There are many immigrant rights activist groups, and due to the ongoing immigration reform legislation debates, these groups are gaining more and more media prominence.
One such group, referred to as Dream 9, is comprised of Mexican foreign nationals without legal status who have been raised in the United States. The group’s goal is to raise awareness to the similarly situated foreign nationals who are in the U.S. – the only country they have ever known – without status. Their other goal is to draw attention to what they deem as an ever-growing amount of deportations executed by the Obama administration.
To gain public support of their causes, the Dream 9 group self-deported – meaning they voluntarily exited the United States and entered Mexico. By exiting the U.S., the group members became subject to a ten-year bar to their reentry into the country.
Once in Mexico, the group tried to return to the U.S. by claiming political asylum protection. The Dream 9 members were detained by immigration authorities, staged a hunger strike, and were eventually released pending decisions by the immigration court on their asylum petitions.
The Consequences of Deportation
The plight of the Dream 9 group illustrates a critically important aspect of immigration law. Most foreign nationals do not encounter any issues when exiting and reentering the United States. However, if the foreign national has been without legal status for more than 180 days but less than 365 days, upon leaving the U.S. the foreign national becomes subject to a three year bar to reentry. Similarly, if the foreign national has been without legal status for more than 365 days, the national will be subject to a 10 year bar to reentry upon departing the United States.
The 3/10 year ban is one of the harshest consequences of deportation. Because the Dream 9 group had been in the United States without status, they had been accruing several years of “unlawful presence,” thereby subjecting them to the bar as soon as they left. Most foreign nationals who are subject to one of the bars are not as lucky as the Dream 9 group to be readmitted in to the U.S. – most have to wait for the three or 10 years before returning to the United States.
How the Reform Bill Addresses the 3/10 Year Bars
The problems with the 3/10 year bars are easily seen. Foreign nationals who have accrued enough unlawful presence to be subject to one of the bars are de-incentivized to leave the U.S. because doing do triggers the bar.
The reform bill provides relief to these foreign nationals in the form of the creation of Registered Provisional Immigration status (RPI). The RPI status would allow foreign nationals to live, work, and travel in and out of the U.S. without fear of incurring the 3/10 year bars.
Many immigrant rights groups are calling on the Obama administration to suspend deportation proceedings for low-risk foreign nationals (such as those whose only crime is being in the U.S. without status) while Congress debates immigration reform. The reason behind this request is that Congress may pass the bill that grants relief to many of the foreign nationals who are facing deportation, and they should be allowed to stay in the U.S. pending the bill’s passage.
The practice of suspending deportations has been going on unofficially in recent weeks. Vermont’s Senator Leahy and Connecticut’s Senator Blumenthal have personally interceded on the behalf of foreign nationals to halt deportation proceedings.
The plight of Dream 9 and the hundreds of thousands of young foreign nationals in the U.S. is a perfect illustration of why Congress must act on immigration reform as soon as possible. Continue to check back with our blog as we cover the reform legislation’s movement through the House of Representatives.