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Structuring and Implementing an Immigrant Legalization Program: Registration as the First Step
Policy Briefs
November 2010

Structuring and Implementing an Immigrant Legalization Program: Registration as the First Step

Two competing visions for reform set the parameters of the U.S. immigration debate. Proponents of deportation-by-attrition argue that enforcement of U.S. immigration laws should expand to force unauthorized residents to leave the country. Advocates for comprehensive immigration reform support enforcement, but would allow unauthorized immigrants to earn legal status in the United States. While the latter alternative does not appear to be politically feasible in the short term, the former strategy will not be successful or produce desirable results in the long term.

This brief, one in a series on how to shape and administer an effective earned legalization program, argues that an essential first step to any type of legalization must be a registration process that rapidly identifies, screens, and processes potential applicants. This study concludes that the Department of Homeland Security could successfully lead and administer a large-scale legalization program only with a well-crafted bill, sufficient funding, an unprecedented mobilization of public and private stakeholders, and intensive planning.

The study favors solutions to encourage the largest number of potentially eligible persons to come forward during the registration process, as core goals of a legalization program would not be met is large numbers of unauthorized immigrants remain in the shadows of U.S. society.


Table of Contents 

I. Introduction

II. Why a Registration Program?

III.What Needs to Happen When: Work Responsibilities and Timeline for the Preregistration and Registration Process

A. Before Legislation Is Passed

B. The Preregistration Period

C. The Registration Period

IV. Vetting Registration Applicants: Criminal and National Security Screening, and Proving Identity and Continuous Residence

Screenings for Criminal, National Security, and Disqualifying Immigration Violations

V. The Mechanics of a Registration Program

VI. The Role of Community-Based Organizations