WASHINGTON – Hundreds of thousands of legal residents whose green cards don't have expiration dates may have to pay $370 to replace them, or risk criminal penalties.
A division of the Homeland Security Department on Wednesday proposed requiring legal residents with those cards to pay a $290 replacement application fee plus $80 for electronic fingerprints and a photo.
Those who repeatedly fail to comply face up to 30 days in prison and a $100 fine, under the proposal.
Citizenship and Immigration Services estimates about 750,000 legal permanent U.S. residents were issued green cards between 1977 and 1989 that lack expiration dates.
Green cards are proof of authorization to live and work in the United States. Legal residents must carry the cards at all times.
Under the proposal, legal residents would have 120 days to replace their cards.
If they fail to apply for a replacement, their green cards would eventually be terminated on a date to be set later. A terminated card would not invalidate an immigrant's status as a legal resident, but could make it hard to travel or get a new job.
Legal residents with cards that need to be replaced would not be individually notified.
The proposal is not final, but legal residents can begin applying now for a replacement if they choose.
The government wants to redo the photos and fingerprints to make sure the cards are updated and accurate.
"It's a security issue," said Bill Wright, Citizenship and Immigration Services spokesman. "It's making sure the right person has the right card."
For some legal residents who have criminal records, applying for a new card could lead to deportation. Immigrants who commit crimes varying from shoplifting to murder are considered deportable even if the crime occurred years ago and the immigrant completed a jail sentence or paid a fine for the crime.
"This is a way of asking people to come report themselves," said Crystal Williams, associate director for programs at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Citizenship and Immigration Services said in the Federal Register that it had considered expiring all pre-1989 cards and lowering the fee for replacing the cards.
But it ultimately decided against that because the agency would have to charge other immigrants to cover the costs.
In a news release, the agency said updating the card also will allow it to update cardholder information, conduct background checks and store fingerprint and photo information.
Williams questioned the agency's plan to publicize the card replacements mostly through its Web site and field offices. Since these are legal residents who have been in the country at least 18 years, many have little reason to visit immigration offices or the agency's Web site, she said.
Public comment on the proposal will be taken online at the Federal Register or by mail at Citizenship and Immigration Services through Sept. 21.