JMHS ARTICLE: Paths to Lawful Immigration Status: Results and Implications from the PERSON Survey
December 10, 2014
University of California, San Diego
Center for Migration Studies
Catholic Legal Immigration Network, Inc.
Mary Meg McCarthy
National Immigrant Justice Center
Anecdotal evidence suggests that a significant percentage of unauthorized immigrants are potentially eligible for some sort of immigration relief, but they either do not know it or are not able to pursue lawful immigration status for other reasons. However, no published study that we are aware of has systematically analyzed this question. The purpose of this study is thus to evaluate and quantify the number of unauthorized immigrants who, during the course of seeking out legal services, have been determined to be potentially eligible for some sort of immigration benefit or relief that provides lawful immigration status. Using the recent implementation of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program as a laboratory for this work, this study attempts to answer the question of the number of unauthorized immigrants who, without knowing it, may already be potentially eligible for lawful immigration status. In surveying 67 immigrant-serving organizations that provide legal services, we find that 14.3 percent of those found to be eligible for DACA were also found to be eligible for some other form of immigration relief—put otherwise, 14.3 percent of individuals that were found to be eligible for DACA, which provides temporary relief from deportation, may now be on a path towards lawful permanent residency. We find that the most common legal remedies available to these individuals are family-based petitions (25.5 percent), U-Visas (23.9 percent), and Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (12.6 percent). These findings make clear that—with comprehensive immigration reform legislation or eligibility for administrative relief —legal screening can have significant and long-lasting implications on the lives of unauthorized immigrants and their families.