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If an alien is granted cancellation of removal under the NACARA program, they will obtain lawful permanent resident status in the United States.

If you think you qualify for NACARA and require expert legal advice, our New Jersey immigration lawyers can help. Call us today so we can discuss your immigration status.

The US Program Of The Nicaraguan Adjustment And Central American Relief Act (NACARA) In 2022

The Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act or NACARA is one of several US programs available to certain national foreigners in the US. Under this program, the following should be considered:

  • If Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) places a Salvadoran, Guatemalan or former Soviet bloc member in deportation proceedings , they may qualify for NACARA. 
  • In some scenarios, aliens with criminal records may also apply for NACARA. However, the eligibility standards are higher and more complex.
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Have you been convicted for immigration purposes? Check our article on post-conviction relief for immigration purposes and crimmigration to delve into these topics.

What Is The NACARA Program?

The NACARA program is a US law targeting citizens of El Salvador, Guatemala, and other former Soviet bloc countries under certain criteria. When the NACARA aid is granted, the beneficiary can obtain the Green Card in the USA.

  1. In the 1980s, political instability and high violence in Central America led thousands of Central Americans to seek the asylum process in the United States.
  2. Initially, the US government denied the Central Americans their request for asylum.
  3. Such denials provoked various protests demanding human rights, which led to a reconsideration of asylum claims.

The program allows you to suspend deportation or apply for cancellation of removal, even if the alien is not in one.

A similar program, although not a direct path to residency, is DACA. If you entered the US illegally as a child and meet DACA application requirements, you may be able to avoid being temporarily deported from the US.

What Is 203 In The Migration Law?

Section 203 of NACARA allows aliens who qualify for the program to apply for cancellation of removal and avoid removal from the United States.

Which President signed into law the NACARA Law?

The NACARA Act was approved on November 13, 1997, was signed by the president of that time, Bill Clinton on the 19th of that same month and entered into force on June 22, 1998.

How Do I Qualify For The NACARA Program?

To apply for NACARA, the applicant must meet one of the following criteria:

guatemalan person with nacara

Guatemalans:

  • First entered the United States on or before October 1, 1990 (ABC class member). 
  • Registered for ABC benefits on or before December 31, 1991.
  • Applied for asylum on or before January 3, 1995.
  • You were not detained upon entry to the US after December 19, 1990.

Salvadorans:

  • First entered the US on or before December 19, 1990 (ABC Class Member).
  • Registered for ABC benefits on or before October 31, 1991. Regardless of whether you did it directly or through Temporary Protected Status (TPS).
  • You applied for asylum on or before February 16, 1996.
  • You were not detained upon entering the US after December 19, 1990.

Individuals From The Former Soviet Bloc:

  • Entered the US on or before December 31, 1990.
  • Applied for asylum on or before December 31, 1991.
  • When the application was submitted, you belonged to a country of the former Soviet bloc:
    • Albanian.
    • East Germany.
    • Bulgaria.
    • Czechoslovakia.
    • Estonia.
    • Hungary.
    • Latvia.
    • Lithuania.
    • Poland.
    • Romania.
    • Russia.
    • Soviet Union or any of its republics.
    • Yugoslavia or any of its former states.

ABC stands for Settlement Agreement in American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh.

Other Eligibility Considerations

To qualify for this relief, the applicant:

  • Must not have been convicted of an aggravated felony.
  • Is a Guatemalan or Salvadoran who filed an asylum application on or before April 1, 1990 and have not received a final decision on their application.
  • Is a family member of an individual who qualifies for the program.
  • Individuals who have been abused or are victims of extreme cruelty by an individual may also be eligible to apply for NACARA with an immigration judge.

If you are a victim of cruelty or other abuse in the US, you are not alone and the law protects you. Find out what is a U visa and what is the VAWA visa in our blog.

  • If the alien qualifies for NACARA, but received a final order of removal, they must have filed a motion to reopen the immigration case with the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) before September 11, 1998.
  • If a motion to reopen has not been filed by that date or the aliens don’t believe that they are still subject to a final order of removal, they should consult with our immigration attorney to help assess their eligibility for the program.

Evidence For The NACARA Program

Once a foreign national is eligible to apply for NACARA with USCIS, they must demonstrate the following:

  • 7 years of continuous presence in the United States.
  • Good moral character during your 7 years of continuous presence in the US.
  • Evidence that you cannot be deported for certain criminal reasons (certain convictions may result in different results on your NACARA eligibility).
  • Your deportation would lead to extreme hardship for you or your spouse, child, or parent who is a US citizen or permanent resident.
  • You deserve the benefit of the program.

The law requires that the applicant be physically present in the United States for a continuous period of at least 7 years prior to the date of application. Additionally, they had to maintain good moral character during that time.

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What Is The ABC Settlement Agreement?

In 1985, a select group of organizations (including American Baptist churches) filed a lawsuit against the US government. 

  • These organizations claimed that the government discriminated against some Guatemalans and Salvadorans who had applied for asylum.
  • In 1990, lawyers for both sides agreed to settle the dispute out of court. As a result of this matter, the “ABC Settlement Agreement” was born.
  • This agreement provided certain immigration benefits to Salvadorans and Guatemalans. 

What Are The Benefits Of The ABC Settlement?

Among the benefits obtained by the ABC Settlement Agreement we find the following:

  • Stay of deportation. No member of the ABC class could be deported or removed until they had an opportunity to receive Settlement benefits.
  • Detention restrictions. Individuals who meet the ABC requirements could only be detained for the following reasons:
    • It’s a national security risk.
    • It is a threat to public safety.
    • You have been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude and were sentenced to jail for more than 6 months.
  • New interview and asylum decision. Individuals who meet the ABC requirements may receive a new asylum interview and a new decision on the petition. This decision does not have to depend on the previous decision.

There are certain exceptions to these restrictions. For example, in the event that an individual flees, USCIS may require them to report to their offices twice a year.

While in the US, were you or a loved one detained by immigration? You may be able to post a bond. We invite you to read our article on where to pay an immigration bond to learn about this topic.

Who Can Be Members Of The ABC Class?

Members of the ABC class are defined by their nationality and date of entry into the U.S. In addition:

  • Guatemalans must have entered the US on or before October 1, 1990.
  • Salvadorans must have entered the US before September 19, 1990.
  • Continuous presence in the US is not required. It is possible to qualify even if you left the country after entering.

NACARA Program Application Process

To apply for NACARA, the alien must file with USCIS Form I-881, Application for Suspension of Deportation or Special Rule Cancellation of Removal. 

  • Through the following link, you can complete the form.
  • Said form must be delivered filled out and signed respectively.
  • Along with the form, evidence of continuous residence of no less than 7 years in the country must be submitted.

What Happens After I Apply?

Once the applicant has filed the application, USCIS will:

  • Mail the applicant will a receipt notice and an Application Assistance Center (ASC) appointment notice with the date for fingerprinting.
  • Send the information obtained to the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) on the fingerprints so that they verify the applicant’s criminal history.
  • Send another notification to the applicant with the appointment date for the interview with an asylum officer related to the NACARA application.

Fingerprint Considerations

  • USCIS does not offer NACARA assistance if the FBI fingerprint response has expired. These fingerprint responses are valid for 15 months.
  • Applicants who are 14 years of age or older must be fingerprinted after applying for NACARA.
  • If USCIS receives a NACARA application prior to July 2000, it means that the applicant received notice for the ASC appointment.
    • In the event that no notification of an ASC appointment has been received, a request must be submitted to USCIS for the appointment to be scheduled. This request is made through form I-881.
  • The applicant’s child who is in the US may also need to be fingerprinted if:
    • You will be 21 years old the next year from when the application was made.
    • Entered the country after October 1, 1990.
    • USCIS has not scheduled a fingerprinting appointment for the program applicant.

You can learn more about asylum offices and the ASC locator on the USCIS website.

How To Prepare For The NACARA Program Interview?

Here are some tips on how to prepare for the interview for this program:

  • Bring an interpreter if necessary. If the NACARA applicant does not speak English, they may bring an interpreter who is fluent in both English and the applicant’s language.
    • Interpreters must be at least 18 years of age and cannot be attorneys, representatives, or witnesses testifying on behalf of the applicant.
    • If they have a pending asylum application, the interpreters cannot be representatives of their country of nationality.
  • Hire a lawyer. For these types of procedures, it is essential to have an immigration attorney to represent you. Our attorney Carolina T. Curbelo has more than 10 years of experience in these types of immigration matters.
  • Deliver the necessary documents. In order to receive the application as soon as possible, it is necessary to bring the following documents to the interview:
    • Proof of family relationship. For example, the marriage or birth certificate.
    • Proof that you filed tax returns during the 7 years of continuous presence in the US.
    • Evidence of the hardship that the applicant and/or their family members would suffer in the event that the applicant is removed from the US.
    • Court ruling documents regarding any criminal proceedings or serious traffic violations.
    • Passport, travel documents and other forms of identification (it does not matter if they have expired).

If the NACARA applicant has a valid passport and USCIS approves their application, temporary evidence of permanent resident status will be stamped on the passport.

interview for the nacara program

What To Do If I Cannot Attend The NACARA Interview?

If you are unable to appear for your NACARA interview, you must contact the asylum office prior to your interview date. It is possible to reschedule the interview once and without reasonable excuse. 

This is possible when USCIS receives the petition at least two days before the scheduled interview date. A written request can be submitted to the asylum office via fax, mail, or by hand delivery of a written request.

Please note that it is not possible to reschedule an appointment over the phone.

What Can I Do If I Changed My Address?

If you change your address, you must:

  • Inform USCIS in writing within 10 days of your change of address in one of the following ways:
    • Use the USCIS online change of address tool.
    • Mail Form AR-11, Alien Change of Address Card, to USCIS at the address listed on the form. 
    • If the Form AR-11 is sent by mail, the asylum office must also be informed of the new address so that it can be changed in the electronic asylum system.

Additionally, you can also:

  1. Provide the address to the asylum office in person or during the interview.
  2. Send a copy of the AR-11 or a letter by fax or mail to the asylum office.
  3. Call the USCIS Contact Center at 800-375-5283. Individuals who are deaf, hard of hearing, or speech impaired may use: TTY 800-767-1833.

What Happens During The Interview For NACARA?

The interview will be conducted in a non-adversarial manner. If the applicant has a NACARA application and an asylum application pending with the asylum office, the NACARA application will usually be processed first.

  • If the asylum office grants the national foreigner NACARA program aid, they will also be given the option of withdrawing the application for political asylum. If you do not withdraw your asylum application, you will be scheduled for another asylum interview.
  • The asylum officer may inform you of the decision on the day of the interview. If the officer does not inform you of the decision that day, USCIS will ask you to return to the asylum office at a later date or will mail the decision to you.
  • USCIS cannot approve the application until the applicant signs a document admitting that they do not have legal status in the US. 
  • You will only be asked to sign the document if you intend to approve the application, thus conferring permanent resident status.

How Can We Help You With The NACARA Program?

At the law firm of Curbelo Law, we stand in solidarity with all those national foreigners who have suffered wars, famines or any other hardship. Our team is ready to apply our vast experience to obtain NACARA, as long as you are eligible.

Our attorney Carolina can help you make sure everything is done correctly, whether for this program or any other. 

For more information, feel free to contact us by phone, email, or by scheduling an appointment at our office in Ridgewood, New Jersey.