Written by attorney JoAnn Lois Barten

Guatemalan Immigration Programs and Deportation

During the 1980s and 1990s, many Guatemalans fled the bloody war and conflict to re-settle in the US. Once in the US, Guatemalans fleeing the war typically filed applications for asylum and received yearly work permits while their cases were pending. Much later, sometimes 10 - 15 years later, the asylum office finally reviewed the applications and interviewed the Guatemalan applicants. Many of these cases have been denied because Guatemala no longer has widespread war so the reason for fleeing Guatemala subsided. The recent denial of a large number of Guatemalan asylum cases has caused a significant increase in Guatemalans receiving notifications informing them their case has been sent to the US immigration court. The notification has a meeting time and date at the Omaha immigration office. Many people coming to see me about this immigration problem do not realize this notification means the applicant is considered a Respondent and defending against forced deportation back to Guatemala. In order to defend against removal back to Guatemala, the Guatemalan Respondent must attend all the court hearings. Failure to attend the hearing will result in an automatic deportation. There are many defenses to deportation. One of those defenses is called the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA). The NACARA program allows Guatemalans to apply for lawful permanent residency and receive green cards. In order to be eligible to apply for residency the Guatemalan applicant must show good moral character and that deportation would cause extreme hardship. Plus one of the following must have occurred, either: 1. They applied for asylum with INS on or before April 1, 1990. OR 2. They first entered the US on or before October 1, 1990; and, filed for American Baptist Church (ABC) lawsuit registration before December 31, 1991. In order to prove the Guatemalan applied for ABC lawsuit registration, we typically check the ABC database. If it still does not show up, then credible testimony is sufficient to meet this requirement. Sometimes Guatemalans did not enter the US before October 1, 1990 and missed the deadlines. The Guatemalan Respondent can still qualify through a spouse or parent who was granted NACARA. This can occur if the Guatemalan person's spouse was granted NACARA while they were married or they were unmarried and under age 21 when his or her parent was granted NACARA. Application for NACARA benefits in immigration court is just one defense to removal. There are other defenses to deportation which have not been addressed in this article.

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