Entered the U.S. illegally and got asylum; am I inadmissible when I request a green card?

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Question:

I am originally from El Salvador, but fled to escape persecution there. I crossed the U.S. border from Mexico by paying a coyote. I applied for asylum, and was granted over a year ago. Now I am ready to apply for my green card. But I keep reading things about how an illegal entry to the U.S. makes it so that people are not allowed to adjust status here (but must instead travel to a U.S. consulate) and makes us inadmissible, too. Is this a problem for me?

Answer:

As an asylee, you should not have any trouble applying for your green card in the United States, using the application procedure known as “adjustment of status.” While the issues you describe are major concerns for many types of applicants – for example, those who entered the U.S. unlawfully (without inspection) and married U.S. citizens, who would NOT be eligible to adjust status due to that illegal entry, and would likely have to travel to a U.S. consulate to apply for an immigrant visa, where they might be found “inadmissible,” thus barred from getting a green card – people granted asylum in the U.S. are a special case.

The Immigration and Nationality Act (I.N.A.) contains no requirement that asylees have entered the U.S. lawfully in order to adjust status. The main requirements for asylees seeking to adjust are that they have been physically present in the U.S. for at least one year after the grant of asylum, continue to meet the definition of a refugee, haven’t resettled in another country, and aren’t inadmissible. (See 8 C.F.R. Section 1209.2.) So, the basic application procedure is open to you no matter how you entered the United States.

What’s more, the law specifically says that asylees are NOT subject to certain grounds of inadmissibility, including the one found at I.N.A. Section 209(7)(a), which requires people applying for green cards to be in possession of either a “valid unexpired immigrant visa, reentry permit, border crossing identification card, or other valid entry document.” So your lack of a visa does not make you, as an asylee, inadmissible. (If you had used a false document to enter the U.S., however, that might subject you to another ground of inadmissibility, in which you’d want to consult an immigration attorney.)

A related concern arises, however, if you spent six months or more in the United States unlawfully before applying for asylum, and you later traveled outside the United States (most likely on a Refugee Travel Document). There’s a chance your departure and return could trigger your becoming inadmissible under the so-called “Three- and Ten-Year Time Bars.” In that case, you would need to apply for a “waiver” (legal forgiveness) in order to successfully adjust status. Consult an experienced immigration attorney for more information on this.  

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