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Immigrant Rights

What Rights do I Have as an Immigrant?

Immigrants in the United States have similar rights to U.S. citizens to freedom of speech and religion, to be treated fairly, right to privacy, and other fundamental rights. The United States civil rights laws ensure immigrants, regardless of their immigration status, are protected from unlawful discrimination that includes housing, job opportunities, and more. However, immigrants are not permitted to vote in federal, state, and most local elections. Only United States citizens can vote.

Can an Immigrant Work in Texas?

Yes, immigrants with a valid green card (Form I-551) can work in Texas. Form I-551 is also known as the Permanent Resident Card. Immigrants in Texas can present their green cards as evidence of employment authorization. However, an immigrant with a pending application to Register Permanent  Resident or Adjust Status can file for an Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Employment Authorization Document, Form 1-765, shows that an individual is permitted to work in the United States.

Can an Immigrant Apply for a Social Security Card in Texas?

Yes, An immigrant, also known as a noncitizen, can apply for a social security number (SSN) card in Texas. Although, interested non-citizens must request a social security number card as part of their immigration visa application as they apply to enter the United States. In addition, such a person must be a lawfully admitted permanent resident in the country. Applying for a social security number card with the immigrant visa application save applicants time and worry after they arrive in the United States.

Applicants will no longer have to search and visit the nearest social security office or wait in line. Upon arrival in the United States, applicants can expect their SSN card via mail in about three weeks.

Am I Protected by Labor Laws as an Immigrant in Texas?

Yes. There are several labor laws that protect immigrants in Texas. The Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), Occupational Health and Safety Act (OSHA), Family Medical Leave Act (FMLA), and Texas Minimum Wage Act are examples of laws that protect employees at work regardless of their citizenship or immigration status. Immigrants who have complaints about employment discrimination can contact the Texas Workforce Commission Civil Rights Division via (888) 452-4778.

Can Prospective Employer Ask Me About My Immigration Status During an Interview?

No. In compliance with the Federal Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) of 1952, employers are not permitted to discriminate in hiring based on an individual's citizenship or immigration status. However, the Federal Immigration Reform and Control Act (IRCA) of 1986 requires employers to verify the eligibility of all their employees to work in the United States. Employers can verify the identity and employment authorization of all employees using Form I-9, the Employment Eligibility Verification form.

What is an I-9 Form?

A Form I-9 is an Employment Eligibility Verification form that enables employers to verify the identity and employment eligibility of employees in the United States. Employers are mandated by law to complete the Form I-9 for every employee regardless of their status as citizens or noncitizens. 

Can I Get Fired for Being an Immigrant?

No. An employer cannot fire an employee based on their identity as an immigrant in Texas or United States. In line with the Federal Law - Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 (Title VII), employees, employment agencies, or labor organizations are prohibited from discriminating against any employee, regardless of their status as a United States citizen or undocumented worker. The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission is responsible for enforcing Title VII.

Can I Get a Green Card if I've Worked in the U.S. Unlawfully?

Some individuals who have worked in the United States unlawfully can seek an adjustment of status to a green card. In most cases, self-petitioners under VAWA (Violence Against Women Act) and immediate relatives of a United States citizen are not affected by working without a work permit. In addition, "special immigrants" as listed in 8 U.S.C. § 1255(c) are not affected. Individuals who gained entry into the United States lawfully and their unauthorized employment has not exceeded an aggregate period of 180 days can file for adjustment of status as established in 8 U.S.C. § 1255(k).

Can an Immigrant Collect Unemployment if I Lose My Job Due to a Disaster in Texas?

Yes, immigrants who lose their jobs due to a disaster in Texas can apply for unemployment benefits as long as they have valid work permits and meet the FEMA requirements. Immigrants who wish to collect unemployment benefits may be eligible if any of the following happened due to the direct result of the disaster:

  • They lost their job, which was over 50% of their total income,
  • They live in, work in, or travel through the affected area,
  • Their workplace was damaged or closed due to the disaster,
  • They were scheduled to start work in the affected area,
  • They suffered injury or incapacitation.

Interested immigrants who wish to apply for Unemployment Benefit Service may submit their application via the Texas Workforce Commission platform. Some of the information interested individuals may need to provide include:

  • The last employer's business name, 
  • Last employer's address, 
  • First date (‘MM, DD, YY’ format) of employment for the last employer, 
  • Last date (‘MM, DD, YY’ format) of employment for the last employer, and 
  • The number of hours worked.

What is Disaster Unemployment Assistance in Texas?

Disaster Unemployment Assistance (DUA) in Texas is a program that provides temporary unemployment benefits to persons who lost their employment status due to the direct result of a federally declared disaster. Individuals eligible for DUA may include employed or self-employed persons who are not eligible for unemployment insurance (UI). Therefore, small business owners, farmers, and ranchers may apply for DUA in Texas. Disaster Unemployment Assistance is a temporary financial aid because it is only available for up to 26 weeks. Also, eligible individuals who receive DUA payments must report it as income to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS).

I Was Stopped by Police, ICE, or Border Patrol. What Should I do?

Often, the police, ICE, or Border Patrol may stop immigrants, leaving them with no clue of what to do next. Immigrants who find themselves in this type of situation should consider the following:

  • Take note of any identifying information about the law enforcement agent, such as name, number, etc.
  • If stopped in a public place, immigrants are not mandated to answer law enforcement agents' questions about their identity, race, or immigration status. Such persons may request to leave if they are not under arrest.
  • If detained or arrested, immigrants have the right to remain silent and the right to speak to a lawyer. They are not mandated to provide information about their country of origin or immigration status.
  • If there is a need to provide any information, an immigrant should never provide false information or documents.

Can a Lawyer Help You if You are Detained by ICE or Border Patrol?

Yes, a lawyer can help individuals detained by the ICE or border patrol. Most times, individuals arrested by the police have the right to government-appointed attorneys. However, for individuals detained by ICE, the government is not required to provide attorneys. Detainees can, however, consult an attorney on their own. Interested persons can seek a list of free or low-cost immigration attorneys.

What Happens if You Get Deported and Come Back Illegally?

Individuals who have been deported from the United States and come back illegally may be charged with a federal felony. In line with the U.S.C Section 1326, such persons may be arrested for Illegal Reentry After Deportation. In most cases, individuals who have previously been removed from the United States may have to wait for a period of five, ten, or 20 years, depending on their offense. Nonetheless, such persons may find it difficult to reenter the United States through an immigrant visa, nonimmigrant visa, adjustment of status, or any of its equivalents. Interested persons may need to hire an immigration attorney to evaluate their chances.

Can You Visit Immigration Detention Centers?

Yes. Individuals can visit a family member or loved one at an immigration detention center. Interested persons who wish to visit must provide the detainee's Alien Registration Number. The Alien Registration Number is usually an eight or nine-digit number (A# XXXXXXXX). Visitors may also provide additional information such as first and last names, aliases (if any), date of birth, and country of birth. The U.S Immigration and Customs Enforcement provides an online detainee locator system that allows visitors to find detainees in the country.

Am I Eligible to File for Asylum in Texas?

Interested persons in Texas can file for asylum within one year of their arrival in the United States, regardless of their immigration status. In addition, applicants must meet the following requirements to file for asylum:

  • They must be present at the port of entry to the United States or in the United States for less than one year.
  • They are persecuted in their country of origin or have a fear of future persecution.
  • Their persecution is based on any of the following: religion, nationality, membership to a particular social group, race, or political view.
  • Their persecution is carried out by the government of their country or by a person or group such government is unable or unwilling to control.
  • They are not prohibited from seeking asylum in the United States.

Where do I File for Asylum?

Interested individuals who wish to file for asylum in Texas can visit the local United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office. Applicants are required to file the Form I-589 with:

Attn: I-589
6046 N Belt Line Rd. STE 589
Irving, TX 75038-0018

Do I Need a Lawyer to Help Me With Asylum Application?

In most cases, individuals filing for the USCIS affirmative asylum application hire attorneys due to the complex laws and requirements. Although, there are no specific laws that mandate applicants to hire an immigration lawyer. A good attorney, however, oversees the entire process and paperwork to ensure all documentation is done professionally. Also, an experienced and competent asylum lawyer will advise applicants on preparing for their interview and protecting their rights.

Can Undocumented Go to School and Receive a K-12 Education?

Yes. Undocumented students in the United States can access public K-12 education regardless of their immigration status. Per the U.S. Equal Protection Clause, undocumented children and young adults are eligible to attend public primary and secondary schools similar to U.S. citizens and permanent residents.

Can Undocumented Students Apply for Financial Aid in Texas?

Yes. Undocumented students can apply for financial aid in Texas. Interested students who wish to apply must submit the Texas Application for Financial Aid and provide relevant documents to prove they are Texas residents. In addition, some higher institutions in Texas offer financial aid based on merit and scholarships. 

Will I Pay Out-of-State Tuition Rates for College as an Undocumented Student?

Undocumented students who have lived in Texas for over three years may pay in-state tuition fees as established in Section 54.051(m) of the Texas Education Code. According to the 2001 Texas law, undocumented immigrants may be eligible for in-state tuition once they can provide documents that demonstrate they are Texas residents. Otherwise, such students may be required to pay the same tuition fees as non-residents.

What is DACA and What are the Benefits to Undocumented Students?

DACA stands for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. It is a program that protects young people who entered the United States unlawfully from deportation. Recipients of the DACA program are called DREAMERS. Although, being a recipient does not automatically turn holders into United States citizens. In line with U.S laws, there is no direct path for DACA recipients to become citizens. DACA allows immigration removal procedures to be deferred against such children for two years. Recipients may be able to renew at the end of the two years.

Undocumented students in the United States are sometimes DACA recipients that benefit from the program because of the following:

  • DACA allows undocumented students to gain access to in-state tuition, 
  • DACA enables recipients to apply for a work permit and work legally for higher wages,
  • DACA ensures undocumented students have job security after graduation.

Are Immigrants Eligible for FEMA Cash Assistance?

Yes, an immigrant is eligible to apply for FEMA cash assistance as long as such an individual is a qualified alien. A qualified alien is anyone with a valid green card (legal permanent residence), asylee or refugee status, conditional entry, withholding of deportation, parole in the US for at least a year, Cuban-Haitian entrant, with a pending or approved petition for a battered spouse or child(ren), or a T- visa recipient. Individuals who meet the qualified alien criteria can apply for FEMA cash assistance regardless of their residency application status.

How do I Apply for FEMA Aid?

Texas residents can apply for FEMA Aid by calling (800) 621-3362 or registering online. FEMA stands for the Federal Emergency Management Agency. It is a program that provides financial support to individuals to get back on their feet after a disaster. However, financial aid is only available to individuals or households with uninsured or underinsured expenses and serious needs. Interested persons who wish to apply for the FEMA Aid must provide general information such as income, insurance, the extent of the damage, housing needs, etc. Afterward, applicants will be given an application number to access their files later. The FEMA website provides a step-by-step guide to the application process.

In addition, applicants can only be eligible for FEMA aid once the following is verified:

  • Citizenship status: Applicants must provide relevant documents that support their citizenship and immigration status.
  • Identity verification: To ensure eligibility, interested persons must provide supporting documents to verify their identity. Most times, FEMA verifies the identity of applicants using their Social Security numbers.
  • Ownership/Occupancy verification: Individuals applying for a FEMA Aid must present necessary documents to show proof of home ownership or occupancy. FEMA provides a comprehensive proof of occupancy and ownership list.
  • Unmet need after insurance: Typically, FEMA does not replace insurance. Therefore, applicants must provide necessary details of all their insurance coverages. They are only eligible for FEMA Aid once the insurance cannot cover the expenses and serious needs caused by the disaster.

What is a Special Immigrant Juvenile Visa?

A Special Immigrant Juvenile Visa is an immigration classification that allows children under the age of 21, who are subject to a juvenile court ruling that includes abuse, neglect, or abandonment, to seek permanent residence in the United States. Individuals who wish to apply for a Special Immigrant Juvenile Visa must submit a complete Form I-485, Application to Register Permanent Residence or Adjust Status.

Are Human Trafficking Victims Eligible for Immigration Relief in Texas?

Yes. Individuals who have T Nonimmigrant Status in Texas are eligible for federally funded benefits and services. However, individuals who are victims of human trafficking but without the T Nonimmigrant status may also receive federally funded benefits and services if they have any of the following:

What Must Trafficking Victims do in Order to Qualify for the T Visa?

Human trafficking victims may qualify for a T visa, also known as T Nonimmigrant Status if they meet the following:

  • They are or were victims of a severe form of trafficking in persons.
  • They are in the United States, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, or at a port of entry due to trafficking.
  • They comply with any reasonable request from a law enforcement agency to aid the investigation or prosecution of human trafficking. Individuals who were below 18 at the time of the incident may not need to show proof of their cooperation with law enforcement. Also, an individual may not show evidence if they suffer physical or psychological trauma due to the incident.
  • They show that removing them from the United States or returning to their home country will cause extreme hardship
  • They are admissible to the United States. Trafficking victims who are not admissible may be eligible for a waiver. Such persons may apply using the Application for Advance Permission to Enter as a Nonimmigrant) - Form I-192