AUSTIN (KXAN) — Recent arrests by ICE have prompted many who are not in the immigrant community to ask why people who are in the U.S. illegally don’t just apply for citizenship. Immigrants and immigration attorneys say if the process were simple, there would be may who would’ve already applied.
“If there was a comprehensive immigration reform people would definitely try to get their citizenship,” Mayte Lara, an undocumented UT student says. “Right now because a lot of people came in illegally there’s no way we can even apply for papers.” Lara graduated in 2016, was her high school valedictorian and received a full scholarship to UT.
Lara came to the U.S. with her parents as a toddler, she was three. Immigration attorney Kevin Lashus says under those circumstances it’s nearly impossible for her to get her citizenship unless U.S. immigration law changes.
“The way that the system is set up now though if you are in the United States beyond a certain period of time and you do not leave the United States you are not entitled to a waiver of that inadmissibility,” Lashus says. He has nearly 20 years of law experience and once worked for Homeland Security.
The waiver he’s talking about is something most undocumented immigrants living in the U.S. now would need. The waiver is essentially the first step towards becoming a citizen. First, a person would have to go back to their home country, then return to the U.S. legally and then begin the process. Without the waiver, you can’t begin the process towards becoming a legal citizen.
“You’ve got individuals who are here, who have been unauthorized for a year. Once you reach a year, you’re permanently barred from seeking any sort of waiver,” Lashus says. “Folks who were here that have been in authorized for longer than a year they would find it impossible to reenter the United States in most cases.”
Lashus says the process gets easier if you can marry a citizen, or you have business assets that would benefit the U.S. both not options for Lara.
“If we have the opportunity to apply for citizenship for residency or anything in that area we would definitely do it we’re not like trying to disobey the law we’re all aware that we broke a long but it’s a law that is unjust to the people that are just trying to get a better life,” Lara says.
In order to apply for citizenship, you must also establish official immigration status with a green card.