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Frequently Asked Questions and Glossary About Immigration Law

Get the facts from an immigration attorney you can trust

Coming to a new country is a stressful and often confusing process. Whether you want to leave for a better job, for an impending marriage or desperately need to flee your current location, you need answers. Immigration law involves a lot of paperwork and plenty of waiting, which would ideally be streamlined in order to admit as many people in need as possible to the country. Sadly, our system is flawed and leaves too many potential citizens with empty hands and unanswered questions for too long. Fortunately, our immigration lawyers can help provide some of the answers.

Glossary of Key Immigration Terms

Immigrant, asylum-seeker, refugee, ICE and USCIS: What do all these words and acronyms mean? Knowing the definition of terms surrounding the process of immigrating, or seeking refugee status/asylum, is incredibly important to anyone currently in the midst of the process. Our immigration lawyers explain:

Asylee – A person who cannot return to their country of origin; someone who seeks protection from persecution.

Citizenship Exam – Required during the naturalization process from Lawful Permanent Resident to citizen, this test covers the English language, U.S. history, government and civics.

DACA – Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, a program put into place to protect children who were brought to the United States.

Deportation – Removal from the United States.

DHS – Department of Homeland Security

First Generation – Someone born to an immigrant parent.

Green Card – Known by its color, this is a permit allowing a Permanent Resident to work and live permanently in the US. It’s generally valid for 10 years before renewal is required.

ICE – U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement federal agency, which is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

Lawful Permanent Resident – A person who has been given status to reside permanently in the US by USCIS.

“Mixed-Status” Family – A family unit that is comprised of both U.S. citizens or permanent residents, and at least one undocumented immigrant. Millions of families in the U.S. have this makeup, and most have at least one U.S. born child.

Naturalization – Upon success in getting citizenship through an application and passing the Citizenship Exam, this person is now “naturalized” and a U.S. Citizen.

Nonimmigrant – Students and tourists are some of the people who fall under this category. This status is granted to people who are in the country temporarily, and for a lawful reason. Visitors and students are required to hold permanent residence in another country to qualify.

Refugee – Outside of their country of origin, this person is unable to return due to persecution, or fear of persecution.

Sponsor – Usually a relative or spouse, they support an immigrant’s move into the United States. Typically referred to as “petitioning”, they usually complete an Affidavit of Support as part of the immigration process.

Undocumented Immigrant – Someone who is in the United States without an application in process, or documentation. This is against the law and grounds for deportation.

USCIS – United States Citizenship and Immigration Services

U.S. Citizen – Someone born in the United States, born to a U.S. citizen, or born in one of the U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, Guam or the Virgin Islands.

There are endless terms used in relation to immigrants and immigration law. Picking out the ones relevant to your case can sometimes feel like trying to find a needle in a haystack. If you, a loved one or someone you know is in the midst of an immigration crisis, contact us online or call today.

How does the immigration process start?

The immigration process most often, if not always, begins with an immigrant visa. This process begins with a petition, and almost always requires sponsorship from a U.S. citizen, prospective employer or permanent resident. A petition is filed with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services by a potential immigrant’s sponsor, and this must be approved before the visa application process can begin. If filing outside of the U.S., some countries have USCIS offices where filing can be done in person. If your country does not, filing by mail is the other option. Exceptions can be petitioned for, such as the need of an urgent medical procedure, threat to the applicant’s safety or having adopted a child.

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How long does it take?

Immigrating to the U.S. can take anywhere from less than a year to several years. To fully complete the process for citizenship, you need to become a lawful permanent resident and establish residency here for a set number of years. After your application is reviewed and accepted, you’ll be subjected to an interview, as well as a physical and fingerprinting. This process generally ends with a citizenship test that will assess your knowledge of English, U.S. history and civics.

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What is the refugee process?

The United States is the largest resettlement country in the world, taking in hundreds of thousands of refugees every year. The government decides who is and is not eligible for refugee status based on threats to the person’s safety. In the past, the U.S. has admitted and approved refugee status for people whose personal safety is in harm’s way due to their:

  • Race
  • Religion
  • Political views
  • Nationality
  • Membership in a particular social group

Sadly, people are swept up into situations that leave them vulnerable to the hatred of others, and refugee programs exist to help them reach safety. An applicant usually undergoes a thorough medical exam, as well as an extensive interview and cultural orientation. Refugees must maintain refugee status for 12 months before they are required to change their status to Legal Permanent Resident.

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What is DACA?

“Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals” is the name given to a program set up in 2012 that lets certain undocumented people stay in the United States. With this program, the government promises that it will not initiate removal proceedings against the undocumented person, so long as all rules of the program are followed. If an undocumented person arrived in the U.S. prior to their 16th birthday, was physically present on June 15, 2012 and has continuously resided in the U.S. since that date, they may be eligible for a renewable two-year period of deferred action, as well as a work permit. People who were brought to the States as children now have the opportunity to work and go to school. However, despite federal protection, “Dreamers” under DACA have still been wrongfully detained.

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How does deportation work?

All immigrants and potential citizens deserve the same shot at life that U.S. citizens already have, but sometimes that dream can be interrupted by unforeseen events and circumstances that are hard to overcome without help. Deportation, also called removal, is the process in which someone who has come to this country is taken out of it, and usually returned to their country of origin. Deportation can tear families apart, halt a student’s education and ruin the dream of someone who has given up their previous life with the hopes of building a new one here. Reasons the government can decide to deport someone include:

  • Breaking the law (committing a crime or being involved in illegal activity)
  • Being found guilty of marriage fraud for the purposes of immigration
  • Being found without proper immigration status in United States, including overstaying visa
  • Errors with your documentation; lying to the government to establish citizenship
  • Undocumented immigrant status

An Immigration Court will usually hear the case of someone at risk of deportation. If a removal order is approved, then ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) will carry it out. For an undocumented immigrant, the situation can be more complicated. If arrested for any criminal offense or victim of a widespread immigration investigation, someone who holds undocumented status can be at high risk for deportation. It should be noted that an immigrant does not have to let an ICE officer into their home without possession of a warrant. Even being pulled over for a traffic violation holds its own risks—the police may decide to contact ICE themselves.

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What should I do if I’m arrested for an immigration violation?

The police may hold a suspected illegal immigrant for up to 48 hours on ICE’s behalf until they are able to conduct an interview with them. Court proceedings may ensue if found guilty of unlawful entry of the U.S., overstaying a visa or committing a crime. An immigration defense attorney can help. Call today or contact us online for a free evaluation of your situation and what we can do to help you.

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Shown: Case managers and Attorneys Chad E. Jones and Kevin Kornegay.
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