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Miami Immigration & Naturalization Law Blog

Immigrants, refugees and paths to remaining in the United States

Individuals in Florida seeking to remain permanently in the United States may be eligible to do so as either immigrants or refugees. Although both are terms for people who leave one country to live in another, they describe different situations.

Technically, an immigrant is someone who chooses to move to another country while a refugee is a person who is forced to leave their home country because their life is in danger. However, in practice, the difference between immigrants and refugees is less clear. For example, each year, many people come to the United States from countries such as Honduras or Guatemala because they are fleeing drug-related violence and gangs. These individuals are generally not considered refugees however. In general, to be considered a refugee, a person has to be directly targeted for violence.

How a migrant child may be granted asylum in the U.S.

The fact that child migrants come from dangerous places is not enough for them to be granted asylum here in the U.S. In order to gain permission to stay, migrant children must demonstrate that they face direct persecution because of an affiliation with a specific group. Children who do not fit into that category often apply for Special Immigrant Juveniles Status instead.

There is a growing political rift over whether unaccompanied migrant children should be deported immediately or care should be taken to grant asylum to those children who are eligible for it. There are two principal legal options available to children who wish to stay in the U.S. The most common means for children to gain permanent residency is to receive Special Immigrant Juveniles Status. The purpose of SIJS is to provide aid to children who have been neglected, abused or abandoned.

The process of immigrants becoming U.S. citizens

Over 9,000 people were sworn in as United States citizens in ceremonies in Florida and throughout the country during the first week of July. Sites such as Mount Rushmore, the White House and the U.S.S. Midway welcomed people from Afghanistan, India and Iraq. At Mount Vernon, the home of George Washington, 102 people were sworn in on July 4. As one newly minted citizen proclaimed, it was akin to getting married on New Year's Eve.

For many, the journey to become a United States citizen is a long and arduous one. The story of one 52-year-old man who was attacked by both Shias and Sunnis before leaving Iraq for a Syrian refugee camp is a typical one. Many people who fled to the United States did so to escape a life of poverty or war in their home countries.

Immigration status affects tuition rate in Florida

Some students at the University of Central Florida have immigrant status, but the type of status the student has makes a difference in whether they pay in-state or out-of-state tuition. The difference in the tuition price for in-state students is about $10,000 less than out-of-state students.

Some foreigners come to the U.S. as entrepreneurs to open a business or invest and, for this purpose, they may obtain an E-2 visa that permits them to live in the U.S. on a temporary basis. When the investment ends, they return to their country of origin. There is no limit on the amount of time the individuals may stay, and it could be measured in years. Their ability to work is not extended to their dependents. In Florida, after dependents become 21, if they are attending school they are no longer able to qualify for in-state tuition at UCF under their parents' E-2 status and must switch to F-1, also known as a student visa. Under the new visa, the individual now has legal status, but they have to pay out-of-state tuition if they want to study at UCF or other state colleges and universities.

Miami feels impact of surge in minor immigrants

Miami is one of 10 cities to which immigrant children crossing the Mexican border are being sent. With thousands of minors involved, the situation has reached a level that is reportedly stressing agencies involved in providing services during this immigration influx. Although the arrival of unaccompanied minors to the United States is far from a new concern, the numbers arriving in the last two years have increased dramatically. The majority of the children involved in the recent surge are from Central America. In some cases, they cross in groups, and in others, they cross with assistance from adults who are considered to be migrant smugglers.

In Miami, experts who work in assistance agencies note that the number of beds available in area shelters had to be increased approximately three months ago. Those working with these young people are interested in helping them find legal methods for remaining as residents and potentially seeking citizenship in the future.

Military bases providing shelter to detained child immigrants

Florida residents may have heard that President Obama has opened three military bases to temporarily house children who have been detained while trying to enter the United States illegally. Most of the children come from Honduras, Guatemala and El Salvador. While they are entering the country without parents or relatives, in many cases, they already have a mother or father living in the United States.

Cecilia Munoz, the White House domestic policy director, has theorized that growing violence in those countries has led to the influx of children. Some of them are girls younger than 13. However, others counter that more children are entering because the United States may be changing immigration policies. In the meantime, the United States is trying to work with governments in Mexico and Central America to discourage children from making the journey.

Immigrants celebrate citizenship in Miami

During a naturalization ceremony that occurred in Little Havana in Miami on June 5, it was announced that the month of June would be called Immigrant Heritage Month. The month was given this name by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in order to honor those who have immigrated to the United States. At the ceremony, 50 people from all over the world were selected to be sworn in as citizens of the U.S. Unlike most ceremonies, this particular event honored the previous generations of immigrants who were instrumental in the shaping of the state of Florida and the nation.

Many of those who were being sworn in decided to seek citizenship in order to have the freedom to speak their minds and to vote. Others initially came for the purpose of seeking an education and ultimately decided to stay. For some, the transition can be a struggle as it is not always easy to obtain permanent residency and then citizenship.

Gay Honduran man living in Florida fighting deportation

A 27-year-old gay native of Honduras who has lived in Broward County for the past decade is seeking to regain asylum in the United States after being deported on March 10. The man fears for his life if he must stay in his homeland, a nation in which approximately 80 LGBT individuals have been tortured, murdered, or both in the past four years by various groups including police officers.

The man originally followed his high-school boyfriend after an abuse-filled youth to Broward County in 2005 and found employment at a Colombian fast-food establishment. According to his partner, he was living a regular life in the area until he was asked in March to visit the Miami Immigration Court to check the battery on the ankle bracelet he wore as part of his asylum agreement. For reasons unexplained in news reports, he was deported within a week of the court visit.

Benefits to becoming a citizen

Florida residents who live in the United States legally as permanent residents may wonder about the benefits of naturalization. There are currently more than eight million green card holders living in the U.S. However, of all those eligible to pursue citizenship annually, a mere 8 percent do so.

There are many benefits of U.S. citizenship. The first is the right to vote in local, state and federal elections. But choosing naturalization may also allow immigrants to help keep their families together. Naturalized United States citizen have the right to sponsor relatives for citizenship, the same as natural-born citizens. A green card holder may be deported under certain circumstances, but neither citizens nor their children may be. Citizens can travel internationally at will, without concerns of losing their ability to reenter the United States. A green card holder who is absent from the United States for more than six months risks not being allowed to return.

Florida veteran discovers he isn't a citizen

A 58-year-old Florida man who served in the army during the Vietnam War recently discovered that he is not a U.S. citizen after he tried to apply for a passport. According to authorities, there was no record of him as a citizen or permanent resident. Immigration officials are currently reviewing the man's case and plan to meet with him on May 20.

The man was born in Cuba and came to the United States with his mother as a child after she filed immigration papers. When he arrived in 1965, he was issued a social security number. Assuming he was a citizen, he joined the army, voted in elections and later worked for the Department of Justice's Bureau of Prisons. During that time, he was reportedly never asked to provide proof of his citizenship.

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