The INS published a rule on June 1, 2001 to implement the amnesty provision of the Legal Immigration and Family Equity Act (“LIFE”) of 2000. Affecting some 400,000 “illegal immigrants” in the US, the LIFE Amnesty law should bring closure to an enormous class of individuals who have resided in the United States since at least the early 1980s. The INS has imposed a deadline of May 31, 2002 before which individuals must file for adjustment of status to avail of the LIFE Amnesty.
Aside from the much talked about 245(i) extension, the LIFE Act provided relief for hundreds of thousands of people residing in the United States who were not successful in obtaining lawful permanent resident status (“green card”) under the Amnesty provisions of the Immigration Reform and Control Act (“IRCA”) of 1986. To be granted a green card under Amnesty, applicants had to prove that they had entered the United States prior to January 1, 1982 and had resided continuously in the US in “unlawful” status from the date of entry up through the date of filing the amnesty application. Applicants were afforded a one-year filing period from May 5, 1987 to May 4, 1988.
While the law sounded simple enough, the INS rejected or denied many applicants who had left the US and returned either unlawfully or lawfully between 1982 and the time of filing, on the basis that they had failed to reside continuously in “unlawful” status for the requisite period. These rulings spawned a generation of class action lawsuits challenging the INS’ procedures in rejecting or denying amnesty applications in Federal Courts throughout the country. After years of litigation, new laws and new policies, the CSS, LULAC and Zambrano cases remained open for individuals who claimed the INS had wrongfully denied or rejected their amnesty applications.
In order to finally resolve the status of these individuals, Congress passed the LIFE amnesty late last year. To be eligible to receive a green card under the LIFE Amnesty, individuals must establish that they: (1) filed a “written claim” for class membership in either the CSS, LULAC or Zambrano case before October 1, 2000, without or without the filing fee; (2) entered the United States initially before January 1, 1982, and resided in the US from the date of entry until at least May 4, 1988; (3) were continuously physically present in the US between November 6, 1986 and May 4, 1988; (4) are currently admissible to the United States; (5) have not been convicted of a felony or three or more misdemeanors in the US; (6) never persecuted any persons on account of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion; and (7) can meet the basic citizenship skills or are satisfactorily pursuing a course of study to attain basic citizenship skills.
Even if the INS previously denied a CSS, LULAC or Zambrano application, individuals are still eligible to file for LIFE Amnesty. LIFE Amnesty allows eligible aliens filing in the United States to obtain work permits and travel authorization during the pendency of their applications.
Additionally, LIFE Amnesty extends “family Unity” benefits to the spouses and unmarried children of individuals eligible for LIFE Legalization. Family Unity beneficiaries will receive work authorization and protection from removal, if they can show that they: (1) are the spouse or unmarried child of an individual who is eligible for LIFE Amnesty; (2) entered the US before December 1, 1988 and have been residing in the US since that date; and (3) are currently residing in the US.
Since the benefits of LIFE Amnesty will appeal to many long-term illegal residents of the US, and the requirements will be strictly construed, the INS has warned that applicants should seek the advice of competent, scrupulous counsel before embarking on this process.