Suspension of Deportation Under NACARA 203

Certain groups of immigrants may be able to use NACARA 203 to defend themselves from deportation, and get a green card. Here is how it works, and who it works for.

Section 203 of the Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act (NACARA) provides various forms of immigration benefits, including a form of relief from deportation or removal called "suspension of deportation." In literal terms, this means that certain applicants who have lived in the U.S. for at least seven years, and who fit into special categories based on their country of origin and other criteria, may be able to request a U.S. green card (lawful permanent residence or LPR status).

Who Qualifies for NACARA 203 Relief?

To qualify for this special form of relief, you must be among one of the following groups:

  • A Guatemalan national who:
    • First entered the United States on or before October 1, 1990
    • Registered for to benefits from the class-action lawsuit: American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh, 760 F. Supp. 796 (N.D. Cal. 1991 (ABC lawsuit)on or before December 31, 1991, and
    • Was not apprehended at time of entry after December 19, 1990.
  • A Salvadoran national who:
    • First entered the United States on or before September 19, 1990 (ABC class member)
    • Registered for ABC benefits on or before October 31, 1991 (either by direct registration or by applying for Temporary Protected Status - TPS), and
    • Was not apprehended at time of entry after December 19, 1990.
  • A Guatemalan or Salvadoran national who filed an application for asylum on or before April 1, 1990.
  • A person who:
    • Entered the United States on or before December 31, 1990
    • Applied for asylum on or before December 31, 1991, and
    • At the time of filing the application was a national of one of the former Soviet bloc countries, which are the Soviet Union, Russia, any republic of the former Soviet Union, Albania, Bulgaria, Czechoslovakia, East Germany, Estonia, Hungary, Latvia, Lithuania, Poland, Romania, Yugoslavia, or any state of the former Yugoslavia.
  • A "qualified family member" (spouse, child, or unmarried son or daughter) of someone in one of the above categories who was subjected to extreme cruelty who was granted suspension of deportation or cancellation of removal and meets other specific requirements.
  • An alien battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by a spouse or parent who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (LPR) or the parent of a child of a U.S. citizen or LPR who has been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by a US citizen or LPR, placed in deportation proceedings before April 1, 1997.
  • An alien who was the spouse or child of an individual described in one of the first four paragraphs above, where the spouse, child, or child of the spouse has been battered or subjected to extreme cruelty by that person.

How Do I Apply for NACARA 203 Relief?

For qualified applicants who have been placed in removal proceedings, the relief is requested by filing Form EOIR 40 with the immigration judge. If you have not been placed in removal proceedings, the relief is requested by filing Form I-881with USCIS. In either case, you'll need to pay both an application and a biometrics fee.

The form must be accompanied by extensive documentation to prove every aspect of your eligibility. For example, you may need to prove your nationality, membership in the ABC class or past registration for TPS, good moral character, years spent in the U.S., the extreme hardship your family members would face if you were deported, and so on. Even if you hire a lawyer (which is a good idea), you can help by carefully collecting and saving the relevant documents, such as your past passports, school, apartment, job, and medical records, and more.

Note: If you are not in removal proceedings, read the "Warning" section at the end of this article.

Will I Automatically Be Granted Suspension of Deportation?

No. Determining that you are eligible for NACARA 203 relief is only the first step. You must then be able to prove that you qualify for the relief of suspension of deportation, by meeting the criteria described below. Even if you meet those criteria, the relief is granted at the discretion of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or an immigration judge. If you are a primary applicant (not a family member) as described above, you will need to show that:

  1. you have been continuously physically present in the United States for at least seven years
  2. you have been a person of good moral character during those seven years
  3. your deportation or removal would result in extreme hardship to you or to your spouse, child, or parent who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident, and
  4. you deserve the relief from deportation.

What If I Have a Criminal Conviction?

If you have been convicted of certain crimes, you will have trouble meeting the "good moral character" requirement for NACARA 203 suspension. You may still be eligible to apply for suspension of deportation, but under a heightened standard, depending on the type of crime committed. The heightened standard includes that you have ten years of continuous physical presence in the U.S. instead of seven years, and will experience a higher degree of hardship if deported. However, if your crime was an aggravated felony, you will not be eligible for relief under NACARA 203.

How Do I Show Extreme Hardship?

You can learn about proving extreme hardship in the articles: Cancellation of Removal in Deportation Proceedings and "Extreme Hardship" Waivers Following an Immigrant Visa Denial.


If you are not already in removal proceedings and USCIS determines that you do not qualify for NACARA suspension, your application will be transferred to immigration court. At that point, if your request is denied, you are likely to be deported (removed) from the United States. Therefore, because both qualifying to apply for and actually being granted legal permanent residence using this method are very complex matters, seeking professional advice is absolutely essential before you file your application.

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