Skip to main content

Immigration reform should include an effective legalization process that respects families, protects victims from abuses and crimes, and acknowledges the contributions of long-term residents.

The large and highly vulnerable unauthorized immigrant population in the US faces many unnecessary hardships under the current immigration system. To be effective, any revision of the system will need to be coupled with a program of legalization for unauthorized immigrants currently in the United States. Such a legalization process should be clear and straightforward, and its eligibility criteria should be non-discriminatory and anchored by the values of fairness that the US has long espoused.

Recommendations: The United States should put in place a revamped legalization process that is forward-looking and includes opportunities for those who are currently unfairly disqualified from applying for legal status. The process should:

  • Include immigrants of limited means.
  • Include procedural safeguards such as confidentiality and an ability to appeal decisions to a higher authority.
  • Ensure that vulnerable immigrants (for example, youth, the elderly, and persons with mental disabilities) have access to assistance in navigating the process.
  • Recognize the special ties to the United States established by immigrants who have lived in the US from a young age.
  • Ensure that unauthorized immigrants who under existing law may be barred from the United States, such as for immigration offenses or criminal convictions, are given the opportunity to overcome these bars and apply for legalization if they are able to offer evidence of current good moral character, long residence in the United States, family ties, military service, and similar factors in their favor.
  • Create mechanisms that allow future legalization of unauthorized immigrants if certain requirements are met, so that unfair treatment of immigrants is not replicated in future generations.


Human Rights Watch reports on related issues:

No Way to Live: Alabama’s Immigrant Law

Turning Migrants Into Criminals: The Harmful Impact of US Border Prosecutions

Tough, Fair, and Practical: A Human Rights Framework for Immigration Reform in the United States

Forced Apart: Families Separated and Immigrants Harmed by United States Deportation Policy

Forced Apart (By the Numbers): Noncitizens Deported Mostly for Nonviolent Offenses

Cultivating Fear: The Vulnerability of Farmworker Women and Girls to Sexual Violence and Sexual Harassment

Fields of Peril: Child Labor in US Agriculture

Blood, Sweat and Fear: Workers’ Rights in U.S. Meat and Poultry Plants


Your tax deductible gift can help stop human rights violations and save lives around the world.