Immigration law is how the federal government controls who is able to come to the United States from other countries. The laws are passed by congress and enforced by the executive branch through agencies like US Citizenship & Immigration Services, Immigration & Customs Enforcement, and Customs & Border Protection.
The United States has a long and valued tradition of immigration. Our nation was founded by immigrants, and has welcomed waves of immigrants through the centuries. People born in other countries have always contributed to the development and economy of the United States. Some notable American immigrants include Alexander Graham Bell, Albert Einstein, Madeline Albright, Henry Kissinger, and Sergey Brin, cofounder of Google.
A U.S. citizen is a person with privileges and responsibilities to the United States. A person can be a citizen in three ways. First, a person can be born in the United States. Second, a person can be born outside of the country to a U.S. citizen parent. Third, a person can be born outside of the country and later go through the “naturalization process” (or, if under the age of 18, have a parent who naturalizes as a citizen).
Naturalization is the legal process by which a legal permanent resident adult becomes a citizen. Most legal permanent residents need to wait 3 or 5 years, pass a test on their knowledge of civics, demonstrate knowledge of English in an interview, and show good moral character.
Legal permanent residents (LPR) are people with permission to live and work in the United States indefinitely, as long as they do not commit certain crimes. Most people become legal permanent residents through close family members or employers for special jobs. The wait to become a LPR can be very long and the rules for special jobs are very complicated.
A visa is a temporary permission to be in the United States. There are many different types of visas: some allow just a short visit; some allow people to study, live, or work for years at a time. Visas can be difficult to get, particularly for employment.
Asylum is a way for someone who is present in the United States to stay here because it is dangerous to return to his or her country. The person must apply within one year of entering the country, and the danger of returning must be because of the person’s race, nationality, religion, political opinion, or social group.
Undocumented refers to a person who does not have legal permission to enter, stay, or work in the United States. About half of undocumented people came to this country on a visa, and stayed beyond its terms; the other half were never able to get permission to enter the United States.
Undocumented people are not eligible to receive public benefits from the Federal government. People without permission to stay in the country are at risk of being arrested and removed to their country of birth by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
Anyone living in Minnesota is able to attend school and college.
In addition, there is a special federal program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals that allows some people who came to this country when they were children to have protection from removal and to get a two-year work permit. To qualify, the person must have entered the United States when they were under the age of 16, entered before and continuously resided since June 15, 2007, and must have been born after June 15, 1981. The person must be currently enrolled in high school or a GED program, or have graduated. The person must not have any felony convictions, significant misdemeanor convictions, or more than three misdemeanor convictions, and must not pose a risk to public safety. In Minnesota, these students may also be eligible for state financial aid and scholarships to attend college.
Undocumented persons who are present in the United States and have been victims of a violent crime, physical abuse, or sex trafficking may be eligible for an adjustment of legal status. Various forms of relief are available by filing UVisa, TVisa, or VAWA applications. Some of these options require that victims assist law enforcement in the prosecution of the crime. It is important to speak with an attorney to assess both the potential benefits and risks of filing such applications.
Immigration laws are intricate and continually changing. It is very important that you contact an attorney to review the particular details of your case and to determine what protections may be available in your specific circumstances. Set up an appointment with an attorney through our online Self-Referral program by clicking here, or request assistance from an MNLRIS referral counselor here. You may also visit LawHelpMN to read articles drafted by some of our partnering agencies: LawHelpMN: Immigration.