Government Implements New Guidelines for Sponsoring Immigrants
Angeles Negrete Lares, The Brownsville Herald (TX), Mar. 22
Hunched over a desk in his cluttered office at Madison Street, Benigno Peña furrows his brow and frets about the future.
For 20 years, he has helped immigrants in the Rio Grande Valley process their requests for legal permanent residence.
With the latest in a string of new poverty guidelines pending, never has the process become so elusive, said Peña, who oversees the non-profit South Texas Immigration Council offices in Harlingen, Brownsville and McAllen.
Peña said these new guidelines will “shut the door on a lot of people.”
“Very few people will be able to be legalized,” he said.
The new guidelines were published Feb. 11 in the Federal Register by the Department of Health and Human Services and will take effect April 1, Peña said.
The guidelines increased legalization fees by $300 to $500 and also increased how much people must earn to sponsor legal permanent residents.
According to federal guidelines, U.S. residents who want to bring foreign relatives here must agree to shoulder financial responsibility for repaying public benefits that the new immigrants receive. They must also prove their income is at least 125 percent above the federal poverty level.
The poverty level is recalculated and published annually for the Office of Management and Budget by HHS. The levels are increased by a set dollar amount based on the number of persons in the household. The levels are so high, some say, that few first-generation U.S. families in poor, rural areas such as the Valley will be legally able to sponsor family members.
“If you simply make the minimum wage, that is adequate if you want to stay here. But not if you want to be reunited with your family,” Peña said.
The new regulations affect U.S. citizens and legal immigrants seeking to sponsor spouses, parents, siblings and children, including children adopted from other countries. That family-based visa category normally encompasses about 486,000 applicants a year.
According to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services Web site, the current poverty levels mean, for example, that a would-be sponsor in a four-person household must earn at least $23,000 to bring in relatives.
For the same number of people, the 2004 poverty guidelines indicate that the sponsor needs to earn about $23,563 — a 2.5 percent increase.
Most immigrants who are sponsored under this financial agreement will be barred from federal means-tested public benefit programs for five years. These programs provide food stamps and other welfare benefits to low-income people.
Some Matamoros residents said these new guidelines are a difficult obstacle for legalization.
“They always try to put a new obstacle in our way,” Leonel Cruz said.
Cruz is a Matamoros resident who wants to apply for his legal permanent resident card with his brother as a sponsor.
“Imagine, my brother works as an electrician and he earns about $15,000 a year. Do you believe he can sponsor me with that amount?” he said.
“I don’t why the migra insists on putting more barriers for the people who want to apply (for citizenship) the right way, legally.”
Cruz said it will be hard to be sponsored by his brother, who gained his citizenship last year.
According to federal requirements, the sponsored immigrant is counted when calculating the family size, but the immigrant’s potential income is not counted toward the required household income figure.