Amnesty can be defined as an exemption from prosecution for criminal action, or forgiveness of past actions that is usually extended to a group of individuals. In this context, immigration amnesty refers to the exemption from prosecution for immigrants who entered the country unlawfully. There has been much debate and proposed legislation about immigration amnesty over the past several decades. The first immigration amnesty legislation can be traced back to the IRCA of 1986.
On November 6, 1986 President Ronald Regan signed the Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA). Under IRCA, it became illegal to hire or recruit immigrants who did not possess proper work authorization, also commonly referred to as “undocumented immigrants.” The Immigration Reform and Control Act also granted amnesty to undocumented immigrants who entered the United States prior to January 1, 1982 and resided in the US continuously.
Recent Immigration Amnesty Proposal:
More recently, President Obama proposed legislation on immigration reform. For undocumented workers residing in the United States highlights of the proposed legislation included:
- Immigrants could come forward immediately and receive probationary legal status.
- Immigrants who arrived in the U.S. unlawfully before January 1, 2007 were eligible for a four-year, renewable Z visa.
- Undocumented immigrants were able to adjust their status to a lawful permanent resident after they paid $5,000 in fees and the head of their household returned to their home country for several years.
- People under age 30 who were brought to the U.S. as minors could receive their green cards, or permanent resident status, after three years, rather than eight.
- Undocumented farm workers who could demonstrate that they have worked 150 hours or three years in agriculture were eligible to apply for green cards.
- Proficiency of the English language
- Family connections