What are my options if I am an undocumented immigrant?
There are a few ways you can get permission to stay in the United States.
You could apply for:
- family reunification with certain family members who already have legal status or citizenship;
- visa if you are a victim of a crime or domestic violence in the United States; or
- being classified as a "special immigrant juvenile."
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.
How does someone become a citizen of the U.S.?
- By being born in the United States, or
- By having a parent who is a U.S. citizen at the time of a person’s birth, or
- By being adopted by a U.S. citizen; or
- 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 a green card).
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.
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 all the following:
- You are not married,
- You are under the age of 21,
- You cannot return to live with at least one of your parents because he/she abused, abandoned or neglected you,
- 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: An immigration lawyer takes the order from the Juvenile or Probate and Family Court and asks the U.S. Government (United States Citizenship & Immigration Service or USCIS) to classify you as a "Special Immigrant Juvenile." This step must be completed before you turn 21.
STEP THREE: If that request is approved you can apply to become a Legal Permanent Resident of the United States, and, if approved, you will 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.
Tips: 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, the Special Immigrant Juvenile classification may prevent your deportation.
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.
If you entered the country legally, but stayed longer than you were supposed to, you may be deported.
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 case is resolved. Deportation is a very serious matter. Do not to handle it by yourself. Get the help of an experienced immigration lawyer to figure out what to do.
If I am undocumented, can I attend college?
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. Some financial aid, especially from the federal government, 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.
If I am undocumented, can I still get in-state tuition at public universities?
You are not able to receive in-state tuition at Massachusetts public universities or colleges unless you are a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident (green card holder). 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 websites.
What is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)?
DACA was a special program announced by President Obama on June 15, 2012. But in 2017, President Trump ended the program. You can no longer apply for DACA or apply to renew your DACA. If you have DACA, your status is valid until the date of expiration on your work authorization card. You should speak to an immigration attorney before your card expires to find out if you are eligible for any other type of immigration status.
If you live in Massachusetts and have DACA, you continue to be eligible for in-state tuition.