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690 Flatbush Avenue West Hartford, CT  06110-1308

860 236-9350             800 856-6400  toll free     860 523-9101  fax

27 Holmes Avenue Downtown Waterbury 203 756-6100


Hartford Immigration Attorney. Immigration Law. Naturalization.  Marriage Immigration Services. Green Card. Visas.

This page provides general information on the legal standing of persons in Connecticut who do not have official federal immigration status.

Becoming Legal

Use of the Courts

Constitutional Rights

Victims of Crimes

Illegal Immigrants and the Law

Becoming Legal

    The term "illegal immigrants" refers to people who are in the United States without official federal status under American immigration law.  People become "illegal" in one of two ways:

    (1) Some people cross the border without being processed by U.S. immigration officials.  People usually do this from Mexico.  They may be Mexican or they may be from other countries and have traveled to Mexico to make the crossing.  People usually take out loans to pay a guide (called a "coyote") from $3000 to $10,000 or more to be led across.  These immigration trips are dangerous, often involving 2 to 4 days of walking across the desert or being locked into closed compartments of trucks and vehicles.  Sometimes people are tricked or abandoned by the "coyotes."  About 10 people die each week attempting immigration into cross into the U.S. by crossing the border illegally..

    (2)  Some illegal immigrants enter legally with a visa but stay beyond the period of time allowed under immigration law.   Some of these people plan from the very beginning on overstaying and obtained their visa under false pretenses by, for example, claiming they wanted to visit just for tourism.  Other people come honestly intended legal immigration but run into unexpected circumstances.  A person, for example, may enter on a fiancee visa to marry a U.S. citizen but the citizen may then decide not to get married.  Or a person may have a visa that gives them legal status based on marriage, such as a H4 visa, and then have the marriage end through divorce.  People who enter with valid visas are said to have been "inspected" by U.S. immigration officials.

    Entering or attempting to enter the United States without being inspected by U.S. immigration officials is a crime punishable under immigration law by 6 months imprisonment and/or a fine.  A second illegal entry or attempt is punishable by 2 years imprisonment and/or a fine under immigration law.  8 U.S.C. § 1325

    While entering illegally is a crime, being in the U.S. illegally is not a crime.  Being in the U.S. without legal immigration status is a violation of civil law.  (Another example of a civil law violation would be failing to provide proper handicapped access to a building that is open to the public.)

    Illegal immigrants in the U.S., like any other aliens, may have immigration petitions filed for them to become permanent legal residents (to get a green card).  For example, a U.S. citizen or permanent legal resident who marries an illegal immigrant may file a marriage petition for the immigrant to get a green card.

    Under U.S.immigration law, persons who legally entered the U.S. may be able to live and work here during the immigration process.  Persons who entered illegally, however, usually must leave.  The rules are as follows:


Legal Entry and Marriage to U.S. Citizen.


A visa number becomes immediately available.


Can apply to adjust status.


Can live and work in the U.S. while waiting for application to adjust status.


Legal Entry and Marriage to U.S. Permanent Legal Resident.


Must wait for a visa number to become available for immigration.


Can apply to live and work in the U.S. and to adjust status here, if:

The petition for residency was filed on or before December 21, 2000, and


Has been waiting at least 3 years for approval of the petition or of adjustment of status.


Should not travel outside the U.S. if the 3-year bar (for overstaying more than 6 months) or 10-year bar (for overstaying more than 1 year) already applies.


May need to leave the U.S. to avoid the 3-year or 10-year bar before the 6 months or 1 year overstay period runs.


If the bar already applies, will need to leave the U.S. and apply for a waiver of the bar once a visa number becomes available.


Illegal Entry and Marriage to U.S. Citizen.


A visa number becomes immediately available for immigration.


Can apply to adjust status (and live and work in the U.S. while waiting for application to adjust status) if:

Had a valid immigration petition pending before January 14, 1998, or


Had a valid immigration petition pending between January 14, 1998, and April 30, 2001, and were living in the U.S. on December 21, 2001.


Otherwise, must leave and apply for a waiver.


Illegal Entry and Marriage to U.S. Permanent Legal Resident.


Must wait for a visa number to become available.


Cannot live and work in the U.S. and cannot apply to adjust status here.


If the bar applies, must leave and apply for a waiver.


Use of the Courts by Illegal Immigrants

    In the U.S., there are federal laws and state laws.  Immigration is an area of federal law.  State law covers most areas of the law that people deal with from day to day.

    Divorce and custody, car accidents and other personal injury claims, work accidents, the purchase and sale of real estate, the rental of property, wills and inheritance issues, most crimes, and the setting up of corporations and limited liability companies are all handled largely by state law.  In cases involving these and other areas of state law, it does not matter whether a person is a U.S. citizen, a permanent legal resident, or an illegal immigrant.

    The U.S. Constitution prohibits states from passing laws in areas that belong to the federal government.  Connecticut, for example, cannot print its own money and declare that federal money cannot be used within the state.  The Constitution also prohibits the federal government from passing laws in areas that belong to the states.  The U.S. Congress, for example, cannot pass a law saying that people must go to Washington, D.C. to get divorced.

    Because of the difference between federal law and state law, and because of the rights granted by the U.S. Constitution to "persons," people in Connecticut who are illegal immigrants have the same rights to use the Connecticut courts as do U.S. citizens.

    All people in Connecticut, including Illegal immigrants, have the following rights:


To be paid at least minimum wage, be paid for overtime, and sue for wages if their employer refuses to pay them.


If they are hurt at work, get workers compensation benefits including payment for lost wages, medical care and permanent disability.


File for divorce, child custody or child support.


File a personal injury lawsuit if they are injured in a car crash or other accident.


Have the same rights as citizens if they are arrested, including the right to a lawyer.


Own a business.


Buy and sell real estate, including investment property.


File bankruptcy if they have more debt than the can pay back or if they are trying to save a home from foreclosure.


Rent apartments and other property and be free of interference from their landlords.


Make wills and inherit property.

Constitutional Rights of Illegal Immigrants

    The U.S. Constitution prohibits states, and the cities and towns within the states, from passing laws that violate people's constitutional rights.

    In certain places, the U.S. Constitution talks about "citizens."  In other places, it talks about "persons."  For example, the 14th Amendment says, "No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws."  Because the Constitution uses the word "person" instead of "citizen" when speaking about depriving life, liberty or property without due process and when speaking about equal protection, this has been taken to mean that all persons  — citizens, legal residents, temporary visitors and illegal immigrants  — have these rights.  Connecticut, for example, cannot pass a law that says a woman's testimony is sufficient to prove a rape case if she is a citizen but if she is not a citizen then she needs witnesses.

    Some cities have passed laws to discourage illegal immigrants from living or working within the city.  In July 2007, a federal court recently overturned a law passed in Hazelton, Pennsylvania, which required people to prove they were citizens or legal residents before they could rent an apartment.  The court said that the city could not pass that type of law because only the federal government could make laws about immigration and because the law violated the immigrants' Constitutional rights to due process.

Protection for Illegal Immigrants Who Are Victims of Crimes

    The U.S. immigration service recently issued rules that will allow some illegal immigrants who are victims of crimes and who are cooperating with law enforcement officials to get a special visa that will allow them to live and work in the U.S. for up to 4 years.

    Examples of crime victims who may be able to qualify for this visa are persons who have been attacked by their spouses, persons who have been made to work under conditions that are criminally illegal, and persons who have been assaulted during robberies.

    There are 4 requirements to qualify for this visa:


The crime must have caused the alien to suffer substantial physical or mental abuse.


The alien has information about the crime.


The alien has been or will probably be helpful in investigating or prosecuting the crime.


  The crime took place in the U.S.

    The application for this visa must include a form filled out by a law enforcement official that explains the help that the victim is giving or probably will give.

    The victim can include the following family members in the immigration application:


If the victim is under 21 years of age, the immigration application can include a spouse, children, unmarried brothers and sisters under 18, and parents.


If the victim is 21 or older, the immigration application can include a spouse and children.

    There will be 10,000 of these special visas available each year for crime victims.

    Although the visa will be good for a maximum of 4 years, extensions will be permitted if the law enforcement agency certifies that the victim’s presence in the U.S. is necessary to for the investigation or prosecution of the crime.

    A crime victim that qualifies for this special visas may become a permanent resident (get a green card) if:


The person has been in the U.S. for 3 years since the visa was approved.


The person’s continued presence in the U.S. is justified on humanitarian grounds to ensure the continuation of a cohesive family or is otherwise in the best interest of the public.

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This information is not intended to be legal advice for your individual situation.

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