The following information provides a very general overview of immigration matters and does not constitute legal advice. Because immigration law is complex and ever changing, and sadly, sometimes unforgiving, it is essential that anyone contemplating applying for an immigration benefit or facing removal from the United States consult an experienced and conscientious immigration attorney.
Lawful Permanent Residence
A Permanent Resident Card (Green Card) allows someone to permanently live and work in the United States and travel abroad. A person may obtain a Green Card through a family member, an employer, asylum or refugee status, or through cancellation of removal granted by an Immigration Judge. If the applicant for the Green Card lives in the United States, she will apply for adjustment of status to a lawful permanent resident and be interviewed by USCIS at a local office. If the applicant for the Green Card lives abroad, she has to apply for an immigrant visa and be interviewed by a State Department officer at a U.S. consulate located usually in the applicant’s country. If the applicant is inadmissible to the United States for certain criminal convictions or for immigration fraud, she will have to receive apply to USCIS for a waiver.
Most foreign nationals that become U.S. citizens gain their citizenship by applying for naturalization after they have been a lawful permanent resident (Green Card holder) for 5 years (3 years if they got their Green Card through a bona fide marriage to a U.S. citizen spouse). An applicant for naturalization must file an extensive application with USCIS and pass a test on American history and civics and pass a reading and a writing test.
Deportation or Removal
If the government believes that a foreign national is in the country in violation of the immigration laws, the government will often institute removal proceedings that will put the person before an Immigration Judge. The person has a right to a lawyer, but the government will not pay for the lawyer like in criminal cases. The person must hire a lawyer or get one that will represent the person for free. Studies have universally shown that people that have attorneys in removal proceedings are much more likely to succeed than those that go unrepresented. Another difference from a criminal case is that the government’s burden of proof is never the “beyond a reasonable doubt” standard used in criminal courts, but often a lesser burden of proof such as clear and convincing evidence. If the person misses an Immigration Court hearing, the Immigration Judge can order the person removed. If the person loses the case, she can appeal to the Board of Immigration Appeals. If the Board of Immigration Appeals denies the appeal, the person may be able to appeal to a federal circuit court of appeals, and then to the United States Supreme Court.