Gloria Carrillo has spent a good part of the past two decades seeking legal status. She applied for political asylum after coming to the United States in 1991 from her native Guatemala, which at the time was embroiled in a civil war.
But when the war ended in 1996, her asylum case ended, too, and with it her permission to work legally. Other attempts at a green card have since failed, including an appeal to the Ninth Circuit Court.
Today, Carrillo has a husband and two U.S.-born daughters. She completed high school and attended a year of college here, and has deep roots in this country. She also has an outstanding voluntary deportation order from 2003, when her court appeal was denied. Her status is a constant burden.
“Every morning when I have to bring my kids to school, I’m scared that someone can knock on my door and that it will be immigration," says Carrillo, who lives with her family in Pomona. "When I go to work, I’m worried about what if we get pulled over by a cop and he starts asking questions. I get nervous about it.”
Attorneys that Carrillo has consulted with over the years have told her she’s vulnerable, especially with a deportation order on record. But now, a provision in the Senate immigration reform bill introduced this month would allow some people like her to pursue provisional legal status. It would apply to three groups of immigrants affected by deportation, says Alma Rosa Nieto, a Los Angeles immigration attorney.
"One would be those that are in proceedings presently and they are before an immigration judge," Nieto says. "Group number two would be those who have already had an order of removal, and have failed to depart or comply with that order. The last group would be those who have left the U.S. post-December 31 2011, and they would also be able to also apply from outside the United States.”
That the bill proposes this kind of clemency for deportees, especially some who have already left, is unusual, says Kevin Johnson, an immigration law scholar at UC Davis.
"Every once in a while you’ll see a court order someone who is deported to be brought back if they were deported in violation of the law, but this is not deportation in violation of the law," Johnson says. "So it is somewhat extraordinary.”
But it wouldn’t open the proverbial floodgates. To start with, people ordered deported for criminal reasons wouldn't qualify. Those who are still in the U.S. could apply to have their deportation case terminated — or reopened, as in Carrillo’s case. But it’s trickier for those who have already left.
The bill only mentions deportees who left the U.S. after the end of December 2011, meaning the number that could seek to return would be limited. In fiscal year 2012, more than half those deported had felonies or misdemeanors, making them ineligible. And even those deported for non-criminal reasons must be the spouses, parents or children of U.S. citizens or legal residents.
Legal experts familiar with the Senate bill say people such as Carrillo, who are still in the U.S. and are otherwise law-abiding, would have the best prospects. After years of thinking she had no more recourse, Carrillo is cautiously optimistic.
“Right now I am just hoping it will [be passed]," Carrillo says. "I know it will cost a lot of money. If it comes up and we don’t have the money, we will sell whatever we have so we can get at least something for sure in this country, not afraid any more that we will get cut, and then [wonder] what will happen to our kids.”
The Senate immigration reform bill is being debated, while several bills from the House are anticipated soon.