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The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA), Congress' attempt to clean up the problem of illegal immigration in the United States, puts a great number of undocumented alien families, mostly Mexican, to a hard test. Under IRCA's amnesty provisions, every alien must individually meet the eligibility requirements, such as having lived in the United States since before January 1, 1982. But many aliens who satisfy these requirements have spouses or children who do not. Thus, while eligible aliens may adjust to a legal immigration status, their ineligible family members must either leave the United States or remain illegally, subject to deportation when apprehended.

IRCA's failure to treat families as a unit forces many undocumented aliens to balance the opportunities of legalization against the potential disruption of their families: a harsh and unusual choice in the context of American immigration law, which incorporates the principles of family unity throughout the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). Numerically unrestricted admissions for immediate relatives of United States citizens, immigrant preference categories based on degrees of kinship, and suspensions of deportation based on hardship to immediate relatives who are citizens or permanent residents are three examples of the INA's deference and commitment to family relationships. Derivative status is the fourth. This common immigration principle, enjoyed by most alien families entitled to enter or remain in the United States, grants to spouses and minor children the same immigration status as the family's principal applicant.


Immigration Law | Law