Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA)

By James Parker
/
August 4, 2022

What Is NACARA?

The Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) is a piece of legislation passed in 1997 to allow immigrants from specific countries to apply for asylum. NACARA was implemented after a period of immigration-related turmoil that resulted in many immigrants being mischaracterized and denied asylum status.

During the Cold War, political instability and the ensuing civil wars and coup d’etats caused tens of thousands of Central American refugees to seek asylum in the United States. However, during the initial waves, the government classified the Salvadorian, Nicaraguan, and Guatemalan immigrants who lacked family connections in the U.S. as economic migrants. As such, these refugees had their asylum claims denied.

In response, many human rights protests and lawsuits were filed, culminating in the case American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh in 1991.  This lawsuit led to a settlement that would later be incorporated into NACARA, as well as a reconsideration of the denied asylum petitions. NACARA would be passed six years later and allows qualifying members, their spouses, and their children to request a suspension or cancellation of their deportation order. The nations that qualify for the NACARA suspension are:

  • Albania
  • East Germany
  • Bulgaria
  • Czechoslovakia
  • El Salvador
  • Estonia
  • Guatemala
  • Hungary
  • Latvia
  • Lithuania
  • Nicaragua
  • Poland
  • Romania
  • The Soviet Union or any of its former republics
  • Russia
  • Yugoslavia or any of its former states

Key Takeaways

  • The Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) is a legislative act allowing immigrants of certain nations to apply for asylum. 
  • NACARA targets citizens of Central America as well as citizens of the former Soviet bloc.
  • While NACARA does not apply to new immigrants, some immigrants who have been in the country since 1990 and fulfill other requirements of NACARA could apply for relief.
  • If you are seeking relief and protection under NACARA, an experienced Immigration Law attorney may be able to offer advocacy and advice to improve the outcome of your case by utilizing experience and expert knowledge.

NACARA and Immigration Law

NACARA’s primary objective is to provide relief for qualifying individuals. Qualifying individuals include members who fulfill the requirements of NACARA, spouses of qualifying individuals, and children of qualifying individuals.

Qualifications vary depending on the nation of origin, but some universal qualifications exist. In order to qualify for benefits, the applicant must have spent at least seven years continuously in the U.S., maintain good moral character, avoid conviction of an aggravated felony, and demonstrate that deportation will cause “extreme hardship” to the applicant, their spouse, child, or parent who is a U.S. citizen or a lawful permanent resident, and argue about why they deserve relief under NACARA.

To qualify for NACARA relief, Guatemalan applicants must meet four requirements:

  1. The applicant first entered the U.S. on or before October 1, 1990
  2. The applicant registered for ABC settlement benefits on or before December 31, 1991
  3. The applicant filed for asylum on or before January 3, 1995
  4. The applicant was not apprehended at the time of entry after December 19, 1990

In addition, Guatemalan applicants who file an application for asylum on or before April 1, 1990, who have not received a final decision can also apply for NACARA benefits.

For Salvadoran applicants to qualify for NACARA relief, they must fulfill four similar requirements: 

  1. The applicant first entered the U.S on or before September 19, 1990
  2. The applicant registered for ABC settlement benefits on or before October 31, 1991
  3. The applicant filed for asylum on or before February 16, 1996
  4. The applicant was not apprehended at the time of entry after December 19, 1990.

As with Guatemalan applicants, Salvadoran applicants who file an application for asylum on or before April 1, 1990, who have not received a final decision are allowed to apply for NACARA benefits.

Finally, NACARA relief can be granted to applicants from former Soviet bloc countries who entered the U.S. on or before December 31, 1990, and applied for asylum on or before December 31, 1991.

An additional clause of NACARA allows individuals who have been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by a NACARA qualified individual to apply for relief with an Immigration Judge. However, this particular method may be difficult to achieve when determining eligibility.

Bottom Line

If you are an immigrant looking to take advantage of the pathway to apply for asylum under NACARA, you will need the help of an experienced Immigration Law attorney. An Immigration Law attorney will be able to advise you and advocate on your behalf to get you the best possible outcome for your case.

Using their legal expertise, trial tactics, and expert witnesses, your Immigration Law attorney can explore your alternative options within the immigration system as well as present your case in the most compelling light possible and deftly navigate the complex processes of immigration bureaucracy as well as the obscure functions of immigration court.

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