Twilight Statuses: A Closer Examination of the Unauthorized Population
This policy brief examines the “twilight status” of two particular categories of immigrants within the United States’ broader undocumented population: those with legally recognized claims to eventual lawful permanent resident (LPR) status; and those with legally recognized temporary statuses, most often recipients of temporary protected status (TPS). Arguing that the contradictory treatment of twilight status holders—de facto partial recognition and simultaneous withholding of full lawful residence privileges—thwarts consistent application of the law and sends mixed signals that undermine the goals of the U.S. immigration system, the author proposes a number of policy changes and analyzes how these reforms would likely impact future migration flows.
The report finds that the twilight status of individuals with legal claims to eventual LPR status results from processing delays and quota backlog delays. As many have compelling family reunification claims and a sympathetic basis for undocumented presence, the author calls for policy changes that reduce or eliminate delays and clarify expectations that individuals must wait abroad for their visa priority date becomes current where delays still remain. Because annual legal admissions would thereby rise significantly, political realities may require numerical reductions elsewhere.
In the case of TPS beneficiaries, the author contends that these individuals should not be counted as undocumented—even if they happened to be undocumented before TPS designation—as TPS is a valid lawful status. Nevertheless, he recognizes that the United States has no good system for assuring or even encouraging departure when the TPS period ends. To address this reality, the author recommends better mechanisms and incentives that encourage timely return, specifically individual financial assistance and home country development initiatives funded by the Social Security contributions of TPS beneficiaries.