A long path to citizenship, with plenty of roadblocks on the way

Quartz.com has an infographic that sums up the Senate immigration bill’s provisions for a “path to citizenship”. It’s pretty depressing. According to the analysis, the path to citizenship for most immigrants currently in the United States without legal status would be a minimum of 13 years. Doesn’t sound too bad? Wait — there’s more.

Before getting to permanent residence and then to citizenship, the undocumented immigrant would have to spend 12 years as a Registered Provisional Immigrant. This is a new status would be available for those who have been in the United States since before January 1, 2012 and can pay the fees and pass the criminal background checks.

The first RPI status is good for six years. During those six years, the provisional immigrant cannot spend more than 60 days without a job. His or her average income must be higher than the federal poverty level for the whole six years and the prospective immigrant must not be likely to become a public charge. (There are a few exceptions for medical reasons or for someone who must care for a dependent.)

So — lose your job and can’t find another for three months? You’re out. Have one kid and work for minimum wage? You’re under the poverty level, and you’re out. Get run over by a truck and end up disabled? You’re likely to become a public charge and you’re out.

But let’s say you are lucky, and you manage to be employed the entire six years with an income higher than the federal poverty level. Then you can reapply for another six year RPI. During that time, you have to have an income that’s at least 25 perent higher than the poverty level for the entire six years. If you manage that, you get to pay more fees and apply for a green card — permanent resident status.

And then, in another three years, you can apply for citizenship. Over the course of the process, according to the Washington Post, the prospective immigrants

“would have to pay at least $2,000 in fines, along with hundreds of dollars in fees and taxes. And they would be required to learn English, pass criminal-background checks and prove they have lived continuously in the United States and have been employed regularly during that time.”

Agricultural workers get a somewhat faster path — only 10 years. Young people who entered the U.S. before they turned 16, and who meet other educational or military service requirements can theoretically get citizenship in five years.

Of course, all the times are theoretical. In practice, every immigration application that I’ve ever seen has lengthy wait times between filing the application and getting approval, and these wait times could add years to the process.

So — a long road to citizenship, a lot of roadblocks along the way, and the cruel irony that people who have been working the lowest-wage jobs in the country will have to maintain continuous, above-poverty-level employment or lose eligibility for permanent residence and citizenship. How’s that for a way to maintain an underclass of workers, living in fear of losing their jobs and disabled from protesting any abuses?

The 800+ page bill is still subject to negotiation. It could get better. It could get worse.

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