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October 1997, Volume 4, Number 10

245(i), Naturalization and Immigration

245(i). In 1994, Congress amended the Immigration and Nationality Act to permit foreigners in the US when their immigration visas became available to pay a $1,000 fine and adjust their status without leaving the US. Since 1994, more than 500,000 foreigners in the US applied to adjust their status to legal immigrant, including 230,000 in 1996. Many of those adjusting under 245(i) were illegally in the US, living with the families who sponsored them, or working for their employer-sponsors.

The 245(i) adjustment program was scheduled to expire September 30, 1997, and there were numerous press accounts of foreigners in the US who were considering returning to their countries of origin if 245(i) is not renewed. The reason for them to leave the US is that, under IIRIRA of 1996, foreigners illegally in the US for six months or more are barred from legal entry for three years; and those illegally in the US for more than one year are barred from legal entry for 10 years. Thus, a person going to a US consulate for an immigrant or visitor's visa could be barred from returning legally to the US because of previous unauthorized US residence.

Immigration control advocates oppose extending the 245(i) adjustment program, arguing that permitting illegal aliens to adjust their status in the US encourages and rewards illegal immigrants. Immigrant advocates and US businesses that sponsor immigrants for employment-related visas favor extending the 245(i) program, pointing out that the $1,000 fees provide the INS with additional funds, and that those adjusting under the 245(i) program have qualified to be US immigrants.

The Senate approved legislation making the 245(i) program permanent, but the House did not. On September 29, 1997, the House approved a three-week extension of the 245(i) program on a 355-57 vote, until October 23, 1997, and House Democrats promised to fight for a permanent extension.

INS promised that it would not target unauthorized foreigners in the US waiting for green cards, but advised foreigners illegally in the US to leave by September 27. The New York Times on October 1, 1997 reported that some US restaurants and other specialty businesses closed as unauthorized immigrants in the US waiting for visas left so that they would not be barred from legal re-entry when their visas become available.

The Los Angeles Times reported on October 1, 1997 that "thousands" of foreigners lined up outside INS offices in the Los Angeles area, mistakenly thinking that, for $1,000, the INS would issue them a immigrant visa. The INS district director in Los Angeles said that "some people are misinterpreting this [245(i)] extension as an amnesty."

There are about 3.5 million foreigners who are on waiting lists to immigrate to the US; an estimated two-thirds of this legal immigrant backlog are illegally in the US. The average waiting time for the families of legal immigrants who wish to join spouses in the US is 4.3 years, and can be up to 10 years for Mexican relatives of legal immigrants. If the US spouse naturalizes, there is no waiting time.

Naturalization. The Immigration and Naturalization Service's goal is to process citizenship applications within six months. Advocates argue that the current wait is 21 months, while the INS says the wait between application and interview is nine to 12 months. A record 1.8 million applications are expected in FY97, up from 300,000 in FY92; as of July 31, 1997, the INS had received 1.4 million naturalization applications.

The backlog of pending naturalization applications has climbed in most major gateway cities, but especially in Los Angeles, where there were 650,000 pending naturalization applications pending in June 1997. There were about 450,000 pending applications in New York City and 300,000 in Miami.

The INS announced that beginning October 1, 1997, the INS will take responsibility for fingerprinting applicants for naturalization at 80 INS offices nationwide, that all applications for naturalization will be mailed to one of four INS offices, and that the 80 INS offices where naturalization applicants are interviewed would follow the same protocol. The fingerprinting change ends the 15-year practice of permitting private firms and agencies to take fingerprints for applicants for INS benefits.

Immigration advocates used National Citizenship Day, September 17, the date the Constitution was ratified in 1789, to call attention to the delays in naturalizing foreigners. Los Angeles Mayor Riordan decried the long waits and offered to have the Los Angeles Police Department take applicants' fingerprints; some 40 percent of Los Angeles county residents are foreign-born.

Diversity Visas. The State Department announced in September that 100,000 of the 4.7 million foreigners who applied for diversity visas were winners in the lottery; up to 55,000 will be permitted to enter the US as immigrants. European countries were allocated 22,213 visas, including 5,411 for Bulgaria; African countries were allocated 21,179 visas, including 6,000 each for Ghana and Nigeria. About 1.3 million applicants were disqualified.

The odds of winning a diversity visa are much better than the odds of winning a state lottery. After an individual wins, the principal applicant must provide proof of a high school education or its equivalent, or show two years of work experience in an occupation that requires at least two years of training or experience within the past five years. Then the visa winner plus his or her immediate family are permitted to enter the US.

Religious Visas. The Immigration Act of 1990 set aside 10,000 visas per year for "special immigrants," with up to 5,000 of them available to religious ministers and 5,000 for lay individuals working for religious organizations outside the United States. Some members of Congress want to toughen the requirements, such as requiring that a person be a member of the religious group sponsoring his admission for at least five years, up from the current two years.

Schools. Under IIRIRA, foreign children in kindergarten to eighth grade can no longer obtain F-1 visas to attend US public schools. Those enrolled in grades nine to 12 can obtain one-year F-1 visas if they pay one year's tuition in advance, usually about $5,000. The new rule was aimed at Asian "parachute kids" who entered the US to enroll in private schools, and then transferred to public schools.

Some advocates have advised parents of Mexican children who have been crossing the border to attend US public schools to obtain F-1 visas for private schools, and then switch to public schools--under the 1982 Plyler v. Doe US Supreme Court decision, public schools must provide education without charge to all students. Four high school students in Juarez have paid the tuition -- $5,175 each -- and obtained the F-1 visas to go to school in the 65,000-student El Paso, Texas district.

The State Department issued 228,000 F-1 visas in FY95, but most of them went to college students or students attending private or parochial schools. According to the Institute for International Education, there were 221,500 foreign undergraduates in US colleges and universities in 1994-95.

Census. On September 30, 1997, the House on a 227-198 vote refused to allow the Census Bureau to spend money on sampling to improve the accuracy of the 2000 Census until the Supreme Court reviews the constitutionality of sampling.

In 1990, the Census Bureau offered Americans the choice of 16 racial categories. The main groupings were white and black, which 92 percent of the population chose.

Americans Abroad. Some 3.3 million Americans lived abroad in 1996, according to State Department estimates, including 627,000 in Canada; 550,000 in Mexico; 216,000 in the UK; 158,000 in Israel; 148,000 in Poland; 146,000 in Italy; 130,000 in Germany; 118,000 in the Philippines; and 86,000 each in France and the Dominican Republic. Other countries with American expatriates include Greece with 82,000; Japan with 73,000; Australia and Spain, with 63,000 each; Saudi Arabia with 44,000; Hong Kong with 41,000; and Taiwan, Ireland, and South Korea, with 36,000 each. There were about 735,000 Americans living abroad in 1966.

Mirta Ojito, "New Immigration Rules Hit Some Companies Hard," New York Times, October 1, 1997. Patrick McDonnell, "Deadline Poses Dilemma for Illegal Immigrants ," Los Angeles Times, September 24, 1997. Barry Newman, "Visa Lottery Winners Find Luck Can Be a Fickle Friend," Wall Street Journal, September 12, 1997. Sue Anne Pressley, "Law Keeping Many Mexican Students From Crossing Border," Washington Post, August 24, 1997.