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Fact Sheet: State-by-State Estimates of Eligibility for a 2010 Immigration Registry Update

A Haitian immigrant becomes a U.S. citizen during a naturalization ceremony in Hialeah, Florida, on January 12, 2018.

In the wake of the Senate Parliamentarian’s initial ruling—which advised against a reconciliation proposal that would have included a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, those with Temporary Protected Status and Deferred Enforced Departure, and essential workers (including farmworkers), lawmakers are shifting to alternative proposals to include permanent protections for undocumented immigrants in a budget reconciliation package. One compelling option for legislators is to update an almost century-old immigration law provision, known as registry, which currently allows anyone who entered the country before January 1, 1972, to register for a green card. This fact sheet runs the numbers, on a state-by-state basis, of who would be eligible if the immigration registry date was updated from 1972 to 2010.

Explaining registry

Registry is among the oldest legalization provisions in U.S. immigration law and one with a long and bipartisan history of recognizing long-established residents of the United States. In 1929, Congress passed the Registry Act, allowing certain noncitizens who were long-term residents of the United States to register for lawful permanent resident status.

Immigrants—both undocumented immigrants and immigrants with other temporary statuses—could qualify for the registry provisions if they met the registry’s arrival date, had lived in the United States continuously since then, and were of “good moral character.” That original date was June 3, 1921.

Since then, Congress has updated the registry by advancing the arrival date multiple times in a bipartisan fashion. The most recent update to these provisions came in 1986—the last time the United States saw meaningful immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship—advancing the arrival date to cover anyone who had been in the country since before January 1, 1972.

Given that the average undocumented immigrant has lived in the country for 16 years, updating the registry date to January 1, 2010—which could be as simple as just swapping out “1972” for “2010” in 8 U.S.C. 1259—would open the door for an estimated 6.8 million undocumented immigrants to become green card holders.

Table 1

Nicole Prchal Svajlenka is the associate director for research on the Immigration Policy team at the Center for American Progress. Claudia Flores is the associate director for policy and strategy on the Immigration Policy team at the Center. Philip E. Wolgin is the acting vice president for Immigration Policy at the Center.

Authors’ note: These estimates are based on analysis of 2018 and 2019 1-year American Community Survey microdata accessed through the University of Minnesota’s IPUMS USA database.