Criminal Defense of Immigrants


§ 24.22 XI. Private Bill in Congress

Skip to § 24.

For more text, click "Next Page>"

Any member of Congress can introduce private legislation to create or maintain immigration status for an individual, including those with aggravated felony convictions.  When there are strong equities and no other options, one can attempt to obtain relief through a private bill.  Only a very small number of such bills are ever passed.[291]  It appears that a private bill will not be considered by Congress until the noncitizen has been ordered deported.  The DHS does not give an automatic stay of removal pending consideration of the request unless requested to do so by a Congressional Subcommittee.[292]  It is extremely difficult to get the subcommittee even to request a stay.  In 2004, only 10 to 20 of these private bills were pending in congress.  The Senate and House rules on this matter appear at[293]


Conservative U.S. Representative Bill McCollum of Florida once introduced a highly publicized private bill.  Although Rep. McCollum has supported harsh measures against immigrants, he introduced this bill on behalf of the son of a prominent Republican family who had been in prison for some years after being convicted of multiple charges of theft, burglary, forgery and trafficking stolen goods to support a drug habit.[294]

[291]  For a review of all grants of private legislation, see Maguire, Public Legislation and Private Bills (University Press 1997).

[292] See Operations Instructions 107.1(c).

[293] House Judiciary Print: Rules of Procedure and Statement of Policy for Private Immigration Bills. GPO Stock No. 552-070-27778-1.) See also 70 Interpreter Releases 597-602 (May 3, 1993; Griffith, Kati L, Student Article, Perfecting Public Immigration Legislation: Private Immigration Bills and Deportable Lawful Permanent Residents, 18 Geo. Immigr. L.J. 273-304 (2004).

[294]  See, e.g., “McCollum Makes an Exception,” editorial in the St. Petersburg Times of Florida (Jan. 20, 1999).




Maggio Kattar, Duane Morris and Penn State Law, Toolkit on Private Bills, Appendices,
News article on private bills contains good explanation of the process, strategy, and chances of success. Single-family immigration bills face great difficulty in Congress, McClatchy Newspapers, Tucson, Arizona (June 15, 2008),

Some useful information from the article:
  • Bill may be focused on individual or a family;
  • Person subject to bill may remain in U.S. while the bill is pending;
  • Bill may be reintroduced yearly;
  • If not renewed, DHS will attempt to deport the February of the following congressional session.
  • Since 1997, only 41 of 945 of these bills have passed (about 5%).
  • In the House, a representative must make a formal request for a private bill, in a case of "extreme hardship" at a public meeting of the immigration subcommittee.
  • The Senate does not require "extreme hardship" or a formal meeting of the subcommittee.
Duane Morris LLP, Maggio + Kattar, and Penn State Laws Center for Immigrants Rights have released a toolkit for practitioners on private bills and deferred action. Developed to help immigration judges, lawyers, public officials, and nonprofit groups navigate what has become a last-resort option for those facing deportation, the toolkit includes the following: 1) Best Practices from attorneys around the country; 2) summary of the laws and procedures governing deferred action and private bills; 3) sample letters of support, exhibit lists and legal briefs; and 4) a resource page. Penn State law students Nicole Comstock (graduated '10) and Linnea Ignatius (2L) worked diligently on this toolkit last Fall. Anna Gallagher and Denyse Sabagh provided excellent insights, as did the many attorneys acknowledged at the beginning of the toolkit.
The Private Bill Kit is on Penn States website.