In the complex and ever-evolving landscape of U.S. immigration law, one area that has garnered significant attention and debate is the 212(c) waiver. This legal provision has played a crucial role in providing relief from deportation for certain immigrants with lawful permanent resident status. Understanding the history and origins of the 212(c) waiver is essential to grasp its significance in the realm of immigration law.

Defining the Basics: Citizenship and Green Card

Before delving into the intricacies of the 212(c) waiver, it is crucial to establish some foundational concepts. Citizenship, the ultimate immigration status, grants individuals full rights and protections under U.S. law. A Green Card, or lawful permanent resident status, is a significant step toward achieving citizenship, affording many rights and privileges but not all.

The Emergence of the 212(c) Waiver

Historical Context

The 212(c) waiver finds its roots in the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952, commonly known as the McCarran-Walter Act. This landmark legislation introduced a more comprehensive framework for immigration regulation in the United States. However, it wasn’t until the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965 that specific provisions relating to waivers of deportation began to take shape.

The Purpose of the 212(c) Waiver

The 212(c) waiver was initially designed to provide a measure of relief to lawful permanent residents facing deportation due to certain criminal convictions. This waiver aimed to strike a balance between the immigration consequences of criminal offenses and the individual’s ties to the United States, such as family, employment, and community contributions.

Understanding the Mechanics: How the 212(c) Waiver Works

The 212(c) waiver allows eligible lawful permanent residents with criminal convictions to apply for relief from deportation. To qualify, an applicant must meet specific criteria, including the length of residence in the United States and the nature of the criminal offense. It is crucial to consult immigration experts or attorneys for guidance on eligibility and the application process.

Changes and Challenges

The Impact of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA)

The landscape of immigration law underwent significant changes with the enactment of the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA). This legislation had far-reaching implications for the 212(c) waiver and dramatically limited its availability.

The Supreme Court Decision: INS v. St. Cyr

In 2001, the United States Supreme Court issued a landmark decision in INS v. St. Cyr, affirming that lawful permanent residents could still seek relief under the 212(c) waiver for convictions that occurred before the IIRIRA’s enactment. This ruling marked a pivotal moment in the history of the 212(c) waiver.

The 212(c) Waiver Today

Current State of Affairs

As of my last knowledge update in January 2022, the 212(c) waiver remains a topic of debate and legal contention. Its availability continues to be shaped by evolving immigration policies and court decisions. It is vital for individuals seeking relief under the 212(c) waiver to stay informed about the latest developments and consult experienced immigration attorneys.


The history and origins of the 212(c) waiver provide valuable insights into the evolution of U.S. immigration law. From its inception as a means to provide relief to lawful permanent residents with criminal convictions to the challenges posed by legislative changes, this waiver has undergone significant transformations. As an experienced immigration and criminal defense attorney in New York and New Jersey, I have witnessed firsthand the impact of the 212(c) waiver on the lives of many clients. It remains a critical aspect of immigration law, one that underscores the importance of balancing justice, due process, and the principles upon which the United States was founded.

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