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Family-Based Immigration Petitions, Green Cards, and Waivers

In some cases, people are eligible to apply for immigration benefits based on their relationship to other people. For instance, a U.S. citizen can file a petition for his or her non-U.S. citizen parent, spouse, or child asking the U.S. government to give the relative permission to immigrate to the U.S. The U.S. Citizen may file petitions for his or her brothers or sisters, but these cases can take longer than cases involving immediate relatives (parent, spouse, or child). In addition, Green Card Holders (or, Lawful Permanent Residents) can also file petitions on behalf of their relatives.

Because many people are living in the U.S. without permission, people applying for immigration benefits based on their relationship to a family member frequently have to ask the U.S. government for a waiver in order to obtain the immigration benefits they are seeking. These waivers come in many different forms, but they frequently involve a demonstration of hardship to a qualifying relative (for more information about “hardship to qualifying relatives”, see Deportation Defense below).


Citizenship/Naturalization Applications

The final step in the immigration process is the filing of an application for citizenship (also known as Naturalization). Depending on the way a person got the green card, a Green Card Holder is eligible to apply for citizenship after having the green card for five (or sometimes three) years. Naturalizing into a U.S. citizen is a multiple step process. First, the Green Card Holder must submit an application for citizenship (usually, USCIS FORM N-400). Second, the applicant must attend an interview. During the interview, the applicant will have to successfully complete the English Language and Civics Tests. Once the tests have been passed and the application approved, the applicant must swear an oath of citizenship before receiving the Naturalization Certificate.


U-Visa Petitions (for victims of crime, and certain family members of the victim)

U VISAS are important nonimmigrant visas that allow victims of certain crimes to eventually obtain their green card (or, lawful permanent residency). To obtain a U VISA (or U Nonimmigrant Status), a person must meet several conditions. Most importantly, the person must have been the victim of a one of the crimes listed below, and must have cooperated with the investigation and/or prosecution of the criminal. If the victim also suffered substantial injuries, whether physical or emotional, then the person may be eligible for a U Visa. Once obtained a U Visa gives a person permission to live and work in the U.S. for four years (U-1 nonimmigrant status). Under some circumstances, if the U-Visa victim is married to a person without documentation, or has children without documentation, these family members may After having the U Visa for three years, the person is eligible to apply for a green card.

Crimes that qualify for U Visa

Abduction, Abusive Sexual Contact, Blackmail, Domestic Violence, Extortion, False Imprisonment, Female Genital Mutilation, Felonious Assault, Fraud in Foreign Labor Contracting, Hostage, Incest, Involuntary Servitude, Kidnapping, Manslaughter, Murder, Obstruction of Justice, Peonage, Perjury, Prostitution, Rape, Sexual Assault, Sexual Exploitation, Slave Trade, Stalking, Torture, Trafficking, Witness Tampering, Unlawful Criminal Restraint and other Related Crimes (which includes any similar activity where the elements of the crime are substantially similar), as well as attempt, conspiracy, or solicitation to commit any of the above and other related crimes.


Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

DACA RENEWAL: Because DACA only lasts for two years, the applicant must re-apply for DACA every two years. Visit the USCIS website for recently released details on the renewal process.

A new program initiated by President Obama in 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (commonly referred to as “DACA”) is not a path to a green card or citizenship. That being said, a person whose application for DACA is approved is allowed to live and work in the U.S. for two years.


Deportation Defense (aka Removal Proceedings)

Deportation Proceedings, also known as Removal Proceedings, are one way in which the U.S. government decides whether or not to deport a non-U.S. citizen. People living in the U.S. without permission are subject to being put into Deportation Proceedings, but people with green cards can also be placed in Deportation Proceedings if, for example, they commit certain crimes.

When a person has been given a Notice to Appear from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), that person is in Removal Proceedings. In some situations, the person in the Removal Proceedings can ask the Immigration Judge not to deport the person, but there must be a reason for the Immigration Judge to stop the deportation, which is known as obtaining relief from deportation.

There are several ways to obtain relief from deportation, including (but not limited to): Asylum, Withholding of Removal, protection under the Convention Against Torture, and Cancellation of Removal. Asylum is based on the applicant’s fear of returning to his or her country of origin. For instance, if a person is originally from Mexico, this person must express his or her fear of returning to Mexico. Withholding of Removal and the Convention Against Torture are based on the probability that an applicant would be harmed or tortured in the country of origin.

Applying for Cancellation of Removal is different from asylum or the Convention Against Torture because it is based on the person’s relationship to a U.S. citizen or Green Card Holder (“qualifying relative”), and the degree of hardship their qualifying relative would suffer if the person was deported.


Appeals to the Board of Immigration Appeals and U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals

A new program initiated by President Obama in 2012, Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (commonly referred to as “DACA”) is not a path to a green card or citizenship. That being said, a person whose application for DACA is approved is allowed to live and work in the U.S. for two years.

When a person loses their appeal to the BIA, that person might be able to appeal the decision in their case to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals by filing something called a “Petition for Review.” Not everyone can file a Petition for Review, and some people should not file a Petition for Review because there are immigration consequences (such as losing a grant of Voluntary Departure), so please consult a licensed immigration law practitioner before pursuing a Petition for Review.