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Letter Regarding Harmful Criminal Bars in the Dream & Promise Act of 2019

Over 270 Organizations Urge Congressional Leaders to Amend the Criminal Bars to Eligibility in H.R. 6

The Honorable Jerrold Nadler
Chair, House Committee on the Judiciary
2132 Rayburn HOB
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Zoe Lofgren
Chair, Subcommittee on Immigration and Citizenship, House Committee on the Judiciary
1401 Longworth House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Lucille Roybal-Allard
2083 Rayburn House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Nydia Velázquez
2302 Rayburn House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

The Honorable Yvette Clarke
2058 Rayburn House Office Building
United States House of Representatives
Washington, DC 20515

February 8, 2021


RE: Criminal Bars to Legalization in H.R. 6, the Dream and Promise Act of 2019

Dear Chair Nadler, Chair Lofgren, Congresswoman Roybal-Allard, Congresswoman Velázquez, and Congresswoman Clarke:

We, the undersigned organizations, write to respectfully urge you to amend the criminal bars to eligibility in H.R. 6, the Dream and Promise Act of 2019, to ensure that the bill is more inclusive and that a waiver is available for all grounds of exclusion. We believe these changes are necessary to bring the bill in line with principles of racial justice and fairness. 

First, we would like to thank you for your longstanding commitment and leadership on the DREAM Act and efforts to fix our enforcement system. We share your commitment to getting the best version of the American Dream and Promise Act signed into law. In that spirit, we request that you bring the American Dream and Promise Act legislative text in line with the New Way Forward Act, and align it with President Biden’s U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 which we understand will not create any new criminal bars to legalization on top of the existing grounds of inadmissibility.

Making these changes is critical to ensuring that congressional leadership and the White House are presenting a unified vision of inclusive legalization. Eliminating the additional criminal bars to status will ensure that otherwise eligible people will not suffer unjust double punishment. It will also ensure a faster and fairer implementation process.

We applaud President Biden’s commitment to racial justice and acknowledgment that racial bias permeates our criminal legal system. Indisputably, Black and brown communities face disproportionately higher rates of arrest, prosecution, and incarceration. The same tough on crime era policies of the 1990’s that brought us mass incarceration and the rise in private prisons also dramatically expanded the range of convictions that made a noncitizen deportable and inadmissible. When Congress imposes criminal bars to legalization, it also imposes the racially biased consequences of the criminal legal system twice over, and often on the communities most impacted by structural racism. Even apart from the inherent racial bias, criminal legalization bars constitute a form of double punishment: people who have already completed their sentences then face the penalty of never achieving permanent status in this country and the perpetual threat of exile. Such barriers and threats frustrate the processes of rehabilitation and healing and run contrary to the goals of criminal justice reform.

  1. H.R. 6 should conform its standard to the New Way Forward Act.

Any criminal bars graft the racism of the criminal legal system onto the immigration system. Incorporating the lessons of the criminal justice reform movement, the New Way Forward Act (re-introduced on January 26) begins to undo the harms caused by the cruel and excessively punitive 1996 laws by amending the grounds of inadmissibility and deportability in current federal immigration law (which provide the basis for criminal bars to legalization under H.R. 6). Particularly at issue here, the New Way Forward Act repeals two especially broad and harmful grounds of inadmissibility: those that exclude individuals for any drug-related offense or for any offense deemed a “crime involving moral turpitude,” (hereinafter “CIMT”).

Consistent with that approach, grounds of inadmissibility that conform with the New Way Forward Act would be limited to subsections (2)(B), (2)(C), (2)(D)(ii), 2(E), 2(G), 2(H), 2(I) or (3) of section 212(a) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

The Reuniting Families Act, which was introduced in the last Congress, also incorporates a universal waiver, providing that any ground of inadmissibility or deportability may be waived for family unity, humanitarian, or other factors in the public interest. Providing the opportunity for those applying for benefits to seek a second chance is critical to ensuring that any legalization program gives every person a fair chance to seek protection.

H.R. 6 likewise should adopt the same inadmissibility grounds and waiver described above, showing a united front in pushing for broad, bold, and equitable legalization. Doing so solidifies Democrats’ position as being on the right side of history and makes a clear and unequivocal statement that the 11 million undocumented people in this country should have an unobstructed path to citizenship.

At the very least, H.R. 6 should be amended to reflect the standard put forth in President Biden’s bill, the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021 (hereinafter “the USCA Bill”). Rather than impose the excessively punitive criminal bars found in HR6, we understand that the USCA Bill does not add any new criminal bars to those already imposed by INA § 212(a). Under current law, individuals seeking to adjust their status to lawful permanent resident on the basis of marriage, family, or employment must show that they have not been convicted of any of the disqualifying crimes or categories of crimes under that section. Thus, the USCA Bill subjects would-be applicants to the same requirements green card applicants currently face. Additionally, and crucially, we also understand that the USCA Bill includes a universal waiver, which would permit USCIS to grant status to individuals who merited an exception based on the equities of their case.

In 2019, H.R. 6 was an important showing of solidarity with DACA-recipients and TPS-holders in the face of the Trump Administration’s cruel and racist attacks. However, in 2021, the legislation should go farther and demand a broad and equitable legalization program. Amending H.R. 6 to match the eligibility requirements of the New Way Forward Act or at the very least, the USCA Bill, would show that united front.

  1. The criminal bars of INA 212(a) are already extremely punitive.

While the USCA Bill makes great strides towards a more equitable approach to legalization, the criminal bars it imposes are still extremely punitive. There is no reason to impose additional barriers to citizenship on top of them. Any criminal bars to legalization impose a harsh and often disproportionate penalty; import the inherent racial bias of the criminal legal system into the immigration system; and inflict a double punishment. Moreover, INA § 212(a) already encompasses a broad list of offenses, including:

  • Any “crime involving moral turpitude” (with a one-time exception if the maximum sentence for the sole offense committed was ≤ 1 year and the actual sentence imposed was ≤ 6 months)
  • 2 or more offenses with an aggregate sentence of > 5 years
  • Any drug offense
  • Any person the government has “reason to believe” engaged in drug trafficking
  • Prostitution-related offenses
  • Money laundering
  • Human trafficking

This list encompasses very minor offenses. It is important to note that “crime involving moral turpitude” has no statutory definition, and has been interpreted to include minor property crimes, including shoplifting and using a fake bus pass. Therefore, because the exception only applies to one offense, a person twice convicted of shoplifting and sentenced to no jail time would still be barred. Meanwhile, the law does not provide for any exceptions for drug convictions, no matter when received, which runs counter to major legalization and reform initiatives of the past decade.

The version of  H.R. 6 that passed the House would impose these grounds and also impose the grounds of deportability found at INA § 237, as well as any felony, any three misdemeanors, or any crime of domestic violence -- no exceptions. The deportability grounds at INA § 237 include:

  • Any 2 crimes involving moral turpitude
  • Any “aggravated felony” offense
  • Any drug offense (with an exception for a first time marijuana possession)
  • Any firearms offense
  • Any domestic violence or stalking offense, or any violation of protective order
  • Any child abuse or neglect offense

Like INA § 212(a), this list reaches very minor conduct.

H.R. 6 would also require a “secondary review” process that gives the government the ability to deny an application based on a “public safety risk” finding that can be triggered by any conviction; juvenile delinquency proceedings; and even unproven, alleged conduct that is deemed gang-related. These provisions would harm exactly the communities that H.R. 6 aims to help, and would further entrench the racial inequities of the criminal legal system. The “secondary review” process would inevitably discriminate against young people of color who are already targeted based on national origin, neighborhood, and appearance, and result in biased decision-making that relies on “gang databases” repeatedly proven to be unreliable and riddled with biases.  Youth often have to explain in immigration court that having tattoos or wearing a soccer jersey from El Salvador are not indicative of gang membership; a new legalization program offers the opportunity to move away from these shameful due process violations. Twenty-six juvenile justice and child welfare organizations wrote to House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler in May 2019 urging him to oppose H.R. 6 unless these discretionary bars were removed.

Layering additional criminal bars to legalization beyond those found in INA § 212(a) and the USCA Bill is at odds with principles of racial equity and due process. Moreover, given the potentially extreme consequences of INA § 212(a), a universal waiver, such as that reportedly provided for in the USCA Bill and included in the Reuniting Families Act, a bill you cosponsor, is absolutely necessary.

  1. H.R. 6’s multiple layers of review could lead to inefficient and unfair implementation.

As written, H.R. 6’s multiple grounds of exclusion and especially its “secondary review” will frustrate equitable and speedy implementation. As discussed above, H.R. 6’s “secondary review” essentially provides a discretionary catch-all ground for denial. That degree of discretion invites disparate and discriminatory adjudication: different processing centers, indeed, different officers, will apply that ground differently, and some of them unfairly.

Moreover, the “secondary review” would also dramatically slow implementation of H.R. 6, should it become law. USCIS is already facing extreme backlogs; for example the current estimated processing time for a U Visa application is approximately five years. Additional layers of scrutiny only extend processing times. Furthermore, H.R. 6’s multiple and overlapping criminal bars will increase the complexity of adjudication, and with it the time required to approve an application. The “secondary review” compounds this problem, adding a whole layer of bureaucracy to an already difficult process.

Rather than invite discriminatory exercises of discretion and add to the long list of backlogged applications for relief, H.R. 6 should simplify its implementation by streamlining its review process and amending its criminal bars to conform to the New Way Forward Act, or at the very least, the USCA Bill.

We are in an exciting moment of opportunity. We hope that you will work with us to ensure that H.R. 6 fulfills its promise and helps over two million people achieve citizenship.



Adelante Alabama Worker Center


Advancement Project, National Office

Advocates for Basic Legal Equality, Inc.

Advocating Opportunity

African American Ministers In Action

African Communities Together

African Public Affairs Committee

Aldea - The People's Justice Center

Alianza Americas

Alianza Nacional de Campesinas

Alliance4Action Immigration Action Group

America’s Voice

American Civil Liberties Union

American Friends Service Committee

American Immigration Council

American Immigration Lawyers Association

American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC)

Americans for Immigrant Justice

Arab American Association of New York

Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC)

Arkansas United

Arriba Las Vegas Worker Center

Asian American Federation

Asian American Federation of Florida

Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund (AALDEF)

Asian American Organizing Project

Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles

Asian Americans Advancing Justice - Los Angeles

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | AAJC

Asian Americans Advancing Justice | Chicago

Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta

Asian Pacific Community in Action

Asian Pacific Institute on Gender-Based Violence


Bend the Arc Jewish Action

Black Alliance for Just Immigration

Black and Brown United in Action

Bridges Faith Initiative

California Collaborative for Immigrant Justice

Capital Area Immigrants’ Rights (CAIR) Coalition


Center for Constitutional Rights

Center for Immigrant Representation

Center for Law and Social Policy (CLASP)

Center for LGBTQ Economic Advancement & Research

Center for Popular Democracy

Central American Resource Center - CARECEN- of California

Centro de los Derechos del Migrante, Inc. (CDM)

Chapman & Roberts, P.A.

Church Council of Greater Seattle

Church World Service

Cleveland Jobs with Justice

Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights (CHIRLA)

Colectiva Legal del Pueblo

College and Community Fellowship

Colorado Immigrant Rights Coalition

Community Action Board of Santa Cruz County, Inc.

Community Change Action

Community Justice Alliance

Connecticut Shoreline Indivisible

Cooperative Baptist Fellowship

Dady Law Group LL

De Leon, Nestor &Torres - Attorneys

Defending Rights & Dissent

Deportation Defense Clinic at Hofstra Law School

Detention Watch Network

Disciples Refugee & Immigration Ministries

Dreamer Fund

Drug Policy Alliance


Empowering Pacific Islander Communities (EPIC)

End Streamline Coalition, Tucson AZ

Equal Justice Society

Equality California

Equality Labs

Esperanza Immigrant Rights Project

Fair Immigration Reform Movement (FIRM)

Faith in Public Life

Familia: Trans Queer Liberation Movement

Families Belong Together

Families for Freedom

Farmworker Association of Florida

FLIC Votes

Florence Immigrant & Refugee Rights Project

Florida Asian Services

Florida Asian Services Alliance

Florida Immigrant Coalition

Florida Immigrant Coalition

Foreign Born Information & Referral Network

Franciscan Action Network

Freedom for Immigrants

Freedom Network USA

Friends Committee on National Legislation

Grassroots Leadership

Haitian Bridge Alliance

HANA Center

Health in Justice Action Lab, Northeastern University

Hispanic Federation

Human Rights Campaign

Human Rights Watch

Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (ICIRR)

Immigrant and Non-Citizen Rights Clinic, CUNY School of Law

Immigrant Defenders Law Center

Immigrant Defense Advocates

Immigrant Defense Project

Immigrant Justice Corps

Immigrant Justice Network

Immigrant Law Center of Minnesota

Immigrant Legal Advocacy Project

Immigrant Legal Resource Center (ILRC)

Immigration Equality

Immigration Hub


Innovation Law Lab

Intercommunity Justice and Peace Center

Interfaith Council for Peace & Justice

Interfaith Movement for Human Integrity

Japanese American Citizens League

Jetpac Resource Center

Justice for Muslims collective

Justice For Our Neighbors-New York

KCS Korean Community Services

Kehilla Community Synagogue

Korean Community Services

Law Office of Linette Tobin

Law Office of Peggy J. Bristol

League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC)

Legal Action Center

Legal Aid Justice Center

Legal Services for Children

Lideres del Futuro

Long Beach Immigrant Rights Coalition

Los Angeles LGBT Center

Louisiana Advocates for Immigrants in Detention

Mackins & Mackins LLP

Maine People's Alliance

Mainers for Accountable Leadership

Make the Road Connecticut

Make the Road Nevada

Make the Road New Jersey

Make the Road New York

Make the Road PA

Mano Amiga Smtx

Maria Baldini-Potermin & Associates, P.C.

Mariposa Legal - Indianapolis

Mazzoni Center


Mennonite Central Committee U.S. Washington Office

Meyer Law Office PC

Migrant Justice

Minnesota Interfaith Coalition on Immigration

National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum (NAPAWF)

National Association of Social Workers

National Association of Social Workers - Texas Chapter

National Black Justice Coalition

National Center for Lesbian Rights

National Council of Jewish Women

National Council of Jewish Women California

National Council of Jewish Women Contra Costa Section

National Council on Independent Living

National Domestic Workers Alliance

National Employment Law Project

National Equality Action Team (NEAT)

National Immigrant Justice Center

National Immigration Law Center

National Immigration Project (NIPNLG)

National Justice for Our Neighbors

National Korean American Service & Education Consortium (NAKASEC)

National Lawyers Guild

National Lawyers Guild of Los Angeles

National Network for Arab American Communities

National Network for Immigrant & Refugee Rights

National Partnership for New Americans

Navigate MN

NCAAT In Action

NCJW Greater Long Beach & West Orange County

Neighbors Link

NETWORK Lobby for Catholic Social Justice

Nevada TPS Committee

New American Leaders Action Fund

New Mexico Immigrant Law Center

New Sanctuary Coalition

New York County Defender Services

New York Immigration Coalition


NorCal Resist

Northern Illinois Justice for Our Neighbors

Northwest Immigrant Rights Project

NYU Immigrant Rights Clinic

Oasis Legal Services

OCA -- Asian Pacific American Advocates

OCA Asian Pacific Islander American Advocates Utah

OCA Greater Washington DC Chapter

OCA South Florida Chapter

OCA-Greater Houston


Open Immigration Legal Services

Operation Restoration

Oregon Justice Resource Center

Oxfam America

Pangea Legal Services

Pennsylvania Immigration and Citizenship Coalition

People For the American Way

Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada

Project South

Public Counsel


RAISE (Revolutionizing Asian American Immigrant Stories on the East Coast)

Raizes Collective

Reformed Church of Highland Park Affordable Housing Corp

Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)

Rich Stolz, Executive Director, OneAmerica

Rocky Mountain Immigrant Advocacy Network

Safe Horizon

Sakhi for South Asian Women

SALUD-Multicultural Health Coalition of Storm Lake

Sampreshan Inc

San Bernardino Community Service Center

San Diego Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association

Santa Clara County Public Defender's Office

Santa Fe Dreamers Project

SB Law Group LLC

SEIU-United Service Workers West

Services, Immigrant Rights & Education Network (SIREN)

Silberman School of Social Work at Hunter College CUNY

Silicon Valley De-Bug

Silver State Equality-Nevada

South Asian Americans Leading Together (SAALT)

South Bay People Power

Southeast Asia Resource Action Center

Southern Border Communities Coalition

Southwestern Law School Community Lawyering Clinic

SPLC Action Fund

St. Mark’s Presbyterian Church

Students for Sensible Drug Policy

T'ruah: The Rabbinic Call for Human Rights

Tennessee Immigrant and Refugee Rights Coalition

The Advocates for Human Rights

The Bronx Defenders

The Door's Legal Services Center

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights

The Meyer Law Office, P.C.

The National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls

The Resurrection Project

The Sentencing Project

Transformations CDC

UC Irvine School of Law Immigrant Rights Clinic

UCLA Labor Center

UndocuBlack Network

Unidad Latina en Acción Connecticut

Unidos MN

Union for Reform Judaism

Unitarian Universalist Service Committee

United Front for Social Workers

United Stateless

United We Dream

University of Maryland Carey Immigration Clinic


Van Der Hout, LLP



Vera Institute of Justice

Veterans for American Ideals

Virginia Civic Engagement Table

Vital Immigrant Defense Advocacy and Services

Washington Defender Association

Washtenaw Interfaith Coalition for Immigrant Rights

Western Front Indivisible

Willmoth Immigration Law, LLC

Wind of the Spirit Immigrant Resource Center

Workers Center of Central New York

Working Families United

Yemeni American Merchants Association

Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights


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