By Lisa Parisio 

The administration of President Joe Biden ran on a platform that it would forge a pathway to citizenship for 11 million undocumented people in the United States. This long overdue reform would provide immeasurable relief to individuals and families across the nation and have far-reaching benefits into every corner and layer of our society. Ultimately, it would confront the challenges and reality of our deeply inaccessible, limited U.S. immigration system. 

While bold, comprehensive action has not yet been achieved, a crucial piece of federal legislation that was introduced on July 20 is on the table. By updating a section of U.S. immigration law called “the registry,” it would provide a pathway to citizenship for millions of people who have lived in the U.S. for at least seven years and who meet other requirements.  

The registry has been a part of the law since 1929. It allows immigrants who have lived in the United States since a certain cut-off date (and have met other extensive requirements) to apply for permanent status. This registry cut-off date has been updated over the course of U.S. history – most recently under the Reagan administration in 1986, which set it at January 1, 1972. So, in order to be eligible to apply for a green card through the registry provision of the law, one of the requirements is you must have lived in the U.S. since Jan. 1, 1972 – fifty years ago. 

These periodic updates recognize that without advancing the registry cut-off date, millions of people who call the U.S. home would have no opportunity to secure a green card or citizenship. In other words, there is no other pathway through the U.S. immigration system without Congress acting. There is no line for people to get into. 

Historically, action to update the registry date has been bipartisan, which is deeply significant in today’s world. People across the aisle have recognized that it is good policy for all of us to make sure that more members of our society can best provide for themselves and their families, find greater safety and security, put down strong roots and grow, dream, participate, achieve, and thrive. It was true in 1986 under the Reagan administration and it’s true today. 

Here in Maine, updating the registry would create a pathway to permanent status for many U.S. residents such as farm workers, Dreamers, Temporary Protected Status holders, and COVID-19 essential workers who have lived, worked, and called Maine home for many years. Even more would benefit from larger, comprehensive immigration reform. From registry to comprehensive reform, these doable, necessary, and pragmatic measures would open up doors for Maine’s immigrants and for our state as a whole. 

If you are fortunate enough to have the right to vote and have a say in the government, laws, and policies under which we all live, make sure to ask all candidates on the ballot this fall – from local to state to federal races – where they stand on immigration issues. For so many Mainers, a path to citizenship can’t wait. 

Learn more about the U.S. immigration system and why there is no line by reading this fact sheet from the American Immigration Council: