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Immigrants should be aware of their legal status in the U.S.

There have been a number of recent news stories that deal with the issue of citizenship. Many Louisiana immigrants are confused about their citizenship or permanent resident status and what it actually means. One woman came to the United States when she was a young child and later assumed that she derived citizenship from her step-father who was a U.S. citizen. She therefore never applied for citizenship. Unfortunately, she was never a citizen in the first place, just a legal resident with a green card. She later received an order from an immigration judge, which took away her permanent resident status and subjected her to deportation at any time.

However, all hope is not lost for the woman. The family is working towards getting ICE to give her a work permit which would allow her to remain in the country. This wouldn't be the same status as having a green card, but she would be permitted to stay in the U.S. to work. There is also an ongoing investigation to determine whether the woman was formally adopted by her step-father, which would make her a citizen after all. No documents regarding an adoption have been found yet, but the search continues.

Because of confusing situations like this, it is important to understand what comes with different types of legal statuses. Many immigrants who enter the U.S. do so with immigrant visas. Those who come to the U.S. with immigrant visas become Legal Permanent Residents, or green card holders. They have permanent legal status to stay and work in the United States and may become U.S. citizens anywhere from three to five years after entering the country.

According to Immigrations and Customs Enforcement, Legal Permanent Residents have a responsibility to stay out of legal trouble in order to maintain their status. LPRs facing criminal convictions may face deportation under certain circumstances. U.S. citizens on the other hand, cannot be deported.

Because these issues can be so complicated, it may be in an individual's best interests to speak with a qualified legal professional. An attorney can help an individual assess his or her situation and what legal steps can be taken in his or her best interests.

Source: Daily Journal Online, "Legal residency does not mean citizenship," Renee Bronaugh, May 19, 2014

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