TRAC Immigration

TRAC Immigration Glossary

'A' number A unique 8- or 9-digit number, preceded by the letter “A”, which the Department of Homeland Security assigns to most non-citizens as a type of identification. 
Adjustment of status The process through which certain non-citizens apply for permanent resident (that is, green card) status from within the United States, as opposed to applying from abroad. (Applying from abroad is referred to as “consular processing”.)

Prior immigration violations, such as unlawful entry, and certain criminal acts may make an applicant ineligible to apply from within the United States, though waivers (exceptions) may be available in some instances. A successful applicant for adjustment of status will receive a “green card” and is known as a lawful permanent resident.  

Admissible A non-citizen who may enter be "admitted" to the United States because he/she is not excludable for any statutory reason or has a waiver of excludability. 
Admission The decision of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to allow or not allow a non-citizen at a United States border or port-of-entry to enter the United States. Whether a person is admitted to legally come into the U.S. and on what date may determine whether that person will be eligible for immigration applications that he/she might file in the future. Technically, a DHS immigration official conducts an “inspection” and then makes a decision about “admission” of each person wanting to enter the U.S. in separate steps. But because the two steps happen essentially at the same time, these two terms are used almost interchangeably.  
Affidavit of support A form filed by a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident (known as the sponsor) on behalf of a non-citizen seeking lawful permanent residence (a green card) in the U.S. The affidavit is intended to verify that the sponsor has sufficient income to support the persons intending to immigrate to the U.S. It is a legally enforceable contract against the sponsor.

The sponsor must prove that he or she has income equal to at least 125% of the federal poverty level. The number of the sponsor’s dependents, used in calculating the minimum income required, must include the sponsor, all members of the sponsor’s household, and the persons sponsored. Prior federal tax returns, proof of current employment, and other evidence of the sponsor’s income must accompany the affidavit. 

Affirmative asylum The process in which asylum-seekers in the U.S. voluntarily present themselves to the U.S. Government to ask for asylum. The affirmative application for asylum is made to the Asylum Office of the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Non-citizens who have not been apprehended by DHS are eligible to file an affirmative asylum application.  
Aggravated felony A term created by statute to refer to a list of specific crimes and categories of crimes. Severe legal consequences attach to non-citizens that the government determines to be aggravated felons. For instance, these persons usually become ineligible to enter or remain in the U.S. for any reason or to qualify for almost all types of immigration benefits, including obtaining a green card or being naturalized to become a U.S. citizen. Persons designated as aggravated felons also become much more vulnerable to removal (deportation) from the U.S., resulting in a lifetime disqualification from returning to the country.

In order to be considered aggravated felonies, some of the listed crimes also require a prison sentence of a minimum length. For example, U.S. law says that a person has committed an aggravated felony if he/she is convicted of a "theft offense or burglary offense" for which the term of imprisonment is at least one year." Criminal convictions in the past also count toward a decision about whether someone has committed an aggravated felony. The list, scope, and consequences of aggravated felonies have been vastly expanded over the years by Congress and by court decisions. In some circumstances, misdemeanors can count as aggravated felonies.  

Alien A person who is not a citizen of the United States and who is in any immigration status, including lawful permanent residents (holders of “green cards”), temporary visa holders, and undocumented (“illegal”) foreign nationals. 
Alternatives to detention (ATD) ICE programs using electronic monitoring or enhanced supervision in lieu of detention.  
Amnesty A commonly-used term for programs established by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) that made it possible for many previously-undocumented aliens to legalize their immigration status. 
Apprehension In immigration terms, the capture of an alien who may not be legally allowed to be in the U.S. Captures made at or near land borders or at “interior checkpoints” are generally made by Border Patrol agents, who work for the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) division of the Department of Homeland Security. These usually entail aliens who are attempting to enter the U.S. or who have recently entered. In addition, agents within the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) division of the Department of Homeland Security apprehend persons in the “interior” of the U.S., that is, usually further from the border.  
Arriving alien A non-citizen applicant for admission at a port-of-entry who either: (1) is coming or attempting to come into the United States, (2) is seeking to travel through the U. S. on to a foreign destination, or (3) has been intercepted by U.S. authorities in international or U.S. waters and brought into the U.S.

Legally, such a person is an applicant for “admission” into the U.S. even though he/she may be physically on U.S. soil. A person’s status as an arriving alien may be important with regard to some of his/her legal rights.  

Asylee A person who has been granted asylum status in the U.S. Asylees are given certain legal rights, such as to be able to remain indefinitely in this country, to bring spouses and minor children to the U.S. as asylees, and to work legally. They also are eligible for some public benefits and to apply for lawful permanent residence (green card) after a one-year waiting period.  
Asylum A legal status sought by a non-citizen who claims to be afraid of harm in their home country. Under U.S. law, the following requirements must be met for a successful asylum application:

(1) The applicant must show that he/she is unable to return to his/her home country due to past persecution or a “well-founded” fear of (future) persecution if returned to that country. (Persecution is harm done either by government officials or by people that the government is unable or unwilling to control.)

(2) The past or feared future persecution must be due to the applicant’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. (So, in most cases, fleeing one’s country to avoid natural disasters or for economic reasons is not sufficient.)

(3) The applicant must not have committed acts that are prohibited under U.S. law. Examples include committing serious crimes, persecuting others, and being a threat to national security.

Decisions on asylum applications are made by the Department of Homeland Security and the Department of Justice. Illegal entry into the U.S. does not necessarily make one ineligible for asylum status. A successful asylum applicant, known as an “asylee,” is eligible to apply to obtain a green card after one year.

Asylum applicants have the same legal requirements to win their case as refugees. However, whereas an asylum applicant applies for his/her status while in the U.S., a refugee applies while abroad in a third country.  

Asylum Office An office within the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Among other duties, the Asylum Office adjudicates affirmative applications for asylum by reviewing written application forms and materials that have been submitted and by conducting brief, non-adversarial interviews. The interviews are conducted by asylum officers who decide whether to grant or deny asylum to the applicants. The cases for those who are denied asylum and who do not have legal immigration status are "referred" to the immigration court for a hearing and another opportunity to prevail on the application. 
Asylum Officer An adjudications officer within the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Among other responsibilities, asylum officers make decisions regarding affirmative applications for asylum. 
Asylum-seeker A person who has applied for, or anticipates applying for, asylum. 
Beneficiary A non-citizen on whose behalf a United States citizen, lawful permanent resident, or United States employer has filed a petition. The purpose of the petition is for that person to receive legal immigration status as a result of this relationship.  
BIA The abbreviation for the Board of Immigration Appeals.  
Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) The highest U.S. administrative body for interpreting and applying immigration laws. It is within the Executive Office for Immigration Review of the Department of Justice. The BIA has nationwide jurisdiction to hear appeals from certain decisions rendered by Immigration Judges and by some officials of the Department of Homeland Security. Many BIA decisions can be appealed to the federal courts. 
Bonded out This generally covers situations where the individual posts bond and is released from detention while awaiting a decision on a removal case. The amount of the bond is set by ICE or by an Immigration Judge. Many individuals are not eligible to be released because their continued detention is considered mandatory under provisions of the immigration laws.  
Cancellation of removal A means of avoiding removal (deportation) and obtaining permanent residence (green card). It cannot be obtained by direct application, but only during a removal hearing in Immigration Court. While there are various types of cancellation of removal categories, general requirements include:

(1) long-term residence in the U.S., generally 7 or 10 years;

(2) “positive” factors such as family ties in the U.S., stable employment history, service in the armed forces, property ownership, value and service to the community, and proof of genuine rehabilitation in the event of a criminal history;

(3) absence of such “negative” factors as a background of criminal and immigration violations or bad character.

(4) “Exceptional hardship” to a spouse, parent, or child who is a U.S. citizen or green card holder if the applicant is deported from the U.S. One variation of cancellation of removal is designed to benefit immigrant spouses and/or children who have suffered domestic violence by a spouse or father who is a U.S. citizen or green card holder. There is also a version of cancellation of removal that provides eligibility for certain Central Americans under a law called NACARA.  

CAT The common abbreviation for the Convention Against Torture. 
CBP The abbreviation for the Customs and Border Protection.  
Child In legal terms, an unmarried person under 21 years of age who, if not a United States citizen, must meet certain legal requirements with regard to legitimacy (wedlock), parentage, or other factors, in order to be eligible for certain immigration benefits. 
CIS The abbreviation for the Citizenship and Immigration Services.  
Citizenship and Immigration Services The responsibility for providing immigration-related services and benefits was transferred to the Citizenship and Immigration Services (CIS) of the newly-created Department of Homeland in 2003. Among the services provided by CIS are those related to visas, lawful permanent residence (the green card process), and naturalization. 
Conditional resident A non-citizen granted permanent resident status on a conditional basis due to a relationship with a qualified person, generally a United States citizen spouse. Conditional residents must file a second petition within a designated time frame in order to retain United States residency. 
Consular processing The process through which certain non-citizens apply for permanent resident (green card) status while outside the United States, at a United States embassy or consulate. This is distinct from applying from within the Unites States, which is referred to as “adjustment of status.” A successful applicant is able to enter the United States as a lawful permanent resident. 
Convention Against Torture An international human rights instrument created by the United Nations, intended to prevent torture and other cruel activities. The United Nations passed the Convention in 1987 and most countries of the world have passed or ratified it since that time. The U.S. ratified the measure in 1994, subject to some reservations. The full title of the provision is The United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. It is commonly known simply as "CAT".

The Convention defines torture as acts in which "severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official or other person acting in an official capacity. It does not include pain or suffering arising only from, inherent in or incidental to lawful sanctions.

Under U.S. law, an application for asylum also includes an application for relief under CAT. Because a grant of asylum provides greater benefits than a grant under CAT and with lower legal requirements, the asylum application is considered first and, if granted, the CAT application is not decided.  

Credible fear interview An abbreviated interview of a non-citizen who arrives in the United States with false or no documents (and is therefore subject to Expedited Removal) and who expresses a fear of persecution in one’s own country or a desire to apply for asylum. The interview is conducted by an Asylum Officer (of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services of the Department of Homeland Security). A successful non-citizen is entitled to a full asylum hearing before an Immigration Judge. 
Customs and Border Protection The responsibility for protecting U.S. borders was transferred from the Department of Justice’s now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) component of the newly-created Department of Homeland Security in 2003.  
Defensive asylum The process in which asylum-seekers who are in removal (deportation) proceedings before the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) of the Department of Justice submit an application for asylum.  
Department of Homeland Security An agency created by the Homeland Security Act of 2002 and which began operations in 2003. One of its primary responsibilities is the implementation and enforcement of immigration laws and policies. DHS absorbed the functions of many different agencies within the U.S. government, including the immigration responsibilities of the Immigration and Naturalization Service. These immigration activities are administered by the DHS division of Customs and Border Protection (CBP), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and Citizenship and Immigration Service (CIS). (See separate Glossary listings for these divisions).  
Deportable An immigration status of an alien. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996 replaced the terms "excludabe" and "deportable" with the umbrella term "removable." 
Deportation The administrative process involving the removal of a person from the U.S. who is not a U.S. citizen. Under the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996, the formal term for deportation was changed to “removal”.  
DHS Abbreviation for the Department of Homeland Security. 
Diversity visa An immigrant visa lottery program established by the Immigration Act of 1990. It makes up to 55,000 immigrant visas per year available to persons from countries with low admission rates to the United States, in an attempt to diversify the immigrant pool to the U.S. Excluded countries include Canada, Mexico, the United Kingdom, China, and the Dominican Republic. The US Department of State establishes the rules for the lottery and administers the program. It is also known as the "visa lottery" and "green card lottery".  
EAD The abbreviation for an Employment Authorization Document.  
Employer sanctions The employer sanctions provision of the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (I.R.C.A.) prohibit employers from hiring, recruiting, or referring for a fee aliens known to be unauthorized to work in the U.S. Violators are subject to a series of civil fines for violations or criminal penalities when there is a pattern or practice of such violations. 
Employment Authorization Document A card verifying the legal authorization for an alien to work in the U.S. To be eligible for this card, an individual must fall within one of several categories listed in the immigration laws. These categories include applicants for lawful permanent resident status, fiancés of U.S. citizens, asylum-seekers and asylees, refugees, and dependents of foreign government officials.

Usually, the application process requires payment of a fee and the issuance of a card for a limited, renewable period of time. This document is often referred to as a “work permit” and, in Spanish, as a “permiso” or “permiso para trabajar.” People who are automatically able to work and, so, do not need to obtain this card first, include U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents (green card holders), refugees, and asylees. 

EOIR The abbreviation for the Executive Office for Immigration Review.  
Executive Office for Immigration Review The full title of the office with oversight responsibilities for the immigration court and the Board of Immigration Appeals. It is within the Department of Justice and is abbreviated as EOIR. 
Expedited Removal A process in which federal immigration officials immediately remove non-citizens seeking to enter the U.S. who are not authorized to so enter. Administered by officials of the Customs and Border Protection (CBP) division of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), the procedure targets individuals who lack travel documents or who fraudulently obtained their documents. Before removing these persons, however, CBP officials are required to ask a series of questions designed to identify potential asylum-seekers. Those who are so identified must be allowed to remain in the U.S. in order to undergo further screening for asylum.  
Green Card A card given to lawful permanent residents (LPR) of the U.S. The card serves as an entry document, enabling lawful permanent residents to return to the U.S. from abroad. It is also a generally-accepted form of identification in the U.S.

Permanent resident status is permanent but can be lost by abandonment of U.S. residence or by convictions for certain crimes. A new, updated card must be applied for every ten years if the holder has not yet been naturalized as a U.S. citizen. Originally, the card was green in color, but is now pink. The official name of the green card is Alien Registration Receipt Card. 

Homeland Security Act of 2002 Congressional legislation that created the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). Passed by Congress in the aftermath of the events of 9/11, it was reported to be the largest government reorganization in 50 years. The law went into effect in 2003. It called for the placement of many government functions, previously spread over many agencies, into a single department. It placed most immigration responsibilities, formerly administered by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), into the new department. The INS ceased to exist after the creation of DHS. 
I-94 Card A small card placed in the passport of most non-citizens at a port-of-entry when entering the U.S. The I-94 provides the identifying number, name, date of birth, and country of nationality of its holder. Issued by the Department of Homeland Security, the card is stamped at the time of entry with information showing the date and manner of entry and the expiration date of authorized stay in the U.S. The I-94 is the primary proof of lawful admission into the country. DHS may also issue I-94s in other circumstances. 
ICE The abbreviation for the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.  
IIRIRA The abbreviation for the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. 
IJ The abbreviation for Immigration Judge. 
Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 (IIRIRA) Congressional legislation that substantially revised the Immigration and Nationality Act. Changes effected by IIRIRA include replacing the concepts of exclusion and deportation with the single concept of removal, expanding the immigration consequences of criminal convictions, mandating detention for non-citizens convicted of certain crimes, and instituting an accelerated process of turning back certain non-citizens seeking to enter the country, called Expedited Removal.  
IMFA The abbreviation for the Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986. 
Immediate relative An immigrant who is exempt from the numerical limitations imposed on immigration to the United States due to his/her close relationship to a U.S. citizen. Immediate relatives, if they meet certain legal requirements, include spouses of citizens, children and stepchildren of citizens who are under 21 years of age and unmarried, and parents of adult citizens. Under certain circumstances, an alien continues to be exempt from the limitations even if the family relationship ends, such as due to death or domestic violence. 
Immigration Act of 1990 Increased the limits on legal immigration to the U.S., revised grounds for exclusion and deportation, authorized temporary protected status to aliens of designated countries, revised and established new non-immigrant admission categories, and revised naturalization authority and requirements. The bill was signed by President H.W. Bush. 
Immigration and Customs Enforcement The responsibility for the enforcement of immigration laws within the U.S. borders was transferred from the Department of Justice’s now-defunct Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) of the newly-created Department of Homeland Security in 2003. These responsibilities include apprehension, detention, and removal of aliens.  
Immigration and Nationality Act The primary statute relating to the immigration, temporary admission, removal, and naturalization of aliens. It is usually interpreted in conjunction with other laws, treaties, and conventions of the U.S. and with federal court decisions. The Act is found in Section 8 of the United States Code. Congress passed the I.N.A. in 1952 and has amended several times since, including in 1965, 1980, 1986, 1990, and 1996. 
Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) The name of the former branch of the U.S. Department of Justice. It was responsible for a variety of immigration services and enforcement of immigration laws. The INS ceased to exist after its responsibilities were transferred to the newly-created Department of Homeland Security in 2003. 
Immigration Court An administrative court responsible for adjudicating immigration cases in the U.S. Cases involve non-citizens who generally have been charged by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) with being in violation of immigration law. Immigration Judges preside over the courts and resolve such questions as:

(1) whether an individual should be allowed to remain in the U.S. (i.e., whether he or she is "admissible" or "removable") and, in some cases, whether he or she is a U.S. citizen;

(2) whether an individual's application to avoid deportation (removal), such as for asylum, or an application for an immigration benefit, such as for a green card, should be granted;

(3) whether a detained individual's bond should be changed.

There are about 53 immigration courts in the U.S. Typically, the U.S. government is represented in court hearings by a DHS attorney. Non-citizens have the right to their own attorney if it is at no expense to the government.

The court is part of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), which is within the Department of Justice. Appeals of Immigration Judge decisions can be made to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), which is also part of EOIR. Some BIA decisions can be appealed further, to the federal courts.  

Immigration Judge An attorney appointed by the Attorney General to act as an administrative judge within the Executive Office for Immigration Review within the U.S. Department of Justice. Immigration Judges conduct formal court proceedings in determining whether an alien should be allowed to enter or remain in the U.S., in considering bond amounts in certain situations, and in considering various forms of relief from removal.  
Immigration Marriage Fraud Amendments of 1986 Passed in order to prevent and/or discover immigration-related marriage fraud. Under the Amendments, an alien that is seeking legal permanent resident status (green card) through a spouse with lawful status is classified as a "conditional resident" if the marraige is less than two years old. The status of conditional resident can be changed to that of a lawful permanent resident following the two-year anniversary of the marriage.

The government's main concern is to ensure that short-term marriages are valid and not entered into for immigration purposes. Evidence that can be submitted by the spouses to show a valid marriage include mixed finances (e.g., joint bank accounts), joint ownership of property, written testimony of third parties, and birth certificates of children.  

Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) Legislation passed by Congress. A significant provision of this law established a mechanism to allow members of two groups of previously-undocumented persons to legalize their immigration status. These groups were:

(1) persons who had lived in the U.S. without lawful status since before 1982.

(2) farm workers who had performed agricultural work for at least 90 days in 1985 and 1986. These workers were known in the law as Special Agricultural Workers (SAWs).

Applicants in these two categories were required to document their length of residence or periods of employment in the U.S. The law resulted in the legalization of, and eventual granting of lawful permanent resident status to, hundreds of thousands of non-U.S. citizens, in a process generally referred to as Amnesty. Most of those benefiting were Latin Americans.

Another major provision created "employer sanctions", which attempted to both assist and compel would-be employers, before hiring workers, to inspect documents in order to verify that they are legally authorized to work in the U.S. It also established sanctions for employers who knowingly hire such persons.  

INA The abbreviation for the Immigration and Nationality Act. 
Inadmissible The immigration status of an alien who does not qualify to enter or remain in the U.S. because of a prohibited status or activity. An inadmissible person would likely be unsuccessful in any of these situations: when applying for an immigrant or non-immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate abroad; requesting to enter or re-enter the U.S. at a U.S. port of entry; or applying to an Immigration Judge for adjustment of status (green card) or for the right to remain in the U.S. after having entered illegally.

U.S. law contains a list of “grounds of inadmissibility”, including those based on:

(1) health, such as communicable diseases, lack of vaccinations, physical or mental disorders, and drug abuse or addiction;

(2) economics, primarily relating to likeliness to become a “public charge;

(3) criminal convictions or activities, including many crimes against persons and property, sex offenses, and drug crimes; (4) violations of immigration laws, such as seeking to re-enter the U.S. after previously being removed, being unlawfully present in the U.S., or fraudulently seeking to enter the U.S. or obtaining documentation to enter the U.S.; (5) national security, including terrorist activities and affiliations with terrorist organizations.

Waivers (exceptions) to these restrictions are available in some situations.  

INS The abbreviation for the former agency, the Immigration and Naturalization Service. 
Inspection The process by which U.S. immigration officials determine whether people can enter the U.S. It usually occurs at a port-of-entry at a land border or international airport. It is conducted by Immigration Inspectors who are employed by U.S. Customs and Border Patrol, which is part of the Department of Homeland Security.

Inspectors review travelers’ documents, such as passports and visas to determine whether the documents are genuine and authorize the person to enter the country. Inspectors may also extensively question the traveler and examine his/her luggage or vehicle in order to determine whether their reasons for the visa are legitimate.

In legal terms, a person who is allowed to come into the U.S. has been “inspected and admitted”. By contrast, a person who comes into the U.S. by avoiding inspection (by, for instance, secretly crossing a land border) has made an “entry without inspection”. (E.W.I.) 

IRCA The abbreviation commonly used for the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986. 
Labor Certification The process for U.S. employers to recruit and employ certain alien workers. The employer is required to show that insufficient US workers exist who are able, willing, and qualified to fill a particular position at the specific time and place that is applied for and that employment of the alien will not have the effect of reducing wages and working conditions of similarly-employed U.S. workers.

The Department of Labor reviews and certifies applications. It is officially known as an application for Alien Employment Certification. 

Lawful Permanent Resident An immigrant who has been granted a status allowing him/her to live and work permanently in the U.S. LPR status allows the holder to travel abroad and return to the U.S. Most LPRs are eligible to apply to naturalize after five years, though shorter waiting periods apply to certain categories of LPRs.

Though the status is “permanent”, it can be lost if "abandoned" (such as, by long-term absences from the U.S.) or by committing certain criminal acts. An LPR’s vulnerability to losing this status for these reasons remains (unless or until naturalized) regardless of such factors as long-term residence in the U.S., long-term LPR status, or sympathetic family and employment background.

An LPR receives a “green card” as physical evidence of this status and is also known as a “Permanent Resident Alien.” 

LPR The abbreviation for a Lawful Permanent Resident. 
Moral turpitude A classification of crimes committed by non-citizens which might justify their deportation from the U.S. or denial of certain immigration benefits. The term "moral turpiturde" is not defined in the immigration statute. However, it is generally applied to crimes that entail honesty, morality, or violence. Crimes of moral turpitude often include sexual offenses, fraud, weapons violations, drug offenses, and crimes against individuals, property, and the government. Many serious crimes clearly encompass this concept. However, some crimes are in "grey areas", where a determination as to whether they involve moral turpitude is subjective. Many of these have been the focus of court cases over the years. Examples include crimes of simple assault, trespass, drunk driving, involuntary manslaughter, "joy riding", and various weapons possession offenses.

The designation by the government that a particular non-citizen's crime involves moral turpitude can have severe impacts on that person's immigration rights. He or she might not be able to enter or remain in the U.S., might become ineligible for a green card or for naturalization, and/or might be deported as a result.  

NACARA The abbreviation for the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act.  
Naturalization The process by which immigrants become U.S. citizens. To be naturalized under U.S. laws, a person generally must have been a green card holder for at least five years (though there are some categories of persons with shorter waiting periods) and possess an acceptable background with regard to criminal and national security concerns. Other legal requirements include demonstrating one’s ability to read and speak English and a grasp of basic knowledge of U.S. history and government.

Naturalized persons acquire the legal rights possessed by all U.S. citizens, including the right to a U.S. passport, to vote, to leave and enter the U.S., and to sponsor family members for green card status. Many naturalized U.S. citizens retain dual citizenship with their country of origin.  

Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) Provides for lawful permanent resident status for Nicaraguans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and Eastern Europeans who are present in the United States and who meet certain temporal and other legal requirements. Passed in 1997, this law has been a pathway to obtaining green cards and eventual naturalization for large numbers of Cubans, Salvadorans, and Guatemalans in particular.  
Non-immigrant An alien who wants to enter the U.S. for a temporary period of time and for a specific purpose. Unlike “immigrants”, visas for “non-immigrants” are limited to temporary stays in the U.S. and are restricted to the activity specified in their visa. In order to demonstrate to the U.S. government that they do not intend to remain in the U.S. beyond the visa period, applicants must show strong economic, social, and cultural ties to their home countries. In addition, they must show that they are not “inadmissible”, though waivers, or exceptions, are often available.

Non-immigrant categories include: foreign government officials, visitors for business and for pleasure, aliens in transit through the U.S., treaty traders and investors, students, international representatives, diplomats and officials of foreign governments, temporary workers and trainees, representatives of foreign information media, exchange visitors, fiancés of U.S. citizens, intra-company transferees, NATO officials, and religious workers. Spouses and unmarried minor or dependent children of most non-immigrants are also derivatively eligible.  

Non-immigrant visa A visa issued to a person who has qualified for non-immigrant status. It is issued for a specific temporary period of time and for a specified purpose. Non-immigrant visas are generally issued by U.S. consulates or embassies abroad. The Visa Waiver Program applies to nationals of certain designated countries. 
Notice to Appear A document which alleges that a particular alien has violated certain immigration laws and should be removed (deported) from the U.S. as a result. In most cases, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS)prepares this document, serves it on the alien and files it with the Immigration Court which has jurisdiction over the alien. The filing of this document commences removal proceedings against the individual. This document is also known as an "NTA". 
NTA An abbreviation for a Notice to Appear. 
Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR) An office within the Administration for Children and Families in the Health and Human Services Department. This office has the responsibility among other things for supervising detainees who are unaccompanied minors.  
Order of recognizance A type of order which releases an individual with reporting conditions while in deportation proceedings and awaiting a final decision.  
Order of supervision A special type of order which releases an individual after a final order of removal. In such a case, an individual is released because ICE has not met the time limits imposed for deporting the individual.  
Parole Permission granted to an alien to enter the United States who is or may be legally ineligible to enter. A person paroled is known as a “parolee.” Parole is not a formal invitation to enter (“be admitted to” the U.S. with the legal benefits that this would entail.) Rather, parolees are given temporary status, requiring them to depart the U.S. when the conditions supporting their parole status cease or the designated time period expires.

Many types of parole exist in law and policy. Two primary ones respond to demonstrated needs to enter the U.S. for medical or “humanitarian” reasons or to take part in legal proceedings.  

Parolee The term for a person granted parole. 
Persecution A type of harm that is central to applications for asylum. The term is not defined in the U.S. asylum statute. However, it has been defined by U.S. courts to mean "a threat to the life or freedom of, or the infliction of suffering or harm upon, those who differ in a way regarded as offensive." Generally, such severe forms of harm as imprisonment, torture, and rape as well as death threats are thought of as constituting persecution. Whether less serious actions, such as those thought of as harassment or discrimination, should be considered to be persecution are decided on a case-by-case basis.

To prevail on their applications, asylum-seekers are generally required to prove that they have a "well-founded", or reasonable, chance of suffering persecution if they are forced to return to their home country.  

Port of entry Any location in the U.S. or its territories that is designated as a point of entry for aliens and U.S. citizens. For example, highways at the point they cross the border from Mexico or Canada and international airports are ports of entry. They are administered by Customs and Border Protection of the Department of Homeland Security. At the present time, there are about 300 ports of entry. 
Prosecutorial Discretion (PD) Program Individuals allowed to stay, at least temporarily, in the country based upon the exercise of ICE's prosecutorial discretion. This program was implemented following a June 17, 2011 directive from ICE Director John Morton.  
Refugee A person who is outside his or her country of nationality and who is unable or unwilling to return to that country due to past persecution or a “well-founded” fear of (future) persecution in that country. The past or feared future persecution must be due to the applicant’s race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

This legal standard is the same one that is applied to applicants for asylum. However, whereas an asylum applicant applies for his/her status while in the U.S., a refugee applies when they are located abroad, usually in a third country.

Refugees who are “resettled” in the U.S. from this third country are subject to ceilings by geographic area set annually by the President, in consultation with Congress. A refugee is granted the right to live and work in the U.S. He/she may also apply for lawful permanent resident status after a one-year period in the U.S.  

Removable The status of a non-citizen who is determined to be in violation of any of several grounds of removal, as listed in the Immigration and Nationality Act. These grounds include certain immigration violations, criminal offenses, and national security activities and affiliations. A non-citizen may be found to be removable by either the Department of Justice or the Department of Homeland Security, either while physically in, or seeking entry into, the U.S.

A determination of removability makes one subject to removal (deportation) from the U.S., though waivers (exceptions) are available in some situations. The Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act (IIRIRA) of 1996 replaced the terms “excludable” and “deportable” with the umbrella term “removable.” 

Removal The expulsion of a person from the U.S. who is not a U.S. citizen. The more common term for this is “deportation.” The process often involves a hearing before an Immigration Judge who also may determine whether any exceptions to deportation should be applied.  
Removal Hearing A court hearing to determine whether certain aliens are subject to removal (deportation) from the U.S. The hearings are administered by the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), also known as the Immigration Court, and presided over by an Immigration Judge. EOIR is part of the Department of Justice.

In most cases, the Department of Homeland Security prepares a document known as a Notice to Appear that alleges that a particular alien has violated certain immigration laws and should be removed (deported) from the U.S. as a result. It then typically serves this document on the alien and files it with the Immigration Court. The filing of this document commences removal proceedings against the individual.

A hearing or series of hearings are then conducted to determine whether (1) the alien is eligible for removable from the U.S. (that is, has no legal basis to be or remain in the U.S.) and, if so, (2) any waivers (exceptions) exist to being removed.  

Resettlement Permanent relocation of refugees to a country other than their own country in order to provide protection from danger of persecution should they be forced to return to that country. Generally, “receiving countries” verify the identity and risks of persecution of refugees, to the extent possible, before approving their resettlement within their borders. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, with the cooperation of non-government organizations, oversees international resettlement programs. The United States resettles more refugees each year than any other country. 
SAW The abbreviation for Special Agricultural Workers. 
Special Agricultural Workers The term created by the Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 that refers to previously-undocumented agricultural workers who were eligible under the law to apply for legalization of their immigration status. 
Special Immigrant Juvenile A non-U.S. citizen juvenile who is physically present in the U.S. and may apply for lawful permanent resident status (green card.) The juvenile must have been declared, by an appropriate local juvenile or family court, to be “dependent” on the court or a state, due to abuse, neglect, or abandonment. Other legal requirements also must be met. The first step of the process involves the juvenile or state court and the second entails review and a determination by Citizenship and Immigration Services of the Department of Homeland Security.  
Temporary Protected Status (T.P.S.) A legal grant of permission for nationals of particular countries temporarily to remain in the U.S. Specific countries are designated for TPS by the Attorney General after consultation with government agencies. Countries are selected where unstable or dangerous conditions would pose a temporary threat to returning persons. Under US law, these conditions include ongoing armed conflict within the country; environmental disasters such as an earthquake, flood, drought, or epidemic; and other “extraordinary” conditions which prevent the safe return of nationals. Grants of TPS are initially made for periods of 6 to 18 months and can be extended. Nationals of designated TPS countries typically must have been in the U.S. since before an established cut-off date. Eligible persons who register for TPS can obtain employment authorization and are generally protected from removal (deportation) during the TPS period (and any extensions) for their country.

TPS was created by the Immigration Act of 1990. Since its inception, TPS-designated countries have included Angola, Burundi, Boznia-Hercegovina, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, Nicaragua, Sierra Leone, Somalia, and Sudan.  

TPS Abbreviation for Temporary Protected Status. 
Undocumented Immigrant A person who is not a citizen of the U.S. and who does not have lawful immigration status in the U.S. Most undocumented immigrants either entered the U.S. "without inspection" (i.e., they did not enter the U.S. at a designated port of entry with valid documents) or they were "inspected and admitted" with valid documents but violated the terms of that status.

Examples of violation of visa status include a person who enters the U.S. with a student visa but does not continue his/her academic studies or a person who entered on a tourist visa but did not depart before the visa expired.

In legal terms, undocumented immigrants are “unlawfully present” in the U.S. Persons who are unlawfully present for more than a year and then depart the U.S. are ineligible to return to the U.S. for a period of ten years. Undocumented immigrants are often referred to as “illegal aliens.” 

UNHCR United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, a branch of the United Nations (U.N.). Created in 1950 by the U.N., UNHCR's primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and well-being of refugees by leading and co-ordinating international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide. UNHCR's headquarters are in Geneva. Its annual budget, about $1 billion, is largely based on annual voluntary payments from nations and private donors. The U.S. is by far the largest donor to the UNHCR. The agency is headed by a High Commissioner for Refugees, who is appointed by the United Nations for five year terms.


USC Abbreviation for United States Citizen. 
Visa Evidence of official permission for an alien to enter the U.S. and to remain there for a certain period of time and for a specific purpose. An alien applies for a U.S. visa abroad at a U.S. consulate or embassy. The form of an approved visa is either a piece of paper attached to the person’s passport or a stamp in the passport. The passport and visa are then presented to U.S. officials at the time of entering the U.S. (technically, at the time that the person seeks to be “inspected” and “admitted” into the country.)

“Non-immigrant” visas are issued to temporary visitors to the U.S., such as students, tourists, and temporary workers. “Immigrant” visas are issued to lawful permanent residents (green-card holders).  

Voluntary Departure An order generally given by an immigration judge to leave the country within a given period of time. If the person complies, then there may be no legal bar imposed as there is with removal for returning to the U.S. If the person does not leave before the relevant date, the order turns into an order of removal.  
Voluntary return An administrative procedure whereby an individual agrees to be deported. No legal bar to reentry is imposed.  
VWP The abbreviation for the Visa Waiver Program. 

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