Q What are my options if I am in this country and I am an undocumented immigrant?

There are a few ways you can apply for documentation or permission to stay in the United States. You could apply for:

(1) asylum;

(2) family reunification with certain family members who already have legal status or citizenship;

(3) visa if you are a victim of a crime or domestic violence in the United States; and

(4) being classified as a "special immigrant juvenile."

(5) Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA).


It is important to talk to your social worker and an experienced immigration lawyer to see if you are eligible to apply for any of these immigration protections.

Q How does someone become a citizen of the U.S.?

1.      By being born in the United States, or

2.      By having a parent who is a U.S. citizen at the time of a person’s birth, or

3.      By being adopted by a U.S. citizen; or

4.      By applying to become a citizen.

If you don't fall into the first two categories above, then before applying to become a citizen, you must first become a legal permanent resident (obtain "residency"). Being classified as a Special Immigrant Juvenile is one way of becoming a permanent resident (that is, of getting a green card) then applying for citizenship.

Q What does Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) mean?

Special Immigrant Juvenile (SIJ) refers to a classification or protection that our federal government gives to some immigrant youth under age 21 who have left their native countries because they suffered abuse, neglect or abandonment by their parents or caretakers. Once classified as an SIJ, you would be eligible to apply for a green card and obtain permanent legal resident status. In order to be classified as SIJ you need to complete the following steps:

STEP ONE: Your social worker and/or lawyer asks the Juvenile Court or a Probate and Family Court Judge to issue an order that states the following:

1)   You are not married
2)   You are under the age of 21
3)   You cannot return to live with at least one of your parents because he/she abused, abandoned or neglected you
4)   You would be better off (it would be in your "best interests") staying in the United States rather than being sent back to your home country.

STEP TWO: Your social worker and lawyer can take the order from the Juvenile or Probate and Family Court and ask the U.S. Government (United States Citizenship & Immigration Service or USCIS) to classify you as a "Special Immigrant Juvenile."

STEP THREE: If that request is approved then you can apply to become a Legal Permanent Resident of the United States, and obtain your green card.

Ask your social worker or lawyer to determine if you meet the requirements to apply for a Special Immigrant Juvenile Status and to make sure your judge knows you need an order with SIJ findings so you can apply to become a resident.
Tip: In many cases this court order must be obtained before you turn 18!  Don't wait until it is too late to talk to your lawyer or social worker about your immigration status!

If you are facing deportation or removal from the United States, and you are able to obtain classification as a Special Immigrant Juvenile from the USCIS, you can use the Special Immigrant Juvenile classification to prevent your deportation.

Q What are some reasons for being deported?

If you are in the United States without permission from the U.S. Government to enter, you can be placed in "removal proceedings" (deportation) in the Immigration Court. You also can be deported if you entered the country legally, but stayed longer than you were supposed to. Also, if you have committed certain crimes in the United States, the government may try to deport you. 

If you find yourself in any of these situations it is important that you attend all court hearings until your cases are resolved. Deportation is a very serious matter and you should not try to handle it by yourself. Get the help of experienced immigration lawyer to figure out what to do.

Q If I am undocumented, can I still attend college?

There is no law that requires proof of citizenship in order to attend college.  However, some schools have different acceptance requirements for undocumented immigrants.  You should research these policies before applying to a college to find out if they require proof of citizenship or legal residency in order to attend. Also, some financial aid (especially the federal government financial aid) that helps pay for college for some foster care youth cannot be used by students who don’t have documentation to be in this country. 

Q If I am undocumented, can I still get in-state tuition at public universities?

You are not eligible to receive in-state tuition at public universities if you are in Massachusetts unless you are a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident (green card holder). Because of this, you must pay out-of-state tuition at public universities in our state. In some instances financial aid or scholarships to private colleges or universities may be available. Such information, as well as costs of different colleges and universities, can be found on their web-sites. You will be eligible for in-state tuition by becoming documented through DACA. See next question, "How do I avoid being deported?"

Q If I am undocumented, can I still attend college?

If you were working and you lost your job and it wasn't your fault you may be able to get money from the state called unemployment benefits. If you quit or were fired from your job for a good reason, you can’t get money from the state. To get unemployment benefits, you must be looking for a job or be enrolled in job training.

Q How do I avoid being deported?

If the U.S. government is trying to deport you, you may have legal rights that will allow you to remain in the U.S.  To prevent being deported, you may be able to apply for:

1) Asylum: You may qualify for asylum if you can show that you suffered certain types of severe harm in your home country or will suffer severe harm if you are forced to return home.

2) Family-petitioning: You may be eligible to have a family member who is a legal permanent resident or a citizen apply to the U.S. government to get you permanent resident status. 

3) Special Immigrant Juvenile: See information above following question, What does Special Immigrant Juvenile mean?. 

4) Domestic violence and crime: If you have been a victim of domestic violence or the victim of a crime in the United States, you may be able to apply for an immigration benefit that leads to a green card.

5) DACA: A new form of help which means "Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals." DACA could prevent your deportation at least for a couple of years, depending on your situation. For more information about DACA, see question, "What is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals?"

Q What is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)?

DACA is a special program announced by President Obama on June 15, 2012. It allows some undocumented individuals, between the ages of 15 and 31, to apply for protection against deportation, and to work legally in the U.S.for a two year period.

DACA can delay your removal from the United States for a two year period and maybe longer.

In order to qualify for DACA you must:

1. Have come to the U.S. before turning 16.

2. Have lived only in the U.S. since June 15, 2007, up to the present

3. Have been under the age of 31 and undocumented on June 15, 2012

4. Be in school, have finished high school, have your GED, or have been honorably discharged from the armed forces of the U.S.

5. Have not been convicted of certain crimes

6. Have been in the U.S. on June 15, 2012, and when you apply for DACA.

If you have DACA, you may apply to renew your status after the two year period expires. For more information, talk to an experienced immigration lawyer or check out the DACA website.  If you live in Massachusetts and become documented through DACA, you will be eligible for in-state tuition.