Can a person stay permanently in the U.S. if they entered on a tourist visa?

In my most recent column in La Opinión I answer questions from readers. These are general answers. Each case is different, so you should consult an attorney for personalized legal advice.

Here is the question and answer for this week's column:

I live in Nicaragua and I have a U.S. tourist visa which expires on December 15, 2012. I plan to travel to the country with my six year old son and then stay permanently. What steps should I follow? - Marta A.

A tourist visa does not authorize you to stay permanently in the US. If you do not return to Nicaragua before your legal stay expires, your visa will be automatically cancelled and you will begin to accrue undocumented time.

If you spend more than 180 consecutive days undocumented, the penalty law will affect you in the future when you leave the country with or without government permission. In addition, you will not be able to apply for permanent residency in the U.S. unless you have a U.S. citizen spouse or child who asks for you or you are covered by 245(i).

Also, you may not be able to renew your tourist visa in the future because you violated immigration law. Please consult with an immigration attorney before traveling to evaluate your case for further guidance.

I am a U.S. citizen and my fiancé is Mexican. In 1999 he entered the United States undocumented. Before entering the country, he was detained several times by the border patrol and returned to Mexico. In addition, he has been found guilty of driving without a license and running a stop sign.

We have lived together for six years and have two children born in the US. We plan to get married in February 2012 and then apply for her permanent residency in the U.S. for the first time. Is this possible? - Rosa.

There is a strong possibility that your future husband will not be able to apply for permanent residency within the U.S. because he entered the country undocumented. In addition, he was detained several times by the border patrol and does not appear to be covered by 245(i).

You should request your fiancé's criminal record from the California Department of Justice, the FBI and the court where he was convicted of driving without a license. Then visit an immigration attorney to evaluate the case further.