Three Basic Immigration Laws You Need to Know
Immigration is one of the most talked about -- yet least understood topics -- in today’s headlines.
The major reason there are so many undocumented people here is that obtaining legal status or “fixing papers” is not as easy as one might think, said Peter Ashman, a Las Vegas based immigration attorney.
Ashman has more than 30 years of experience navigating U.S. immigration law and is the former chair of the Las Vegas chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association.
Below are the three basic immigration laws he thinks most Americans don’t understand:
1. Marrying a U.S. citizen doesn’t automatically make you one.
If a citizen falls in love with someone who isn’t documented, the couple could spend up to 10 years apart, Ashman said.
That’s because a 1996 law requires anyone who has lived illegally in the U.S. for more than one year to leave the country for 10 years.
So, undocumented spouses who want green cards have to return to their home country before they can apply for citizenship.
There is a hardship waiver that allows people to come back sooner, but Ashman said those are hard to get. The American spouse has to show he or she would suffer “extreme and unusual hardship” without their beloved.
“Immigration officers have broad discretion to define hardship as they see fit,” Ashman said. “Even if successful, the process easily can take two years and thousands of dollars in fees and costs.”
2. There isn’t a line.
The U.S. doesn’t have one line where people can pay money and wait when they want legal status.
U.S. Immigration is limited to people who are sponsored by an employer, who are being reunited with family already living in the U.S. or are being offered humanitarian protection.
Another wrinkle is that the asylum and family reunification lines can stretch for decades.
For example, married children of U.S. citizens who want to emigrate from Mexico can wait up to 20 years, according to a chart from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.
Other visas may be available through a job offer for certain temporary workers, Ashman said. However, if the prospective immigrant is here already without status, they are not eligible to file.
There is one more way into the U.S., and that’s through the annual Diversity Visa program. It gives about 55,000 green cards to people from certain countries each year. People from Mexico, China and India aren’t eligible.
Millions of people apply for these visas, so the odds of getting one are low.
3. Your parents becoming citizens can make you a citizen
Minor children who have green cards can automatically become U.S. citizens if their parents become citizens before their 18th birthday, Ashman said.
It doesn’t work in the reverse though.
Children born in the U.S. to non-citizens can sponsor their parents when they turn 21, but the law requiring people without the proper papers to leave for a decade would still apply.
Given the difficult nature of the application process, it is a good idea to only consult with experienced and ethical immigration attorneys, Ashman said. Only licensed attorneys have the knowledge and ability to represent clients before the United States Department of Homeland Security.
This article was presented and sponsored by the Law Offices of Peter L. Ashman. For more information visit their website or call (702) 735-1112.