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Immigration and children: An exploration of paths to citizenship

President Barack Obama has stated that immigration reform is a top priority during his second term in office. One piece of legislation that may be under consideration is the DREAM Act. This law caters specifically to youth who have lived in the United States for most of their lives, but entered as illegal immigrants. If this law passes, it would allow a pathway to conditional citizenship for these young immigrants.

Illegal children immigrants often have no memories of their home country. To them, the United States is home. These children are in a difficult situation. Proponents of immigration reform argue that it is cruel to deport these children to a country they do not remember while critics counter that our country cannot reward those who break the law.

Fortunately, even without reform there are some paths to citizenship available to these children.

Child Citizenship Act

The Child Citizenship Act is a law that provides some foreign born children with a pathway to citizenship. In order to qualify, the child must have at least one parent who is an American citizen, be under 18 years of age, live with the American citizen parent and be admitted as a lawful permanent resident.

If the child is living abroad, citizenship can be granted if at least one parent is already an American citizen and has lived in the United States for at least five years. If the child's parent cannot satisfy the physical presence requirement, a grandparent can be substituted. The child must also be under the age of 18 and receive lawful admittance in the U.S. In this instance, citizenship is not automatically granted. Instead, the child must go through the naturalization process by applying with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service in the Department of Homeland Security.

DACA

Children who have not entered the U.S. legally and are in the process of being removed may find relief through deferred action. Deferred action for childhood arrivals, or DACA, allows those approved for the program to defer removal action for two years. Admission into the program can be renewed upon expiration.

Various qualifications are required to be granted deferred action. These requirements include:

  • Applicant was under the age of 31 as of June 15, 2012
  • Entered U.S. before reaching the age of 16
  • Continuously lived in U.S. since June 15, 2007
  • Currently attending school, graduated, obtained a GED or served in the armed forces
  • Not convicted of various crimes including felonies and some misdemeanors

If these and other guidelines are met, an applicant may complete the documents required for deferred action. These documents include proof of identity, proof of presence in the U.S. and proof of student status.

These are only a few options for immigrants. To discuss other possible routes to citizenship for your unique situation, contact an experienced immigration law lawyer.