Get a copy of your pardon or clemency proclamation from the Secretary of State Registrations Unit. Get more information here: FAQs about Clemency Process.
Texas Law Help Question & Answer Bank
If you served time in a Texas prison, get a copy of your discharge papers from the Classification and Records Division of the Texas Department of Criminal Justice. If you served time in another state or federal prison, get a copy of your discharge papers from that state’s department of criminal justice or the Federal Bureau of Prisons.
Our immigration system has three main “hooks” for those who want to come to the United States permanently: family, employment, and humanitarian grounds.
"Family" refers primarily to people who are beneficiaries of an approved relative petition (filed by a someone who is a U.S. citizen, a lawful permanent resident, or holder of one of several other specific types of visa). For instance, a U.S. citizen might file a family petition for her parents who are still living abroad.
In some cases, an individual may also apply to remain permanently in the United States based on the terms of their specific employment visa. This typically includes those living and working in the U.S. with certain high-skilled visas, such as the H-1B.
Finally, many people immigrate to the U.S. seeking humanitarian relief. That may include asylum/refugee status for survivors of persecution abroad; the “T Visa” for survivors of human trafficking; and the “U visa” for survivors of crimes committed and reported in the U.S., among several others.
In addition to these three broad avenues for immigration, thousands of people come to the U.S. each year as “nonimmigrants."
People from around the world come to the United States for many reasons. When granting permission for individuals to come into this country (a visa), our immigration system generally divides these new arrivals into two large categories: immigrants and nonimmigrants.
“Immigrant” status is attached to a person who is granted permission to permanently reside in the U.S. through (for example) an approved family petition filed by a family member who is a lawful permanent resident or U.S. citizen. Immigrants may also work without restriction and are eventually eligible to apply for U.S. citizenship.
A “nonimmigrant” is a non-U.S. citizen who enters the United States on a temporary basis and for a specific purpose—for instance to visit or be temporarily reunited with family; go to school; or work for a specific employer. The amount of time that a nonimmigrant may remain in the U.S., and their status here (whether they are allowed to work, where they can work, etc.) depends on the specific type of nonimmigrant visa the hold. In certain cases, it’s possible for for a nonimmigrant in the U.S. to apply for and adjust to immigrant status.
The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that many, but not all, fundamental rights guaranteed by the Constitution apply to all people within U.S. borders—including aliens whose presence in this country is unlawful. For examples, read these cases: Wong Wing v. United States, 163 U.S. 228 (1896); Zadvydas v. Davis, 533 U.S. 678, 693 (2001). These rights include equal protection of law under the Fifth and Fourteenth Amendments. Additionally, most people present in the U.S. without documentation are afforded basic procedural rights in the face of deportation, including a hearing before an immigration judge, interpretation services, reasonable notice of the charges against them, etc.
You do not have to have a lawyer to seek and get immigration benefits. But the immigration system can be extremely complex. Immigration attorneys are best suited to navigate immigration law and help you with your application strategies. If you expect difficulties with your case, it is best to talk to an immigration attorney. Note that all immigration applications, and their instructions, are available online at www.uscis.gov for free.
Warning: There are many people who try to take advantage of immigrants by claiming expert knowledge of the immigration system. Carefully check an attorney’s credentials. Ask for a written agreement outlining what the attorney will do, and how much it will cost, before paying.
Many immigration benefits can be obtained through employment. Whether your company is transferring you to one of its U.S. offices; you are seeking to expand your foreign business in the U.S.; or you have a specific skill that is valuable to the U.S. labor market, there may be a number of visas available to you. But, employment-based immigration is also competitive and complex. For best results, talk to an immigration attorney about your employment goals.
Individuals and families may sometimes immigrate to the United States if they are the beneficiaries of a petition filed by a relative who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Our immigration system gives priority to immediate relatives (spouses, parents, and unmarried children under age 21) of U.S. citizens. Other categories of family relationships (for instance, siblings of U.S. citizens, spouses of permanent residents, etc.) are subject to numerical caps, and a complex preference system. They may need to wait years before they can apply to immigrate to the U.S. So, it is always important to talk to an experienced immigration attorney to consider your family-based immigration options.
Some individuals and families may be permitted to immigrate to the United States for humanitarian reasons. This category includes refugees/asylees fleeing persecution in their home countries, as well as beneficiaries of special visas for survivors of serious crimes and human trafficking. All immigrants coming to the U.S. for humanitarian reasons must first undergo rigorous screening and comply with a number of specific rules and requirements. For that reason, it’s alway best to consult with an immigration attorney prior to applying.
Immigration to the United States is controlled by federal law, most notably the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). The INA is implemented by several federal agencies. The most prominent of these is the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). DHS houses U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS); Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE); and Customs and Border Protection (CBP). These three subagencies are responsible for the enforcement of immigration law, plus making decisions on applications for immigration benefits. However, a number of other federal agencies play a role in implementing U.S. immigration law, including the Department of Justice, the Department of State, the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Department of Labor.
Most constitutional protections apply to all immigrants, whether or not they have permission to be in the United States. This includes Fourth Amendment protections against unlawful searches and seizures. If immigration officials are requesting entry into your house, verify that they have a valid warrant signed by a judge. If you are stopped by immigration officials at work, be sure to ask them if are under arrest or if you are free to leave. You always have the right to remain silent until you are able to speak with an attorney.
For immigrants who fear that they could be subject to deportation through a raid or immigration arrest, it is extremely important to have a plan in place ahead of time. Make copies of important documents and keep them in a safe place. Talk with your friends and relatives. Make sure you know how to get in touch, and that you have a plan for managing childcare and personal property in your absence.
No. Although both local police and ICE officers fall within the broader category of law enforcement officials, state and local police officers are not responsible for enforcing most aspects of federal immigration law, apart from certain criminal provisions. However, each law enforcement agency has its own policies and procedures for how they interact with individuals whose immigration status is in question. They also have their own rules about how much they will with federal agencies charged with enforcing immigration law. For that reason, it is critical that you consult with a criminal and/or immigration lawyer as soon as possible if you are arrested by any law enforcement agency.
No. The ultimate objective of state and local law enforcement agencies is to protect and serve the entire community. No matter your immigration status, if you are a victim of crime or have information about a crime, do not be afraid to speak out. Additionally,, if you are the direct or indirect victim a particularly serious crime, you may be eligible for a form of humanitarian relief known as a U visa, which is reserved for some victims of U.S. crimes who have reported those crimes to police. You must assist with the investigation and comply with reasonable requests from law enforcement in order to proceed with a U visa. As there are other requirements to this benefit, it is very important that you see an immigration attorney knowledgeable in this field.
Individuals who entered the U.S. without permission, or who have violated the terms of their lawful immigration status in the United States, are technically subject to federal criminal charges if detained and, eventually, vulnerable to deportation to their home countries. See 8 USC Section 1325, Improper Entry. Whether they will actually be prosecuted, removed from the United States, or even detained in the first place depends both on current immigration enforcement priorities and whether they are eligible for some form of immigration relief.
No. Immigration courts are special courts that exist within the Department of Justice. Unlike criminal courts, which are part of the judicial branch of government, immigration courts are part of the executive branch. The fundamental responsibility of immigration courts is to evaluate the cases of individuals in deportation proceedings to determine if they should be sent back to their home country, or if they are in fact eligible for some form of immigration benefit. Immigration court proceedings have their own rules and substantive body of law. These rules and laws are different from criminal law, but do take into account the severity of any criminal convictions. If you find yourself summoned to appear before an immigration court, it is critical that you find a lawyer with expertise in immigration law.
Yes, you may represent yourself at immigration court. Since court decisions are often irreversible, and immigration cases can be quite complicated, it’s always a good idea to speak with an immigration attorney beforehand about your case and how best to proceed.
The length of time spent in immigration court proceedings varies greatly depending on the location and case backlog of the court in your jurisdiction, whether you have legal representation, and the current priorities of the immigration court system. Currently, a priority case for the immigration court system (such as an individual in immigration detention or a case involving minor children) can last anywhere from three to nine months. A non-priority case may take years to compete.
There are plenty of unsavory characters out there seeking to prey on an immigrant population that may lack knowledge of the immigration system or their rights within it. These “notarios” will often promise a specific outcome such as a work permit and may charge for immigration forms. Anyone seeking advice on an immigration matter should consult with a licensed immigration attorney.
All too often, members of the immigrant community assume that they do not possess many of the same rights as American citizens when it comes to law enforcement. This can cause them to give in to pressure to reveal information about their immigration status or take a stance against unlawful searches that can ultimately put them into deportation proceedings. All immigrants should consult an attorney as quickly as possible after coming into contact with law enforcement officials.
The relationship between criminal law and immigration law is extremely complicated, even for attorneys. The specific resolution of a criminal matter, even if it doesn’t result in a conviction, may have serious consequences for a person’s immigration status. Immigrants facing criminal charges should ensure that their lawyer has fully explained the possible immigration risks for any course of action in criminal court.
Your ability to work lawfully in the United States depends on your immigration status. Naturalized citizens, lawful permanent residents, and refugees can work freely without restriction. All other types of immigrants, however, must apply for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD), which is often called a work permit, before they are allowed to work.
All immigrants with authorization to work in the United States may apply for a social security number and card from their local Social Security Administration office. Undocumented immigrants without employment authorization are not eligible for social security numbers, but may still apply for a Taxpayer ID Number from the Internal Revenue Service, which they can use to file and track their federal income taxes.
Yes, labor laws in the United States—including the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA), and Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA)—apply to all employees, regardless of their immigration status. If you believe that your employer is violating labor laws, you have the right to file a complaint with the Department of Labor or other relevant agency. You may also hire your own attorney to sue your employer.
No. Employers are legally barred from asking questions related to certain topics during an interview. Restricted topics include your citizenship status, disabilities, sexual orientation, religion, family plans, national origin, etc. If an employer asks you about your immigration status or history, that question is in violation of the law, and you are not required to answer it. Instead, say that you are not required to answer the question, and move on to a different topic.
However, employers are required to verify the identity and employment eligibility of all employees hired after November 6, 1986. They do this by completing the Employment Eligibility Verification (I-9) Form. They must review documents showing the employee's identity and employment authorization. The law prohibits employers from rejecting valid documents. Employers can’t ask for more documents—beyond what is already legally required for employment eligibility verification—just because of an employee's citizenship status or national origin. For example, an employer cannot require only individuals the employer perceives as "foreign" to verify their employment eligibility, or produce specific documents (like the employee's "green card" or Employment Authorization Documents). Employees choose which of the permitted documents they show for employment eligibility verification. As long as the document looks reasonably genuine, and relates to the employee, it should be accepted.
Unless otherwise provided in an employment contract, employment in Texas is “at will.” This means that an employer can fire you for any reason and at any time. Employers “at will” are not permitted to terminate an employee for illegal reasons, such as your nationality. However, they are allowed to terminate your employment if you cannot produce evidence of your authorization to work legally in the United States.
The Immigration Reform and Control Act of 1986 (IRCA) is legislation Congress passed, intending to curb unlawful immigration to the United States. Among other things, the law provides for sanctions against employers who demonstrate a pattern or practice of hiring undocumented workers. IRCA also led to the creation of Form I-9, and requires employers and the job applicant to complete the form at the time of hiring.
An I-9 Form is a form that all employers must complete at the time of hiring to confirm the identity and employment eligibility of the applicant. The job applicant must provide basic information about themselves, including a social security number, and attest to their employment eligibility. It is extremely important that non-U.S. citizens do not claim U.S. citizenship on this form, because it can have serious consequences for their immigration status in the future.
E-Verify is a nationwide database that employers can use to determine the employment eligibility of job applicants and prevent the unlawful employment of undocumented workers. At this point in time, federal law does not require all employers to use E-Verify. But many private employers, and nearly all public employers, do.