What is Immigration Amnesty and How to Apply

Immigration remains one of the nation’s most prominent political controversies, despite much rhetoric spent on efforts to fix a troubled system. One topic that arouses the most passion is the area of immigration amnesty.

Amnesty involves granting legal status to non-U.S. citizens even though they have entered the country illegally or have broken some of the many laws and rules that govern amnesty.

Depending on the circumstances, it’s possible to receive amnesty as an individual and as part of a larger group. Because it’s controversial, obtaining amnesty takes work. Immigration officials have much discretion in deciding whether to grant an application.

For that reason, it’s wise to retain experienced counsel. The Case J. Darwin Law office has extensive experience in all aspects of immigration, including amnesty. We can help guide you through the process and ensure your application is completed successfully. Call us for a consultation.

What Is Immigration Amnesty?

Government officials provide immigration amnesty when they pardon a foreign national for violating the nation’s laws and policies on immigration to the U.S. A pardon is a blanket statement from the government that they forgive the person for that violation, and it wipes their record clean.

Depending on the circumstances, it can be applied in various ways. For instance, someone who uses false or forged documents to qualify for immigration may request amnesty for those violations. Similarly, someone crossing the border without official government permission may also have a basis to request amnesty.

Who Qualifies for Immigration Amnesty?

Over its history, our nation has enacted specific special programs concerning amnesty that included its own special eligibility requirements. So qualification for amnesty may vary depending on the circumstances. However, the government does have some general requirements. To qualify, a foreign national must:

  • Not have any criminal convictions.
  • Reside in the U.S. for a specific period — usually between 10 and 20 years.
  • Show an ability to support themselves without drawing public assistance.
  • Prove a good moral character.

Even after meeting those general requirements, the decision to grant immigration amnesty is made on a case-by-case basis and is often subject to political pressures.

How Do You Obtain Amnesty?

Congress periodically has authorized special programs for immigration amnesty, so the process can vary. But generally, on a regular basis, applying for amnesty requires an individual to fill out form I-589, known as Application for Asylum and Withholding of Removal, and submit it to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

The first and most important step is to determine your eligibility. You can generally apply if you are in the country without a visa or have remained here beyond the time allotted under the terms of your existing visa. As part of the application process, you must gather the appropriate documents, such as items that prove your identity and status.

The application includes a filing fee, and you will have to go through an interview with a USCIS officer. It’s wise to have legal counsel with you during this interview, even though you will have to be the one giving the answers.

Under certain circumstances, you can obtain a temporary work permit that will allow you to earn an income while waiting for your interview and a decision on your case. During this period, also make sure you carefully follow the guidance of immigration officers. Any diversion from the requirements could provide a reason for the government to reject your application.

Grants of Immigration Amnesty

As a matter of policy, Congress occasionally decides to issue grants of amnesty to large groups of people. In 2000, for instance, lawmakers passed the Family Fairness Act, which granted amnesty to about half a million spouses, children, or parents of existing U.S. citizens.

Before that, Congress passed a program providing amnesty to about 1.3 million farmworkers in 1987. The largest program in recent history was the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986, which impacted nearly three million undocumented immigrants.

Types of Immigration Amnesty

Historically speaking, U.S. lawmakers have granted different types of amnesty in connection with programs that attempted to solve specific policy challenges. Generally, those programs cover four general categories:

  • General or blanket amnesty, which would cover an entire group of undocumented immigrants that meets particular criteria as established under specific immigration programs. This could include the amount of time spent in the country or whether they have come to escape persecution.
  • Limited amnesty, which would grant certain rights under the immigration system for a certain period or to those who meet specific criteria. For example, a prior amnesty program from the past was limited to individuals seeking to leave their homes in Central America or Nicaragua.
  • Conditional amnesty, where undocumented immigrants can receive amnesty after completing certain steps, such as paying a fine, providing information about their addresses, or performing some form of community service.
  • Retroactive amnesty, which is a form of conditional amnesty. This allows undocumented immigrants to achieve legal status if they entered the U.S. unlawfully by a specific time.

Generally, lawmakers are free to set the terms of immigration amnesty based on what they feel represents the best policy for the U.S. It’s possible there may be other types of immigration amnesty in the future.

Legal Counsel for Immigration Amnesty

The amnesty process is complicated and confusing. Let the Case J. Darwin Law Office stand by your side. Case is an experienced immigration attorney who has handled various complex forms of immigration law and disputes. Using his background and experience, Case and his team can provide you with the legal counsel needed to understand and successfully engage with the many procedures involved. Among the matters Case can handle include:

  • Removal and deportation litigation.
  • Employment-based cases.
  • Family-based cases.
  • Adjustment of status versus consular processing.
  • Green cards and visas.
  • Waivers of inadmissibility.
  • Amnesty and Asylum.
  • Citizenship and naturalization.
  • Deferred action for childhood arrivals.

Don’t go through the immigration process alone. Contact us at the Case J. Darwin law firm, serving clients in San Marcos and surrounding areas, for a no-obligation consultation.


Immigration checkpoint by Jonathan McIntosh is licensed with CC BY 2.0

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