registry" exists today in the INA, it is only in the name. For, anyone and everyone who may have been eligible under that program would have by now utilized it. So, I openly suggest to anyone who is willing to listen, that let us rejuvenate the same program that exists in name only. All we need to do is to amend INA 249, such that the eligibility entry date is again moved forward to, say, January 1, 2001. The idea is to carry the same program forward. Of course, nobody can tell with certainty how many undocumented aliens would be eligible and how many would come forward claiming eligibility. If a realistic eligibility date is inserted, so as to cover a substantially large number, then very many aliens, numbering in millions, may come forward and take advantage.

However, let us first ask the following threshold questions: Is it useful and necessary to do so? And, do we have the political will and wisdom to do it? I submit that it should be considered a positive step forward, which will be helpful in achieving partly what the comprehensive immigration reform bill intended to achieve fully. All the legitimate and proper reasons that were advanced for a comprehensive reform remain valid for such an advanced version of the registry.

I strongly believe that not only such an extension of the registry program is useful, it is indeed very important, for it allows us to avoid the blame of political impotency that is starkly exhibited in the recent complete turn around. Indeed, in terms of logistics and resources, necessary for implementing such an advanced version of registry, it is even more important and acceptable. For, given the enhanced level of budgetary allocation for USCIS, the agency is now well-equipped and well-staffed to handle the workload that will be added by the rejuvenated registry program. It would not require new offices and new personnel, in any astronomical numbers, that might deter us from enacting it. The existing USCIS personnel is well experienced with the registry program so that it would not be considered a brand new program and would not have any deterrent and delaying effect.

Of course, registry is not a cure-all device, because it cannot possibly cover the entire population of undocumented aliens in the country. However, let us face it, even the comprehensive reform bill did not intend to cover that entire population. Indeed, the eligibility criteria proposed therein left a sizable block out of its coverage. If we think about it, no program can be perfect enough to cover, and no law can encompass, everyone of the undocumented population. Therefore, the fact that an advanced version of the registry program would cover only a part of the undocumented aliens is not a reason for not enacting it.

Now, since nothing else is on the horizon, why not give a serious thought to it and why not try to enact it. It is a bold and daring question. But, the problem is indeed much bigger and bold enough to require an equally bold and aggressive answer. Here is the one that I propose. I am sure probably some others may have thought of it too. Let there be a loud clamor for it.

I am also not oblivious of the various objections against any ameliorative program like this, particularly the one related to criminal aliens. However, the existing eligibility criteria for registry take care of any such objections. In any case, they can be appropriately re-worded to include any legitimate concerns. Nonetheless, who should be eligible and who should not be is an issue that is totally different from the one whether or not we should have an advanced version of registry. If a large number of such aliens can become legal, after paying hefty application fees and getting all security clearances, it is only in our national interest to enact such a program. It may attempt to solve a fundamental and burning problem of millions of undocumented aliens living in the United States with American families and deep roots in this society.

Copyright 2007 by Pravinchandra J. Patel. All rights reserved.

About The Author

Pravinchandra J. Patel, Esq. is a practicing attorney and can be reached at 1270 Broadway, Suite 411, New York, New York 10001; (212) 279-3230;; Web: For nearly three decades, he has authored/compiled and regularly updated source materials for fellow immigration attorneys through his immigration books, see The opinion and information expressed in this article is not intended to provide guidance in any specific case or to any individual.

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