How to Become Legal: Visas

August 13, 2011

Persons interested in living permanently or temporarily in the United States must apply for a visa.  While those seeking permanent residency seek green card status, those who wish to remain in the U.S. temporarily must apply for a nonimmigrant visa.  Here is an overview of the visa application options, according to FindLaw:

Visa Waiver Program

Entering on a visa waiver is a simpler way to enter the USA if you are only planning on staying 90 days or less.  If you come by land from Canada or Mexico, you will also need to present proof of finances to fund your stay.  Although this is the simplest way to enter the USA, you give up a lot of your benefits and rights by participating in the program; it is often easier to deport those in the USA on a Visa Waiver Program.  As of August 2004, the members of the visa waiver program included:  Andorra, Australia, Austria, Belgium, Brunei, Denmark, Finland, France, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Liechtenstein, Luxembourg, Monaco, The Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Portugal, San Marino, Singapore, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, and the United Kingdom.

Nonimmigrant Visas

Tourist and Business Visitor Nonimmigrant Visas:  The majority of nonimmigrant visas are issued to tourists (temporary visitors for pleasure) and business visitors (people engaging in commercial transactions in the U.S. but not employment). Often visitors are issued a multiple purpose business/tourist visas (B-1/B-2 category). Both B-1 and B-2 visa are valid for one year and are renewable in six-month increments.

Temporary Worker Nonimmigrant Visas: An area of nonimmigrant visas that has grown recently is the H-temporary workers category. These visas are issued to workers with “specialty occupations” (such as computer systems analysts and programmers) or to workers performing temporary services or labor when persons capable of performing this work are not available in the U.S (such as agricultural workers). The visas are designed to help employers meet an immediate and temporary need for labor.

Nonimmigrant Visas for Education: Many aliens also seek entry to the U.S. for educational purposes. The F-1 visa is for academic students entering the U.S. to pursue a full course of study at an established educational institution. Students who wish to attend vocational or nonacademic programs must enter on an M visa. The J visa covers exchange visitors such as students, teachers, and professors. With certain restrictions, F and J visa holders may work while in the U.S. The M visa holder’s ability to work, however, is more limited.

Immigrant Visas

Visas not subject to numerical limitations are granted to immediate relatives (children, parents and spouses) of U.S. citizens, resident aliens returning from temporary visits abroad, and former U.S. citizens. To qualify as a “child” of a U.S. citizen the person must be unmarried, under 21 years old, and either a legitimate child, stepchild, illegitimate child, adopted child, an orphan adopted abroad, or an orphan coming to the U.S. to be adopted. A parent with any of the relationships described under the definition of child qualifies as a “parent.” In order to receive a visa as the spouse of a U.S. citizen the alien must have a “valid and subsisting marriage” with that citizen.

Visas subject to numerical limitations are granted to persons qualifying for family sponsored, employment related, or diversity immigrant visas. There are four categories of family sponsored visa preferences: unmarried sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their children; spouses, children, and unmarried sons and daughters of legal permanent residents; married sons and daughters of U.S. citizens and their spouses and children; and brothers and sisters, including spouses and children, of U.S. citizens ages 21 and over. There are five categories of employment-sponsored preferences: priority workers; professionals with advanced degrees or aliens of exceptional ability; skilled workers, professionals (without advanced degrees), and needed unskilled workers; special immigrants (e.g. ministers, religious workers, and employees of the U.S. government abroad); and employment creation immigrants or “investors.”

Diversity Lottery

“The diversity immigration program” provides another, but more limited, method of gaining permanent residence. Under this program, approximately 55,000 immigrant visas are available annually to aliens who are natives of countries determined by the I.N.S. to be “low admission” countries, that is, countries that are proportionately under-represented in the U.S. immigrant population. To receive a diversity visa, an individual must have at least a high school education or its equivalent, or, within the preceding five years, two years of work experience in an occupation requiring at least two years training or experience.


How to Become Legal: Green Cards

August 13, 2011

A green card reveals the non-citizen’s permanent resident status in the United States.  Here are the eligibility requirements, according to FindLaw:

Categories of Those Eligible for Green Card Applications:

Immediate relatives of US citizens 
Relatives in the immediate family of U.S. citizens are eligible to file a green card application, so long as the citizen-relative petitions for them.  The following relations qualify under this category:

  • spouses of U.S. citizens, including recent widows and widowers
  • unmarried children under age 21 with at least one U.S. citizen parent
  • parents of U.S. citizens, if the U.S. citizen child is at least age 21
  • stepchildren and stepparents of U.S. citizens, if the marriage creating the stepparent/stepchild relationship took place before the child’s 18th birthday, and
  • adopted children of U.S. citizens, if the adoption took place before the child reached age 16

Other family members of citizens and permanent residents 
Only 480,000 non-citizens are granted green cards under this category per year, and it is based on a first come, first served basis.  The wait in this category can be lengthy, varying from three to even twenty-four years.  This type of classification is called a “preference category” because these family members are classified and prioritized accordingly:

  • First Preference: Unmarried adults, age 21 or older, who have at least one U.S. citizen parent.
  • Second Preference: Spouses and unmarried children of a permanent resident, so long as the children are younger than age 21; and unmarried children age 21 or older of a permanent resident.
  • Third Preference: Married people who have at least one U.S. citizen parent.
  • Fourth Preference: Sisters and brothers of U.S. citizens, where the citizen is age 21 or older.

Workers whose skills are needed in the USA 
There are only 140,000 workers who are admitted each year, which is why the preference category system is used.  Usually, the non-citizens must show proof that there is a job offer.  In those cases, the employer must show that he or she recruited for the position in the USA and that there were no qualified US citizens who could fill the position.   Non-citizens who want to obtain a green card based on employment must wait for an immigrant visa number to become available according to the following preferences:

  • First Preference: Priority Workers.  Priority workers include those with unique and advanced skills, education, or talents such as
    • those who excel in the arts, sciences, athletics, business, or education,
    • exceptional professors and researchers, and
    • supervisors and executives of global companies.
  • Second Preference: Professionals with extraordinary ability or advanced academic degrees
  • Third Preference: Skilled Workers, professionals, and other qualified workers
  • Fourth Preference: People in religious vocations and special immigrants including
    • religious workers of legitimate religious organizations
    • foreign medical graduates who have been in the USA since 1978
    • former Panama Canal Zone employees
    • foreign workers who were longtime employees of the U.S. government
    • retired officers or employees of certain international organizations who have lived in the USA for a certain period of time
    • non-citizen workers employed by the U.S. consulate in Hong Kong for at least three years
    • non-citizen children who have been declared dependent in juvenile courts in the United States
    • international broadcasting employees, and
    • certain members of the U.S. Armed Forces who enlisted overseas and have served for at least twelve years.
  • Fifth Preference: Investors wishing to invest at least a million dollars into a US business (or $500,000 in depressed economies). This investor must also have at least ten employees.

Green card lotteries that create ethnic diversity 
Green card lotteries, whose purpose is to create ethnic diversity, make 50,000 green cards available to non-citizens from countries that have had the fewest immigrants come to the USA. 

Asylum and refuge 
“Asylum” is used to refer to the protection of those non-citizens who are already currently living in the USA; whereas, “refuge” is used to refer to the protection of those non-citizens who live outside the USA, and move to the USA for protection.  Asylum and refuge are available to those non-citizens who fear that living in their native country would threaten their safety or subject them to persecution.  This persecution must be based on a protected category such as race, nationality, religion, political stance, or affiliation with a certain group.  Fearing poverty or random violence does not qualify non-citizens for asylum or refuge.

Amnesty is the basis for non-citizens, living in the USA illegally, to obtain a green card.  Years ago, amnesty green cards were offered to those illegal non-citizens who had been living in the USA since January 1, 1985.  Similarly, between May 1, 1985, and May 1, 1986, amnesty green cards were offered to field workers who had worked for at least ninety days.  These deadlines have passed, but because the green card application process can be lengthy, there are still pending applications.

Long-Time Residents
Long-time residents who have lived in the USA for more than ten years are allowed to request permanent residence.  This typically happens in deportation court proceedings, where the non-citizen requests permanent residence as a defense.  To do this, the non-citizen must show that his or her U.S. citizen children or spouse would face “extraordinary and exceptionally unusual hardship if the non-citizen were deported.  Going to USCIS in order to ask about this is dangerous because they could deport you.

Non-citizens who have lived continuously in the USA since January 1, 1972, may apply to obtain a green card.  The requirements include showing that you are of good moral character and are not inadmissible.  All of your time in the USA qualifies, even if it was not legal or was on a visa.

How to Become Legal: Naturalization

August 13, 2011

An individual can become a U.S. citizen by one of three paths: birth, blood, or naturalization.  If a person was not born in the U.S. or born to at least one U.S. citizen, he or she may take the path of naturalization.  Here are the requirements, according to FindLaw:

Requirements for Naturalization:

Age:  An applicant for naturalization must be at least eighteen years old.

Residency:  An applicant must be a legal permanent resident in the U.S. The applicant must have an I-551 (Alien Registration Card) to proceed.

Residence and Physical Presence:  Just before applying, a naturalization applicant must have been physically present in the U.S. for at least 30 months out of the previous five years.  However, if the applicant was absent for more than six months but less than one year, the applicant may still be eligible if he or she can show that the absence was not an abandonment of resident status.

Good Moral Character:  A naturalization applicant must show good moral character during the five-year period prior to application (three years if married to a U.S. citizen or one year for certain military exceptions). Murder convictions are a permanent obstacle to naturalization, as are aggravated felony convictions on or after November 29, 1990.  Certain criminal convictions in the five years prior to the application will bar naturalization, but even if the applicant fears that a conviction will ruin his or her application, all convictions must still be disclosed.  It is far worse to have U.S. immigration authorities discover a falsehood than to disclose the issue.

Attachment to the Constitution:  An application for naturalization must declare the applicant’s willingness to support and defend the U.S. and the Constitution. An applicant declares his or her “attachment” to the U.S. and the Constitution at the time he or she takes the oath of allegiance.

Language:  Applicants must be able to read, write, speak, and understand English words in ordinary use. Some applicants may be exempt because of age or mental condition.

U.S. Government and History Knowledge:  An applicant for naturalization must demonstrate knowledge of the fundamentals of U.S. history and certain principles of U.S. government. Applicants are exempt if they have a medically recognizable physical or mental impairment that affects their ability to learn or understand these topics.

Oath of Allegiance:  U.S. citizenship is conferred after the oath of allegiance is taken. A modified oath may be available in certain instances, such as religious opposition to oaths.

Legal Help with the Naturalization Process:  Successfully naturalizing in the United States requires a thorough understanding of the steps involved, and careful preparation at each stage. If you or a loved one are considering becoming a U.S. citizen through naturalization, you should contact an experienced immigration attorney who can guide you through each step of the process and protect your legal rights.

Quetzal–an ancient symbol of Liberty

July 26, 2011

The Quetzal was the nahual (spirit guide)  of Tecún Umán (1500-1524), a warrior who was the last ruler of the Quiche Mayan people (in the highlands of Guatemala) during the latter stages of the Spanish conquest of the region.  Legend has it that when Tecún Umán was slain by conquistador Pedro de Alvarado, the quetzal flew down and landed on Umán, dipping its chest in the warrior prince’s blood.  It is there that the bird acquired its distinctive red chest feathers. (from

“The name quetzal is an ancient Mayan term for tail feather, and the bird itself represents liberty. Ancient people believed the Quetzal would not survive in captivity, it would rather die than be held prisoner. So rather than killing these birds for their feathers, the Maya would pluck them and set the birds free to grow new feathers. Unfortunately this has since proved false and Quetzals can be viewed in zoos throughout the world.” (From

To hear the song of this bird, click on and choose the “Audio” link

From National

“The resplendent quetzal is an aptly named bird that many consider among the world’s most beautiful. These vibrantly colored animals live in the mountainous, tropical forests of Central America where they eat fruit, insects, lizards, and other small creatures….”

“Unfortunately, these striking birds are threatened in Guatemala and elsewhere throughout their range. They are sometimes trapped for captivity or killed, but their primary threat is the disappearance of their tropical forest homes. In some areas, most notably Costa Rica’s cloud forests, protected lands preserve habitat for the birds and provide opportunities for ecotourists and eager bird watchers from around the globe.

Such admirers continue a long history of adoration for the quetzal. The bird was sacred to the ancient Maya and Aztec peoples, and royalty and priests wore its feathers during ceremonies.”

Other facts:

– The quetzal is Guatemala’s national bird; it’s on the flag, coat of arms, and currency, which is named a “quetzal.”

– The quetzal eats wild avocado, and has a symbiotic relationship with the avocado (being the primary animal to distribute its seeds).

– The quetzal is the equivalent to the N. American bald eagle as a symbol of liberty in South America.

Meet Coyote

July 26, 2011

Do you always imagine smugglers to be brawny men with stealthy composures?  Think again!  The following articles reveal the current and historical significance of female borderland smugglers, also known as “coyotes”:

Women Are the New Coyotes

Death of a Border Queen

Birds & Tower Kills 3

July 22, 2011

Okay, here’s some “overkill” on the Birds & Cell Phone Tower Threat–see the previous two posts if you want the summarized version, but if you’re REALLY interested in this topic, try these websites:

Sibley Guides:  Causes of Bird Mortality




Birds & Tower Kills 2

July 22, 2011


“…Our TV and cell phone habits are contributing to the deaths of millions of migratory birds a year. The birds collide with the communications towers …and with the cables that anchor the towers. Those towers become sky-high death traps for birds, who then drop in grass, streets, parks, and fields, and on rooftops….conservation groups and government biologists estimate that communications towers kill from 4 to 50 million birds a year. They endanger or threaten at least 50 species….

The construction of new towers is deadly news for migratory birds. The tower-bird collisions occur (1) during spring and fall migrations, and (2) at night, when songbirds travel to avoid the heat and daytime predators. For birds, such as whooping cranes, that fly during the day but cannot see the power lines, the towers and lines are the Number One migration danger.

…Many of these nighttime travelers can cross oceans and navigate mountain ranges. What makes them crash into the blinking, lighted towers? Scientists aren’t certain. The worst kills happen when a flock, which might number half a million, flaps toward a lighted tower. Something about the lights attracts the birds. Red beacons seem to draw birds more than other lights do, although studies suggest that red wavelengths may disrupt the birds’ ability to navigate using the stars or the earth’s magnetic fields. The weather may play a role, since large kills almost always occur on cloudy or foggy nights. Fog, mist, or storms increase the odds of trouble. Unlike larger birds, which can climb above the clouds, smaller migrants sometimes try swooping underneath, right into the path of towers. “