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The rise in xenophobia and anti-immigrant sentiment in the United States has sparked widespread fear and hysteria in immigrant communities as well as an abundance of misinformation. NIJC seeks to keep people informed by providing clear, accurate and up-to-date information.  For those who are seeking to learn more about immigration in the United States, we've compiled some answers to frequently asked questions.

How does the immigration court process work?

Immigration law is one of the most complex areas of law. Without counsel immigrants, including children, struggle to navigate the system alone. As a result, many have to appear before an immigration judge and against a government attorney without anyone to assist them. Many who are eligible for protection are unaware of their legal rights, and those in removal proceedings face the imminent threat of deportation. Only 30 percent of immigrants and 14 percent of detained immigrants have access to counsel, yet research shows that immigrants with legal counsel are more likely to prevail in their cases.

What is DACA?

Since 2012, the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program (DACA) has provided temporary immigration relief and benefits for eligible immigrant youth. DACA recipients receive employment authorization, which allows them to work legally and usually enables them to obtain drivers’ licenses. DACA is not a law. It was created by Executive Action and can be revoked at any time.

Why don’t undocumented immigrants apply for green cards or U.S. citizenship?

Many undocumented immigrants do not qualify for any immigration status. Immigration to the United States on a temporary or permanent basis is generally limited to three different routes: employment, family reunification, or humanitarian protection.  Even those who have qualifying family relationships must wait decades and/or may be prevented from using visas available to them because the immigration laws severely punish anyone who has been in the United States without status, even for a relatively short amount of time. To make matters worse, some people who qualify for status must wait three or more years between immigration court hearings in order to resolve their cases.

Who are the 11 million undocumented immigrants in the United States?

Undocumented immigrants are interwoven into our communities. Many live in mixed-status families and at least one in every 15 children in the United States has an undocumented parent. Nearly 60 percent of undocumented immigrants have lived in the United States for more than 10 years.

Is our refugee system secure?

Yes.  Refugees undergo a more rigorous screening than any other group admitted to the United States. The 21-step screening process is conducted by multiple federal agencies including the Federal Bureau of Investigation, the Department of Defense, the National Counterterrorism Center, the Department of Homeland Security, and the State Department.  In addition to hefty security screenings, refugees undergo medical exams and other interviews to make sure they qualify for refugee resettlement.  The review process typically takes more than a year. By the time refugees arrive in the United States, they have been heavily vetted and their cases have been thoroughly reviewed.  

How are refugees and asylum seekers selected for refugee or asylee status?

Refugees and asylum seekers must establish that they have been persecuted or will be persecuted in the future because of a characteristic they can't change.  Examples of refugees include people who face harm because of their race, political beliefs, or status, such as opposing a forced marriage.  People persecuted because of their religion also qualify for refugee protection.  Discriminating against refugees based on their religion or nationality undermines America’s foundation as a nation that provides freedom for all and welcomes everyone notwithstanding their beliefs or nationality. Such behavior deteriorates our moral standing. It is un-American.

What is the difference between a refugee and asylum seeker?

Both refugees and asylees have to meet the same legal standard in order to get refugee or asylum status.  However, refugees are screened for protection outside of the United States and enter the United States as legal immigrants with refugee status.  In contrast, asylum seekers are immigrants who have entered the United States in many different ways and request protection within the United States.  If they are determined to meet the refugee test, then they too are granted legal status.  Although many people throughout the world are able to request protection through the refugee system, others do not have a safe place to do so and must escape to the United States to request protection here.

How do immigrants and refugees strengthen our economy? 

Numerous studies show that immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, strengthen the U.S. economy and create jobs for native-born workers.

Why do people come to the United States?

Anyone who has made a long distance move knows how difficult it can be to uproot their lives and families and start a new life. Many people who come to the United States believe the United States provides their only means of survival. Many asylum seekers and refugees tell us that they wished they could remain in their home countries, if only they could live safely there.  Mothers seeking asylum in the United States often tell us they believed the only way to save the lives of their children was to take the dangerous journey to the U.S. to seek protection. They weighed the risks and decided to leave because it was their only hope. 

Do immigrants use government benefits?

Undocumented immigrants, including those seeking asylum, do not qualify for most public benefits. In fact, many undocumented immigrants pay into programs like social security even though they are not eligible to receive those benefits. Despite the fact that many undocumented immigrants have no networks of support, they must rely on the charity of churches, nongovernmental organizations, or acquaintances.  They do not receive food stamps or welfare in most states.  Refugees, who have lawful immigration status, receive some very limited assistance to help them with their resettlement.  This enables them to more quickly become contributing members of our communities.  Our country is better when we welcome immigrants and recognize that everyone’s health and well-being is important.

To learn how to engage your community to learn more about the realities of the U.S. immigration system and how it affects our neighborhoods and families, check out NIJC's Ambassador Toolkit.