The Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act of 1997 (NACARA)

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Jeffrey Johnson is a legal writer with a focus on personal injury. He has worked on personal injury and sovereign immunity litigation in addition to experience in family, estate, and criminal law. He earned a J.D. from the University of Baltimore and has worked in legal offices and non-profits in Maryland, Texas, and North Carolina. He has also earned an MFA in screenwriting from Chapman Univer...

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Written by Jeffrey Johnson
Insurance Lawyer Jeffrey Johnson

UPDATED: Jul 16, 2021

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The Nicaraguan Adjustment and Central American Relief Act of 1997 (NACARA) implemented provisions suspending or canceling the deportation of eligible nationals of El Salvador, Guatemala, and former Soviet-Bloc countries, as well as their spouses and children. If you are from one of these countries and have been living in the United States for around seven years, there may be an easy avenue for you to achieve status in the United States. If you are estranged from your parents, but were told they were granted status here some time in the past, this may be the best avenue for you. It is definitely worth finding out if you qualify for suspension of deportation or cancellation of removal under NACARA.


In order to be eligible to apply for NACARA, you must be a Guatemalan or Salvadoran national who entered the United States by the fall of 1990 and registered for benefits under the settlement agreement in American Baptist Churches v. Thornburgh (ABC). In this case, a large class of immigrants successfully challenged the discriminatory treatment of their asylum claims by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

All Guatemalans who first entered the United States on or before October 1, 1990 are presumed ABC class members. The same goes for Salvadorans who entered on or before September 19, 1990. Otherwise, you must show you “registered” for ABC benefits by a certain date. The deadline was December 31, 1991 for Guatemalans and October 31, 1991 for Salvadorans.

Unfortunately, proof of ABC registration is often scarce. “Proof” is an old piece of paper that many tended to discard or lost over the years. Some immigrants remained in proceedings for almost 20 years before having an opportunity to have their NACARA application adjudicated in court. If you are in proceedings and are eligible for NACARA, consider yourself lucky. The only obstacle you have left is to prove you registered for ABC benefits. This may be proven using circumstantial evidence.

Establish Details about Moving to the United States

The most important thing to establish is when you began living in the United States. Can you remember when you arrived? Who you lived with? The first job you had? Family members can give testimony regarding the circumstances of your arrival and how they first came to know you. From there, try to find tax returns, pay stubs, or any old receipts that identify you by name. Once you do this, try to recall how you first made friends here, other than work. Did you attend church? Did friends, family or neighbors take you there? ABC registration was often sent from churches or “notarios,” where immigrants congregated frequently. Even if the form was never sent out, you can still prove that you registered using details you remember from that day. You may remember seeing an advertisement on TV and carpooling with a friend to register. Describe approximately what happened when you arrived at the office or church.

Immigration Legal Help

Once you establish ABC registration and eligibility for NACARA, you may be granted relief from removal. Proving your entry date and registration, however, is key. If you need help assembling proof of your physical presence and circumstantial evidence of ABC registration, consult an immigration attorney near you. It is important to practice giving testimony of this sequence of events before your final hearing.

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