Glossary of Immigration Terms

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To hurt - or threaten to hurt - someone physically, sexually, mentally or financially. Examples include hitting, raping, controlling someone with threats about immigration or financial support.


Acquired Citizenship

When a child not born in the United States becomes a U.S. citizen because one or both of their parents are U.S. citizens. The ability to acquire citizenship depends on the child’s year of birth.


Adjustment of Status

How immigrants already in the United States can apply for permanent immigrant status. People who came to the U.S. as a nonimmigrants, refugees, or parolees may be able to get a green card if they qualify to receive an immigrant visa and one is immediately available.


Admissible (Admissibility)

When an immigrant has permission to enter the United States legally and has been inspected by an immigration officer.



Standing up for others; defending what is valid or right.


Affidavit of Support

A written promise that says the signer agrees to be financially responsible for the immigrant for a certain period of time.



The legal word for any person who is not a citizen of the U.S.


A-Number (Alien registration number, Alien number)

A 7-, 8- or 9-digit number assigned to immigrants by the Department of Homeland Security.



When someone thinks the decision of a judge is unfair or incorrect, they can ask a judge or group of judges at a higher court to review the case and make a new decision. The new decision may be the same or different than the first decision.


Appearance (Appear)

To show up to immigration court at a certain date and time in front of a  judge.



The form or papers filled out to ask the government for a visa, a benefit, or legal status, such as citizenship or a work permit.



When a law enforcement officer holds someone, and they are not free to walk away. The government checks all immigration applicants for arrest records.



A person from another country who arrives in the U.S. asking for protection because it is dangerous for them to be in their home country.



Asylum is a legal status for people who came to the U.S. because they were harmed or threatened because of who they are or what they believe, and they had no other place to go to. People who get asylum can apply for a green card 12 months later.


Attempted Crime

An attempted crime is a crime that was started, but not completed. Attempted crimes are still crimes.








A beneficiary is a person who receives an immigration benefit. Example: If a U.S. citizen applies so her spouse can get a green card, her spouse is the beneficiary.



A personal prejudice in favor of or against one thing, person, or group compared with another.



Having to do with two political parties.



A proposed law or policy presented for a vote.



Information that helps United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) identify immigrants who apply for a benefit. USCIS may collect applicants’ fingerprints, photos, and signature.


Border Patrol (Customs & Border Protection, CBP)

An abbreviation for U.S. Customs and Border Protection, an agency of the Department of Homeland Security.


Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA)

The branch of the federal government that makes sure immigration laws are followed. The BIA can review immigration cases if there is a chance of  an unfair or incorrect decision.



Money that some people may pay to get out of immigration detention.


Bond Hearing

When detained immigrants go in front of an immigration judge and give reasons why they should be allowed to get out of detention while they wait for their next immigration hearing. The judge can set an amount of money (bond) someone must pay to get out of detention.







Cancellation of Removal for Lawful Permanent Residents (LPR)

Permission for a lawful permanent resident (LPR) to remain in the U.S. , if they prove to an immigration judge that they qualify for this benefit. The applicant must have been a lawful permanent resident and lived in the U.S. for a certain period of time, and must not have committed a crime that prevents them from applying.



In immigration law, a child is an unmarried person under 21. The child may be a parent’s natural child, adopted child, or stepchild.


Child Protective Services

Child Protective Services (CPS) is a state agency that protects children from abuse and neglect. Each state has its own agency, but it may be called something different. CPS agencies investigate reports of abuse, and if possible, help families learn how to stay together in healthier ways.


Citizen or Citizenship

Being or becoming a U.S. citizen gives a person the right to: live in the U.S., vote in U.S. elections, run for public office, and travel freely. People born in the U.S. are U.S. citizens. If one or both parents are U.S. citizens, their child is probably a U.S. citizen. Others who want to become U.S. citizens must apply for citizenship, also called naturalization.


Civic Engagement

Working to make a difference in the community.


Communicable Disease

The U.S. government has a list of serious diseases that can spread easily and affect public health. These include: active tuberculosis, gonorrhea, infectious syphilis and other diseases that spread through sex. If someone has a disease on this list, they are considered inadmissible and cannot immigrate to the U.S.


Conditional Residence (Conditional Resident)

When a person is granted permanent resident status on a conditional basis (for example, the spouse of a U.S. citizen). To stay here, that person must apply to have those conditions removed.


Consular Processing

An interview for a green card that takes place at a U.S. consulate, usually in the applicant’s home country.



U.S. consulates are branch offices of U.S. embassies, located all over the world. Most consulates accept and process nonimmigrant and immigrant (green card) visa applications. Immigrants may have to go to their own country’s consulate if they need to renew a passport or to get an official document, such as a national ID document, birth certificate, etc.


Continuous Residence

Continuous residence is the time a person has lived in the U.S. Some trips outside the U.S. are allowed. But if someone has lived outside the U.S., or taken trips that are too long, they may not prove continuous residence.


Convention Against Torture (CAT)

International law that protects people who are more likely than not to be tortured if forced to go back to their home country. If they can prove that, the U.S. government may let them stay in the U.S. and not deport them.


Convicted (Conviction)

Found guilty of a crime.


Country of Citizenship

It is usually the country where a person was born, where their parents were born, or where they became a citizen.


Country of Origin

The country a person emigrates (moves away) from.


Credible Fear

A person applying for certain immigration benefits in the U.S. must prove to have a real and true reason of being afraid to return to their home country.


Crimes Involving Moral Turpitude

Crimes that are especially bad. They are usually about harming another person on purpose.







Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

A program for people who came to the U.S. as children. DACA allowed a person to stay in the U.S. and get a temporary work permit. Right now, people may be able to apply to renew DACA, but it is​ too late to apply for the first time.



Considering options or opinions carefully and making a decision.


Department of Homeland Security (DHS)

Department of the U.S. federal government. DHS is responsible for preventing terrorism, managing the border, and enforcing immigration laws. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) are agencies of DHS.


Department of Justice (DOJ)

Department of the U.S. federal government that hears immigration cases. It also manages immigration laws along with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). The Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and the U.S. Immigration Courts are agencies of the DOJ. The DOJ also decides which non-profit organizations can help immigrants with their immigration cases.


Deported (Deportation)

When someone is ordered to leave the country, or removed from the country. See also: Removal


Derivative Citizenship

Citizenship passed to children when their parents are or become citizens or, under certain other circumstances.



An immigrant in the custody of government authorities, waiting for a decision on whether they  may stay in the country or deported.



Keeping immigrants in a place where they are not allowed to leave. Some immigrants may be forced to stay in detention until an immigration judge decides if they may stay in the United States. Others may qualify to be released on bond.


Displaced Person

A person who needs to leave their home because of dangerous circumstances (for example natural disasters, persecution or social unrest such as war), and go to a safe place within their home country. People forced to go to another country are called “refugees.”


Documented Immigrant

A person from another country with permission from the U.S. government to live in the U.S.



Official papers, like birth or marriage certificates.


DOJ Accredited Representative

A DOJ representative is a person who is authorized to help immigrants with their immigration cases. All DOJ Reps have special training and immigration experience. To know if someone is accredited, look for their name on the Department of Justice (DOJ) list.


DOJ Recognition and Accreditation

The Department of Justice (DOJ) decides which non-profits and which of their legal service providers are qualified to help immigrants. They use these key terms: recognized and accredited. A non-profit organization that qualifies to provide services to immigrants is called recognized. A person who works at a recognized non-profit who is qualified to provide legal services to immigrants is called accredited.


Domestic Violence

Abuse or threats of abuse in an intimate relationship (people who are or were married, domestic partners, dating, living together, or have a child together).


Dual Citizenship

Being a citizen of two countries at the same time.








To move from one country or region to another.


Emotional Abuse

Repeated bad conduct, threats, insults or other actions that hurt another person emotionally.


Employment Authorization Document (EAD)

A special card from USCIS, also called a work permit, lets a person work in the U.S. Citizens and people with green cards do not need an Employment Authorization Document.


Employment-based immigration

Permission for people to live in the United States for work.



Information used to prove something is true.


Executive Office of Immigration Review (EOIR)

The branch of the federal government responsible for immigration court proceedings. It includes the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) and the immigration judges who make decisions in immigration court.



A person forced to leave their home country. This is different from a deportee. A deportee is someone forced to leave a country they are not citizen of.


Expedited Removal

When someone trying to enter the U.S. at a border or airport is sent back right away because they do not have the needed documents to enter the U.S. This can affect that person's future attempts to visit or immigrate to the U.S.







Family-based Immigration

When a family member is a U.S. citizen or has a green card, they can apply for certain family members to get their green cards.



Information about a person’s economic situation.


Foreign National

A person without U.S. citizenship or nationality.



Something that is fake but tricks people into thinking it is real. Some kinds of fraud are crimes.








A test to prove one has the same knowledge as a high school graduate.


Good Moral Character

To apply for certain types of immigration relief or benefits, people need to prove they have not been involved in certain illegal or bad activities. Those with a criminal history may not qualify for some immigration benefits.


Green Card

A common way to refer to an Alien Registration Card, which is the document given to a person who is a permanent resident of the U.S.





Habeas Corpus

Petition filed by people who are detained for a long time. Someone filing a habeas corpus petition asks the court to decide if they are being detained unlawfully. If the court agrees, it can order the person’s release from detention.



When lawyers and/or other people appear and speak in front of a judge.


Human rights

Rights that all people have, according to the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), passed by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948.







Illegal Immigrant

See undocumented immigrant.


Immediate Relative

Certain family members of U.S. citizens may come to the U.S. without a waiting period. These immediate relatives are the citizen's: spouse, parents, if the citizen is 21 or older, and unmarried children under 21. A citizen may apply for other relatives, but there is a waiting period. A green card holder may apply for relatives, but there will be a waiting period. There are not enough visas for all relatives to come right away.



A person who comes from another country to live in the U.S.



To move to a country where one is not a native. Immigrants are people moving to a country where they wish to live permanently.


Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE)

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the government office that enforces laws about who can be in the U.S. ICE removes or deports people who do not have permission to stay in the U.S.


Immigration Court

A court that only decides immigration cases, such as whether a person can stay in the U.S. or not.


Immigration Judge (IJ)

Immigration judges make decisions in immigration court. They can decide on detention bond, give someone permission to stay in the country, or order them to return to their home country.


Immigration Status

The right or permission to be in the U.S. How long a person can stay and what they can do depends on the kind of status they have.



Inadmissible means one cannot enter or stay in the U.S. The list of reasons people are considered inadmissible includes: a criminal record, serious disease, fraud, and disobeying immigration rules.



A person whose job it is to look for more information, such as about a crime, an event, or someone’s past.







The power to make legal decisions or to enforce them in a certain area.











Law Enforcement

The agency or officers who enforce the law and protect people from lawbreakers. In the U.S., there are many agencies and offices that are part of the law enforcement system.


Legal Permanent Resident

Someone who has a green card. They can stay and work in the U.S. for as long as they want if they obey all the rules. They can also apply for U.S. citizenship when they qualify. Green card holders have almost all of the same rights as U.S. citizens.



A law or group of laws.


Long-term resident

A person living in a country or community for a long time.







Master Calendar Hearing

A short court appearance. At this hearing, immigrants and their lawyers meet with the judge and government lawyers to decide next steps in an immigration case.


Mental Disorder

Immigrants with some mental conditions may not be allowed in the U.S. if a doctor says they are dangerous.


Merits Hearing

A court appearance where immigrants try to prove why they should be allowed to stay in the United States.



A person who moves from one country (or place) to another.



To move from one place and settle in another.


Migrant workers

Also called “economic migrants,” are people who leave their country of origin to find employment in another place.








People from American Samoa or Swains Island are nationals. They can get a U.S. passport, but cannot vote in U.S. elections.



The process of becoming a citizen.


Non-governmental organization (NGO)

Not-for-profit organizations that work independent of governments. They usually do humanitarian, education, social or other work that helps with social change.



A person who plans to be in the U.S. temporarily, for example, someone with a tourist or student visa.


Notice to Appear (NTA)

A document the government gives to an immigrant and tells them to go to court at a certain date and time. When the immigrant receives the NTA, it means the process of removing them from the United States has started.



The form a green card holder can fill out to apply for U.S. citizenship when they qualify.





Oath of Allegiance

A promise to support the U.S. constitution. The Oath of Allegiance is the final step to becoming a U.S.Citizen.








A decision that allows foreign nationals to stay in the United States. Parole is given on a case-by-case basis for humanitarian reasons.



Mistreatment or oppression based on  race, gender, or political opinion, ethnicity, or religion.



The application that a citizen or green card holder makes for a family member to get a green card.


Physical Disorder

Immigrants with some physical conditions may not be allowed in the U.S. if a doctor says they are dangerous.


Physical Harm

Hurting or injuring someone else's body, such as hitting, beating, or raping.


Physical Presence

Number of days someone is physically inside the United States.


Port of entry

Any location in the U.S. where people are allowed to enter the country.



Being very poor; not having enough resources to meet basic needs.



A kind of punishment for a crime that limits a person's freedom for a specific period of time. The person must follow certain rules during that time, such as no drinking, no illegal activities, etc.



A lawyer who represents the government in a criminal case. The prosecutor decides if there is enough evidence to charge someone with a crime. If the case goes to a judge, the prosecutor tries to prove the person is guilty.


Psychological Abuse or Harm

Repeated bad conduct, threats, insults or other actions to hurt how another person feels about them-self.


Public Policy

A law or group of laws that discuss a public issue.






A fixed number of people or things.








When officers of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) enter a place where they think undocumented immigrants might be, with the intention to try and detain or deport them.



When someone is forced to return to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened.



Protection or shelter; relief; a place where one goes for help or comfort.



A person who has left their country and is afraid to go back. They were harmed or threatened because of who they are or what they believe (this includes their race, nationality, religion, political beliefs, or membership in a group).



Sent out of the country by an immigration judge or officer. See also: "Deported (Deportation)."



To return to one’s home country. Repatriation may be voluntary or involuntary. Voluntary repatriation is when a person chooses to return to the home country. Involuntary repatriation is  when a person is forced to return to the home country against their will.



Moving a refugee from the country where they first asked for asylum to a different country. People waiting to be resettled are often kept in camps until a place is found  in another country.



A person who lives somewhere for long time.



A person with charges against them in immigration court.







Security Threat

Someone the government thinks is dangerous to the public.


Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)

If a state court decides that an immigrant child’s parent(s) neglected or abused the child, the child may apply for SIJS and get a green card.



A U.S. citizen or green card holder who applies for their family member to get a green card.



Immigration status refers to a person’s legal situation or options. Someone with status has a legal right to be in this country, such as a: U.S. citizen, green card holder, U visa holder, VAWA recipient, Temporary Protected Status (TPS), asylee, etc.







T visa

The "T visa" protects immigrants who are trafficking victims by making it safer for them to report the crime. A trafficking victim is someone who was tricked or forced to work like a slave or as a sex worker. Qualified applicants can get a work permit and stay in the U.S. for 4 years. They may be able to help other family members get a T visa, too.


Temporary Protected Status (TPS)

A program for people from certain countries with very serious problems, like war or natural disasters. People with TPS can get a work permit and can stay in the U.S. temporarily. TPS is not a path to a green card or citizenship.



Using violence or the threat of violence to achieve political goals.


Testimony (Testify)

When someone speaks in court to prove something. The person must promise to tell the truth.



To say or do something that scares another person.



To cause severe physical or mental pain or suffering. It is usually done to force someone to say or do something they do not want to.







U visa

The "U visa" protects immigrants who are crime victims by making it safer for them to report a crime or help law enforcement. A person who is the victim of domestic violence or trafficking, but who doesn't qualify for VAWA or a T visa, can sometimes qualify for a U visa. Qualified applicants can get a work permit and stay in the U.S. They may be able to help other family members get a U visa, too.


Unaccompanied Minor (sometimes UC or UAC)

A child entering or already in the U.S. without parents or guardians.


Unauthorized Immigrant

See undocumented immigrant.


Undocumented Immigrant

A person who enters or stays in a country without proper legal documents.



Short for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.


U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS)

The office that processes immigration applications and visas.








VAWA is short for the Violence Against Women Act. VAWA protects family members of abusive U.S. citizens and green card holders by allowing them to apply for a green card without the help of their abusive family member. It is not just for women.



Disobeying a rule or a law. Some violations can make it difficult or impossible for one to stay legally.



Official permission to be in the U.S. Examples: tourist visa, student visa, U visa.



Training, school, or other learning program related to a job or job skills.


Voluntary Departure

Permission granted to a non-citizen to leave the United States on his own. This person could potentially come back to the U.S.legally in the future.








An exception to a rule or requirement. For example, someone with a waiver can qualify even if they do not meet all of the usual requirements.


Withholding of Removal

An immigration judge may let someone stay in the U.S. if they can prove there is a chance they will be harmed in their home country because of their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.



A person who knows something about a crime or who saw it happen.


Work-Based Immigration

If a company wants to fill a position and cannot find someone in the U.S., they can look for someone abroad. That person must have special skills for the company to sponsor them.


Work Permit

A special card from USCIS, called a work permit or Employment Authorization, lets a person work in the U.S. Citizens and people with green cards do not need work permits.



















Glossary of immigration terms
Glossary of Immigration Terms
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