More Amnesty Talk in Congress
May 26, 2000

It is just talk at this point, but that is what Congress and the Clinton Administration are doing with regard to proposals that could benefit as many as 500,000 undocumented or “illegal” aliens. The fact that the talk is continuing does not mean that a bill will in fact be enacted into law. On the other hand, it does mean that there is significant interest from various congressional factions to at least entertain and debate the issue.

Starting back on April 4, a bill was first introduced before the U.S. House of Representatives that would make eligible for permanent residence undocumented individuals “of good moral character” who have been continuously residing in the U.S. since 1986. This proposal would revise a law currently on the books known as “Registry” – which, in its present form, allows undocumented individuals who have been in the U.S. since prior to 1972 to apply for residence.

In recent weeks, another bill expanding upon the April 4 proposal was introduced wherein not only would the “Registry” date change to 1986, but that a “rolling registry date” would go into effect each year continuing through January 1, 2006. That is, each year the “prior to 1986” milestone would advance another year such that in 2001, the “prior to” date would be 1987, and that by 2006, the registry’s “prior to” residency requirement would reach 1991.

Commentators believe that the enactment of these proposals would address a variety of societal concerns, including bringing an end to the complex “late amnesty” class action litigation initiated more than a decade ago after INS initially refused to accept certain classes of applicants applying under the previous amnesty law. The lawsuit was brought on by several civic and religious organizations such as Catholic Social Services (CSS) and the League of United Latin American Citizens groups (LULAC) and over the years, the matter has evolved into a costly and most complex legal battle.

If and when any new amnesty provision is actually passed into law remains to be seen. As always, however, new developments on this issue will continue to be featured in this column.

Federal Court Fight Pays Off for Naturalization Applicant

To become a naturalized U.S. citizen, an applicant, among other requirements, must demonstrate their “good moral character”, particularly during the 5 year period prior to applying. There are many factors that come into play in determining whether an applicant has the requisite moral character, but there is no question that an applicant who lies at their naturalization interview will have their application denied.

But when should a misstatement of fact be considered a lie? And when should such a misstatement taint an applicant’s eligibility for citizenship?

According to the INS, when an applicant has an arrest record of any kind, whether or not it had led to a conviction or was subsequently expunged, the applicant has a duty to disclose their record when asked if he or she has ever been “arrested, cited or convicted… of any law, excluding traffic regulations”.

In the case at issue, the applicant had been arrested, but the charges against him were eventually dropped. Pursuant to the advice of his attorney, however, the applicant denied ever having been arrested in response to INS questions. To the applicant’s surprise, the INS’ FBI fingerprint check revealed the arrest and based on the applicant’s failure to disclose the arrest (and not the arrest itself), his application was denied. In the eyes of the INS, the applicant was a liar and therefore ineligible for U.S. citizenship for at least another 5 years.

After exhausting his appeals before the INS, the applicant filed suit in U.S. District Court in Chicago challenging the ruling. The suit proved successful, as the Court found that testimony that is false as a result of a misunderstanding or good faith reliance on incorrect advice does not establish a basis to deny an applicant for U.S. citizenship due to a lack of good moral character.

For more details on the court’s decision see Plewa v. INS, 77 F. Supp. 2d. 905 (N.D. Ill. 1999).

Copyright © 2000-2008, By Law Offices of Richard Hanus, Chicago, Illinois