Tired of Waiting on Congressional Immigration Reform, the States Make Their Own!

handshake-616726-m.jpgIn the year that has passed since the Senate approved its own version of comprehensive immigration reform, immigrant rights advocates and foreign nationals have experienced a slow but significant decrease in their enthusiasm for new legislation as the House of Representatives continues to stall in its own efforts to pass any sort of immigration reform.

Many of the states are frustrated with Congress's ongoing inaction and infighting when it comes to immigration reform, and so they are taking matters into their own hands. For example, New York's state legislature recently introduced its own plan to grant both the right to vote and the right to apply for citizenship to an undocumented foreign national who pays U.S. taxes for three years.

A Washington, D.C.-based organization called the Center for Popular Democracy reports that the New York state legislative move to grant citizenship benefits to potentially millions of undocumented foreign nationals is directly resulting from the gridlock in Congress as well as the unseating of House Majority Leader Eric Cantor, whose defeat is being characterized as a referendum on immigration reform because he supports a pathway to citizenship and the winner of the race, Mr. David Brat, does not.

The state legislation, called the "New York is Home Act," establishes multiple requirements that undocumented foreign nationals must meet before they can apply for voting rights and citizenship. First, they must have proof of their identity. Second, they must prove they have lived in the state of New York for three years. Third, they must prove they have paid New York state taxes for three years. Fourth, they must demonstrate a commitment to living by New York state laws and upholding its state constitution. Finally, they must demonstrate a willingness to sit on a New York jury and to keep paying state taxes.

Once the undocumented foreign national meets these requirements, he or she will be able to apply for citizenship at a special office called New York's Office for New Americans, which Governor Andrew Cuomo created.

If their applications are approved, the foreign nationals will receive New York citizenship, which will make them eligible for health care, financial aid for education, professional licensure, drivers' licenses, voting in New York elections, and running for New York public office.

While the development in New York is certainly exciting, immigration reform advocates have not completely forgotten about the needed federal legislation and will continue to urge Congress to implement reform on the national level.

New York's decision to offer state citizenship to undocumented foreign nationals is a completely new and unprecedented move that will likely cause much public debate as New York residents discuss the constitutionality of such a decision. It remains to be seen what implications granting state citizenship will have on affected foreign nationals. If you or a loved one are in the U.S. without status and would like to understand your own options for obtaining citizenship, contact our office today at 650-293-0270 to speak to a skilled member of our legal team about your options.

Additional Blog Posts

The Point-System for Immigration Reform: Give Me Your Young, Highly-Educated, and Highly Experienced, Silicon Valley Immigration Lawyer Blog, July 15, 2013
ACLU Sues U.S. Government Over Voluntary Departure, Silicon Valley Immigration Lawyer Blog, June 7, 2013

Immigration Reform / by Michelle Gee