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Common Questions about Immigration Basics


    This is a list of common questions about family based immigration, citizenship, detention, removal, and other general topics.

    Questions about Detention and Deportation

    Can I be deported?

    No citizen can be deported or have their citizenship revoked (canceled) unless they got their citizenship by fraud. Any noncitizen can be deported from the U.S. for certain reasons. Some of those reasons are:

    • They were inadmissible when they entered the U.S.;

    • They were inadmissible when they adjusted their status;

    • They violated the conditions of their status;

    • They have a criminal history;

    • They are acting on behalf of a foreign government, political party, organization, or person, and they failed to register with the U.S. Department of Justice or they falsified documents;

    • They are a security threat;

    • They have become a public charge; or

    • They voted illegally.

    Having a criminal history does not automatically mean you will be deported. Different crimes have different consequences when it comes to making someone deportable. If you are charged with a crime as a noncitizen (even as an LPR), it is very important that you speak with a lawyer who understands the immigration consequences for the charge. If your defense lawyer does not know these consequences, ask them to consult with an immigration lawyer. Use the Guide to Legal Help to find immigration lawyers in your area.

    To learn more about deportation, read Inadmissibility, Deportation, and Bars to Reentry.

    Why can someone be denied entrance to the U.S.?

    People who are not U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (LPRs, or green card holders) have to ask for permission to enter the country. When non-U.S. citizens and some LPRs enter the country, they must be “admissible” (allowed to enter). Some of the reasons a person could be inadmissible (not allowed to enter the U.S.) are:

    • Poor health (like having a communicable disease or not having required vaccinations)

    • Criminal history (inside or outside the U.S.)

    • Being a threat to national security

    • Becoming a public charge (relying on the U.S. government for support – determined based on things like health, age, family status, work history, and education)

    • For people looking to get LPR status through employment, lack of labor certification from the U.S. Department of Labor

    • Fraud or misrepresentation

    • Prior immigration violations, including entering without permission (see the Immigration Violations section of Inadmissibility, Deportation, and Bars to Reentry).

    If you are in the U.S. without lawful immigration status or presence, there will be consequences if you leave and try to return. The same is true if you enter the U.S. without first being inspected. Every day you are here after you enter without inspection you are accruing unlawful presence. The amount of unlawful presence you accrue affects your ability to return to the U.S. if you leave.

    • If you accrue less than 180 days of unlawful presence, there are no barriers to returning to the U.S.

    • If you accrue more than 180 days but less than one year (365 days), of continuous unlawful presence, you will be barred from re-entering the U.S. for three years.

    •  If you accrue more than one year of total unlawful presence, you will be barred for 10 years. There is a waiver for one continuous accumulation of unlawful presence. See the Waivers section of Inadmissibility, Deportation, and Bars to Reentry to learn more.

    If you received a Notice to Appear (NTA) but failed to attend your deportation hearing, you can be barred for five years. There is no waiver available for this bar.

    If you were deported, you will usually need to spend ten years outside the U.S. before being allowed to apply to return. Returning sooner could increase the time penalty to twenty years, along with potential fines and/or jail time.

    To learn more, read Inadmissibility, Deportation, and Bars to Reentry.

    What happens if I am detained?

    If you are arrested, detained, and processed by Customs and Border Protection (CBP) or ICE, the officer will draft a Record of Deportable Alien (Form I-213) using information you provide. The I-213 will also have the officer’s own notes and any evidence gathered.  

    Next, ICE will serve you with a Notice to Appear (NTA) (Form I-862) and file a copy with the immigration court. An NTA signals the start of your deportation proceedings in immigration court. 

    Some people who are detained (in jail) will not be able to be released early on bond if they have committed certain types of misconduct in the past, such as drug crimes. These people are subject to mandatory detention. Their deportation proceedings will also be accelerated. If you are not subject to mandatory detention, you could be released with conditions. You may be released with or without a bond. There are varying levels of supervision that can include electronic monitoring or appearing at or calling in to certain immigration facilities.

    To learn more about detention and bond, read Detention and Deportation.

    How can I find out if a family member has been detained?

    If you believe a relative or friend was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), use the ICE Detainee Locator to find them. The locator cannot search for people under 18. There are two ways to search for a detainee using the locator:

    1. You can search using the person’s Alien Registration Number (A-Number) and country of birth. The A-Number is a unique 8 or 9 digit number assigned to all immigrants in deportation proceedings and certain other immigrants. The A-Number is found on all letters from DHS. If the A-Number has only 8 digits, add a zero in front of it so the system recognizes it. For example, if the person’s A-Number is A98765432, you must put a zero before the nine, making it A098765432.

    2. You can also search by name and country of birth. A detainee’s first and last names must be an exact match (for example, John Doe will not find Jon Doe or John Doe-Smith). If ICE recorded the person’s name incorrectly, you will not be able to search for the person by name unless you know their recorded name. You can narrow the search by entering the person’s date of birth.

    The locator will show that a person is “Not in Custody” if they were released or deported within the past 60 days.

    Sometimes it can take several days for a person’s name to be added to the ICE Detainee Locator system. You can also use DHS Vine to try to locate someone you believe is detained.

    You can use the ICE Detention Center website to find a list of detention facilities, their addresses, and public telephone numbers.

    What happens if I get a deportation order?

    The deportation order becomes final after the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) decision or 30 days after the IJ’s decision. If you are not in custody, you will need to report to ICE Enforcement and Removal Operations (ERO) to make a plan with a deportation officer. If you are in custody, ICE ERO will work on your removal. This could take a few days or weeks. In some cases it can take years.

    What are my rights when dealing with border patrol or other agents?

    Regardless of your immigration status, you have certain rights. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers must have a search warrant signed by a federal judge in order to enter your home without your permission. If officers knock on your door, you do not have to open it. Ask if they have a warrant. If they have a warrant, ask them to slide it under your door or show it to you through a window.

    Look at the warrant carefully. It should list all of the following:

    • The United States District Court for the district in which your home is located

    • Your address

    • The name of the person they are looking for

    • The judge’s name and signature

    • The dates the warrant is effective

    You have the right to not let the officer enter if the warrant does not have all this information. If your child opens the door, it is as if you did.

    The officer could have an ICE warrant, but that is not the same thing as a warrant from a judge. An ICE warrant allows ICE officers to arrest someone who is unlawfully in the U.S. An ICE warrant does not allow officers to enter private places, like a home.

    If you are stopped by a border patrol or ICE officer, you do not have to answer questions about your immigration status. You can explain your status to the officer if you want to, but you may want to speak with a lawyer first.

    Do not sign any papers officers give you if you do not understand them. You may be giving up your rights. You have a right to a hearing in front of an immigration judge. You also have the right to call your country's consulate or to have the police tell your consulate that you are arrested.

    You have the right to talk to a lawyer before answering any questions or signing any papers. Generally, you have the right to call a lawyer if you are detained. One exception to this right is if an immigration officer is detaining and deporting you using the expedited removal process. To learn more about this, read the “Expedited Removals” section of Inadmissibility, Deportation, and Bars to Reentry.

    You have the right to have a lawyer with you at any hearing in front of an immigration judge. You do not have the right to a court-appointed lawyer. You must find your own lawyer. You can use the Guide to Legal Help to find immigration lawyers and legal services near you.

    The Michigan Immigrant Rights Center offers resources that could help you and your family prepare for interactions with immigration agents.

    Questions about Immigration Status and Going to Court

    What are the different types of immigration statuses?

    There are different immigration statuses for everyone in the U.S. You can think about status as a spectrum, ranging from being a U.S. citizen on one end to being “out of status/without status” on the other. All the different statuses are:

    • U.S. citizen

    • Lawful permanent resident (LPR, or green card holder)

    • Conditional permanent resident

    • Domestic violence survivors

    • Temporary Protected Status

    • Visa holders (nonimmigrants)

    • Parole and deferred action (not technically status)

    • No status/without status

    To learn more about these statuses, read Immigration Basics: Status, Law, Agencies, and Courts.

    How do I become a U.S. citizen?

    If you are born on U.S. soil, you are automatically a citizen at birth. If you were born outside of the U.S., you can become a citizen in one of three ways:

    • Acquisition – You were born abroad to at least one U.S. citizen parent;

    • Derivation – One of your parents naturalizes (becomes a citizen) before you turn 18 and you are living in the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident (LPR, or green card holder) with that parent;

    • Naturalization – You apply for citizenship after age 18 while being an LPR.

    To learn more about citizenship, read Citizenship and Naturalization.

    How do I get a green card?

    U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents (LPRs, or green card holders) can help certain family members become LPRs. The process is different depending on whether the petitioner is a citizen or LPR. To learn more about getting a green card, read Family & Marriage-Based Immigration.

    What happens if I don’t go to an immigration hearing?

    If you do not attend your hearing, you will be ordered deported In Absentia (while absent) because you did not appear. For an immigration judge to order you deported this way, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) must show by “clear, unequivocal and convincing evidence” that you were served by regular mail at your last known address and that you are deportable.

    Failing to appear at a hearing is also a bond violation. It will also make you inadmissible for five years and prevent you from getting certain forms of relief for 10 years. If you fail to appear, ICE will likely search for you at your last known address(es) in order to deport you.

    In Absentia Orders can be cancelled if you show any of the following:

    • There was an exceptional reason why you did not appear, like an emergency or severe illness

    • You were not properly served and did not know you had to appear

    • You were in prison or jail at the time of the hearing