Advocates for undocumented immigrants in the United States have generated media attention recently with a campaign that asks undocumented immigrants to voluntarily “out” themselves, or voluntarily disclose their undocumented status. There are risks involved for any undocumented immigrant who voluntarily discloses his or her immigration status, and the undocumented may want to consider some alternative pathways to legal status.
The campaign to convince undocumented immigrants to out themselves is being promoted by Define America, an organization founded by Jose Antonio Vargas, an undocumented immigrant from the Philippines. Vargas gained nationwide attention when he disclosed his status and became the subject of a Time magazine article, complete with a photo of him on the magazine’s cover.
Define America has created a website that allows people to upload videos of themselves in which they disclose their undocumented status and talk about what they do for the country. The site also includes a mapping tool that allows the user to see other undocumented immigrants in their communities.
The campaign has enlisted support from Hollywood celebrity Cesar Millan, known as the Dog Whisperer on the National Geographic Channel. Milan immigrated illegally from Mexico before he found fame on television.
The Define America campaign is not the first organized effort for immigration reform to feature undocumented immigrants. In 2010, a group of four undocumented immigrants promoted the Dream Act by walking from Miami to Washington, D.C. The Dream Act is a bill that would have given legal status to those brought into the country illegally as children; the Act failed in Congress. In 2012, another group of undocumented immigrants rode a bus across the country to protest state laws that targeted undocumented immigrants for special treatment or deportation.
Although the earlier efforts were not successful in enacting any reform legislation, they are credited with pressuring the Obama Administration into taking executive actions that protect over 600,000 young, undocumented immigrants from deportation.
Any undocumented immigrants who follow the advice of Define America to out themselves face the risk that the action will alert authorities to their presence and that those authorities will have them deported. Before disclosure and risking deportation, undocumented immigrants might want to consider some pathways to legal status that are now available.
Other Options for Undocumented Immigrants
Immigrants who claim they are fleeing persecution in their home countries may seek legal status in the United States under statutory provisions applicable to those seeking asylum status. To obtain asylum status, immigrants must prove they are unable or unwilling to return to their home country because they have been persecuted there in the past or have a well-founded fear that they will be persecuted if they go back. They must also prove that they have been persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or their political opinions.
Immigrants may obtain a green card and permanent residency by marriage to a U.S. citizen. This is a common pathway to legal residency, but it is neither easy nor simple as applicants must negotiate a long and demanding application process and prove that their marriage is both valid and real before being awarded a U.S. green card.
Undocumented immigrants with a close family member who is a citizen or lawful permanent resident of the United States may qualify for a U.S. green card. This avenue for legal status is not automatic and it involves a number of factors, including an assessment of the immigrant’s relationship to the U.S. citizen or permanent resident and the immigrant’s country of origin.
Undocumented immigrants who are victims of crimes in the U.S. and whose presence and cooperation will aid law enforcement authorities may seek a special visa, the U visa, that allows them to stay in the U.S. legally. Moreover, a child born in the United States to undocumented immigrants may petition immigration authorities for green cards for his or her parents, but the child must be 21 before he or she can do so.
Other provisions in U.S. immigration law allow for pathways to legal status for very young undocumented immigrants: one allows young children who have been made wards of the state or assigned a guardian to remain in the country legally; another allows children who have been abused, neglected or abandoned and whose interests will not be served by returning them to their home country to remain here.
Two other provisions apply to teenagers and allow them to remain in this country: Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS). These immigration options allow teenagers to live and work in the U.S. legally, within a few months of applying. However the qualifications, procedures, costs and results for each program are different.
Philadelphia Immigration Lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. Represent Undocumented Immigrants
If you have questions about your legal status, about possible pathways to legal residency or about the risks involved in going public with your immigration status, you should consult an experienced immigration lawyer.
Philadelphia immigration lawyers at Surin & Griffin, P.C. are knowledgeable in all aspects of immigration law and have the experience to get results. We have been helping clients in New Jersey and Pennsylvania with immigration problems for more than 15 years. Our attorneys handle all types of immigration matters, including removals, deportations, family visas, asylum, business visas, employment/work visas, non-immigrant visas, labor certifications and abuse petitions. To contact us, call 215-925-4435 or contact us online.