Pregnant Immigrants and Immigrants with Children

What is the difference between a citizen, an immigrant, and a permanent resident?

  • A U.S. citizen is someone who was born in the U.S. or to U.S. citizen parents, or someone who applies to become a citizen and gets naturalized.
  • An immigrant is anyone living in the U.S. who is not a U.S. citizen. Some immigrants have documents like green cards, or work visas, or other kinds of visas. Other immigrants are undocumented. That means they do not have a green card or other valid legal visa.
  • A lawful permanent resident (someone with a “green card”) is an immigrant with legal permission to live in the U.S. for as long as s/he wants to. Permanent residents get special cards that they must carry. (Cards issued since 2010 are green. Older “green cards” may be yellow or gold.)

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Does it matter whether I am a U.S. citizen or an immigrant?

In the U.S., some public benefits are only for U.S. citizens and lawful permanent residents. But anyone, including undocumented immigrants, can get the following benefits:

  • police and other emergency services,
  • court services,
  • Family PACT—birth control, STI testing, and other reproductive health services,
  • Medi‑Cal for pregnancy or abortion,
  • hospital services for labor and delivery of your baby,
  • WIC—food, parenting classes, and health care referrals for families with young children, and
  • grants and loans for colleges in California.

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girl wondering if child is U.S. citizen

Will my baby be a U.S. citizen?

Yes, if she is born here. She will be eligible for all public benefits. You can apply for benefits for her, even if you are not eligible.

Can I become a U.S. citizen?

Maybe. To become a U.S. citizen you must first become a permanent resident. Then you must wait five years (or three years if you are married to and living with a U.S. citizen) before you can apply for U.S. citizenship. It is not easy for an undocumented immigrant to become a permanent resident.

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How can I become a permanent resident if I am an undocumented immigrant?

That question is too complicated to answer in this guide. But the table below gives you some information. If you have questions or think any of these laws apply to you, talk to an immigration lawyer or a community organization that helps immigrants.

Special Immigrant Juvenile Status (SIJS)

If you are unmarried, under 21, and were abused, neglected, or abandoned by your parents in the U.S. or your home country, you may qualify for SIJS and permanent residency. Many applicants for SIJS

  • are or were in foster care,
  • have or had a court-appointed guardian, or
  • are in delinquency court.

Important! If you get married or turn 21, you will not be able to qualify for SIJS.

U Visas

If you (or your child or parent) have been a victim of certain kinds of crimes, and you help or agree to help the police, you may qualify for a U Visa and permanent residence.

These crimes include

  • domestic violence (abuse by someone you live with, are related to, have a child with, and/or are or were in a relationship with),
  • sexual assault,
  • rape,
  • assault, and
  • certain other serious crimes.

If you have been the victim of a crime, you should talk to a lawyer about the U Visa law.

Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

If your parent, stepparent, adoptive parent, or legal spouse (who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident) abuses you, this law allows you to apply for permanent resident status. This law protects girls and women. It also protects boys and men.

Permanent Residency through a Relative

If you have a qualified relative, you might be able to apply for permanent residence.

A qualified relative includes your

  • parent, stepparent, or adoptive parent who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident,
  • husband or wife who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident, and
  • child, sister, or brother who is a U.S. citizen and at least 21.

Becoming a permanent resident through a relative is very complicated and can take many years. There are many rules that make it difficult for applicants.


You can qualify for asylum if you or someone in your family had to leave your country (or cannot return to your country) because of danger or serious harm related to political, religious, or racial problems.

Cancellation of Removal (Order to Stop Deportation)

Cancellation of removal is very difficult to get. But you may qualify to apply if

  • you have lived in the U.S. for more than 10 years,
  • you have a child who is a U.S. citizen, and
  • immigration is trying to deport you now.

There are other ways to legalize your status that are not listed here. You should check in regularly with an immigration lawyer or a community organization that helps immigrants. The laws change almost every year. And, sometimes the courts interpret old laws differently. Even if you cannot legalize your status now, the laws may change.

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If I have documents from my home country, can I legalize my U.S. immigration status?

Many immigrants have documents from their home countries. You may need them later if you apply for permanent residency. But having citizenship documents from your home country does not mean you can automatically become a documented immigrant here.

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Can I travel within the U.S.?

Yes. If you are a permanent resident, carry your green card (or a copy) with you. If you are an undocumented immigrant, be careful when you travel. Do not drive unless you have a valid driver’s license.

If you take a plane, bus, or train, you will probably have to show a valid government-issued ID, such as a driver’s license, passport, or employment authorization card. You can travel as a passenger in a car without ID.

You should also be aware of immigration checkpoints, especially near the U.S.-Mexico border.

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If I leave the U.S. will I be able to return?

That depends on your status.

  • If you are a permanent resident, you can come and go from the U.S. at any time.
  • If you are applying for legal immigration status, you should not (in most cases) leave the U.S. until your application is complete.
  • If you are in a removal proceeding, you cannot leave the U.S. until your case is decided.
  • If you are an undocumented immigrant and you leave the U.S., you may not be able to return to the U.S.

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What if an Immigration Officer questions me?

Immigration Officers usually ask where you were born and whether you have immigration documentation.

If you are a permanent resident, you must carry your green card (or a copy) with you at all times. Show the card to the Immigration Officer, if s/he asks to see it. You do not have to show it to the local police unless you have no other identification.

If you are an undocumented immigrant, follow these two rules.

  • You do not have to answer the Officer’s questions, if you do not want to.
  • If you decide to answer the Officer’s questions, do not lie. It is better NOT to answer than it is to lie. If you lie, and later try to become a permanent resident, that lie can be used against you.

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boy wants to lie about immigration status to get job

Tony plans to lie about his immigration status so he can get a job when the baby comes.

That’s a mistake. Tony could be deported and also lose any chance for legal status in the U.S. in the future.

What if an Immigration Officer arrests me?

If an Immigration Officer arrests you, s/he may ask you to sign a paper to give up your right to a removal hearing. It is not a good idea to do this. Do not sign any papers giving up your rights without talking to a lawyer first.

Important! Remember these rules:

  1. You do not have to answer an Officer’s questions, if you do not want to.
  2. If you decide to answer the Officer’s questions, do not lie.

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Will I be sent to prison?

Most people arrested by Immigration do not face criminal charges. They usually go through removal proceedings (deportation). A removal hearing is very serious—an immigration judge will decide whether you can stay in the U.S. If you lose, you will likely be deported.

Because removal hearings are not criminal hearings, you do not have a right to have a government-appointed lawyer speak for you. If you want a lawyer, you or your family must find one. When you are arrested, you should ask for a list of free or low-cost lawyers.

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What if I cannot afford a lawyer?

Organizations in your community may be able to advise you or refer you to a qualified lawyer. In some places, you can get legal services for free.

If you cannot get a free lawyer, you will have to speak for yourself at the hearing.

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Will I have to stay in detention until the hearing is over?

Maybe. Sometimes you can get out if you promise to return. Or they may let you out if someone pays a bond. The amount of the bond varies. The minimum is $1,500.

Ask a friend or relative who is a U.S. citizen or has legal immigration status to pay the bond.

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What will happen to my child if I am detained?

If you are undocumented and have a child, make plans now for someone to care for your child if you get arrested. If Immigration does arrest you, tell the Officer right away that you have a child and that you need to make arrangements for someone to care for your child.

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What if Immigration arrests my relative or friend?

If you are an undocumented immigrant, do not go to an Immigration office or detention center to help your relative or friend. If you go, you may be arrested, too. If you want to pay a bond or send a message, ask someone who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident to do it for you.

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girl wonders who can visit and pay the bond for her mom who is arrested by Immigration

Immigration arrested Adriana’s mom. Who can visit and pay the bond?

If Adriana is undocumented, she should ask a U.S. citizen or a permanent resident to do these things.

How can I try not to be deported?

Make sure you obey the laws, and stay away from people who do not obey the law.

Many people who are detained by Immigration were first stopped or arrested by the police. For example, the police may stop you or someone you are with for a traffic violation. Even if you are not charged with a crime, the police can turn you over to Immigration.

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Will the police help me if I am a crime victim?

Yes! If you were a victim or witness of a crime, ask the police to help you. They should not turn you over to Immigration.

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Should I get legal advice?

Immigrants often need advice to understand how the legal system works. But be very careful when you look for advice. There are people who seem to be lawyers—or even say they are lawyers—but they are not.

An immigration consultant, paralegal, or notary public is not a lawyer. A good lawyer would never “promise” or “guarantee” to win your case.

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How can I get legal advice?

Talk to a lawyer as soon as possible. You can contact organizations in your community. Visit this website that lists lawyers and organizations that offer free legal services to immigrants facing deportation:

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Table of Content

CA Coalition for Youth Need a place to stay now?
1.800.843.5200 Go to Site

National Domestic Violence Hotline Is someone hurting you?
1.800.799.7233 Go to Site

Adolescent Family Life Program Pregnancy and Parenting Services
1.800.241.0395 Go to Site

California Courts Self Help Center Go to Site

Teen Source Sexual Health Info for YouthGo to Site

LawHelp California Free Legal Assistance and Information
1.800.914.2272 Go to Site

ACCESS Women's Health Hotline
1.800.376.4636 Go to Site