New estimates of the undocumented population in the United States confirm a trend that has been apparent for several years: the number of people who become undocumented each year by overstaying their visa now greatly exceeds the number who entered with no visa at all. This suggests that our immigration laws—and our immigration-enforcement mechanisms in particular—are in dire need of updating.
According to a recent report from the Center for Migration Studies, about two-thirds of people who are undocumented in the United States today did so by overstaying their visa. In contrast, about one-third entered without a visa and many of those people are currently in removal proceedings. Overall, the number of undocumented immigrants in the U.S. has decreased from about 11.7 million in 2010 to about 10.7 million in 2017.
Many people likely overstay the visas they entered on to remain with family members, keep their jobs, live in relative safety, and enjoy a greater degree of political or social freedom than they are accustomed to back home. These are hardly nefarious reasons for wanting to stay. It is true that we must enforce our immigration laws, but we must not impose an unduly harsh penalty for an offense that is committed for such sympathetic reasons—particularly when our economy and society have proven so capable of absorbing these newcomers.
Evidence indicates that the overwhelming majorities of immigrants in general, and undocumented immigrants in particular, are not criminals—and have never even committed a serious crime. And yet the punishment for overstaying their visas and then leaving the United States to consular process is to be barred from reentering the United States for a period of either three or ten years, depending on how long they’ve been “out of status.” This is an example of punishment that exceeds the severity of simply overstaying a visa.
There are a few limited options to adjust status to become a permanent resident here in the United States if you entered on a valid visa and then overstayed. If you or a loved one has questions about your case and how to become a permanent resident, please call our office to make a consultation. You will be scheduled to meet with an experienced immigration attorney.
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