Illegal Border Crossings Today:

Dictionary with definition of immigration under a microscope

Commonly Used Immigration Terms (Abbreviated)

Click here for the full Glossary of Immigration Terms

They Say It, We Explain It


Amnesty — A pardon, or legal forgiveness, granted for an offense, such as entering a country illegally.

Anchor Baby — A child born in the United States to illegal immigrants or other non-citizens. Because the child (anchor) has U.S. citizenship, they may provide a means for the rest of the family to stay in the United States or, more commonly, to return to the United States as immigrants after the child reaches adulthood.


Citizenship - The rights and responsibilities that a person has a result of being born or naturalized in a country.


Deportable Alien  — An alien subject to any grounds of removal because they are in the U.S. illegally regardless of whether they entered by fraud or misrepresentation or entered legally but subsequently lost legal status.

Diversity Immigrant Visa - A visa category applicable to “diversity immigrants,” who come from countries with historically low rates of immigration to the United States. A limited number of visas are available each fiscal year.


Ecological Footprint -  The land and water required to support the living standards of a given population.

Employment-Based - One of the six legal immigrant categories, employment-based immigrants are workers, professionals, or investors admitted to the U.S. as immigrants on the basis of their productive abilities or sponsorship by a prospective employer.

Expedited Removal - The deportation of aliens who arrive in, attempt to enter, or have entered the United States without having been admitted or paroled by an immigration officer at a port-of-entry. An alien is not referred to an immigration judge unless they make are seeking asylum.


Family-Based - One of the six legal immigrant categories, family-based immigrants are 1) married or unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens, 2) spouses and unmarried children of legal immigrants, or 3) siblings of U.S. citizens.


Green Card — This is the commonly used term for a permanent resident card, which used to be colored green.


Illegal Alien - A foreign national who enters or remains in the country (e.g. by sneaking across the border or overstaying a visa) without U.S. government authorization.

Immigrant or Non-Immigrant Visa? - An immigrant visa is issued to a foreign national who intends to live and work permanently in the U.S. while nonimmigrant visas are given to those who intend to be in the U.S. on a temporary basis.

Immigrate or Emigrate? - To “immigrate” is to enter a foreign country to live, while to “emigrate” is to leave a country to live in another.

Immigration Categorie - The majority of legal immigration into the United States is classified into six immigration categories — immediate relatives, family-based, employment-based, refugees, asylees, and lottery admissions. The different categories have different yearly quotas and admission requirements.

Inadmissible — The status of an alien at a United States port of entry who does not meet the legal criteria for admission. The person may be placed in removal proceedings, or in some cases, may be allowed to withdraw his or her application for admission.


Migrant - A person who leaves his/her country of origin to seek residence in another country.


Naturalization - The conferring, by any means, of citizenship upon a person after birth.

Naturalized Citizen - An immigrant who has been sworn in as a U.S. citizen.

Nonimmigrant - An alien who seeks temporary entry to the United States for a specific purpose. The classifications include: foreign government officials, visitors for business and for pleasure, aliens in transit through the United States, treaty traders and investors, foreign students, international representatives, temporary workers and trainees.


Refugee or Asylum Seeker? — An asylum seeker requests protection from inside the United States or at a port of entry, while a person who seeks permission to enter from outside of the U.S. is a refugee. To receive refugee/asylee status, one must have suffered persecution, or fear that they will suffer persecution, due to: race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion.

Remittances - Money earned or acquired by immigrants that is sent back to their country of origin. For some developing countries, remittances can form a sizeable chunk of their economy.

Resident Alien - Any person who is not a United States citizen or national, but who is residing in the U.S. legally. Resident aliens are categorized into permanent residents, conditional residents, and returning residents.


Temporary Protected Status (TPS) - A status given to people from a country that the Attorney General has designated is dangerous due to ongoing armed conflict or an environmental disaster. TPS grants are initially made for periods of 6 to 18 months, but may be extended depending on the situation. During this period, removal proceedings are suspended against TPS holders.


Visa Waiver Program - Allows citizens of certain selected countries, traveling temporarily to the U.S. under the nonimmigrant admission classes of visitors for pleasure and visitors for business, to enter the United States without obtaining nonimmigrant visas. The program was made permanent in 2000.