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Understanding the Legal Landscape

Understanding the Legal Landscape

Federal law provides a number of legal pathways for immigrants to participate in the economic and social life of our nation, from attaining full U.S. citizenship through a naturalization process, to conferring the right to work based on established criteria.


Naturalization is the process by which U.S. citizenship is granted to a foreign citizen or national after he or she fulfills the requirements established by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).


Immigration Relief may be available to those that qualify for the T or U Visas, Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), Self‐Petition, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, or asylum. Each form of immigration relief has its own eligibility requirements, processes, and benefits. Many of these forms of relief provide a path to lawful permanent residence (a “green card”).


DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals) is an American immigration policy that allows certain undocumented immigrants who entered the country before their 16th birthday and before June 2007 to receive a renewable two-year work permit and exemption from deportation. DACA is the most recent right-to-work program also known as “administrative relief,” which confers nonimmigrant legal status but does not provide a path to citizenship.


Unfortunately, too few immigrants pursue the full complement of legal opportunities available to them, which limits not only their own progress, but our success as a community. Many simply don’t know about these programs, lack resources to cover legal and application fees, have been given false information about applying, or live in fear of unintended consequences for themselves or other family members.


Consider that:

  • 220,000 permanent legal residents in Orange County are eligible to apply for full citizenship but haven’t for various reasons.
  • 35,000 are eligible for DACA, making Orange County the home of the fourth-largest eligible population in the United States.

This combined total of 255,000 residents eligible to normalize their immigration status represents 8.5% of Orange County’s total population. Imagine the game-changing impact of their full participation in the economic and civic life of our county, and its exponential impact on our future generations.