December 7, 2009: Illegal Since Age 1, What Can He Do?

Illegal Since Age 1, What Can He Do?

I was born in Mexico and when I was one year old, my family decided to move to the U.S. I am now eighteen and cannot legally drive or get a job. I have been in this country for 17 years, graduated high school and now attending community college. Is there any way for me to become an American citizen?
— Anonymous

Unless you are grandfathered somehow under Immigration and Nationality Act, section 245(i), then it appears that the current immigration laws make you ineligible for a green card and citizenship. With the few facts you have presented, it appears that you may benefit by the passage of the Development, Relief and Education of Alien Minors Act, also called the DREAM Act.

The DREAM Act, if enacted into law, would benefit persons who are presently in the United States who were brought to the United States as a child and have good moral character. There may also be educational requirements such as graduating from high school or earning a GED, graduating from college, and/or enrolling in the military. Remember, the DREAM Act is not presently a law. Thus, the requirements are still being debated by Congress and it is likely to change many times before it is enacted into law.

In the meantime, if you are ever placed in removal (deportation) proceedings, you may qualify for a safety net known as cancellation of removal for non-permanent residents. You may qualify for this relief from deportation since you have been in the United States continuously for the past ten years and if you have a qualifying relative who would suffer exceptional and extremely unusual hardship if you were deported. It is important to note that you must be in removal proceedings to be eligible for cancellation of removal for nonpermanent residents. Depending on your date of birth, you may be barred for 3 or 10 years from returning to the United States if you leave the country due to the accrual of unlawful presence.

Your date of birth is important because persons do not accrue unlawful presence while under the age of 18. Thus, if you are not subject to the bars, you may leave the country, apply for a visa, and apply for admission at a port of entry. It would be wise to contact an experienced immigration attorney to evaluate your immigration situation.

Michael Shane and Evan Shane, Immigration Attorneys