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RELEASE: Reinstating the LIFE Act and Eliminating Entry Bars Would Allow Millions of Immigrants To Stay With Their Families, New CAP Column Underscores

Washington, D.C. — As Congress and the Biden administration move toward creating a more fair, humane, and workable immigration system, they should use every avenue possible to put undocumented immigrants on a pathway to legal status. A new column published today by the Center for American Progress underscores that this should include reinstating the Legal Immigration Family Equity (LIFE) Act and eliminating the three and 10-year bars to entry, allowing families to stay together.

These changes would allow as many as 2.3 million immigrants who are married to U.S. citizens or green card holders—or have employers who could sponsor them—to apply for a green card. According to CAP’s data, 1.4 million people have a U.S. citizen or permanent resident spouse, and 1.1 million may have such an employer. This estimate does not include eligible undocumented parents of unmarried U.S. citizen children ages 21 or older, who can petition for them. Historically, these solutions have had bipartisan support.

Current immigration laws do not provide U.S. citizens or employers with a viable pathway to sponsor their undocumented family members or workers for lawful permanent residence, even if they would otherwise be eligible for a green card, if those individuals entered the United States without inspection and are still living in the country.

Undocumented immigrants must first leave the country and apply for an immigrant visa at a consulate abroad. But once they leave, they face a lengthy ban on returning due to a cruel Catch-22 law put in place in 1996 that subjects anyone who was in the United States without legal immigration status for more than six months to a reentry bar of three or 10 years. This makes getting a green card effectively impossible for millions of people who should have a legal pathway to do so.

The reinstatement of the LIFE Act or elimination of the three- and 10-year bars, or both, should be part of any legislative solution for immigration, either on their own or as part of a commonsense package that puts undocumented immigrants—including Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status (TPS) holders, and farm and essential workers—on a pathway to citizenship. Reinstating Section 245(i) of the LIFE Act alone would allow eligible people to process their application without leaving the country and triggering the bars. In fact, President Joe Biden also proposed eliminating the bars in his comprehensive immigration reform bill, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021.

“It is a tragedy that the current U.S. immigration laws provide no practical way for U.S. citizens and green card holders or employers to petition for their undocumented spouses or employees who entered without inspection,” said Silva Mathema, acting director of the Immigration Policy team at the Center for American Progress and co-author of the column. “Congress should take up these solutions, to make sure those who should be able to gain legal status have a pathway to do so.”

“Reinstating the LIFE Act or eliminating bars to entry would make it possible for millions of undocumented immigrants living in the United States to pursue a path toward legal status. For them and their families, it’s time these options with bipartisan support are on the table,” said Nicole Prchal Svajlenka, associate director for research at CAP and co-author of the column.

“These common sense solutions highlighted in this column have a bipartisan history and would be critical for shaping our immigration system in a more humane and fair way,” said Sofia Carratala, research assistant for the Immigration Policy team at CAP and co-author of the column. “This would provide the necessary safety and security for undocumented immigrants and their families in the United States.”

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