What Alisa did not know was that persons who did not enter the country lawfully cannot (with some few major exceptions, such as INA 245-i) adjust their status to permanent residence without first leaving the country. Once they do leave, they trigger a 3-year bar against returning if they had more than 180 days of unlawful presence or a 10-year bar if, as is most often the case, they had more than a year of unlawful presence in the United States. The definition of unlawful presence, the exceptions to the rule of having to leave the country, and ways to obtain an unlawful presence waiver are all topics for another day. Suffice to say that many aliens are disappointed on their 21st birthday to find that petitioning mom and dad won’t be as easy as hoped and might not even be possible.
If Alisa’s parents, who have been here with no status for 20 years, don’t qualify for an exception, they will have to apply for an unlawful presence waiver. This will require showing, among other things, extreme hardship to a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident spouse or parent. One might think that hardship to a U.S. Citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident son or daughter (like Alisa herself) would count, but it unfortunately does not. If they cannot qualify for the waiver, their only choices are to wait outside the country for ten years or try another route to fix their status, such as asylum (also difficult for those who have been here more than one year) or a U Visa. Of course, if either has any criminal record of any kind or a history of encounters with immigration, these slender hopes will become more slender still.