SPECIAL REPORT: THE COST OF LEGALIZATION

By Henni Espinosa, ABS CBN North America Bureau

June 5, 2013

SAN FRANCISCO – Lourdes Relanes has not seen her family in the Philippines for more than two decades. She grew up poor in Bicol and didn’t even get to finish elementary school. So when her American fiance offered to bring her to the United States, she grabbed the chance for a better life. But when she arrived in America, he broke up with her, leaving her not just with a broken heart, but with an expired visa.

“Para akong kandila na nauupos. Nalulupaypay ako pag naaalala ko na ganito ang sinapit ko,” she said.

But she did not return to the Philippines.

She instead, chose to stay here as an undocumented immigrant. These days she barely gets by on the few hundred dollars a month that she makes as a caregiver. But hope came in the form of the Senate’s immigration reform bill.

If this version of the immigration overhaul is passed, undocumented immigrants like Lourdes may finally gain lawful status by first becoming a registered provisional immigrant for the first six years– a status renewable for an another six years.

After ten years of lawful status, they can apply for permanent residency.

Three years after that, they could become naturalized Americans.

“I’m sure there are factions that are uncomfortable with the word ‘amnesty’, but the path to citizenship, the way it is in the senate bill right now, it’s not a gift. it’s something that’s earned,” said Alison Pennington, a staff attorney at the Asian Law Caucus.

Before the Reagan Amnesty in 1986, amnesty was only given on a case by case basis. The 1986 amnesty gave about 2.8 million undocumented immigrants the opportunity to get legalized.

Those eligible for legalization this time around have to pay a fine of $2,000 USD and $500 USD to register for RPI status. They have to be physically present in the u-s on or before december 31, 2011 and must provide proof of payment of federal income taxes.

They must be regularly employed from the time the RPI status was granted — allowing for brief periods of unemployment lasting no more than 60 days and they must be able to prove an income that is not less than a hundred percent of the federal poverty level.

To become legalized, undocumented immigrants must have no felony convictions or three or more misdemeanors. Even multiple driving under the influence convictions are now considered an aggravated felony.

While eligibility requirements could still change, Pennington said undocumented immigrants could prepare for them now by gathering documents that will show their continued residenceas well as work and tax records.

This early, they could get a tax assessment from a professional to determine how much they need to pay in back taxes.

The road is long but Relanes said the journey is all worth it.

“I have a simple dream: to legalize here and be with my family,” she said.

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