Knowledge Base

What is immigration status?

Immigration status refers to the way in which a person is present in the United States.  Everyone has an immigration status. Some examples of immigration status include:

  • US citizen 
    • Note: Although indigenous people’s roots long predate the creation of the US, they were not provided US citizenship until Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act in 1924 (it would be longer before they received the right to vote), after a patchwork of approaches with select groups, such as treaties and permissions to apply for citizenship. At present, many indigenous people also hold citizenship in a federally-recognized Indian tribe.[1]
  • Legal Permanent Resident (“green card holder”), which can be obtained by:
  • Family petitions
  • Employer petitions
  • Violence Against Women Act self-petitions (of any gender)
  • Conditional Permanent Resident
  • Asylee or Refugee, based upon persecution or fear of persecution in one’s home country because of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. 
  • Non-immigrant, i.e., a person with a visa that is good only for a specific duration, such as persons with: 
    • U visas
    • T visas 
    • Student visas 
    • Visitor visas
    • Temporary worker visas
    • Person with Temporary Protected Status: for nationals of countries whose conditions prevent people from returning home safely (due to natural disasters, civil strife, or other extraordinary conditions).  Some examples of countries with Temporary Protected Programs (Estatus de Protección Temporal) are Honduras, El Salvador, Haiti, Guinea, and Liberia)
  • Undocumented person, i.e., entered without papers or overstayed their visa

For more information, see the State Justice Institute’s court bench card, “Overview of types of immigration status.”

There are immigration benefits (authorization to live and work in the US) that are based on being a survivor of violence.  There are also other forms of immigration benefits that are not based upon being a survivor (like deferred action programs), but may still be available to individual survivors.

What are some common immigration terms?

Immigration lawyers and advocates have a habit of referring to immigration law applications by numbers, taken from the government forms (formularios).

They also use abbreviations or acronyms for laws or words found within immigration law.  For example:

  • “VAWA,” for the Violence Against Women Act
  • “USC,” for United States citizen
  • “LPR,” for legal permanent resident (or “green card holder”)

For definitions of key immigration terms, see:

What government agencies are involved in making decisions on immigration?

  1. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) houses several agencies that work with immigration policy.  Some of the more familiar ones are:
    • US Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS or CIS)—this is the agency that is in charge of processing applications for immigration benefits, including VAWA and U visas.
    • Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is the agency that enforces federal laws about customs, trade and immigration.  ICE oversees immigration detention centers and represents the government in Immigration Court.
    • Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) is the agency responsible for border management and control, including customs and agricultural protections.  
  1. Department of State (DOS) processes individuals at US consulates abroad to enter the United States with legal status.
  2. Department of Justice (DOJ) houses the Executive Office for Immigration Review, which include all Immigration Courts and the Board of Immigration Appeals.
  3. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) provides benefits to all individuals, including some immigrants, who qualify under federal welfare law and refugee resettlement policies.

[1] Many indigenous activists and scholars, however, state that the effect of federal legislation such as the Indian Citizenship Act has been a “consistent and systematic whittling away of the legal claims of tribal sovereignty for all people” (p. 107). This is because citizenship by legal act undermines citizenship in sovereign Indian nations. (See Guerrero, M.A.J. (1997). Civil rights versus sovereignty: Native American women in life and land struggles. In M.J. Alexander and C.T. Mohanty (Eds.), Feminist Geneologies, Colonial Legacies, Democratic Futures. New York and London: Routledge.)