With the state's new immigration law taking effect, immigration agencies are being flooded by those seeking citizenship. Some Tulsa-area immigration lawyers say they've seen ten new clients a week for the last three months. The News On 6's Ashli Sims reports on the steps involved in becoming a legal resident of the United States. Becoming a citizen can cost thousands of dollars and it can take years to complete the process.
"Depending on the circumstances it could take years. It could be never. I mean there are some people who will never qualify," said immigration attorney Cynthia Hess.
Cynthia Hess is an immigration attorney and adjunct professor at the University of Tulsa's law school. With the passage of House Bill 1804, her law firm has seen an influx of immigrants. Some are legal. Some are not.
"If someone enters legally, depending on the circumstances usually either family or employment and some other ways, it could be fairly easy. If someone enters, illegally it's fairly problematical," said immigration attorney Cynthia Hess.
The first step to becoming a citizen is getting a green card, which makes you a legal permanent resident. To do that, you have to be sponsored either by a close family member or an employer. If you're married to a U-S citizen and enter the country legally, the process is typically streamlined and you could get a green card within about a year.
But, marriage to a U-S citizen isn't a guarantee. Andrus Rodriguez is a citizen married to an illegal. She's afraid her husband's status will split her family and scar her children.
"I know it's going to affect them. They've already built up a relationship with him here, so to try and break up a family because of his status, even though we're in the process of it, it's going to be hard for them," said Tulsan Andrus Rodriguez.
Illegal immigrants wanting to become legal have to return to their home country and can be barred from re-entry into the U.S. for three to ten years.
"If someone's been here more than one year and they leave the country, there is a ten-year bar to re-enter the country. Even if they're married to a U.S. citizen," said Tulsa immigration attorney Cynthia Hess.
If a U.S. citizen wants to sponsor a sibling from Mexico or India, it could take 13 to 14 years. And, it still takes several years of continuous residency after that before you can shake the judge's hand as a citizen.
There are some resources to help immigrants on the path to citizenship. The YWCA's Multicultural Center has four accredited U-S Citizenship and Immigration Services counselors. And, Catholic Charities also has an immigration department.
Experts warn you should make sure counselors are accredited in immigration services. If you hire a lawyer, make sure they specialize in this area.
Originally aired 11/1/2007 6:00 PM - Updated 11/2/2007 9:07 AM