By Ray O’Hanlon
The outgoing Congress has thrown a lifeline to undocumented Irish immigrants. But it’s a short one.
Members of the House and Senate signed off on an omnibus spending bill late last week that included a revival of Section 245i, the immigration law provision that once allowed undocumented immigrants to legalize their status in the U.S. while actually remaining in the country.
245i had been allowed expire by Congress in 1998, thus creating a situation in which undocumented immigrants, Irish included, had to return to their native countries in order to apply for legal permanent residence.
However, the problem was that those who been undocumented for longer than six months automatically faced a three-year ban from the U.S. once they left U.S. territory.
Those who had been illegal for more than a year faced a 10-year ban, a sanction that made the idea of seeking a green card effectively moot.
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The last-minute move by the lame-duck 106th Congress last week restored 245i for a four-month period in 2001. That period will expire on April 30.
The move has immigrant advocates scrambling to see what the implications are for illegal immigrants during what appears to be an extremely narrow window of opportunity, but a window nevertheless.
"We’re studying the implications of the restoration of 245i and hope to be in a position after the holidays to provide information to immigrants as to how it can help them," said Regina Robinson, executive director of the Emerald Isle Immigration Center in New York.
Robinson said that EIIC is preparing to launch a publicity drive in the new year that would answer as many questions as possible.
"We’ll be making ourselves available to help people work on the nuances," she said.
One question that immediately arises is whether an undocumented immigrant can consider himself safe in the U.S. by simply applying under the temporary 245i provision.
245i had appeared dead earlier this year, but pressure from immigration advocacy groups, particularly those representing Hispanic immigrants, prompted expressions of support from the two main presidential candidates as well as a willingness on the part of President Clinton to sign some form of 245i back into the immigration code.
That he has done, but the time limit is certain to generate a scramble for legalization by illegal Irish in the coming weeks.