NACARA [Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act]  

On November 19, 1997, President Clinton signed into law the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) which provides various forms of immigration benefits and relief from deportation to certain Nicaraguans, Cubans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, nationals of former Soviet bloc countries and their dependents. The Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act of  2000, signed into law on October 28, 2000, added two more categories of individuals eligible to apply for relief from removal under NACARA.  

Section 203 of NACARA  applies to certain Guatemalans, Salvadorans and nationals of former Soviet bloc countries who entered the United States by specified dates and applied for asylum or registered for benefits under the settlement agreement in the class action lawsuit American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh, (ABC). After October 2000, it also applies to their qualified family members and to certain individuals who have been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by a lawful permanent resident, United States citizen, or by certain NACARA 203 beneficiaries. Section 203 of NACARA allows qualified individuals to apply for suspension of deportation or for cancellation of removal under the standards similar to those in effect before the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996. At the same time an individual is granted NACARA 203 relief, he or she is also given lawful permanent resident status.

Section 203 of NACARA was effective November 19, 1997 for those individuals applying for relief in immigration court.

You can apply for NACARA 203 relief with the CIS only if you have not been convicted of an aggravated felony, you are not subject to an outstanding final order of deportation or removal, and you are one of the following:

A Guatemalan ABC-registered class member who filed for asylum on or before January 3, 1995, and the CIS has not issued a final decision on that asylum application.

A Salvadoran ABC-registered class member who filed for asylum on or before February 16, 1996, and the CIS has not issued a final decision on that asylum application. 

(Note: Under the terms of the ABC settlement agreement, the CIS sent Notice 5 to all Salvadorans who registered for ABC benefits by filing for TPS.  Notice 5 informed Salvadorans who applied for TPS of the deadline for filing their ABC asylum applications.  If a Salvadoran who applied for TPS establishes that he or she was not properly sent Notice 5 back in 1995, then that person has 90 days from the date Notice 5 is properly issued to file an asylum application under the terms of the ABC settlement agreement.)

  1. A Guatemalan or Salvadoran who filed an application for asylum on or before April 1, 1990, and the USCIS has not issued a final decision on that asylum application.
  2. An individual who entered the United States on or before December 31, 1990, filed for asylum on or before December 31, 1991, and was a former Soviet bloc national at the time of filing, and the USCIS has not issued a final decision on that asylum application.
  3. A NACARA qualified family member and either 1) the CIS has granted your parent or spouse suspension of deportation or cancellation of removal, or 2) your parent or spouse has a NACARA application pending with the USCIS.  In addition, if you are in deportation or removal proceedings, those proceedings must be administratively closed or have been continued on while on appeal before you can file a NACARA application with the USCIS.

All other individuals who are eligible to apply for NACARA 203 relief can only file their NACARA applications with the Immigration Court after they are placed in proceedings before an Immigration Judge.  

Some individuals who are not presently in deportation or removal proceedings are not eligible to file their NACARA applications with the USCIS.  Examples of persons who are not eligible to file their NACARA applications with the USCIS on their own:

  1. A Guatemalan or Salvadoran ABC class member who registered for benefits under the settlement agreement, but did not file an asylum application by the required ABC deadline (Guatemalans by January 3, 1995; Salvadorans by February 16, 1996, or 90 days after Notice 5 is issued).
  2. A Guatemalan or Salvadoran ABC class member who registered for benefits under the settlement agreement and filed his/her asylum application by the required deadline, but has already been interviewed and received a final decision on that application under the terms of the settlement agreement. 
  3. A Guatemalan or Salvadoran national who applied for asylum with the USCIS on or before April 1, 1990, but has already been issued a final decision on that asylum application by the USCIS.
  4. A national of one of the former Soviet Bloc countries who entered the United States and filed for asylum with the USCIS by the required dates under NACARA, but has already been issued a final decision on that asylum application by the USCIS.
  5. An individual who is eligible to apply on the basis of being a qualified family member and whose spouse or parent has been granted NACARA 203 relief by an immigration judge or the Board of Immigration Appeals not by the USCIS.

If you fall into one of the above categories, you will only be eligible to file your NACARA application with the CIS if your parent or spouse is also NACARA-eligible, has filed a NACARA application with the CIS, and that application is still pending or has been approved by the CIS.

If you are not eligible to file your application for NACARA 203 relief with the CIS, you can only file your NACARA application with the Immigration Court if you are placed into deportation or removal proceedings.  If you are not presently in such proceedings, the CIS must first determine that you are residing in the United States illegally and issue charging documents before you can be placed in removal proceedings before an immigration judge.  To be issued a charging document, you may go to your local CIS district office and request charging documents to place you in removal proceedings. The CIS district office may exercise prosecutorial discretion and choose not to issue the charging documents you are requesting, depending on the resources of that office.  The charging document will tell you when you should appear in front of the immigration judge and the judge will explain the forms of relief available to you. 

If you would like further information on applying for NACARA relief through the courts, you should speak with someone experienced in NACARA issues. 
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