Immigration: Registry as Means of Obtaining Lawful Permanent Residence

Registry is a provision of immigration law that enables certain unauthorized aliens in the United States to acquire lawful permanent resident status. It grants the Attorney General the discretionary authority to create a record of lawful admission for permanent residence for an alien who lacks such a record, has continuously resided in the United States since before January 1, 1972, and meets other specified requirements. The registry provision originated in a 1929 law. That law set the required entry date from which continuous residence had to be shown (known as the registry date) at June 3, 1921. The registry provision has been amended several times since 1929, most commonly to update the registry date. The first update came in 1940, when the registry date was changed to July 1, 1924. The registry provision underwent significant change in 1958. That year, the registry date was changed to June 28, 1940, and the registry requirements were revised. As a result of the 1958 changes, the registry mechanism became available to aliens who had entered the country illegally or who had overstayed, or violated the terms of, a temporary period of entry. The registry date was subsequently changed to June 30, 1948, and then to January 1, 1972, where it stands today. Since 1985, approximately 60,000 people have adjusted to lawful permanent residence under the registry provision. Bills to update the registry provision are before the 107th Congress. S. 562 and H.R. 1561 propose to change the registry date to January 1, 1986, while H.R. 500 would change the date to February 6, 1996. These 3 bills also would put in place a "rolling registry date" system, under which the registry date would advance in 1-year increments in each of 5 specified years. Taking a different approach, H.R. 2713 would require a minimum 15-year gap between entry into the United States and the filing of a registry application. Thus, if H.R. 2713 went into effect in 2001, individuals residing here since 1986 would be eligible for registry. INS estimated last year that if the registry date were advanced to 1986, as many as 500,000 undocumented aliens in the United States could acquire permanent resident status.

There is debate about the merits of advancing the registry date. Supporters maintain that long-time immigrants with strong ties to the country should be allowed to become lawful permanent residents. Opponents argue that aliens in the country illegally should not be rewarded with legal status and that advancing the registry date could encourage future illegal immigration. Registry can be viewed as a form of amnesty for long-term unauthorized residents of the United States. It differs in notable ways, however, from other mechanisms through which unauthorized aliens have acquired lawful permanent residence, such as the general legalization program enacted as part of the 1986 Immigration Reform and Control Act. This report will be updated as significant developments occur.