Section 245i green cards are now available after a 20-year wait
Almost every day, they come to my office and other immigration law offices throughout the country. Apprehensive but hopeful. Often they bring the whole family. Usually, they are clutching a worn and faded approval notice they received over 20 years ago from the Immigration Service.
These are the immigrants who applied under a law known as Section 245i of the Immigration & Nationality Act, passed by Congress and signed into law Dec. 20, 2000. The program provided a short window in which to submit a relative petition. All petitions had to be filed by April 30 2001. Over those four months, hundreds of thousands of undocumented immigrants applied, all sponsored by a close relative who was a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. If they were from Mexico, the wait was usually more than 20 years, but they had their place in line
The good news: now they can finally get their legal status.
Under our family preference system, U.S. citizens can sponsor their parents or siblings, subject to certain limits. One of those limitations is a cap on allotted green cards per country. Mexico is allotted the same number of green cards annually as Norway, Sri Lanka or any other country. But, not surprisingly, the number of applicants from Mexico is far greater. As a result, getting permanent residence typically takes 20-25 years if you’re from Mexico — approximately twice as long as it takes from virtually any other country in the world.
Moreover, if the sponsored family member is here illegally, our laws often require them to leave the country for 10 years before they can immigrate.
One exception is those who filed under the 245i law over 20 years ago. They still need to wait the required period, but they can receive their permanent residence here instead of leaving the country for 10 years.
Moreover, an Obama Administration policy change allows families covered by the law to apply a bit early, allowing them to obtain a work permit and temporary legal status up to two years early while their adjustment of status application is pending.
Many North Bay families are now eligible to immigrate
Married immigrants from Mexico who filed a petition through their parent (category F3) before June 15 2001, can move forward to process their green cards now; for single immigrants (category F1), the magic date is Dec. 1, 2002. Those filing through siblings (category F4) before April 1 2001, may now apply to change their status.
This means that almost all those who filed under Section 245i are now eligible — after a 20+ year wait — to get a temporary work permit, a valid Social Security card, and then after a further short wait, their green cards.
Eligibility to Immigrate applies to family members waiting in Mexico too
Those who filed in 2001 or before but are waiting in Mexico will also be eligible to immigrate in the coming months. These family members should contact the National Visa Center of the U.S. Department of State to start the process of immigrating through the U.S. Consulate. In Mexico that process is conducted by the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez.
Persons who think they might be eligible to immigrate should seek competent legal advice before applying. It is essential that persons covered by 245i not leave the country because they would forfeit the benefit of the law and possibly be subject to a 10-year bar.
Our entire immigration system is built on the principle of promoting family unity. But the absurd waiting periods under that system have made this an elusive goal for most applicants from Mexico. It’s also part of why we have over 10 million undocumented immigrants here.
Some of those waiting are now close to their dream of legal status. Eligible immigrants filing now should have their green cards within 12-18 months. After decades of waiting that will be a special holiday gift for countless families here.
Christopher A. Kerosky has practiced immigration law for over 25 years and is currently a Professor of Law at Empire College of Law. He is a former member of the Sonoma County Human Rights Commission.