By CAMERON FULLER
Thousands of illegal immigrants nationwide collectively breathed a sigh of relief Monday when the House voted 355-57 to extend the filing deadline for illegal immigrants another three weeks to October 23.
In an effort to raise revenue and to give illegal immigrants the opportunity to obtain legal status, Congress provided a statute as part of the Immigration and Nationality Act in 1994 allowing immigrants to file for legal status while living in the United States. The statute expired September 30 of this year.
Under former circumstances, immigrants needed to return to their home countries and apply through the U.S. consulate in that country. Illegal immigrants who take advantage of the loophole provided in the Immigration and Nationality Act by filing for legal status in the United States are charged a $1,000 fine.
As the deadline approached, many immigrants began to worry about how strictly the law would be enforced. The Immigration and Naturalization Service warned that the deadline would still be in effect until both the Congress and the President approve of the measure. President Clinton is expected to sign the extension.
If immigrants do not meet the filing deadline, they must decide whether to remain in the country illegally or to return to their home countries and seek legal status through the U.S. consulate.
Returning to their home countries can prove to be an extremely challenging venture for immigrants. According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), the United States will not allow immigrants who depart from the United States after having lived here illegally for a sustained period of time return to the United States for at least three years. Some immigrants may not even receive clearance to return for ten years.
AILA believes the statute is beneficial for several reasons.
The fines levied will generate up to $200 million for the Immigration and Naturalization Service, and consular offices abroad will have a smaller workload.
In addition, AILA reports that 65 percent of those adjusting to legal status are close family members of U.S. citizens. The statute will help keep families together.
However, critics believe that the statute and the extension do more harm to the country than good.
They believe extending the deadline awards those who have entered the country illegally or who have overstayed their visas. They believe this is unfair to others who patiently and legally file for legal status through the consulates in their home country.
According to Emily Dobbs, an employee of BYU’s International Service, the approximate 2,000 visiting students here on VISA are legal until the time they graduate. They then have the option to request a special extension that allows them to stay in the country for one year to look for employment. At that point, the student must fare for themselves to receive legal status in the United States.