Millions of Green Cards Unclaimed?

 In Family Immigration

More then 2 million undocumented immigrants may already be eligible to receive a green card through a family-based immigrant petition.

Last week, CNN reported that a $14.3 million lottery prize went unclaimed in Arizona. The winner had 180 days to sign the back of the ticket and bring it to a lottery office to claim the prize. The deadline came and went and the winner never came forward. The story kicked off a national debate. Could you live with yourself if you knew that you blew your chance to take home $14.3 million? If you were that winner who failed to claim the prize, would you even want to know?

More valuable than a lottery ticket?

What if I told you that millions of people living in the United States are passing up on something that is far more valuable? A recent study by Immigrants Rising found that a large number of undocumented immigrants qualify for lawful permanent resident status (i.e., a “green card”). According to the study, 21 per cent of respondents qualified for a green card through a family-based immigrant petition. Imagine if that is true of the approximately 10.5 million undocumented immigrants nationwide. Over 2.2 million people may qualify for lawful permanent residency and not even know it. That is like having 2.2 million green cards going unclaimed!

I frequently meet with new clients who are in this exact situation. Often, they come to me after they have already been placed in deportation proceedings. During our consultation, we discover that they could have obtained a green card many years ago. In fact, they could have avoided the deportation process altogether. Many of them have lived in the United States for decades and have developed deep roots here. A green card would allow them to continue to be with their husbands, wives, children, and parents without the constant fear that ICE will come knocking on their doors. A green card would allow them to obtain employment authorization, opening up greater opportunities to make a living. And after 3 to 5 years, a green card would allow them to become a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Is a green card as valuable to these clients as a winning lottery ticket? I would bet that each one of them would say that it is priceless.

Many are afraid to seek help

It may seem hard to believe that so many people who are eligible for a green card would not apply for one. The Immigrants Rising study helps to explain why. Twenty-one per cent of the respondents reported that they were afraid that seeking legal assistance could lead to deportation. It’s like the old saying, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” If you have been living in the U.S. for decades and have never had a run-in with immigration authorities, why would you want to change anything?

You don’t have to be afraid

I get it. Sometimes it may seem like it is best to do nothing. But there are risks that you should be aware of. Even if you are eligible to apply for permanent residency now, it does not mean that you will always be eligible. Also, if you are placed in deportation proceedings, it may become more difficult to prove that you are eligible for permanent residency.

I highly recommend that every undocumented immigrant seek the advice of an experienced immigration attorney. Licensed attorneys across the country are bound by the attorney-client privilege and the duty of confidentiality. Your attorney is on your side. He or she is not allowed to turn you in to ICE or reveal anything that you say without your permission. If you have any question that your attorney is properly-licensed, you can look him or her up on your state bar’s online directory. In Pennsylvania, you can search for the lawyer by name here.

It is important to know your options. The sooner you do so the better.

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