BETWEEN THE UNITED STATES AND CANADA
FOR ABORIGINAL PEOPLE
Since 1794, Aboriginal Peoples have been guaranteed the right to trade and travel between the United States and Canada, which was then a territory of Great Britain. This right is recognized in Article III of the Jay Treaty, also known as the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation of 1794 and subsequent laws that stem from the Jay Treaty.
A Publication of the
American Indian Law Alliance
New York City
If you were born in Canada and have at least 50% Aboriginal blood, you may be entitled to certain rights and benefits in the United States.
Once you have proven that you have at least 50% Aboriginal blood...
You have the right to:
- Cross the U.S./Canadian border freely.
- Live and work in the U.S.
- Be eligible for public benefits, such as Medicaid, Supplemental Security Income (SSI), Medicare, Unemployment Benefits and other Public Assistance, provided you meet the appropriate agency guidelines.
- Register for college or university in the United States as a "domestic student" rather than as a "foreign student" (with the appropriate fee adjustment).
- Be processed for an alien registration card (also known as a green card or Form I-551).
- Obtain a work permit.
- Register for the military.
- Deport you.
- Exclude you from entry.
- Deny you services.
When you cross the border with intent to live or work in the U.S., you should be prepared to prove that you have at least 50% Aboriginal blood. Different U.S. Immigration & Naturalization Service (INS) ports of entry, or border crossings, may ask for different kinds of documentation. Some ask for more; some for less. At the border, you may be asked for any or all of the following documents:
- A letter from your band office stating that you have at least 50% Aboriginal blood (also referred to as blood quantum). For information on how to contact your band office, see Appendix.
- Your Certificate of Indian Status Card (the card with the red stripe along the top).
- Your long form birth certificate. For information on how to get your long form birth certificate, see Appendix.
- A photo ID.
- If you are Haudenosaunee, your Red I.D. Card.
- If you are Inuit, an Inuit enrollment card from one of the regional Inuit lands claim agreements.
The INS officer at the border will make most of the decisions about which documents you may need to present. There can be differences at different crossing points and even among different officers at the same location. Also, the degree of the officer's previous experience in handling Aboriginal people will determine the amount of time it takes for you to be processed.
Appearance can make a difference: our research shows that if you "look Indian," the INS officer may require less documentation.
You do NOT need a green card, also known as an Alien Registration Card or Form I-551, in order to live or work in the United States. This is your right as a Canadian-born Aboriginal.
Whether you choose to get a green card is up to you. There are certain legal benefits available to you, if you choose to register for a green card. If you do decide to apply for a green card, you will need all of the above documents, plus two photos (in a specific format determined by the INS). You will need to fill out Form I-181, which can be supplied by your local INS office. See Appendix for the INS phone number.
If you wish to live and/or work in the U.S., when you are at a U.S. Port of Entry, an INS agent will fill out a form called Form I-181. This is in accordance with U.S. law (8 C.F.R. §289.3). If the INS officer is not familiar with your rights, the following information may be helpful in filling out the form:
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