Unfortunately, the only forgiveness that existed for entering illegally was under INA 245(i) which states that if he had an I-130, I-140 or Labor Certification properly filed for him ON or BEFORE April 30, 2001, AND he could prove that he was inside the U.S. on December 21, 2000 unless the I-130, I-140 or Labor Certification was filed on or before January 14, 1998, and then he could pay a $1000 penalty and adjust status to U.S. Lawful Permanent Residency. If he did not have any of those types of applications filed for him before that date, then he has the following options:
1) Wait for the immigration reform that comes out. If it is approved the way that they are intending, then he may be able to get Residency if he entered the U.S. early enough.
2) Apply for Asylum (he had to have done this within the 1st year of being in the U.S. unless there is a credible excuse or changed country conditions), Withholding of Removal, Convention Against Torture, or Cancellation of Removal. The first three things are if he fears to return to his home country because he believes that he will be specifically targeted due to his race, religion, nationality, social group or political opinion and that he runs a high risk of great bodily injury, torture, or death as a result. The last, Cancellation, he would have to prove that he has at least 10 years in the U.S. AND he must also prove that if he is deported, a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident that depends upon him will suffer exceptional and extremely unusual hardship. This hardship must be something more than emotional separation hardship or financial hardship, so it is difficult to get.
3) If you are a U.S. Citizen, you could file an I-130 for him here in the U.S. (which will give him no legal status), but once that I-130 is approved, really the only thing he can do is leave the U.S. and apply to come back in at the U.S. Embassy/consulate in his home country as the spouse of a U.S. Citizen. At that point, they will want to deny him because he entered illegally and stayed. So he would have to apply for an I-601 waiver (forgiveness) and to get this waiver he will have to prove that his spouse will suffer extreme hardship if he is not allowed back in to the U.S. These waivers are very difficult to get. The reason they are difficult to get is because the hardship probably will need to be more than just economic hardship or emotional separation hardship. So because they are difficult to get, no one wants to risk leaving the U.S. and getting stuck outside for 10 years if it isn't granted.
You can look at this link to get more information on I-601 waivers. It is from the U.S. Embassy in Syria, but it is a good description and the process should be similar in all U.S. Embassies.
and here is another link:
And here is a link to what extreme hardship is:
However, now there is the new I-601A waiver, which isn't really a law, per se. It is a new procedure. What has changed is that before, a person had to leave the U.S. and spend around 15 months or so while waiting for their appointment at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate in their home country and then HOPE that they got approved, but the change is that now the same person can apply inside the U.S., get a pre-approval, and then with that pre-approval they can leave the U.S. for just a few days or even a day, present themselves for a scheduled appointment at the U.S. Embassy or Consulate, and then get the final approval and come back as long as there are no other reasons of inadmissibility, just having entered the U.S. illegally or having overstayed. Here is an official link:
I am truly sorry for the bad news, but the options are very limited at the moment. I do think the I-601A is a good choice at this point. Regardless, at least you know the truth and that will keep you out of the hands of unscrupulous attorneys that are looking to take advantage of a desperate situation to charge thousands of dollars for something that has very little chance of producing a positive result.
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