Do You Know Someone Who's Become a Legal Citizen?

Updated on December 07, 2012
L.L. asks from Austin, MN
12 answers

I guess I've known it for years, but haven't wanted to face friends are all illegal aliens. A few of my friends' husbands have recently expressed concerns over this...I've seen a few families lose their jobs and have to move to find another factory that will employ them...and in my Sunday School class, their children have begun expressing concerns that they will be "sent back to Mexico", etc.

I would love to help this situation if I can, being a citizen and bilingual (roughly), but I don't even know where to begin. Obviously, I'll do the research, but has anyone actually gone through this process or know someone who has? Is it very difficult...lots of red tape? Thanks in advance.

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So What Happened?

Thank you all for your honest answers.

Just to clarify, my friends are mostly illegal aliens. They are families who have come from Mexico. Their children have (except for maybe a few of the teenagers) all been born in this country. Only one family has a legal status to be here, and that's my pastor.

It makes me sad that there really isn't much I can do for them. It's really a shame that the process has to be so long and expensive, from everything I'm hearing...these are honest, law-abiding (well, except for the "immigration"), hard-working citizens who came here to have a better life for their children. These are volunteering, community serving, upstanding people...and it just makes me so sad that they have to live in fear.

Featured Answers


answers from Norfolk on

I've known a few co-workers who were here from India on H1B visas that went on to become citizens.
The process took several years.
Interestingly enough, once they became citizens they felt the doors should be closed behind them and they would like fewer immigrants entering their new country.
They read the Statue of Liberty poem (The New Colossus) and they are like "Yeah yeah, nice poem but it's not government policy or law. We just CAME from a place with plenty of tired, poor, huddled masses and they are totally capable of filling up a country.".
They are not terribly politically correct guys.

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answers from St. Louis on

Hi there,
There is a big difference between a legal permanent resident becoming an America Citizen from an illegal immigrant becoming an American Citizen.
Legal residents go through an expensive process either with an attorney or by themselves. In the case of your friends, they should have an attorney or look into any reform or new guideline from the current government (I am not aware of anything special so far).
The first thing to do if you want to help them is look into USCIS (US Citizenship and Immigration Services), this the official site, and get further information.
As a norm, it usually takes to apply for a "green card" (legal permanent residency) first, and then after 5 years apply for Naturalization (if the person wants to be a citizen, otherwise he/she can keep renewing the green card indefinitely). In both cases it is necessary to fill forms, have money, and wait. Both process, by legal means, take from 3 months to 3 years sometimes, so I am not sure that in your friends' case, it will be a short process. Remember that there are good and bad people (criminals, robbers, etc..) going through the same situation, and the government doesn't know who is who. So, from now on, you may want to suggest them to start doing things in the right path and every step of the way legally (attorney). They will need money that's for sure.
Good luck!

5 moms found this helpful


answers from Columbus on

Thank you for trying to help your friends and neighbors, regardless whether they are US citizens or not. :)

This is a good resource, particularly for helping the kids in your Sunday school:
A guide for undocumented youth and what their rights are:

Other helpful links:
Immigrant Legal Resource Center:

Specific links that might be helpful:
Naturalization charts, which show who qualifies for naturalization

Guide for Parents of Undocumented Students (English & Spanish versions available)

Information about your rights if you're an illegal immigrant and are arrested outside or near a school and your kids are in school.

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answers from New York on

There's a big difference between becoming a citizen as a legal alien than as an illegal alien. I have a few friends who've become or are in the process of becoming citizens. But they all started the process as a legal alien. For an illegal alien it's nearly impossible unless they've come from a country with a special status for those escaping persecution or risk of life or limb. That doesn't apply to those from Mexico.

that may change in the future but for now it's virtually impossible unless they go back to Mexico and come in legally with a visa.

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answers from New York on

You could try contacting the USCIS at one of the MN locations:

Ask for how you can volunteer. You can assist in paperwork, help fund, act as a sponsor, make inquiries as to amnesty programs etc.

My parents, aunts, uncles, and grandparents all immigrated here in the late 50s/60s. They used attorneys at that time. My husband is also a naturalized citizen.

Good luck to you and yours,
F. B.

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answers from Iowa City on

If they entered the country illegally then there is very little chance that they will be able to become lawful permanent residents. They would have to return to their home country and apply from there. The wait time is long. The fees are high. If they entered lawfully and have overstayed their visa and are married to a US citizen then there is some hope they they could apply for resident status while remaining in the US. They really need to speak with an immigration attorney to see what their options are. It is far better to return on your own and apply then to be removed. Once you are removed/deported you have to wait 5,10 or 20 years before you can apply for entry (there are exceptions but those are hard to come by).

Lots of accurate info straight from the feds.

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answers from Washington DC on

There's a difference in being undocumented and being here legally. I have friends who are not citizens (mostly for financial reasons) but are here on legal visas and green cards. Some for years and years.

Undocumented/illegal status is a concern here as well. Many kids get brought to the US and don't know that they're not legal til they can't fill out a FAFSA, get a license, etc. You might want to start by asking the church if they know of any group working to help people get their documents in place. One of our church members is a lawyer for such a group, so I know they exist. I'm sure that a group like that can use help, even if it's just helping someone translate forms.

The amount of tape depends on the situation. My friend from the Ukraine probably has a lot less tape (being here legally) than someone who crossed the river and doesn't have any paperwork.

You can also look into teaching ESL classes. Many adults are held back by their inability to speak English and many groups have free or low cost ESL classes for people. That can also benefit people who are new to our country.

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answers from Honolulu on

Oh gosh... they NEED a GOOD Immigration Attorney.
It is not an easy process.
It takes time and is a long process.
And there is no way to predict, what their outcome will be.
And yes, it can be a very difficult process.

Their Husbands need to help them.
Honestly, as a friend, you cannot do this for them. It is a legal process.
And very tenuous.

But let me get this straight... are your friend's Husbands, US Citizens or are they illegal immigrants, too? Makes a big difference.

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answers from Miami on

Yes, I have many friends who immigrated to the United States through legal means and became citizens. One of my best friend's husband was a J-1 scholar who had to return to his home country (with his American pregant wife and American born child) for two years before he could apply for permanent residence (green card). Believe it or not, they lived their as a family for two years, he got his green card, they moved to TX and he recently became a naturalized U.S. citizen.

Unless an amnesty program is offered by the federal government - your friends are all breaking the law and if discovered will be deported to their country of citizenship.

As you probably know, Arizona has been very active in detaining illegal / undocumented people and handing them over to immigration. Many families there have decided that it is better for their children to return to Mexico where they will not have to live in fear.

Honestly, as a mother, I can't understand why you would force your child to be deprived of citizenship status or live in constant fear of being separated from your family. On top of it, children who are deported back to an unfamiliar country have an even worse life than if they had never left as they are not educated in the language of the country of citizenship and don't have the required education to pursue higher education in that country.

I've lived overseas many times (legally each time) and I really don't understand it unless you are seeking a legitmate asylum!


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answers from San Francisco on

All I know is this - I work in the legal field and I can't tell you how many of our illegal immigrant clients get deported right after their court case. It is very sad - in some situations, the children were born here so the government deports the parents but not the kids. What are the kids to do?

In other situations, the adult children (18, 19) get into trouble and when it's all done, they are deported. We have one now. He's 19. He was brought to US illegally when he was 3 months old. He has lived his entire life here. Now he's getting ready to be deported because he got into trouble with the law which brought attention to him. He has to go to Mexico. He says not only does he not know anyone there and has absolutely NO family there, he doesn't even speak Spanish. He'll be in Mexico all by himself and his only hope is to get back her illegally because with his criminal history, they won't let him return legally.

Just encourage them to do SOMETHING! I would hate to see these people in either one of these situations!

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answers from New York on

If you're a resident alien the process is fairly simple. I've known a few people, including my husband, who are now US citizens.

The process for an illegal alien is much more complicated. I would start by doing some research on the internet for INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service). Here's a website you might want to look at

1 mom found this helpful


answers from Raleigh on

My uncle's wife just became a citizen about 5 years ago, after living here for 25 years. She was a legal alien brought here by marriage. So I think it was easier for her.
It is a long, long, expensive process. It involved a lot of travel because the host site for the processing was 3 1/2 hours away. You have to show up in person for your meetings. This is a driving factor why more people don't go through the process.
Anyway, the whole process is insane, I think.

1 mom found this helpful
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