Comprehensive Immigration Reform in 2013
On June 27, 2013, the U.S. Senate passed the Border Security, Economic Opportunity, and Immigration Modernization Act of 2013 (S.744). This legislation includes a path to legalization for an estimated 8 million (CBO June 2013) undocumented immigrants (only about 75% of the total estimated undocumented population in the United States). This path allows those immigrants who have been in the country continually since December 31, 2011 to apply for registered provisional immigrant (RPI) status. Meanwhile, the U.S. House of Representatives is widely expected to consider its own immigration reform legislation later this year.While the ultimate fate of immigration reform in the current Congress remain uncertain, as well as the provisions of any legalization program, it seems safe to assume that almost any comprehensive legislation will require undocumented immigrants to come forward for some kind of processing. That would create massive and
immediate demand for legal services for this population. Moreover, even if legislation or new administrative policies are focused only on enforcement of immigration laws, the need for legal services will increase.
The Senate immigration bill offers the best available example of the kinds of demands for legal services—and the opportunities for fraud—that are likely to develop out of immigration reform.
Application for RPI status under S. 744 and subsequent steps required toward legalization and citizenship require substantial documentation, and therefore legal assistance. Undocumented immigrants must supply proof of identity, immigration status, and presence in the U.S. on and since December 31, 2011, along with a background check. RPI status must be renewed after a six-year initial period, and can only be renewed if the immigrant has met requirements related to employment and payment of taxes. There is a minimum of 10 years required in RPI status before adjustment to lawful permanent resident (LPR, also known as “green card”) status, which requires yet another set of documentation. And, certainly, need for legal assistance varies depending on an immigrant’s family, employment, criminal, and immigration history.
Undocumented immigrants are particularly vulnerable to notario fraud under the proposed legislation. This is not directly related to requirements for RPI and LPR applications, but rather to the sheer volume of applications expected once new reforms are enacted. Nearly three million immigrants were legalized through the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), whereas the Congressional Budget Office estimates that more than double that number would be eligible to legalize through S.744. Legislation will create booming demand for immigration legal services. Soon after enactment, several million people will face tight deadlines for a complex legal process that will have powerful consequences. But, so far, Washington has not discussed the need to create a parallel increase in services. The gap between supply and demand inevitably will spawn opportunities for unqualified individuals to take advantage of a highly vulnerable population. As such, the prevalence of notario fraud is certain to increase with immigration reform unless added protections are put in place.
While possibilities for communities and the private sector will be explored below, there are policy-level protections that can be used. Safe Harbor Provisions would protect undocumented clients, so that they may report fraud without fear of being penalized or removed due to discovery of their undocumented status (Langford 2004). On a Federal level, BIA accreditation creates a larger pool of qualified non-attorneys to provide assistance to undocumented immigrants through community-based and non-profit organizations. This program must be continued with strong oversight and management to ensure that BIA accredited individuals are indeed serving the undocumented population and not taking advantage of it. Any final comprehensive immigration reform legislation to come through Congress could provide additional funding to expand BIA and EOIR programs.
About this project
The Tomás Rivera Policy Institute, a university research center with the mission to address the challenges and opportunities of demographic diversity in the 21st century global city, has produced these featured digital publications using the USC Media Curator, an online publishing platform designed to bring together innovative research from across the University of Southern California and beyond. This project curates research relevant for immigrant service providers on the topics of Access & Use of Technology, Access & Use of Financial Services, Notario Fraud, and Driver's Licenses for the unauthorized.