If I entered the U.S. unlawfully as a child, how can I avoid deportation?

You were a child when it happened: your parents brought you with them to the United States and you entered the country without proper authorization. You were born somewhere else. Now, you are in a country where you are not a citizen and do not have legal permission to be here. You worry about being deported. You are afraid every time you see a police officer or someone who you think might ask about your citizenship status. You stayed in school and abided by the law. You worry about your future: will you be able to legally get a job? How long will you be allowed to stay here? Will you be separated from your family, friends and the life you built? Will you be immediately deported if the federal government finds out you entered without authorization?

All these questions can be frightening to think about. The good news is there's a federal policy that stalls deportation or delays removing you from the country if you entered as a child, and were brought unlawfully by your parents. The policy is called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). If you are eligible, you may be able to avoid deportation for two years. The policy does not give you formal legal status, but an immigration attorney can help you find out how to obtain legal status.

To be eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, you must answer "yes" to the following questions:

• Are you under age 31?

• Did you come to the U.S. before you were 16? Did you enter the U.S. illegally before June 15, 2012?

• Did you live in the U.S. continuously for at least five years, and currently live in the U.S.?

• Are you in school or have graduated, completed high school or a GED certificate, or were you honorably discharged from the U.S. Armed Forces or Coast Guard?

In addition, to qualify, you have to NOT:

• Be considered a threat to national security

• Have any felony convictions, convictions of a "significant" misdemeanor or three misdemeanors on your criminal record

Since criminal convictions can easily prevent you from qualifying, or from obtaining legal status in the future, it is wise to seek a lawyer who practices both immigration law and criminal defense.

An attorney can help you obtain an application for DACA. Since it's up to each applicant to provide proof of eligibility, an attorney can help you figure out what documents you need to gather or what you need to do so that you can be approved.

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