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Long road for undocumented immigrants
Steps vary by country, qualifications
Editor’s note: This is a first of a two-part look at immigration and earning citizenship. Part II will run Monday.
Undocumented immigrants wishing to become United States citizens have a long road ahead of them.
The process takes years of waiting, said Roberto De La Rosa, executive director of OLA Raza, a grass roots non-profit advocacy center dedicated to providing immigration and citizenship services to low-income persons and students.
The process to become a citizen is on the front burner in Washington, D.C., with President Barack Obama challenging Congress to come up with immigration reform this year.
There are several ways a person can qualify for citizenship, De La Rosa said.
“First, there is the legal resident way,” De La Rosa said. “To qualify, an individual must have a relative who is a legal resident or a United States citizen. But, not all are eligible. There is a whole system of categories and preferences.”
A relative who is a U.S. citizen is the best situation, he said.
“If an immediate relative is a United States citizen — a spouse, or a child under the age of 21 — then the petitioner can get an immigrant Visa immediately,” De La Rosa said.
The process is not always that simple, and several situations are possible.
Unmarried sons and daughters, age 21 and older, of a U.S. citizen is considered a “First Preference;” a married son or daughter, is considered Third Preference.
“In the worst shape are the brothers and sisters of U.S. citizens. Depending on what category they fall into, they usually must wait their turn,” De La Rosa said. “It all depends on the country.”
The wait is not short, he said.
An unmarried child, older than age 21, has a backlog delay that goes back to 1993.
“A case processed on June 22, 1993, just now has a visa available,” De La Rosa said. “A married son or daughter who filed March 8, 1993, is just now getting approved this month.”
In addition, the wait also depends on the country of origin, with people from China, India, Mexico and the Philippines having the longest waits.
“If a person filed for a brother from Mexico City, he must wait in line,” De La Rosa said. “And there’s a 17-year backlog for brothers and sisters. The group advances at the rate of one week per month.”
The statistics are available online at the state department’s “Visa Bulletin” published monthly.
“Folks trying to immigrate through a relative with a green card also wait,” he said.
Legal residents, people with green cards, can help spouses, children younger than age 21, unmarried children older than 21, and no one else.
Spouses and young children approved on Oct. 8, 2010, are up for their visas. Unmarried, older than age 21, children, however waited longer — with those approved on Dec. 15, 1992, now slated for visas.
Along the way, if an unmarried child waiting for final approval gets married, the application is revoked. It is one of the reasons, De La Rosa said, why some individuals do not marry, instead choosing to live together, even when two or three children are added into the equation.
“There’s a lot of applications in the administrative process,” De La Rosa said. “Petitioners must have supporting documents, pay filing fees and wait — and hopefully not do anything to disqualify themselves.”
Once a person becomes a legal permanent resident, an additional wait of three to five years begins.
“They can then apply and file for citizenship, and if they pass the exam, can become U.S. citizens,” De La Rosa said. “They must remain in the United States a certain number of years, be of good, moral character, and have the ability to pass a civic history test and a language test, and pay the $680 filing fee.”
That wait is short in comparison, he said, adding that typically it takes about six months from the time the person files to the time the person takes the exam and takes an oath, being sworn in as a citizen.
In the meantime, the number of residents awaiting citizenship are in the thousands, De La Rosa said.
“There are also tens of thousands of people with no qualifying relatives, and there is nothing for them unless there’s immigration reform that may include legalization,” De La Rosa said. “There are 10 to 12 million undocumented immigrants in the United States. All of them waiting.”
Contact Esther Avila at 784-5000, Ext. 1045. Follow her on Twitter @Avila_recorder.