Congratulations! You got a Green Card.

Actually, what is this thing that you got?

Today's Green Card is really green. (It was not always green). It is a plastic card with lots of information about the holder. Some of the information is clear, for everybody to read, and some is coded. Like a credit card, it is "machine readable". Immigration Officers can "swipe" it through their special readers and verify that the card is genuine and the holder is actually the person entitled to the card.

A Green Card is only a "symbol" - physical proof of status which has been granted to the holder. If the card is lost, mutilated or even "confiscated" by an Immigration Officer, the status of Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) is still attached to the holder.

Today's Green Cards carry a Date of Expiration , usually ten (10) years from the date the card was issued. When it is a 10-years card, what "expires" is the card only, not the status of Legal Permanent Residency for which the card is only a symbol. An expired Green Card can be replaced by filing Form I-90.

In some cards the Expiration Date is two (2) years after issuance of the card. The holder is not a Permanent Resident, but only a Conditional Resident. Such cards are issued in certain marriage cases and the holder is required to file additional papers with the Immigration Services before the expiration date. If it is not done, both the card and the status of the holder expire.
Green Cards may have "defects" of different types:

Visible Errors: When the card was produced by the government with errors in the information printed on the card, such as marking the holder as Male instead of Female, or attaching the wrong picture, or misspelling the name, etc. Such errors can be corrected by returning the card with Form I-90, requesting a replacement card.

Legal Errors: When the card was produced by the government in error, such as issuing a card to an adult as if he/she was a minor, or to a spouse of an immigrant as if he/she was married to an American Citizen. Some legal errors are a result of fraud by the holder, such as a married person claiming to be an unmarried son or daughter of the petitioner. Legal errors cannot be detected on the card itself, but they come to light at a subsequent encounter of the holder with the Immigration Services: When the holder files a petition on behalf of a relative, or when the holder files an application for naturalization to become a citizen of the U.S. Legal errors, when exposed, usually result in a Notice To Appear (NTA) in Immigration Court (To read more about Immigration Court - click here). The government's argument against the holder would be that the holder of a card issued in error does not really have the status which the card symbolizes, and should be deported. In some cases, the holder may be saved from deportation either by applying for a special "waiver" (pardon) or by applying for a new Green Card free of legal errors.

Fake Green Cards: These are not "errors". They were not produced by the government and do not confer any status on the holder. When caught with a fake, or forged, card the holder would be accused of "immigration fraud". There are occasions when the holder was duped to believe that card was real, and might be cleared of the charge of fraud.

All cases falling into the second and third categories above end up in Immigration Court. They require an experienced immigration lawyer to evaluate the facts and up-to-the-minute changes in the applicable law. After such an evaluation, the lawyer would be able to describe the options available to the holder of such defective Green Cards.

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