LIFE Legalization Filing Deadline
January 31, 2003

Firstly, before any of our readers gets too excited, LIFE Legalization is not a new program. Instead, it is a follow up piece of legislation put in place in the wake of President Reagan’s amnesty law, also known as the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (“IRCA”), and the many class action lawsuits that followed. And LIFE Legalization is now in the news because the Immigration and Naturalization Service is conducting a nationwide media campaign to remind eligible applicants of the filing deadline. BUT MAKE NO MISTAKE, most in the undocumented/overstay community will not qualify for benefits under the LIFE Legalization program, and this column should be considered a friendly reminder, since so many in our undocumented community are all too willing to jump at any chance that appears in the least bit to give them hope about their immigration status. So, if you hear about this program on the news or some immigration consultant/quasi-attorney (such as the one on Main Street in Skokie) is all too eager to sell you her services in any context, take a deep breath and read the fine print.

A review, what is IRCA and what is LIFE Legalization?

IRCA essentially granted undocumented/overstay aliens an opportunity to gain lawful permanent resident status in the U.S. as long as they could prove that they entered the U.S. prior to January 1, 1982, and resided in continuous unlawful status through May 4, 1988. Reagan’s amnesty benefited millions of people, many of whom have already become U.S. citizens by now.

As a result of INS shortcomings in carrying out this program, such as INS officials misinforming the public about eligibility requirements, several class action lawsuits were brought against the INS and/or the U.S. government in the years that followed, most notably Catholic Social Services (CSS) v. Meese, the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) v. INS, and Zambrano v. INS. As those who are class members in these lawsuits know, qualifying individuals have been eligible to obtain employment authorization and some, authorization for international travel.

After the courts presiding over these lawsuits had been unable to arrive at any final resolution for more than a decade, Congress stepped in and enacted LIFE Legalization, granting eligibility for permanent residence for those 1) who met the pre-1982 though 1988 residency requirements and 2) filed for class membership in any of these lawsuits before October 1, 2000. Eligible applicants, estimated to be in the 200,000 range – most of whom are believed to be Hispanic, have a deadline of June 4, 2003 to submit their final applications.

In conclusion, when you read or hear about the LIFE Legalization application deadline, please realize that it only applies to individuals (including certain family members) who arrived in the U.S. prior to 1982 and have been certified for class membership in one of the above class action lawsuits.

For more information about this program log onto the INS website:

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