Immigration is the process by which a person from one country relocates to another country on either a temporary or a permanent basis. Some countries have simple yet very strict immigration rules whereas other countries have more lax requirements. The immigration laws of the United States are complicated, vast, and in some ways strict, and in other ways lenient. Our U.S. immigration system centers on a few immigration “statuses” and the manner in which a person changes from one status to another. An expansive system of legislative statutes and regulations; administrative interpretations; judicial decisions; and individual adjudication standards make up our immigration legal system. It is rare to find an attorney with experience in every single area of immigration and even the most esteemed attorneys still have to research and seek guidance on how to handle issues outside his or her practice area. As human beings, we are always finding ourselves in trouble, and many fact scenarios do not fit squarely within the bounds of the law. But we are able to rely on experience and analysis of laws to help clients navigate this complex system.
Our immigration system classifies individuals into the following statuses:
- Nonimmigrants – Individuals here on a temporary authorized basis
- Lawful permanent residents (LPRs) or “green card” holders – Individuals who are authorized to remain in the U.S. on a permanent basis with open work authorization and the ability to travel; however they are unable to vote in U.S. elections, petition for some family members, hold a U.S. passport, obtain some U.S. government jobs, remain outside the U.S. for extended periods of time; and are still subject to deportation from the U.S. for certain criminal behaviors.
- U.S. Citizens – Like permanent residents, U.S. citizens are able to freely live and work in the U.S. but they are able to benefit from all the opportunities within the U.S. including the ability to travel for extended periods of time outside the U.S.; petition for parents, married children, and siblings; hold a U.S. passport; vote; obtain government jobs; and are not subject to deportation. Becoming a U.S. citizen is the highest “status” available to an immigrant and puts that person on the same level as a person born in the U.S.
- No Lawful Status – These individuals are commonly referred to as the “illegal aliens,” although we do not like to use this term. These are people who have entered the U.S. without lawful permission or who have overstayed their period of nonimmigrant lawful stay. While still protected by the Bill of Rights, individuals with no lawful status are subject to deportation from the U.S. and have no legal right to work or travel outside the U.S.
- Other Authorized Stays – The above categories do not cover everyone. The immigration laws can also grant temporary government authorized status to some people even though they are not necessarily considered in lawful status. These include people with Temporary Protected Status (TPS); deferred action (including “Dreamers”); and individuals in the process of applying for a resident or nonimmigrant classification.