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Immigration Laws and Regulations in Texas

Texas has a long history of immigration, and a large number of the people residing in Texas are immigrants. Immigration laws and regulations in Texas are the policies and legal frameworks that expound the rights, obligations, duties, and expectations of immigrants in Texas. These policies are rapidly changing. As such, immigrants and legal practitioners must ensure that they make use of sources that are up to date when researching immigration. A good source of information on the immigration laws and regulations in Texas is the Texas State Law Library.

What are the immigration Laws and Regulations in Texas?

An immigrant in Texas is anybody who was not born in the USA but has moved to Texas for residence. Other terms used for immigrant status include Green card holders, Lawful Permanent Residents, and Resident Aliens. Gaining this status is usually a lengthy and complex process that may require the assistance of an immigration attorney. The visa granted to some immigrants is restricted to the activity for which the visa was granted. Some of these visas have annual caps, and upon expiry, if the immigrant is unable to renew the visa, they would have to leave the state. Those who fail to leave bear the risk of arrest and deportation. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) issues a quarterly report describing legal immigration and detailing the number of adjustments to immigration status. Immigrants with Legal Permanent Residency (LPR) status can remain in the country even if they are unemployed. They can also choose to apply for any job not legitimately restricted to U.S. citizens. After meeting certain requirements, they can also apply to become U.S. citizens. It is not possible for an immigrant to apply to become a citizen without first being a Legal Permanent Resident.

There are various laws and policies governing Immigration in Texas. Some of them are:

  1. The Immigration and Nationality Act. 
  2. Title 8, Code of Federal Regulations; Allens and Nationality.
  3. Texas Government Code Chapter 752. Immigration.

Certain rights exist for both citizens and non-citizens in the U.S. For instance, the Fifth Amendment gives every person the right to remain silent and to refuse to answer questions by the police. Additionally, the First Amendment protects the right to self-expression. The Fourth Amendment prohibits unreasonable search and seizure. Immigrants also have rights regarding education, work, and living.

U.S. law provides that anyone in the country has the right to primary, secondary, and tertiary education, whether they are there legally or not. States are also required to provide unaccompanied children with equal access to public education, irrespective of their immigration status. In Texas, undocumented residents are allowed to attend university provided that they:

  • Have gotten a GED or a degree from a high school in Texas.
  • Have resided in Texas for a minimum of three years during high school.
  • Offer their colleges an affidavit stating that they will apply to become permanent residents at the earliest opportunity.

As regards employment, Texas law requires employers to use an E-verify internet-based system to confirm that potential employees are eligible for employment. This means that undocumented immigrants and immigrants whose visas do not permit them to work cannot work in Texas, especially in government organizations. Any immigrant can apply for and get a driver's license, whether they are in Texas temporarily or permanently. They would, however, have to verify lawful presence. Immigrants cannot vote.

What is E-Verify Requirement in Texas?

The E-verify requirement in Texas is an online database to check the eligibility of potential employees in Texas. On June 10, 2015, a bill was passed in Texas requiring all state agencies and institutions of higher education to make use of E-verify. This bill served as an addition to an executive order that requires all state contractors and sub-contractors to enroll in E-verify to qualify for public contracts. This is currently in effect for all government agencies. For instance, the Texas Department of Transportation does not award contracts to any contractor that is not registered in the Department of Homeland Security’s E-verify program. In addition, all contractors and sub-contractors for contracts that contain Federal Acquisition Regulations (FAR) must remain active in E-verify throughout the period of the contract. There have been numerous attempts by the Texas State Legislature to extend the requirement of E-verify to private employers, although the attempts have been unsuccessful so far. However, many private employers in Texas have enrolled for the service. Employees, individuals, and contractors seeking work in Texas need to check their information against E-verify checks through a government-provided Self Check System that allows them to check their eligibility for employment in Texas. Employers can also confirm the eligibility of their employees and verify their identity against records of the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

What are the Requirements to Become a U.S. Citizen in Texas?

Any person who is not a citizen of the U.S. by birth in Texas can become a citizen through naturalization. Becoming a citizen through naturalization bestows certain rights and obligations. Certain requirements have to be met before a person can become a citizen by naturalization. These requirements include:

  • The immigrant must be a lawfully admitted permanent resident of the U.S. who is at least 18 years of age at the time of the application for naturalization.
  • The immigrant must have been a permanent resident in the U.S. for at least five years before filing for naturalization or at least three years if they are eligible to file as the spouse of a U.S. citizen.
  • The immigrant must have lived in Texas for at least three months prior to filing for naturalization and must have demonstrated good moral character.
  • The immigrant must have a basic knowledge of the U.S. history, government, and civic principles, and in addition, must show or demonstrate conformity with the principles and ideals of the U.S. constitution.
  • The immigrant must be able to read, write and understand basic English.
  • The immigrant must take an oath of allegiance to the U.S. to become a citizen by naturalization in Texas.

In some circumstances, non-citizens who are already in the U.S. legally or illegally can be allowed to obtain a Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status. This process is called adjustment of status. Such immigrants can then apply for naturalization when they have met the requirements. 

Understanding the Immigration Act 1965

The Immigration Act of 1965 is significant for changing the United States' stance on migration from a discriminatory era to an all-inclusive age, which has since then been the core of immigration laws in the U.S. On the 3rd of October 1965, The Immigration and National Act was passed into law. This law capped the number of annual visas at 290,000. There have been many modifications to the 1965 Act, but the basic framework remains the same. Prior to the 1965 Act, admission into the U.S. was largely dependent on the immigrant's country of birth. In other words, people born in certain countries were given preference over others. The Act sort to abolish this discrimination by eliminating the nationality criteria and widening the scope of consideration to take preference of family reunification and employable skills over national heritage. This law gave room for equal representation of every country strictly on generic criteria. The Immigration Act of 1965 and subsequent legislation established preference categories for migrants based on family unification and professional preferences. In the category of family unification, eligible immigrants had to have:

  • Immediate relatives of U.S. citizenry, particularly spouses, unmarried minor children, and parents.
  • Married adult children who are citizens of the U.S.
  • Children who are minors and are lawful permanent citizens. 
  • Unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents. 
  • Siblings that are U.S. citizens.

In the category of professional preferences, eligible immigrants had to have:

  • Extraordinary ability in the arts, sciences, education, business, or athletics.
  • Advanced degrees or possess exceptional abilities in the arts, sciences, or business.
  • Experience as skilled workers with a minimum of two years of experience or unskilled laborers for permanent positions.
  • Other special classes of immigrants include religious workers, employees of U.S. foreign services posts, and former U.S. government employees.
  • Investors of between $500,000 and $1 million in a job-creating enterprise that employs at least ten full-time U.S. workers.

What are the Recent Immigration Amendments in Texas?

The recent immigration amendments in Texas are more rigid against undocumented immigrants. One of the recent amendments is the introduction of the Texas Senate Bill 4 signed in May 2017. The bill prohibits all Texas cities and counties from being sanctuary jurisdictions. The ban followed the executive order of the Trump administration. It also requires local police to cooperate with federal immigration enforcement authorities. Also, there is the existence of the E-verify requirement for employment. New Texas policies further seek to strengthen border security and reduce the inflow of undocumented immigrants into the state. There has been some friction within the Texas government and the immigration policies of the Biden administration. A recent challenge for the Texas government is the issue of educating undocumented immigrants.

What is the 4 Year 1 Day Rule for U.S. Citizenship?

There is a Continuous Residence Requirement for an immigrant to become a citizen of the U.S. through naturalization. The immigrant must have resided in Texas for an extended period of time. In other words, to be eligible to apply for naturalization, the immigrant must have been a lawful permanent resident for a period of five years. If this period of continual residency is broken, then the 4-year 1-day rule will apply. The rule is that once an immigrant breaks the continuous residency, a new period will start to run upon their return to the U.S. and that immigrant will not be able to apply for naturalization until they have stayed in the U.S. for a continuous period of at least four years and one day from the day of return. This rule can only apply to legal permanent residents that are required to stay a period of five years before they can apply for naturalization,

Does Texas Still Have a Sanctuary Jurisdiction?

There is no city in Texas that has officially declared sanctuary status. On the 7th of May, 2017, Senate Bill 4 (S.B.4), also known as the Sanctuary cities bill, was signed by the Governor of Texas. The bill sought to outlaw sanctuary cities and counties within Texas, making it compulsory for local police to cooperate with federal immigration authorities and allowing police to inquire about the immigration status of any lawfully detained individual. The bill resulted in a plethora of court proceedings and protests. Eventually, the Federal Appeal Court ruled in favor of the bill, and the bill remains to date. There are, however, a few cities that do not fully cooperate with the federal immigration authorities. This lack of cooperation has been met with a negative response from the legislature. The law enforces fines on any city that does not comply. It also permits charging police chiefs and constables who fail to comply with detention requests. 

Are All Counties in Texas Part of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) ACCESS Program?

All the counties in Texas are part of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Access program. The Immigration and Customs Enforcement Access Program is an agreement of cooperation with communities in order to enhance safety and security. The agreement gives local enforcement agencies an opportunity to partner with the ICE to jointly combat certain challenges the community faces. Since September 2010, the ICE program has been active in all counties in Texas.

What is Considered a Violation of Immigration Laws in Texas?

There are federal and state laws governing the conduct of immigrants in Texas. Any contravention of any of these regulations by an immigrant would be considered a violation and could lead to the arrest and deportation of the individual. Violation of immigration laws is not restricted to the conduct of immigrants upon admission into the state, and it also covers the conformity with immigration rules for entering Texas. In other words, if a person enters Texas through means not permitted by law, such an individual has violated Immigration laws and may be deported and possibly banned from entering the U.S. for some years. Staying in Texas beyond the period stipulated by the visa, either for work or academic purposes, or going outside the scope of the reason for entering the state is also a violation. Aiding other immigrants in overstaying their stipulated time in Texas is a violation. Working without authorization, presenting false facts to the government, engaging in illegal activities, and commissioning a fraudulent marriage in order to gain U.S. citizenship are also violations of the Texas immigration laws.

What is the 10-Year Immigration Law?

The 10-year immigration law is a defense for undocumented immigrants who have been apprehended by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) or placed in a removal proceeding and are facing removal. Unlike what many people think, the 10-Year Immigration Law does not automatically bestow a status of eligibility to become U.S. citizens to undocumented immigrants. Instead, it serves as a defense provided for in The Immigration and Nationality Act for undocumented immigrants who have been arrested by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and are facing deportation. It is an opportunity to remain in the U.S. and apply for citizenship status. For this defense to avail an immigrant, certain requirements must be met:

  • The immigrant must have maintained a continuous physical presence in the U.S. for at least ten years.
  • The immigrant must have demonstrated good moral character within those ten years.
  • The immigrant must not have been convicted of certain crimes or violated certain laws.
  • The immigrant must have a family, either a spouse or a child, who are U.S. citizens and would experience exceptional and extremely unusual hardship if they were deported.

If the immigrant can successfully prove all this, then they would have an opportunity to remain in the U.S. and even apply for citizenship.

Can the 10-Year Law Help Me?

The 10-year law can serve as a defense for any immigrant in a removal proceeding, provided they are able to meet all the requirements. In other words, for the 10-year law to help a person, they must have resided in the U.S. for at least 10 years, they must have been of good moral character and not have been convicted for serious offenses, and they must have a family member that is a U.S citizen that is in dire need of their presence. The major challenge has mostly been proving the fourth requirement, as mere separation from family is not sufficient to prove this requirement. The immigrant must prove that the family member would experience exceptional and extreme hardship if they are deported. Another difficulty is getting into a removal proceeding and the risks attached with it. The judges have the discretion to decide whether the defense is strong enough to avail the immigrant. This makes the process quite complex and risky. 

How Can an Immigration Lawyer Help Me?

Immigration lawyers are legal practitioners that specialize in helping immigrants with their legal issues. An immigration lawyer is useful for gaining legal entry into Texas during the stay in the state and if the immigrant wishes to become a U.S. citizen residing in Texas. Immigration policies differ in states and sometimes cities and counties. As such, it can be a challenge to understand the rights and obligations of an immigrant. For this reason, it is important for immigrants to have an immigration attorney in the state they want to reside to help with consultation and to keep them up to date with the policies of the state. Some of the services immigration lawyers provide include:

  • Assisting with migration into Texas. There are different ways an immigrant can enter Texas. There is no better way than entering legally, conforming with the state regulations. An attorney can help an immigrant lawfully enter Texas by giving the best advice pertaining to the purpose of entry. If an immigrant wants to enter Texas for education or work purposes or the immigrant wishes to reside in Texas permanently, an immigration lawyer can help with advice on what type of visas to apply for. An immigration lawyer can also help in preparing necessary paperwork for an extended stay in Texas. 
  • Representing an immigrant in required circumstances. If an immigrant is arrested for one reason or the other, or the visa of the immigrant has expired, and the immigrant is facing deportation or removal, it is better for the immigrant to seek the expertise of an immigration attorney. An immigration attorney can help in getting an immigrant out of this sort of situation by helping them take the best course of action, representing them in proceedings, and putting up a good defense for them. The attorney can assist with the submission of necessary documents and evidence to help establish the immigrant's case.
  • Help with the process of becoming a citizen. An immigration lawyer can help with the application to become a citizen by naturalization. Immigrants can consult immigration attorneys to confirm their eligibility status to become citizens of the U.S. The attorney can also help with the application process and advise the immigrant on how to go about it.
  • Understanding Immigration Rights in different situations. Based on the status of the visa that was granted, there are rights that would accrue to the immigrant. An immigration attorney can help with the understanding of these rights and how to enforce them if the need arises. Also, when the immigrant is faced with certain challenges like a stop and search, there is a need to understand their rights in those circumstances.

Immigrants in Texas can find immigration lawyers through the Texas State Law Library website of the Immigration Lawyers Association.