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Restoring Immigration Registry
Priority Bill Spotlight: Renewing Immigration Provisions of the Immigration Act of 1929

FWD.us supports updating the registry date and endorses the Renewing Immigration Provisions of the Immigration Act of 1929, a bill that would restore access to permanent status through immigration registry for millions of immigrants who have lived for many years in the U.S. Read our statement here.

A calendar flipping through many pages.

For nearly a century, immigration registry has provided a process for individuals who have lived in the U.S. for a significant number of years to apply for lawful permanent status. Unfortunately, Congress has failed to update the eligibility requirements for decades, prohibiting many immigrants, including millions who are undocumented, from adjusting status through registry.

A new bill in Congress would restore this long-standing process by establishing a rolling eligibility date for registry, allowing individuals who have lived in and contributed to the United States for many years to access this lawful pathway to permanent status and ultimately citizenship.

As many as 8.5 million individuals could be initially eligible to adjust status if the registry date is advanced to January 1, 2015, including 7.9 million individuals who are undocumented and who have lived in the U.S. for 17 years on average.1

FWD.us has long supported updating the registry date and supports this bill—here’s why.

Under RIPIA, individuals would be eligible to apply for permanent status after living continuously in the United States for at least seven years.

Immigration registry bill would restore existing pathway to permanent status for millions of long-term U.S. residents

On July 20, 2022, Representative Zoe Lofgren introduced a new immigration registry bill, H.R. 8433, the “Renewing Immigration Provisions of the Immigration Act of 1929” (RIPIA).

This legislation would provide access to lawful permanent resident status for millions of individuals, most of whom are currently undocumented, by advancing the date for eligibility under immigration registry.

Immigration registry is an existing process that allows individuals to apply for permanent resident status (a green card) on the basis of their long-term residency in the U.S., regardless of their immigration status. Currently, eligibility for immigration registry requires individuals to have entered and remained in the U.S. since January 1, 1972.

The new immigration registry bill would replace the 1972 cutoff date with a rolling eligibility, allowing individuals to apply for registry after living continuously in the United States for at least seven years and meeting certain admissibility requirements.

An estimated 8.5 million individuals, including 7.9 million inidividuals who are undocumented, would be initially eligible to adjust status under RIPIA.

Millions of individuals, including Dreamers, TPS holders, and backlogged green card applicants, could be eligible for registry

In general, most undocumented immigrants in the U.S. today have lived here for many, many years, and have set down roots and established ties to their local communities and economies. Most would likely be eligible for registry under the new rolling dates.

Approximately 7.9 million undocumented individuals could be eligible under the advanced eligibility date. These individuals have lived in the U.S. for an average of 17 years and are an average of 40 years old, according to FWD.us estimates.

Within this group, 2.3 million are Dreamers who came to the U.S. as children, including virtually all current Deferred Action for Childhood Arrival (DACA) recipients who, under the policy’s requirements, had to have entered the U.S. before July 1, 2007. Additionally, at least 350,000 potentially eligible people hold Temporary Protected Status (TPS). Roughly 1.5 million potentially eligible individuals are married to a U.S. citizen, and nearly 2 million have U.S. citizen children.

An additional 630,000 people who currently hold nonimmigrant status could be eligible to adjust under the bill as well, including some individuals who hold employment-based visas like H-1B specialty workers who have been approved for green cards but are stuck waiting indefinitely in backlogs.

9.8 million U.S. citizens, including nearly 4.8 million U.S. citizen children, live in households with individuals who would be initially eligible to secure permanent status through registry.

Restoring registry would keep American families together and help address workforce challenges

Restoring access to registry would help American families, particularly millions of mixed status families with family members who hold different immigration and citizenship statuses. FWD.us estimates that 9.8 million U.S. citizens, including nearly 4.8 million U.S. citizen children, live in households with individuals who would initially be eligible to secure permanent status through registry.

This legislation would also unlock significant economic potential at a time when U.S. businesses are struggling to find workers to fill open jobs across industries. Through registry, many individuals already in the workforce would have a pathway to remain in the U.S. and contribute even more substantially as permanent residents and, eventually, citizens.

In all, nearly 6.5 million individuals already in the workforce would be initially covered by the bill, the vast majority (6 million) of whom are undocumented and of which 4.8 million are essential workers. Undocumented workers covered by the bill already contribute approximately $126 billion to the U.S. economy each year after the payment of $35 billion in federal, payroll, state, and local taxes. If they became U.S. citizens, these undocumented individuals would contribute an additional $83 billion to the U.S. economy annually and $27 billion in taxes, according to FWD.us estimates.

And allowing individuals who have lived in the U.S. for a significant number of years to adjust status is a popular, bipartisan policy. Polling repeatedly shows that the American public supports allowing long-term undocumented immigrants to remain in the United States permanently and access a pathway to citizenship.2

Congress should once again restore this pathway by passing the Renewing Immigration Provisions of the Immigration Act of 1929.

Congress has historically advanced registry dates, but has stalled for nearly 40 years

Immigration registry has existed for nearly a century, and reflects the enduring principle that long-standing presence in and ties to the United States favor access to permanent status and citizenship.3

Congress advanced the registry date four times since it was first established in 1929, each time allowing more recent arrivals to access a pathway to citizenship under the law. These advances had bipartisan support4 and were signed into law by presidents of both parties.

Unfortunately, the most recent legislation to advance the registry date was signed in 1986, nearly four decades ago. While Congress intended5 registry to provide a mechanism for long-term undocumented immigrants to adjust their status, the outdated eligibility requirements have effectively closed off this pathway.

Congress should once again restore this pathway and provide relief to millions of undocumented individuals and their children and families here in the United States by passing the Renewing Immigration Provisions of the Immigration Act of 1929.

Notes

  1. Estimates are based on augmented 2019 American Community Survey (ACS) data. Immigration status is not included in the ACS. Consequently, noncitizen respondents in the ACS were assigned an ‘immigrant’ status based on social and economic characteristics. Estimates are based on time since arrival in the U.S., and do not attempt to account for other statutory requirements (e.g., inadmissibilities, continuous residence, good moral character requirement). Please see our full methodology on our ACS immigration status assignment process.
  2. For just a sampling, see recent polling from Data for Progress, Gallup, Morning Consult, NewsNation, and Quinnipiac.
  3. In this way, immigration registry reflects aspects of the earliest U.S. naturalization laws, which required people to have long-standing presence in the U.S. (initially two years, later five) and “good moral character” to be eligible for citizenship. However, those laws explicitly restricted access to citizenship to “free white persons.”
  4. In fact, proposals to advance registry dates to expand access to larger numbers of undocumented immigrants have received support from strikingly diverse groups in immigration policy, including organizations like Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR), who argue for reducing immigration. In the 1980s, FAIR’s founder John Tanton and members of the organization’s leadership repeatedly endorsed a rolling date for immigration registry; in one 1981 hearing, Tanton proposed that Congress “consider a statute of limitations for offenses against immigration laws, and that the registration date of 1948 in the existing law should be moved forward and converted into a rolling registration date, in the spirit of such a statute of limitations.”
  5. When Congress advanced the immigration registry cutoff date in 1958, the Senate cited the growing number of private bills being introduced to allow long-term residents to receive permanent status as justification for updating the law. Since the 112th Congress (2001-2002), hundreds of private bills have been introduced to grant relief and legal status to individual undocumented immigrants.
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