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Protests Against Senate Parliamentarian Advisory

The month began with promise. House Democrats worked on creating a pathway to citizenship through the budget reconciliation plan. This legislation aimed to allow about 8 million people (primarily Dreamers, TPS/DED holders, farmworkers, and other essential workers) to apply for green cards. Furthermore, the provision would invest $2.8 billion into U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, recapture unused green cards, and allow diversity visa lottery winners to reapply if they had been denied visas due to COVID or other travel restrictions. However, this past Sunday, the Senate parliamentarian Elizabeth MacDonough advised against the immigration measure, ruling it inappropriate for inclusion.
Rejecting MacDonough’s ruling as an end to immigration reform via budget reconciliation, thousands of immigrants appeared in Washington to push back on Tuesday. Their march began in Banneker Park, by the Potomac River, stopped at the headquarters of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, and finally ended at the Capitol Reflecting Pool. Senate Majority Leader Charles Schumer talked to protestors outside the Capitol, promising them his continued commitment to the fight for a pathway to citizenship. At the same rally, Representative Ilhan Omar urged Schumer and the White House to disregard the advice of the Senate parliamentarian. The fate of the provisions is still unknown, but the people have spoken. Let’s hope their voices are heard and their demands for justice finally met.

House Judiciary Committee Marks Up Legislative Proposal for Budget Reconciliation

The House Judiciary Committee spent Monday September 13th marking up their legislative proposal for the $107.5 billion reserved for “lawful permanent status for qualified immigrants” in the reconciliation package. They are trying to create a pathway to citizenship for millions of immigrants. After this process, the text will be combined with the larger Build Back Better reconciliation plan and voted on in the House before moving to the Senate.

 

The first part of the legislation provides a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers, TPS/DED holders, farmworkers, and other essential workers. The provisions in the reconciliation bill would allow about eight million people to qualify for green cards. 

 

The second component is the recapture of unused green cards and the restoration of specific immigrant visas that were made unavailable. The former involves the recapturing and restoration of thousands of unused visas lost due to slow technical processing dating back to 1992. The majority of these will go to family-based visas, alleviating existing visa backlogs. The latter ambition will offer diversity visas to those previously selected in the diversity visa lottery but denied visas due to COVID or other travel ban restrictions. All of those unable to claim visas due to the Muslim ban will be able to reapply. 

 

The final part of the legislation is an investment in U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Roughly $2.8 billion will be allocated to increase capacity at USCIS to support adjudication of applications and reduce processing backlogs.

 

This bill is essential. Undocumented immigrants have played a key role in the response to this pandemic, and the recovery of the economy in its wake is dependent upon them. A report by the Center of American Progress found that the country’s economy would expand by $1.7 trillion over 10 years if Congress were to provide a pathway to citizenship for the nation’s 11 million undocumented immigrants. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi indicated support for the move in a press conference this July, and Senator Bob Mendez of New Jersey has been a vocal advocate for it. It is for the betterment of all that this pathway to citizenship be created.

 

Haiti TPS Registration Open

 

United States Citizen and Immigration Services announced the designation of Haiti for Temporary Protected Status effective August 3rd, 2021 to February 3rd, 2023. This eighteen month designation allows Haitian nationals, as well as individuals without nationality who last resided in Haiti, to apply for Temporary Protected Status. This designation protects individuals from deportation on the basis of immigration status. United States Citizen and Immigration Services explains in the Federal Register that political crisis, violence, and human rights abuses are the key factors in determining this 18 month TPS designation. 

USCIS estimates that approximately 155,000 individuals are eligible to apply for TPS under the designation of Haiti. All applicants must demonstrate continuous residence in the United States since July 29th, 2021. To determine eligibility, all individuals will undergo security and background checks. All must register during the 18 month registration period, spanning August 3rd, 2021 to February 3rd, 2023. The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services website encourages all to register as soon as possible within this 18 month registration period. 

 

To read more about Temporary Protected Status, the application process, and USCIS reasoning for the designation, visit https://www.aila.org/infonet/uscis-advance-copy-notice-tps-designation-of-haiti?utm_source=Recent%20Postings%20Alert&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=RP%20Daily 

DACA and Congress

Legislators have spent the last few weeks scrambling for solutions in the wake of a Texas judge’s July 16th decision ruling the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program (DACA) unconstitutional. While the decision has no effect on current DACA recipients (Dreamers), it has halted new applications. President Biden called the decision “deeply disappointing” and announced the U.S. Department of Justice’s plan to appeal the ruling. However, Biden also acknowledged in his statement that only Congress can ensure a permanent solution, and called upon the body to pass the American Dream and Promise Act in order to provide a stable path to citizenship for DACA recipients.
Congress has tried to meet rising pressures by introducing new policy initiatives in the upcoming budget reconciliation bill. This avenue would allow Senate Democrats to bypass the GOP with only a simple majority, as long as support among the Democrats is unanimous. The plan is not yet complete, but will likely include $120 billion to create a pathway to citizenship for Dreamers and permanent green card status for undocumented farmworkers and recipients of Temporary Protected Status. If successful, it would be a major win in immigration reform.
Unfortunately, legal restrictions make this venture unlikely. The Byrd Rule limits budget reconciliation bills to the realm of spending and taxes. If the Senate Parliamentarian rules that these immigration measures fall outside this scope, they will not be included. The possibility of this is still being debated. While the current Senate Parliamentarian was a former immigration lawyer, she has blocked many Democrat proposals before. It seems the only stable course of action now is the most undesirable to Congress — negotiation with the GOP.

DHS Secretary Mayorkas on the Southern Border

The‌ ‌Department‌ ‌of‌ ‌Homeland‌ ‌Security‌ ‌Alejandro‌ ‌Mayorkas‌ ‌appeared‌ ‌on‌ ‌“CBS‌ ‌This‌ 
Morning”‌ ‌last‌ ‌week‌ ‌to‌ ‌discuss‌ ‌his‌ ‌visit‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Southern‌ ‌border.‌ ‌He‌ ‌began‌ ‌by‌ ‌describing‌ ‌the‌ 
burden‌ ‌placed‌ ‌on‌ ‌the‌ ‌president‌ ‌by‌ ‌the‌ ‌previous‌ ‌administration.‌ ‌The‌ ‌CBS‌ ‌host‌ ‌then‌ ‌questioned‌ 
him‌ ‌on‌ ‌his‌ ‌decision‌ ‌to‌ ‌visit‌ ‌El‌ ‌Paso‌ ‌as‌ ‌opposed‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Rio‌ ‌Grande‌ ‌or‌ ‌Fort‌ ‌Bliss,‌ ‌where‌ ‌many‌ 
unaccompanied‌ ‌minors‌ ‌are‌ ‌currently‌ ‌held.‌ ‌Mayorkas‌ ‌defended‌ ‌his‌ ‌decision,‌ ‌arguing‌ ‌that‌ ‌he‌ 
was‌ ‌able‌ ‌to‌ ‌see‌ ‌a‌ ‌“full‌ ‌expanse”‌ ‌of‌ ‌the‌ ‌Department‌ ‌of‌ ‌Homeland‌ ‌Security’s‌ ‌impact.‌ ‌He‌ ‌also‌ 
claimed‌ ‌that‌ ‌Vice‌ ‌President‌ ‌Kamala‌ ‌Harris‌ ‌was‌ ‌able‌ ‌to‌ ‌communicate‌ ‌with‌ ‌locals‌ ‌and‌ 
unaccompanied‌ ‌minors‌ ‌on‌ ‌this‌ ‌trip,‌ ‌with‌ ‌the‌ ‌existing‌ ‌itinerary.‌ ‌According‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Secretary,‌ 
attention‌ ‌to‌ ‌Fort‌ ‌Bliss‌ ‌falls‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Department‌ ‌of‌ ‌Health‌ ‌and‌ ‌Human‌ ‌Services.‌ ‌The‌ ‌host‌ ‌then‌ 
asked‌ ‌about‌ ‌the‌ ‌Biden‌ ‌administration’s‌ ‌efforts‌ ‌in‌ ‌repealing‌ ‌Title‌ ‌42,‌ ‌a‌ ‌Trump-era‌ ‌policy‌ 
allowing‌ ‌the‌ ‌government‌ ‌to‌ ‌block‌ ‌thousands‌ ‌of‌ ‌asylum‌ ‌claims.‌ ‌Secretary‌ ‌Mayorkas‌ ‌deflected‌ 
the‌ ‌question‌ ‌to‌ ‌the‌ ‌Center‌ ‌for‌ ‌Disease‌ ‌Control,‌ ‌claiming‌ ‌the‌ ‌issue‌ ‌was‌ ‌one‌ ‌of‌ ‌public‌ ‌health‌ 

Interagency Strategy for Promoting Naturalization

The Department of Homeland Security’s US Citizenship and Immigration Services released the Interagency Strategy for Promoting Naturalization this past Friday. This is a new intergovernmental approach to promote naturalization and eliminate excessive barriers to citizenship. According to Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas, this new strategy “will ensure that aspiring citizens are able to pursue naturalization through a clear and coordinated process.” 

The report is the collaboration of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, Department of Defense, Department of Health and Human Services, Department of Education, Department of State, Department of Justice, Department of Labor, Department of Housing and Urban Development, Department of Agriculture, Department of Veteran Affairs, and the Social Security Administration. These groups assemble the Naturalization Working Group, an interagency established following President Biden’s February executive order, intended to fix the problems in the immigration system. As Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas said in the announcement, “new citizens make our nation better,” and this new report reflects this sentiment. 

Supreme Court Rules Against Bond Hearings for Certain Immigrants

 

The Supreme Court decided this Tuesday that immigrants fearing persecution in their home countries can be indefinitely detained if they were previously deported and re-entered the United States without authorization. The partisan 6-3 decision held that deported immigrants who re-entered have no right to a hearing regarding their release while the government considers their claims. In the words of Justice Samuel Alito, “those aliens are not entitled to a bond hearing.”

The case involved deportees who had re-entered the United States. An immigration officer determined they had a “reasonable fear” for their safety if they returned. The immigrants were seeking withholding hearings. The court argued that, since the immigrants were facing removal based on the reinstatement of a previous order, they were not allowed to argue again for their release. 

As dissenting Justice Stephen Breyer mentioned, withholding proceedings often take more than a year, some up to two. This decision just delays the lives of these immigrants further, making them wait in fear. There is no justified reason to deny these people a new life, and subject them to persecution at home.

Mistrial Interrupts Minimum Wage Case for Immigrant Detainees

 

U.S. District Judge Robert Bryan of Tacoma declared a mistrial this Thursday after the jury failed to come to agreement. The case was raised against GEO Group over wage concerns. The group was paying immigrant detainees only $1 a day for tasks like cooking and cleaning at its for-profit detention center in Washington State. It was Democratic Washington Attorney General Bob Ferguson that sued the company in 2017, demanding the Florida-based group pay detainees the minimum wage. A separate lawsuit also demanded back pay. Geo Group argued that the detainees were not employees under the Washington Minimum Wage Act. It also said it would be unlawfully discriminatory for the state to mandate Geo Group to pay the minimum wage when the state does not pay the same to its own inmates. 

The immigrant detention center that Geo Group operates is one of the largest in the country. It generated $18.6 million in profits in 2018, while it would only cost $3.4 million to pay the detainees a minimum wage. This failure to pay workers fairly is unjust, and reveals the inherent greed of for-profit detention centers. 

Catholic Leaders Meet To Discuss Immigration

 

Over 20 bishops met with Vatican representatives and prelates from Central America at an emergency meeting held in Chicago from June 1st to June 2nd. The meeting, held by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, planned to set forth a welcoming response to immigrants from the Catholic Church. El Paso Bishop Mark J. Seitz saw the meeting as a counter to recent political decisions against immigrant rights, and the bishop hoped to “raise anew the moral voice of the church with decision makers at this critical time in defense of the rights and dignity of those who are forced to flee.” Attendees also wanted to understand the underlying causes of migration from the region, in order to become better advocates for them. They worked closely with bishops from Central America and Mexico, and stressed the importance of collaboration. Shortly after the meeting, an archbishop affiliated with the organization criticized Congress for “kicking the can down the road” when it comes to immigration reform. This involvement of the Catholic Church on matters of immigration reform reflects the important moral concerns the entire fight for immigrant justice rests on.

Supreme Court Rules Against Immigrants Once Again

 

This Monday, the Supreme Court ruled unanimously against the thousands of immigrants living in the United States for humanitarian reasons, ruling them ineligible for permanent residency if they entered the country unlawfully. Justice Elena Kagan wrote the opinion, declaring that permanent residency and TPS designation are separate immigration tracks that can only merge if the TPS recipient entered the United States legally. 

The case, Sanchez v. Mayorkas, was brought before the court by Jose Sanchez and Sonia Gonzalez. The two El Salvadorian natives entered the United States unlawfully in the late 1990s, but were granted Temporary Protected Status after earthquakes devastated their home country in 2001. This designation protects individuals from deportation to countries affected by armed conflicts and natural disasters. The married couple then applied for green cards in 2014. This application was rejected, and the pair sued. The United States Court of Appeals for the Third Circuit ruled against them, referring to the permanent residency eligibility requirement that applicants be “inspected and admitted” into the United States. According to Judge Thomas M Hardiman, the Temporary Protected Status designation “does not constitute an admission.” The Supreme Court upheld this decision. 

Despite this judicial setback, the House of Representatives have already passed legislation that would make it possible for TPS recipients to become permanent residents. Its future in the Senate is uncertain, but the move is supported by President Biden and his administration. If passed, it would allow thousands of immigrants who have made this country their home to continue living and thriving within the United States. 

Haiti Receives Temporary Protected Status Designation

The Secretary of Homeland Security, Alejandro Mayorkas, announced a new Temporary Protected Status designation for Haiti for eighteen months, beginning May 22nd. This new designation allows Haitian nationals, as well individuals without nationality who last resided in Haiti, to apply for TPS, provided they are already residing in the United States as of May 21st, 2021 and meet certain eligibility requirements. To determine eligibility, all individuals will undergo security and background checks. Current Haitian TPS beneficiaries will also need to file a new TPS application to ensure they do not lose coverage.

According to Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the decision to grant Haiti TPS status comes in response to “serious security concerns, social unrest, an increase in human rights abuses, crippling poverty, and lack of basic resources” in the country. These are situations exacerbated by the 2010 earthquake and the COVID-19 pandemic. 

Temporary Protected Status protects individuals of designated countries from deportation on the basis of immigration status. Individuals eligible for TPS under Haiti’s new designation must first file an application with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services to be granted TPS status. The registration period will begin with the publication of the Federal Register notice.  Individuals applying for TPS may also request an Employment Authorization Document or travel authorization.

 

Find more information here: https://www.dhs.gov/news/2021/05/22/secretary-mayorkas-designates-haiti-temporary-protected-status-18-months 

Immigration and the United States 2020 Census

 

The 2020 United States Census has raised alarms for economists. Population growth is slowing, and projections do not see the trend changing anytime soon. Economists agree that population growth fuels economies, and some parts of the country are already experiencing negative effects. Shrinking tax bases in rural areas has made it harder to fund public services like infrastructure and education. In addition, the aging population poses a serious dependency problem, placing a major economic strain on the working population. 

While the government is pondering family-planning solutions, it is overlooking the best option–increased immigration. Immigration has historically been a major accelerator of population growth. It is a far easier and simpler way to fix the population problem, and would benefit more lives. Many immigrants populate large metro areas, which would have otherwise lost population in recent years. Furthermore, many of these immigrants are younger than the median American, adding supply to the labor force.

While there are many humanitarian reasons to support immigration, this new economic angle should silence all critics. It is time for Congress to work together and open up the country to more immigrants, for the benefit of all.

Indigenous Guatemalans Face Communication Challenges At Border

Indigenous people have faced major hurdles in their migration to the United States. Language and cultural barriers add extra challenges and stress, as they grapple with an unfamiliar asylum system. 

El Paso Times talked with 26-year-old Melinda and her family about the difficult journey the Guatemalan family made to the U.S.-Mexico border. Speaking only the Indigenous language of K’iche’, Melinda was entirely reliant on another Guatemalan migrant for all communication. Melinda did not speak directly with any United States Customs and Border Protection Officer upon reaching the border. She was extremely confused and scared, and considered herself lucky to be assisted by the Mexican government agency Grupo Beta. 

Another Indigenous Guatemalan immigrant, Alma, shared Melinda’s grief with the process. Her son, Salvador, fainted in the extreme conditions of the journey. At the border, according to Alma, “no one came near” to explain the asylum process in the United States.

These experiences are not uncommon. Recent studies discovered that one in five detainees in the United States are Indigenous. It is essential that the United States allocate resources to expand language services at the border, in order to effectively explain the asylum process to migrants. Failure to do so would be a failure in justice.

Read El Paso Times’ Story Here: https://www.elpasotimes.com/story/news/2021/05/11/el-paso-juarez-us-immigration-system-mexico-border-untracked/5004407001/

Biden Administration Resurrects Entrepreneurship Program for Immigrants

 

President Biden announced last Monday his intent to revive an Obama-era program that allowed immigrant entrepreneurs to work in the United States. Titled the International Entrepreneur Rule, it allowed foreign entrepreneurs to work in the country up to five years, given they met certain criteria, including the ownership of at least 10% of a startup and the attraction of at least $250,000 in United States venture capital. 

The Trump administration published a notice intending to suspend the policy before it went into effect, citing its parole benefit as grounds for opposition. Parole allows the United States to admit migrants without visas, provided there is a significant public benefit. Ultimately, the program was not officially terminated by Trump, but withered away regardless, since investors and entrepreneurs believed the notice indicated Trump’s intent to deny applications.

The new attention to the program and increased resource allocation will likely sponsor a new influx of immigrant entrepreneurs. This is a major benefit to the country as a whole, and hopefully will offer new opportunities to immigrants.

Biden Selects Trump-Era Hires for Immigration Court

President Biden has upset many immigrant advocates this past weekend by hiring several immigration judges previously selected by former President Trump. Many of these judges are former prosecutors and counselors for Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Almost none have experience representing migrants in court. This move by the Biden administration has puzzled many voters, as it stands at odds with Biden’s stated commitment to reverse the harm the previous administration inflicted upon the immigration system. There should be far more immigration advocates within the court system, which would provide an important counter to the influx of deportation advocates that began filling the benches during the Trump presidency. Biden’s budget allows for a total of 100 immigration judge hires. Now that seventeen with questionable motivations have already been appointed, it is time to place pressure on the administration to ensure that court selections uphold the values Biden promised.

US Withdraws Biometrics Proposal

The United States government withdrew a Trump-era proposal last Friday. The measure sought to collect biometric details from all individuals applying for immigration or naturalization benefits, an expansion of previous biometric policy. While supporters of the rule argued it would improve security vetting and reduce fraud, many critics saw it as another unnecessary step in an already inefficient immigration process. The withdrawal is part of a wider effort to “restore faith” in the immigration system in the wake of the Trump presidency, an initiative set into motion through President Biden’s February Executive Order “Restoring Faith in Our Legal Immigration System.”

Boat of Migrants Capsizes Near San Diego

SAN DIEGO, CA – MAY 02: Debris is littered along the shoreline off Cabrillo Monument on May 2, 2021 in San Diego, California. Two people died and Twenty were rescued after a vessel overturned on Sunday afternoon off Point Loma area of San Diego(Photo by Sandy Huffaker/Getty Images)

 

A 40-foot cruiser carrying about 30 people hit a reef off San Diego and capsized early Sunday morning. Passengers were met with a powerful current. Three died, and of the 29 rescued, five were taken to the hospital. After one day, the U.S. Coast Guard suspended the search. 

According to the authorities, the passengers were migrants, likely coming from Baja California, Mexico. These maritime passages are not new, and have been on the rise in recent years as border security has increased. Between 2019 and 2020, Border Patrol reported a 92% increase in apprehensions at sea. They expect to see a similar increase this year. 

Many lives could be saved if the United States established more efficient, safe, and easy opportunities for immigration. The increase in migrant sea passage correlates with the implementation of stricter measures at the border. Individuals seeking a new life should not have to resort to such dangerous means. 

State Department Announces Diversity Lottery Winners

green card lottery

The State Department announced the winners of the 2022 Diversity Immigration Visa Program this Saturday. The program, also known as “The Green Card Lottery,” allows winners to apply for visas, opening up a pathway to citizenship. The program is limited to individuals from countries where less than 50,000 natives migrated to the United States within the previous five years. It benefits about 55,000 people each year.

The lottery this year is especially important. Individuals banned by former President Donald Trump’s Presidential Proclamation 9645–which blocked migration from Yemen, Iran, North Korea, Venezuela, Syria, Somalia, Chad, and Libya–are now eligible once again under the Biden presidency. According to the State Department’s Bureau of Consular Affairs, “pursuant to President Biden’s proclamation, the State Department will undertake a review to ensure that individuals whose immigrant visa applications were denied on the basis of the suspension and restriction on entry imposed by P.P. 9645 or 9983 may have their applications reconsidered.” Finally the individuals needlessly barred from opportunity may see hope on the horizon once more.

Supreme Court Sides With Undocumented Immigrant in Recent Case

The Supreme Court sided with an undocumented Guatemalan immigrant today in a 6-3 decision. Agusto Niz-Chavez, who brought the case, had illegally crossed the border in 2005, eventually settling in Detroit. The government initiated removal proceedings against him in 2013 and sent him a notice of the charges. Only later did the government send a second notice with the date and time of his court appearance. It is this delay that Niz-Chavez found issue with. According to the law of the United States, immigrants are only eligible to appeal for removal after ten years of consistent residency within the country. Once a notice to appear is issued, this clock ends. Niz-Chavez argued that the multiple notices he received did not technically constitute the single notice described in the law.

The dispute is more than semantic, as noted by Chief Justice Neil Gorsuch. It involves the duty of the government to provide an individual with a single comprehensive notice of the proceedings they face. In this case, the court did not only side with Niz-Chavez, but also provided a counter to the increasingly expedited removal process many undocumented immigrants are faced with.

The applications of this ruling are important and broad. This ruling can be the basis to re-open removal orders that were issued in proceedings when a person was NOT deemed eligible to file for cancellation. The ruling should be the basis of motions to terminate current proceedings that are based on defective NTAs.

President Biden Nominates Harris County Sheriff to Head ICE

President Biden will be nominating Ed Gonzalez to serve as director of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Gonzalez has served as sheriff to Texas’ most populous county since 2017, prior to which he served on the Houston City Council. Sheriff Ed Gonzalez is a long-time critic of former president Donald Trump and his immigration policies. In 2017, he ended a partnership with ICE that authorized local officials to enforce federal immigration laws. Through Twitter, Gonzalez denounced the ICE raids that became normalized under the Trump administration, and reassured residents that the Harris County Sheriff’s Office would not be participating. Based on these past condemnations, Ed Gonzalez’s nomination may signify a more progressive path away from the reprehensible history U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement has etched thus far.

AILA Virtual National Day of Action

Last week, Ellen participated in AILA’s 2021 Virtual Day of Action. The purpose of the day was to advocate to our legislators in D.C. to:

 

  • Hold USCIS accountable for inefficient policy changes and crisis-level processing delays, and to return it to its customer-oriented mission.
  • Reform our immigration courts.
  • Reduce and phase out the use of immigration detention.
  • Provide a pathway to citizenship for the thousands of immigrants who call America home.

The New England delegation stood as a united front, raising new and important ideas. Hopefully, the passion and advocacy of the group will translate into legislative change on the Hill.

Biden Changes the Official Rhetoric Regarding Immigration

 

In the midst of an immigration debate characterized by harsh words and alienation, President Biden has taken steps to change the rhetoric with which we approach the topic. Through detailed memos issued by the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement Department, the Biden administration has ordered U.S. immigration agencies to replace the words “illegal alien” and “assimilation” with “undocumented noncitizen” and “integration” respectively. This applies to internal communication and external correspondence. A similar change in rhetoric has already been enacted within the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. 

The decision, while small, still matters. The words we use influence the way we perceive ideas, things, and people. According to Troy Miller, a top official at Customs and Border Protection, “we set a tone and example for our country and partners around the world.”  Respect must define our entire approach to immigration, in both action and rhetoric. 

George W. Bush Criticizes GOP Approach to Immigration

In a series of interviews held this past weekend, former George W. Bush distanced himself from his party on the topic of immigration. On NBC’s Today show, he said the Republican party he served has become “isolationist, protectionist, and to a certain extent, nativist.” He also criticized the fear mongering tactics of many anti-immigrant Republicans. In a Sunday Washington Post op-ed, George W. Bush advocated for bipartisan solutions in addressing the shortcomings of the current immigration system. Through a CBS interview, Bush asked Congress to “put aside all the harsh rhetoric about immigration” and stated his goal to “set a tone that is more respectful about the immigrant.” Later in the interview, the former president also expressed his disappointment in the failures of the American government in enacting immigration reform. He also gave his support for a pathway to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. 

These statements correlate with the message of his new book, which aims to humanize and appreciate the immigrants that compose this country. It is a refreshing contrast to the harsh anti-immigrant rhetoric currently defining a sizable portion of the immigration debate. George W. Bush’s pro-immigrant stance also reminds the country that respecting immigrants is not a partisan idea, but should rather be the practice of all.

Voting Reforms Might Have Unintended Consequences for Immigrants

 

The “For The People” act passed the House in early March. The Democrat-sponsored bill attempts to increase voter turnout through sweeping reforms. This legislation is especially intended to help voters of color. However, some immigration experts have raised concerns that the bill may unintentionally harm immigrants. 

As the bill appears before the Senate, Democrats have found themselves faced with a dilemma. Automatic voter registration (when applying for forms of state identification) is a central part of the legislation, and yet it poses the greatest threat to immigrants. Some immigration lawyers fear the measure could mistakenly register immigrants with work visas or green cards. Even if the individual never votes, the very act of registering can be considered a false claim to U.S. Citizenship. This could result in legal consequences, including deportation. It is important to note, however, that there are other immigrant advocates that do not share this concern, since automatic voter registration has already been implemented in several states and this specific problem has not yet arisen.

The voting bill is important, and these concerns should not prevent its passage in the Senate. However, it is important that Democrats acknowledge and investigate this issue, and make appropriate adjustments. These concerns should also prompt a push for increased accessibility measures (such as language services) for immigrants at government facilities like the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Biden Signs International Deal Concerning Migration

 

The Biden administration has come to an agreement with Mexico, Guatemala, and Honduras to temporarily increase border security, in an attempt to limit migration to the United States southern border. Mexico will be maintaining a deployment of about 10,000 troops, while Honduras will be deploying about 7,000 police and military personnel to its border. Guatemala plans to send 1,500 police officers and soldiers to its southern border, while also setting up twelve checkpoints along migrant routes. According to White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki, “the objective is to make it more difficult to make the journey, and make crossing borders more difficult.”

The move is both disappointing and concerning. The arduous journey many migrants endure should not be made any more “difficult.” On the contrary, governments should be focused on making their lives easier. The money spent on policing could instead be allocated towards supplies and housing for migrants. Furthermore, migrants have already reported many of these groups for violence, extortion, and robbery. The agreement will just give them more power and presence. 

Job Posting: Virtual Legal Assistant at Cambridge Immigration Law

Job Posting: Virtual Legal Assistant at Cambridge Immigration Law (formerly Law Office of Ellen Sullivan, P.C.)

 

Requirements:

  1. Available for monthly in-person meetings in Cambridge, MA; otherwise available to work remotely with own laptop and with own high-speed internet. During remote shift, must be fully working—there will never be nothing to do!
  2. Excellent writing skills for client communications
  3. Excellent skills in using and/or learning to use online legal platforms (Clio; Docketwise)
  4. Excellent organizational skills
  5. Kind, understanding, patient nature with clients in phone and written communications
  6. Fluency (written and spoken) in English with a strong preference for fluency (written and spoken) in Spanish, Portuguese and/or other languages

 

Schedule:

  1. 20 hour per week, remote. One shift per month in person in Cambridge
  2. Schedule will be a fixed 4-hour daily shift during workday (9am to 5pm) on Monday through Friday
  3. Fixed schedule, remotely, but completely available during the fixed schedule. The hours will be “shift” hours so that the attorneys know which hours they can expect you to be fully available to work with them

 

Job Duties:

  1. Project management (Clio)
    1. Know the status of all “pending” cases
    2. Know the status of all “open” cases
    3. Communicate with attorneys to move cases forward when the “ball is in our court”
    4. Communicate with client to move cases forward when the “ball is in client’s court”
  2. Case Preparation (Docketwise)
    1. Create Contacts and Matters
    2. Create Forms, Questionnaires, and Document Requests
    3. Create/manage Client Portals
    4. Communicate with client to teach client to use Portal
    5. Communicate with client to follow-up on Portal requests
  3. Write Office Operations Manual

 

Compensation: $20/hour

 

To Apply: Email to Peter@CambridgeImmigrationLaw.com. Use subject “VLA Job Application.” In email, explain why you’d be a great candidate for this job and please attach a resume and two professional and one personal reference.

Many Undocumented Immigrants Denied COVID-19 Vaccines

 

Many undocumented immigrants across the country—including essential workers, the elderly, and individuals with pre-existing conditions— have been unable to receive COVID-19 vaccines due to lack of government issued identification. While most states offer alternatives to identification cards, such as proof of residency through addressed mail, many experts say the requirements still impose barriers on immigrants, especially those without permanent housing. Agricultural workers have been especially affected by this barrier, despite working throughout the pandemic and serving as the backbone of the American food supply chain. According to Melissa Taveras of the Florida Immigrant Commission, reports from immigrants who were denied the vaccine have been flooding the immigration group’s hotline.

Immigrant advocates in Florida have begun calling for an end to the requirement. In response, White House press secretary Jen Psaki has assured the public of President Biden’s support for the vaccination of immigrants. More specifically, in a press briefing, she stated “the more people who are vaccinated, whether they’re undocumented or not, the safer we are as a country, and that’s certainly the president’s point of view.” Hopefully, these words will turn into action.

Massachusetts has emphasized through their website that individuals without identification, social security numbers, or insurance information will not need to provide anything to receive a vaccine. However, the issue in Florida and several other states illuminates the barriers undocumented individuals are met with, that many citizens do not have to worry about. It is these barriers the government must be committed to destroying.

 

Read More About Receiving the Vaccine in MA Here: https://www.mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-vaccine-frequently-asked-questions 

President Biden Approval Ratings Affected by Situation at Border

 

The rising number of migrants arriving at the United States southern border has been a hot topic in the media lately, sparking debate among both parties. Most of these conversations include criticisms of President Biden’s role in the situation. Republicans typically refer to the president’s relatively liberal immigration policies as the cause of this influx, while Democrats tend to believe the conditions of the detention facilities and the system backlog to be the Biden administration’s main failures. The effects of this controversy can be seen in recent polls.

More Americans disapprove than approve of how President Biden is handling the growing number of unaccompanied migrant children arriving at the southern border. This negative opinion is bipartisan, but discontent is definitely stronger from the right. Furthermore, according to a new poll by the Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research, solving the problem at the border is very important to most Americans, with over 59% finding the safe treatment of unaccompanied children at the border to be a high priority. This means that the general public’s disapproval of Biden’s handling of the situation is a particularly important figure to be aware of, as many Americans are anxious for a solution.

Overall, President Biden’s approval ratings have been negatively affected by his immigration policies. Only 42% of Americans approve of Biden’s handling of immigration in general. This is a lower figure than those who approve of Biden’s presidency overall, and significantly lower than his approval ratings regarding the economy and his COVID-19 response. The figures seem to indicate that Americans’ poor opinion of the president’s immigration efforts is making a major dent in Biden’s overall approval rate. Hopefully, the administration will adjust in a way that benefits immigrants, and not merely a particular sect of American voters.

Texas Attorney General Paxton Files Lawsuit Over End of “Public Charge” Rule

Texas’ Attorney General Ken Paxton has filed a lawsuit on behalf of fourteen states in defense of the “public charge” law. This law, which forbids the immigration of individuals suspected of depending on government programs, is currently blocked by the Biden administration. Attorney General Paxton criticized President Biden’s decision under the pretense that it was a significant Texas taxpayer expense. Texas brought the lawsuit before the Court of Appeals for the Seventh Circuit but was denied. Paxton has now filed the lawsuit with the United States Supreme Court.

The lawsuit in itself is not monumentous, and its eventual failure is likely. However, it represents larger problems within the United States’ immigration debate. Many others like Paxton use immigrants to explain failures in government support systems. Not only is it an unjustifiable claim, but this scapegoating tactic creates further animosity against immigrants. It also overlooks the important contributions immigrants make to the economy, as well as general life and culture. Officials like Ken Paxton should begin criticizing the large institutions failing Americans, instead of the hard-working individuals comprising the country.

 

Read More About the Public Charge Rule Here: https://www.ellensullivanlaw.com/biden-administration-halts-enforcement-of-2019-public-charge-rule/ 

Poor Conditions Continue in Migrant Care Facilities

The Biden administration allowed several journalists into its main border detention facility this Tuesday. These visitors were met with a shocking display of overcrowding, with thousands of people crammed into a space designed for a few hundred. According to the acting executive officer for the U.S. Border Control in Rio Grande Valley, Oscar Escamilla, almost 300 children enter the facility daily. It seems this number might not be decreasing anytime soon.

The United States immigration system is currently experiencing a major backlog, as unaccompanied migrants are entering the country at a faster rate than the Department of Health and Human Services can place them with U.S. sponsors. The department has been scrambling to make space, and has begun housing these migrants in convention centers in both Dallas and San Diego. More large-scale sites will be opening soon throughout Texas. 

Opening new sites, increasing staff, and expanding the resources available to the Department of Health and Human Services should be the top priority in government right now. These issues with overcrowding are a direct product of an inefficient immigration system. Instead, however, legislators in Washington have focused their efforts on increasing border security. This preoccupation with prevention ignores the present situation, which demands immediate attention. Political agendas can wait, these children cannot.

 

Read the Related Article on the Dallas Convention Center Migrant Housing Here: https://ellensullivanlaw.com/hhs-will-use-dallas-convention-center-as-temporary-migrant-housing/ 

Vice President Harris Takes Center Role in Immigration

 

This past Wednesday President Biden announced that Vice President Kamala Harris will be leading efforts to stem migration at the Southern border. A senior administration official later expanded upon Biden’s remarks, emphasizing their goal of slowing the flow of “irregular migrants” by identifying and addressing the root causes of migration. The official also told reporters that the efforts would strengthen the country’s relationships with Mexico and the Northern Triangle.

In the days following the announcement, Vice President Harris attended detailed briefings and reached out to several immigration experts in Congress. She also began looking for a subject-specific specialist to add to her team. The vice president will be placing telephone calls to Latin American leaders this week, in her first outreach to the region since assuming this new role. An official has said the vice president will be focused on formulating long term solutions, while also working on an “accelerated and intensified timeline” to “surge” U.S. humanitarian assistance. While Harris acknowledges the challenges ahead, she has expressed confidence in her new position, an optimism that will hopefully be coupled with progressive change.

Biden Addresses Immigration in Thursday Press Conference

A significant portion of President Biden’s Thursday afternoon press conference was dedicated to the topic of immigration. It has become a major point of contention among legislators in the past few weeks as more migrants have arrived at the southern border. According to Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, the United States may see the highest number of migrant arrivals in recent history. In response, many Republican congressmen have criticized Biden’s immigration policies, blaming their relative leniency for the uptick in migration.

Despite Republican criticism, Biden has defended his policies and the immigrants they support. “Rolling back the policies of separating children from their mothers? I make no apology for that. Rolling back the policies of ‘Remain in Mexico,’ sitting on the edge of the Rio Grande in a muddy circumstance with not enough to eat? I make no apologies for that,” Biden said during the conference. He instead pointed to seasonal patterns and the changing conditions within various countries as possible causes of increased migration.

The president’s rhetoric today regarding the topic of immigration is important, especially his avoidance of the word “crisis” when talking about the situation at the border. The term has become popular in the past few days among many Republicans advocating for harsher immigration laws. But the “crisis” is not the arrival of migrants, as these congressmen would like to lead the public to believe. Rather, it’s the poor conditions the migrants have been met with. The country’s duty is to humanely address the latter issue, and acknowledge the former for what it is—the divisive politicization of people merely seeking a new life.

 

Biden Sends Top Officials to Latin American Countries Amid Surge in Migration at Southern Border

President Biden will be dispatching top officials to various countries in Latin America as the number of migrants arriving at the United States southern border swells. Roberta Johnson, the National Security Council member overseeing border concerns, will be heading to Mexico to “develop an effective and humane plan of action to manage migration” with the Mexican government. Meanwhile, the White House’s senior director of the Western Hemisphere, Juan Gonzales, will be traveling to Guatemala to discuss the “root causes of migration” and to develop plans to “build a more hopeful future in the region.” Ricardo Zúñiga, the State Department’s envoy to the Northern Triangle region of Central America, will also be involved in the efforts, according to National Security Council spokeswoman Emily Horne. In addition, the White House has run thousands of radio ads across Latin America and hundreds of social media ads urging people to stay in their home countries.

However, despite these efforts to reduce migration, the Biden administration remains compassionate towards the individuals crossing the border. While many Republican lawmakers describe the influx of migrants as a “crisis,” the Biden administration has avoided such derisive terminology. On Monday, White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki explicitly stated the situation was “not a crisis,” and went on to affirm that the government has a “responsibility to humanely approach this circumstance and make sure [migrants] are treated and put into conditions that are safe.” It is important that this rhetoric is maintained throughout the presidency. The Biden administration must remain committed to the lives of the immigrants at the border, instead of the political pressures in Washington.

Farm Workforce Modernization Act 2021 Passes the House

The Farm Workforce Modernization Act of 2021 passed in the U.S. House of Representatives this Thursday evening with bipartisan support. Thirty Republicans and all but one Democrat voted in favor of the measure, with a final vote of 274 to 174. The comprehensive bill offers a pathway to legal status for undocumented agricultural workers. A previous version of the bill passed in the House in 2019, but it was never picked up by the Senate. 

In his statement of support, President Biden emphasized the importance of agricultural workers for the country and the economy. He also expressed his hopes that the bill would provide stability and improved working conditions for many undocumented farmworkers. Support for the bill among those in the agricultural industry, however, is more mixed. The director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation said the bill contains “flaws and shortcomings.” Meanwhile, the United Fresh Produce Association President Tom Stenzel confidently claimed the legislation will “stabilize our current workforce and make improvements to ensure that a future workforce is available to meet the growing needs of the fresh produce industry.”

The future of the bill is uncertain. Dan Fazio, the executive director of major H-2A employer Wafla, believes the proposal will undergo major changes as it faces the Senate. Republicans are beginning to adopt harder stances on immigration matters as the number of migrants arriving at the Southern border increases. On the other hand, the bill answers the bipartisan call for a solution to agriculture’s labor crisis. Hopefully, a clearer picture of the bill’s fate will be revealed as California Senator Dianne Feinstein begins negotiations with her colleagues in the coming weeks.

 

Read Biden’s Official Statement Here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-releases/2021/03/18/statement-by-president-biden-on-the-farm-workforce-modernization-act-of-2021/

 

Read More About The Farm Workforce Modernization Act 2021 Here: https://ellensullivanlaw.com/house-of-representatives-delays-vote-on-u-s-citizenship-act/ 

 

House Passes Bill for DREAMers

The House of Representatives has just passed the American Dream and Promise Act 2021. The bill, sponsored by California Democratic Representative Lucille Roybal-Allard, would provide a pathway to citizenship for DREAMers, Temporary Protected Status recipients, and Deferred Enforcement Departure beneficiaries. Up to 4.4 million individuals might be eligible for permanent residence under the bill. All House Democrats and nine Republicans voted to approve the bill, which passed with a final vote of 228 to 197. The day was, as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi described it, “a cause for celebration.” 

Unfortunately, the American Dream and Promise Act still must face the Senate, where its fate is far more uncertain. It has yet to garner any Republican support. Under the chamber’s current rules, the Democrats would have to sway at least 10 Republicans. In light of this, Illinois Senator Dick Durbin, the second-highest ranking Democrat in the Senate, has begun negotiations with his Republican colleagues on the stand-alone bill. 

HHS Will Use Dallas Convention Center As Temporary Migrant Housing

The Biden administration now plans to use Dallas’ Key Bailey Hutchison Convention Center to temporarily house over 2,000 migrant teenagers. Director of the Dallas Office of Emergency Management Rocky Vaz described the facility as a “decompression center.” It will be housing boys ages 15 to 17. The facility will offer migrant children access to educational, medical, mental health, and recreational services. The US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced that the center may begin operation as a migrant shelter on Wednesday, March 17th. All children will be screened for COVID-19 prior to entry.

The decision comes in response to the recent surge of unaccompanied minors crossing the border. The Department of Health and Human Services has been rushing to open facilities across the country in order to safely care for these children. Minimizing the time spent in US Border Control custody is a priority for the administration, especially as concerns arise over poor living conditions, limited access to sunlight, and overcrowding. In their Tuesday statement, HHS emphasized their goal of resettling children with family and sponsors. They also said they will be “aggressively moving toward the long-term goal of acquiring enough state-licensed beds in our care provider network” to reduce future need for emergency shelters such as this.

DHS Enlists Help of FEMA

 

This past Saturday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to help process the high levels of unaccompanied minors arriving at the border. The 90 day government-wide effort will safely receive, shelter, and transfer children.

 The Department of Homeland Security also announced that the federal government is working to move children from U.S. Customs and Border Protection to the Department of Health and Human Services. They will be placing children with family members or sponsors “until their immigration is adjudicated.” FEMA will now be playing an important role in this process, seeking every available option to “quickly expand physical capacity for appropriate lodging.”

It is very important that the government does everything in its power to ensure the safety of these minors, especially with the added risks of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of these children have endured a dangerous journey, and they now need comfort, safety, and support.

Read the DHS statement here: https://www.dhs.gov/news/2021/03/13/homeland-security-secretary-mayorkas-directs-fema-support-response-unaccompanied

Biden Administration Halts Enforcement of 2019 Public Charge Rule

 

This Wednesday, the Biden administration announced the end of the 2019 “public charge” restrictions following the reinstatement of a federal court order blocking the policy. The Department of Homeland Security determined the legal battles the policy incurred to be an inefficient use of government resources, and Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas described the 2019 policy as “not in keeping with our nation’s values.”

The 2019 “public charge” rule was a Trump-era policy that targeted low-income immigrants and erected major barriers in the green card application process. It granted the government broader discretion to reject green card applications from individuals suspected of relying on public benefits. The restrictions also applied to those only considered “at risk” of reliance. It was widely denounced by immigration advocates.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will now refer to the 1999 version of the policy. This means that USCIS will no longer be considering an applicant’s receipt of “Medicaid (except for long-term institutionalization at the government’s expense), public housing, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits” when determining public charge inadmissibility. In addition, green card applicants will no longer need to include Form I-944 when applying from within the U.S.

 

Read the USCIS statement here: https://www.uscis.gov/green-card/green-card-processes-and-procedures/public-charge 

TPS and DED: Venezuela

 

Recently, Biden’s Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas designated Venezuela for Temporary Protected Status (TPS). This allows Venezuelan nationals and individuals without nationality who last resided in Venezuela to file TPS applications. It is only open to individuals who can prove continued residence in the United States since March 8th, 2021. There will be a 180-day registration period. TPS will last 18 months, until September 5th, 2022. The decision comes in response to humanitarian concerns about the conditions in Venezuela. 

The announcement expands upon former president Donald Trump’s January 19th, 2021 memorandum, which deferred the removal of Venezuelan nationals for 18 months, through July 2022. Individuals eligible for this Deferred Enforced Departure are also eligible to apply for Employment Authorization Documents. The DED memorandum excludes those:

  • Who are inadmissible under Section 212(a)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(3)) or removable under Section 237(a)(4) of the INA (8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(4))
  • Who have been convicted of any felony or two or more misdemeanors committed in the United States, or who meet the criteria set forth in Section 208(b)(2)(A) of the INA (8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2)(A))
  • Who are subject to extradition
  • Whose presence in the United States the secretary of Homeland Security has determined is not in the interest of the United States or presents a danger to public safety
  • Whose presence in the United States the secretary of State has reasonable grounds to believe would have potentially serious adverse foreign policy consequences for the United States

Read more information here: https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2021/03/09/2021-04951/designation-of-venezuela-for-temporary-protected-status-and-implementation-of-employment 

Learn more about the filing process for an Employment Authorization Document here: https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/deferred-enforced-departure/ded-granted-country-venezuela 

 

House of Representatives Delays Vote On U.S. Citizenship Act

 

The House of Representatives has delayed the vote on Biden’s U.S. Citizenship Act until April. The vote was originally scheduled for March, but House Speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed concern about the shortage of necessary votes. Arizona Representative Tom O’Halleran said the bill was “just not quite ready yet” and House Judiciary Chair Jerry Nadler mentioned the need to “engage in some consultations with key members and stakeholders.”

While the vote on Biden’s main comprehensive immigration bill has been postponed, two more narrow immigration bills will still be facing the House this March. Both are standalone bills, reintroduced this past Wednesday after previously passing in the House chamber in 2019.  One is the American Dream and Promise Act. This would provide DACA recipients, those under Temporary Protected Status, and individuals with Deferred Enforced Departure protection from deportation. It would also grant them an opportunity to obtain permanent legal status in the United States. The other bill, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act, would create a pathway to citizenship for undocumented agricultural workers while also reforming the current H-2A temporary agricultural work visa program. The two bills will easily pass the House, and many political observers are optimistic about the bipartisan support it has received. The U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, on the other hand, faces a more uncertain future. Hopefully, it will garner more support in the next month. 

 

Read Our Previous Coverage of the US Citizenship Act Here: https://ellensullivanlaw.com/president-biden-sends-progressive-immigration-bill-to-congress/ 

 

A Judicial Loss In The Fight Against Deportation

The Supreme Court has just further complicated the lives of many immigrants, putting them at a disadvantage in the fight against deportation. Tuesday’s 5-to-3 ruling placed the burden of proof on undocumented immigrants seeking to challenge deportation orders.

The ruling came in the case of Clemente Pereida, who used a fake Social Security card to get a job as a janitor. He pled no contest to the crime of “attempted impersonation” and was fined. The courts ruled Pereida’s action a crime of “moral turpitude.” The conviction led the Department of Homeland Security to issue a deportation order. Pereida appealed to the US Attorney General, but the crime’s categorization as that of “moral turpitude” made it legally impossible for the Attorney General to cancel the order of removal. Clemente Pereida then turned to the Supreme Court, where he was shut down by the five conservative judges.

The decision against Pereida has important implications. The ruling places many immigrants at a disadvantage in deportation legal battles, especially those unable to afford counsel. Stanford law professor Lucas Guttentag has expressed concern that the ruling will make it easier for immigrants to be deported for relatively small crimes. Justice Stephen Breyer, who wrote the dissenting opinion, believed the majority’s decision “risks hinging noncitizen’s eligibility for relief from removal on the varied charging practices of state prosecutors.” Furthermore, it discourages many immigrants from seeking justice through the highest judicial authority in the country. The conservative bias of the court is apparent in the ruling, and it is a bias that threatens the rights of immigrants.

The Fight For Family Reunification In the United States

 

This Monday, Homeland Security Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas announced a new policy regarding family reunification. Separated migrant families will now have the option to be reunified in either the United States or their home countries. Furthermore, the Biden administration plans to offer families reuniting within the United States more support and opportunities to stay in the country. The decision came from the Biden administration’s reunification task force, established solely to reunite the families separated under the harmful policies of the Trump administration. In his briefing, Secretary Mayorkas described this separation of families under Trump as “the most powerful and heartbreaking example of the cruelty that preceded this administration.”

The decision to offer migrants the opportunity to reunite in the United States follows the admirable efforts of the teams of pro-bono lawyers representing migrant families in a federal lawsuit. The attorneys stressed the difficult choice migrants are forced to make–parents must either bring their children back to dangerous situations in their home countries, or remain separated. These lawyers have been calling on the Biden administration to take action immediately to offer these families restitution and protection. 

Unfortunately, the Department of Homeland Security’s statement was brief and lacked exact details. Secretary Mayorkas also warned that progress will take time. Despite these disappointments, however, the decision is a promising update in the Biden administration’s “moral imperative” to reverse Trump’s harmful family separation policies. There will surely be more positive changes to come, as indicated by the Department of Homeland Security’s consideration to extend the policy to separated siblings.

President Biden Ends Trump-Era Green Card Freeze

President Joe Biden lifted Trump’s temporary freeze on green cards this past Wednesday. Former president Trump had halted the issuance of green cards last spring in response to the pandemic. In his 2020 proclamation, Trump deemed immigrants a “risk to the U.S. labor market.” This original order applied to the entirety of 2020, and was later extended to the end of March. 

Trump’s freeze blocked the majority of legal immigration to the country. About 120,000 family preference visas were lost. Employment based visas were limited only to those considered beneficial to national interests, such as healthcare workers. Visa lottery winners were denied. A large portion of immigrants were unable to bring over family members. These blocked visas only added to the growing visa backlog.

Biden’s Wednesday proclamation offered hope to these groups barred by Trump’s policy. Before revoking Trump’s proclamation, the president emphasized that shutting out legal immigrants “harms the country” and “does not advance the interests of the United States.” He shared his sympathy with families separated by the restrictions and individuals selected by the immigration lottery that had their opportunities delayed. 

Trump’s action was wrong, intended primarily to circumvent the law and further harm immigrants. While many hoped Biden would act far sooner on the matter, at least action has finally come, and another barrier has been lifted. Hopefully those who were unable to obtain green cards due to this freeze will be able to actualize their hopes soon.

 

Read Biden’s Proclamation Here: https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/02/24/a-proclamation-on-revoking-proclamation-10014/ 

Biden Scraps Trump-Era Changes to Citizen Test

 

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services confirmed their plan to scrap Trump’s citizenship test this past Monday. In early December 2020, Donald Trump made several changes to the U.S. Citizenship Test that complicated the exam. Its length was doubled, the number of possible questions increased, and some answers were altered with a conservative bias. Furthermore, very little notice was given in advance of these changes, limiting the time available for participants to properly prepare. Many critics believe these changes slowed down the process and discouraged many applicants. 

The Biden administration will now be reverting back to the 2008 version of the exam. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will allow some immigrants who filed their naturalization applications between December 1st and March 1st to take either test, since many have already begun preparing for the 2020 version. However, all applicants whose first naturalization interviews take place after April 19th will have to take the 2008 version of the exam, regardless of when they filed their naturalization applications. Hopefully, the change will make the process easier and more efficient for applicants, and remove yet another barrier on their pathway to citizenship. 

ICE Announces New Deportation Priority Groups

US Immigration and Customs Enforcement Director Tae Johnson announced new deportation priority groups in a memo released Thursday. The agency will now prioritize those who pose a threat to public safety or national security for deportation. National security threats are defined as noncitizens suspected of terrorism or espionage, while public safety threats refer to noncitizens convicted of aggravated felonies or involved in criminal organizations. ICE officers must consider the “extensiveness, seriousness, and recency of criminal activity” when evaluating the individual as a threat to public safety. The memo also includes new arrivals in this priority deportation list, specifically those who arrived in the United States after November 1st, 2020.

The memo includes some positive provisions as well. It erects administrative barriers to mass deportations and implements oversight measures. Officers are also required to examine “personal and family circumstances, health and medical factors, ties to the community, evidence of rehabilitation and whether the individual has potential immigration relief available” before considering someone for priority deportation.

The move is a significant improvement in immigration policy when compared to the policies of previous presidents. The Obama administration targeted noncitizens with only one “significant misdemeanor.” Even worse, any immigrant could have been targeted by ICE regardless of their background during the Trump-era. However, many progressives raise the concern that Biden was not able to break fully from the deportation policies of the past. Hopefully, the Biden administration will continue to weaken ICE even further and preserve the rights of all immigrants.

Read the Full Official Memo Here: https://www.ice.gov/doclib/news/releases/2021/021821_civil-immigration-enforcement_interim-guidance.pdf

Department of Homeland Security Scraps Trump ICE Union Policy

On Tuesday, the Department of Homeland Security scrapped a Trump-era contract that could have allowed a union of deportation officers to stall the implementation of Biden’s immigration policies. A whistleblower complained the contract would grant AFGE National ICE Council 118 “veto authority” over certain policy decisions at ICE. AFGE National ICE Council 118 has thousands of members and has repeatedly endorsed Donald Trump. The contract granted the organization extraordinary powers, and the complaint argued these excess benefits were granted based on their affiliation with Donald Trump. The whistleblower accused Ken Cuccinelli, the DHS official who signed the agreement, of “gross mismanagement, gross waste of government funds and abuse of authority.”

A spokesperson for the Department of Homeland Security has assured that ICE and the union have been notified the agreement has been disapproved. Ken Cuccinelli has defended his position, arguing the contract was “both legal and good policy for ICE.” The ICE union may still appeal the Department of Homeland Security’s decision with the Federal Labor Relations Authority, possibly leading to a lengthy legal battle. For now, though, the threat they pose to progessive immigration policy has been thwarted.

 

Move to End Privately Owned Immigrant Detention Centers in Congress

 

On February 11th, 2021, Arizona lawmaker Raul Grijalva reintroduced the “Justice Is Not For Sale Act.” This bill would phase out government contracts with private prisons and end immigrant family detention. It would also prevent companies from overcharging inmates and would “increase oversight of immigrant detention facilities to ensure humane treatment.” 

This bill addresses some of the shortcomings of President Biden’s January 29th executive order terminating federal private prison contracts. While Representative Grijalva described Biden’s order as “an important step to address the mass incarceration crisis that disproportionately impacts immigrants and communities of color,” his “Justice Is Not For Sale Act” would go even further. President Biden’s order did not mention private immigration detention centers, in which 81% of people in ICE custody are held. The “Justice is Not For Sale Act,” however, would specifically bar the Justice Department from contracting with private entities to operate immigrant detention facilities.

Representative Grijalva recognizes that imprisoning families seeking asylum is unethical. The bill would instead reinstate family case management programs. These programs have been proven to be more successful in “safely and efficiently guiding families through the asylum process.” This alternative focuses on helping asylum-seeking immigrants instead of using them for profit. 

The “Justice Is Not For Sale Act” is necessary. Private immigration detention centers are incentivized to limit expenses, which leads to higher reports of abuse and neglect. These centers rarely face accountability. Furthermore, these private centers profit off detainees, incentivizing higher incarceration rates. It is time for the United States to pass the “Justice Is Not For Sale Act” and finally end private detention centers. We must prioritize people over profit, always.

 

Read Representative Grijalva’s Official Press Release Here: https://grijalva.house.gov/press-releases/rep-grijalva-reintroduces-justice-not-sale-act-ban-private-prisons-and-end-immigrant

 

Biden Proclamation Ends Funding for Border Wall

In a letter to Congress released Thursday, February 11th, Biden reported his termination of Trump’s national emergency order regarding the southern border. Trump had used this order in 2019 to fund the border wall he had promised his supporters during his campaign. By declaring a national emergency, Trump was able to circumvent Congress and access military funds for the project. Biden referred to this order as “unwarranted” in his letter. The current president also announced that no more “American taxpayer dollars” would be used for the construction of the border wall. Additionally, he called for a careful review of the resources already allocated to the border wall project. A copy of the official proclamation accompanied this letter to Congress. 

This move is especially important. Throughout the Trump era, the border wall became symbolic of Trump’s isolationist policies. “Build the wall” was a rallying cry for anti-immigrant nationalists. Hundreds of miles of barriers were built. Billions of dollars were wasted. Countless border communities were interrupted. And all for the sole purpose of division. Biden’s haste in ending funding for the wall signifies a more positive approach to immigration. Hopefully, we can begin an era of bridges, not barriers.

The Lasting Effects of the Trump Era

 

Last week, President Biden signed three executive orders. The third order demanded a full review of the Trump administration’s immigration policies. It directed the Secretary of State, Attorney General, and Secretary of Homeland Security to identify any policies that do not align with Biden’s ambition to create a fair and humane immigration system. Finally, it declared that the identified issues would begin to be corrected 90 days after the order’s initial release.

This order is extremely important. Trump’s harmful influence on the course of immigration reform cannot be understated. Stanford law professor Lucas Guttentag built an entire online database cataloguing all the changes Trump made to the immigration system during his four years in office. The site records over one thousand orders and actions, organized into categories like “enforcement” and “humanitarian.” Some actions were minor bureaucratic changes, and others were more serious attacks on the very humanitarian fabric of our immigration system. One memorandum excluded the records of non-citizens from the protection of the Privacy Act. Another action expanded fingerprinting to groups that were previously waived from the requirement. A different update allowed the State Department to collect the social media handles of those applying for visas in order to scrutinize their online presence. All of these actions, and many others, only served to unnecessarily complicate the lives of immigrants.

The Biden administration will face major challenges in their process to correct Trump’s policies. It will take some time. But it is a necessary task if we are to restore faith in our immigration systems. And, even more importantly, once these problems are addressed, we must work hard to ensure that such a broad attack on immigration cannot happen again.

 

Explore Professor Lucas Guttentag’s Database Here: https://immpolicytracking.org/home/

Read More About the Challenges Facing the Biden Administration Here: https://www.nytimes.com/2021/02/10/us/politics/trump-biden-us-immigration-system.html

 

 

Senator Bob Menendez and the Fight for the US Citizenship Act of 2021

Shortly after his inauguration, President Biden sent his progressive immigration bill to Congress. This bill, titled the US Citizenship Act of 2021, would offer millions of undocumented immigrants a pathway to citizenship. The following day, Senator Bob Menendez of New Jersey held a virtual briefing on the act. The Senator is the highest ranking Latino in the United States Congress. He has a long history with immigration reform, and has been a life-long advocate for immigrants and the Latino population. He will be leading the legislative effort for the US Citizenship Act of 2021 in Congress. Menendez takes great pride in this fight. The Senator is already in talks with his colleagues, but he still faces strong Republican opposition. Regardless, Menendez remains optimistic. He believes in the power of immigrants. The Senator wants to make his case to Americans of all walks of life. Senator Menendez plans to emphasize why immigration reform is in the “moral, economic, and best interests” of the country. Throughout the briefing, Senator Menendez praised Biden’s commitment to reform and expressed optimism for the future of immigration reform under Biden. The US Citizenship Act of 2021 has yet to face a vote, and its future is still uncertain. During these next few weeks, it is leaders like Senator Menendez that will help shape the future of immigration law. It is a fight that must be followed.

 

Read Our Breakdown of the US Citizenship Act of 2021 Here: https://ellensullivanlaw.com/president-biden-sends-progressive-immigration-bill-to-congress/ 

 

Read About Senator Bob Menendez’s Briefing Here: https://www.menendez.senate.gov/newsroom/press/menendez-holds-virtual-briefing-on-us-citizenship-act-of-2021-and-his-role-as-the-lead-sponsor-in-the-senate 

Biden Signs Executive Orders to Reverse Harmful Trump-Era Immigration Policies

On the evening of Tuesday, February 2nd, President Biden signed three new executive orders regarding immigration. The new executive orders reversed several of Trump’s immigration policies. In his opening remarks, Biden stressed the importance of a fair and humane immigration system for the prosperity and strength of the United States. Biden began the first executive order with a condemnation of family separation. The order went on to establish an Interagency Task Force on the Reunification of Families. This task force will identify all children separated from their families at the US-Mexico border between January 20th, 2017 and January 20th, 2021. Then, it will attempt to reunify the identified children with their families. The second executive order confronted the political, social, and economic factors leading to migration. In this, Biden directed the State Department and other executive organizations to prepare a strategy to address these causes. It also strengthened the asylum system. The third executive order demanded a full review of the Trump administration’s harmful immigration policies. Furthermore, it called for a streamlined naturalization process. This last executive order also rescinded one of Trump’s previous memorandums, which required family sponsors to repay the government if relatives received government benefits. 

President Biden Sends Progressive Immigration Bill to Congress

Shortly after taking office, Biden introduced his immigration bill to Congress as part of a wider effort to modernize the current immigration system. The bill, titled the U.S. Citizenship Act of 2021, has the power to change millions of lives. This legislative proposal would:

 

  1. Create a Pathway to Citizenship for Undocumented Individuals
  2. Change Government Rhetoric Regarding Immigrants: Immigration laws will now use the word “noncitizen” instead of “alien.”
  3. Keep Families Together: The bill allows immigrants with pre-approved family sponsorships to temporarily live with family in the United States while waiting on a green card.
  4. Optimize the Current System
  5. Embrace Diversity: The bill introduces the No Ban Act which would prohibit religious discrimination and limit presidential power to impose bans based on religion. The number of Diversity Visas will also be increased.
  6. Promote Integration: Government funds will be allocated to organizations promoting integration, teaching English, and helping immigrants on their pathway to citizenship.
  7. Protect Workers from Exploitation and Improve Employment Verification Process
  8. Grow our Economy: The bill helps those who graduated with advanced STEM degrees from U.S. universities and dependents of H-1B Visa holders stay in the U.S. It also eliminates unnecessary hurdles for employment based green cards.
  9. Supplement Existing Border Resources with Technology and Infrastructure 
  10. Manage the Border and Protect Border Communities: The bill provides funding to promote officer professionalism and to DHS to develop protocols for the safety of individuals in CPB custody.
  11. Crackdown on Criminal Organizations
  12. Increase Assistance to Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala
  13. Support Asylum Seekers and Other Vulnerable Populations: Eliminates the one-year deadline for filing asylum claims and raises the cap on U Visas
  14. Create Safe and Legal Channels for People to Seek Protection
  15. Improve the Immigration Courts

 

The bill still must face Congress, and its future is uncertain. There will be much to follow in the weeks ahead. Still, this bill provides hope for many, and is a promising beginning for the Biden administration. In this nation of immigrants, it is time for the government to uphold the idea of equal opportunity for all.

 

More information can be found at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/statements-

releases/2021/01/20/fact-sheet-president-biden-sends-immigration-bill-to-congress-as-part-of-his-commitment-to-modernize-our-immigration-system/

Biden’s Preservation and Fortification of DACA Memorandum

steps to become a naturalized citizenOn his very first day in office, President Joseph R. Biden began to act on his campaign promises of immigration reform. Within hours of inauguration, the White House released a presidential proclamation titled “Preserving and Fortifying Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.” In Section 1 of the memorandum, Biden refers to former president Barack Obama’s original 2012 initiative to temporarily defer the deportation of certain undocumented immigrants who were brought into the country as children. Obama’s 2012 executive memorandum, titled “Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA),” offered no pathway to permanent residency or citizenship, and was described by Obama as a “temporary stopgap measure” as he awaited legislative approval for the more comprehensive DREAM Act. This DREAM Act was not passed, and as of today, legislators have yet to develop a pathway for citizenship for Dreamers, the undocumented immigrants who came to the United States as minors. However, the Biden administration shows promise on this front. In Section 2 of Biden’s 2021 DACA memorandum, Biden directed the Secretary of Homeland Security to “take all actions he deems appropriate, consistent with applicable law, to preserve and fortify DACA.” This memorandum offers hope to the millions of Dreamers in the country, and hopefully, with Congressional legislation, they may begin to visualize a stable future in the United States they have grown up in.

Hopes for the Biden Administration

“I feel hope that a new administration will narrow the inequity I see, the inequity I have lived. Maybe it’s a new day of compassion for the marginalized. Maybe all children, regardless of where or to whom they are born, will find refuge and opportunity, not disadvantage and suffering.”   We are moved today by these powerful words from David Velasquez, a fellow at the Center for Public Leadership and a graduate student at Harvard University.  His essay in Sunday’s Boston Globe inspires us but perhaps, more importantly, it reminds us that we have so much more to do.  The perseverance he and his family have shown, the will that brought him to where he is today, must be met by a society that reaches out to lend a hand of compassion.  One that seeks to ameliorate the inequities and lift up those that are struggling.  We need an immigration system that reflects these values.

Deferred Enforcement Departure for Certain Venezuelans

On the last day of his horrendous administration, disgraced Donald Trump did one kind act for some immigrants in the US: Venezuelans. He signed an Executive Order granting Deferred Enforcement Departure for certain Venezuelans. After such an order, USCIS should institute certain processes that allow Venezuelans to apply for this benefit, which will include an 18-months stop on on pending or future deportation actions. Also, eligible Venezuelans will be able apply for a work permit (or Employment Authorization Document) using some version of Form I-765. To date, USCIS has not posted any rules or procedures to execute this memo. Keep an eye on USCIS.gov for updates on this possible benefit for some Venezuelans.

To be eligible, the person would need to

  1. Be a national of Venezuela, or stateless person who last habitually resided in Venezuela
  2. Is present in the United States as of January 20, 2021
  3. Have not voluntarily returned to Venezuela or their country of last habitual residence outside the United States;
  4. Have continuously resided in the United States since January 20, 2021;
  5. Are not inadmissible under section 212(a)(3) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) (8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(3)) or removable under section 237(a)(4) of the INA (8 U.S.C. 1227(a)(4))
  6. Have not been convicted of any felony or 2 or more misdemeanors committed in the United States, or who meet the criteria set forth in section 208(b)(2)(A) of the INA (8 U.S.C. 1158(b)(2)(A));
  7. Have not been deported, excluded, or removed, prior to January 20, 2021;
  8. Are not subject to extradition;
  9. Whose presence in the US is in the national interest;
  10. Who is not a danger to public safety;
  11. Whose presence poses no serious adverse foreign policy consequences for the United States.

 

 

Biden to Unveil Path to Citizenship for Millons!

Yesterday the Boston Globe reported: “President-elect Joe Biden plans to unveil a sweeping immigration bill on Day One of his administration, hoping to provide an eight-year path to citizenship for an estimated 11 million people living in the U.S. without legal status, a massive reversal from the Trump administration’s harsh immigration policies.”

I am thrilled by this news, and I will hold out hope that the Biden administration can get this initiative passed.

Contact your local, state, and federal legislators to let them know that you support a path to citizenship to our many neighbors who work with us, live near us, and add enormous value to our communities.

 

A Different Perspective on January 6th Insurrection

The past four years have been extremely painful for many communities, including the varied and diverse communities of immigrants and noncitizens in the United States. Racism and xenophobia (not to mention sexism, heterosexism, and classism) targeted and harmed immigrants and people of color on a daily basis. January 6th was a horrendous but predictable culmination of the despicable policies and practices of the Trump administration and its base supporters. Make no mistake: Trump’s base supporters are white supremacists.

Yesterday, after two weeks of learning more and more about the horrors of January 6th, I heard a different, uplifting perspective on what that insurrection means for Trumpism and white supremacy: January 6th was a desperate last act of a people who know that their beliefs, their tactics, their movement have reached the end. January 6th was not the beginning of a movement; it was a funeral. Trump and his supporters have no hope, no vision for the future; they only have anger and a tortured attempt to hold on to a past that they never had. (White supremacists may have ruled the US, but they were never the only Americans.)

Sometimes at a funeral we celebrate the life of the deceased. Here there is no cause to celebrate the life of the white supremacy movement. However, if January 6 was the funeral for the Trump era and the rule of white supremacy, then at least I find solace knowing that, freer from the chains of white supremacy, we can work to build a country that we love. Let’s get to work.

Thank you to Egberto Willies for posting Anand Giridharadas’s perspective on the events of January 6, 2021. My thoughts on the funeral for the Trump era come directly from this Facebook post: In strikingly optimistic prose, Anand… – Politics Done Right with Egberto Willies | Facebook.

 

Filing for I-90 Will Automatically Extend Your Green Card for 12 Months!

Filing for I-90 Will Automatically Extend Your Green Card for 12 Months!

 

USCIS announced a new policy that will help green card holders whose green cards expire while Form I-90 is pending. This is great news, except that this policy should not be necessary because USCIS should be processing Form I-90 much, much, much quicker than the current processing times.

What does this all mean? When a person has a ten-year green and is six months away from the expiration of the card, that person can file Form I-90 to renew the green card. In recent years, Form I-90 would be processed in as little as one month, a reasonable amount of time for a basic document to be renewed for a person with lawful permanent resident status. In recent months, however, Form I-90 processing exceeds 6, 7, 8 months and more. Since a person cannot file Form I-90 more than six months prior to its expiration (unless the card was lost or had an error), then of course the person would end up with a pending I-90 and no unexpired proof of her green card status. To fill the gap between the green card expiration date and the receipt of a new green card, USCIS is provided a Receipt Notice for Form I-90 that serves to extend the green card by 12 months.

Unfortunately this policy only begins this month, so my clients who filed cases last year still have no approved I-90 and do not have a Receipt Notice that serves to extend their status. In those situations, we can call USCIS to request an in-person appointment at USCIS to get a stamp in the foreign passport or sticker on the green card to serve as proof of continued LPR status.

If you have a ten-year green card, you should consult with an attorney about whether you are eligible for US citizenship/naturalization. If you become a US citizen, you never need to worry again about your expiring green card!

See USCIS to Replace Sticker That Extends Validity of Green Cards | USCIS for more information about this new USCIS I-90 policy.

An Immigration Attorney’s Five Suggestions for the Biden/Harris Administration

An Immigration Attorney’s Five Suggestions for the Biden/Harris Administration

 

 

On January 20, 2021, we hope for our country to move forward and to heal after four years of intolerance, fear, inequality, impunity, and violence. We hope our country uses the lessons learned to create a fairer and safer home for all who live in the US, but especially for our most vulnerable and exploited neighbors.

 

Immigrants are some of the most powerful and successful citizens in the US (Madeleine Albright; Dr. Sanjay Gupta; Sergey Brin; Natalie Portman, Wolf Blitzer; Arnold Schwarzenegger; countless entrepreneurs, inventors, doctors, teachers, writers, entertainers, celebrities). However, millions more immigrants are exploited and marginalized, despite what they have already contributed to the US and despite what they still have to give our country.

 

Our immigration policies must recognize the value of immigrants, and for the past four years they have not. To get there, an immigration attorney provides some suggestions for the Biden/Harris Administration.

 

  1. Use inclusive speech that recognizes the existence of and value of diversity in our communities.

This is a complicated request because language is steeped in anachronistic or hidden meanings, assumptions, and stereotypes. But, it starts with an easy rule for the President of the United States: Don’t speak like a racist.

 

  1. Reinstate Obama’s prosecutorial priorities.

Obama’s tenure has been derisively dubbed the “deportation administration” because of the record number of deportation/removal orders it issued. However, the reason why his administration reached high numbers is because it focused on deportation cases that were easier to win than a deportation case against a grandmother who entered the US illegally 30 years ago, married a US citizen; raised children who became a doctor, a lawyer, and a teacher; ran her own business; and now cares for her husband with terminal cancer.  That case is cruelly unsympathetic and hard for the government to win, and it takes years for the Immigration Court to figure that out. Obama created a list of priorities that focused on non-citizens who posed national security threats and had criminal convictions that rendered them deportable. Those cases are fast for the government to win; often times for good—and bad—the non-citizen has absolutely no defense to deportation, and the government swiftly wins and moves on to the next case.

 

  1. Expand DACA eligibility, at minimum; create a path for lawful permanent residence for DACA recipients.

The President can expand DACA eligibility to include children who entered too late, or were too old, or left the US for some other reason. The President should lead Congress in passing a statute to provides for more protection, more safety, more promise for DACA recipients: lawful permanent residence.

 

 

  1. Create a path for lawful permanent residence for TPS holders.

TPS prevents an otherwise deportable non-citizen from being deported (absent certain ineligibilities mainly relating to criminal history), grants the person authorization to work in the US, and in some cases provides a way for the person to leave and re-enter the US. However, it does not give the TPS holder any path towards lawful permanent residency or citizenship. That person lives in the US knowing that her status is subject to the whim of the current presidential administration. That person lives in the US knowing that she will never be a US citizen. There are hundreds of thousands of TPS holders in the US. Some TPS holders have had that status since the 1990s. TPS creates an institutionalized slave class. The message of TPS is stay here for as long as we want you; work in a low-paying job (generally); and never think that the US will ever truly welcome or protect you.

 

  1. Create an I-751 or marriage-based naturalization option.

As an immigration attorney, I am always annoyed that lawful permanent residents who must renew their marriage-based green cards after two years are then eligible for US citizenship one year later. Both stages require expensive filing fees and burdensome applications. Why not combine those two steps to reduce the burden on the couple and also to streamline the government’s work?

 

Doctors for USCIS Medical Exam

You can find a USCIS Civil Surgeon for Form I-693 Report of Medical Examination by clicking here. 

People in the US who apply for “green cards” from within the US, apply using Form I-485. Form I-485 requires that a medical exam be submitted with Form I-485, at the in-person I-485 interview, or by mail if/when requested by USCIS.

The medical exam must be conducted by a USCIS Civil Surgeon. You can find a USCIS Civil Surgeon for Form I-693 Report of Medical Examination by clicking here. 

Finance Options for Clients

I just learned about various lenders that provide loans to clients that need help paying for government filing fees and attorneys fees related to their immigration cases. This is fantastic and important news to share with your clients and with colleagues. I cannot vouch for any of these companies, but I would love to hear feedback from anyone who has experience working with them.

The following information below comes directly from AILA’s website as Document Number 20121738

Quoted article begins here:

“Helping Clients Finance Their Cases

The Rules of Professional Conduct say a lawyer can advance costs to a client or “may pay court costs and expenses of litigation on behalf of [an indigent] client.” ABA Model Rule 1.8(e). But a lawyer cannot—nor should she—fund all clients’ cases. All too often, we resort to payment plans for low-income clients, making the law firm a debt collector with a generally uncalculated administrative burden and creating a potential conflict of interest between the lawyer and client if the client has trouble paying in the future.

There are other options besides payment plans that can take the lawyer out of the financial part of the case, get the firm paid quicker, and permit the firm to work solely on the legal issues. Here are six lenders your law firm and client can work with to fund a case. They each work a little differently:

  1. Capital Good Fund is a nonprofit lender designed to help immigrants. They lend in six states: Rhode Island, Florida, Massachusetts, Delaware, Illinois, and Texas. Immigration loans range from $2,000 to $20,000 at 12 percent interest. The lender will accept regular bank statements as proof of income (meaning even under-the-table employment may qualify).
  2. Mission Asset Fund is a nonprofit lender that gives no interest microloans to immigrants for their USCIS filing fees. These loans are designed for pro bono clients who need some way to spread out the expense of the filing fee, but they have the added benefit of helping clients build credit history.
  3. Self-Help Federal Credit Union offers microloans for DACA (up to $800 at 15 percent) and citizenship (up to $1,000 at 17.7 percent) cases. The applicant would need to be eligible for membership at the credit union and become a member. They direct applicants to contact a local branch and have branches in California, Illinois, and Wisconsin.
  4. iQualify Lending is a for-profit lender in all 50 states that lends to clients of lawyers in 10 practice areas, including immigration. iQualify has an invoicing and collections offering to law firms that helps lawyers outsource collecting from clients, as well. It only works with law firms, but clients will have to qualify for the loan, and it may require more income and proof of ability to pay than the nonprofits.
  5. Flexxbuy is a for-profit lender in most states that finances legal fees of up to $50,000 starting at 5.99 percent interest rate. They work with a variety of financers, similar to applying for credit at a car dealership. Lawyers will get paid in full within 72 hours and Flexxbuy lends to clients with low credit scores.
  6. Justice for Me is a new lender focusing on legal services in Texas, Florida, and Colorado that offers clients a line of credit in the amount the lawyer has estimated the case will cost. The lawyer bills Justice for Me, and the client pays Justice for Me. Clients can either select a lawyer through Justice for Me’s network of lawyers or work with a lawyer the client found themselves. It’s a new model in expansion mode. There’s currently only a handful of immigration lawyers in its network.

Loans Solve Some Problems, But Not All

To get a loan, a client must prove sufficient income to make the payment or have a co-signer. Each has an online application process that the firm can work with the client to complete and non-online processes. All lenders will likely require a social security number and a bank account.

Clients borrowing with a lender solves two problems lawyers often have. First, many lawyers are poor bill collectors. Second, many lawyers are poor judges of a potential client’s ability to pay, because they don’t ask for proof of financial ability to pay or check the past record of payments (i.e., credit checks). In other words, this can solve some client-selection issues and get a firm paid quicker.

Finally, if you implement financing and still find too many of your potential clients are unable to qualify for the loans, review your advertising and client referral channels to make sure you are accessing a client base that can sustain your firm. Assess your fees for whether it is the right amount per case type, by tracking your time, averaging it by case type, and analyzing your overhead. Review your caseload to ensure your pro bono commitments are manageable. Alternatively, you could consider creating a nonprofit to offer legal services to this client base and find financing for their cases through grants and donations instead.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 20121738.”

End of quoted article.

TPS Extensions

As the result of various lawsuits against the federal government, Temporary Protected Status for citizens of various countries have been extended. See https://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/temporary-protected-status for a complete list of TPS designations.

Please contact me if you have questions about your current TPS status or your eligibility.

 

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USCIS Again Accepting Applications for DACA Benefits

As a result of federal litigation against the United States government, on December 7, 2020 USCIS began to accept applications for DACA benefits. Those benefits include:

  • Accepting first-time requests for consideration of deferred action under Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) based on the terms of the DACA policy in effect prior to September 5, 2017, and in accordance with the Court’s December 4, 2020, order;
  • Accepting DACA renewal requests based on the terms of the DACA policy in effect prior to September 5, 2017, and in accordance with the Court’s December 4, 2020, order;
  • Accepting applications for advance parole documents based on the terms of the DACA policy prior to September 5, 2017, and in accordance with the Court’s December 4, 2020, order;
  • Extending one-year grants of deferred action under DACA to two years; and
  • Extending one-year employment authorization documents under DACA to two years

Since 2017 I have meet individuals who would have been eligible for DACA but who never applied. When Trump stopped the DACA program in 2017, they were no longer eligible to apply for DACA. Also since 2017 I met others who had DACA status but who had never applied for and received Advance Parole. Some of those DACA recipients had entered the US without visas and were now married to US citizens. If they had received Advance Parole, left the US and re-entered, they would have been eligible to apply for green-cards through their US citizen spouses. Since they had not used Advance Parole to re-enter the US, the only way for them to get marriage-based green cards was by applying for a provisional waiver of inadmissibility (Form I-601A), waiting for approval, and then leaving the US to get the green card at an embassy.

At this point, I am advising most DACA eligible individuals to apply for DACA and to apply for the accompanying employment authorization and advance parole.

Please contact me if you would like to set up a consultation to discuss your eligibility for DACA and other immigration benefits.

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What is a Fiancé Visa?

Deciding to get married is a big step. But for couples who are citizens of different countries, it can be an even more complicated process. In the U.S., US citizens can bring a non-citizen fiancé to the United States to live. Once in the U.S., a non-citizen also has certain rights with the fiancé visa.

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How Does the Green Card Lottery Work?

The green card lottery is essentially a golden ticket to enter the United States. The visa lottery is officially known as the Diversity Immigrant Visa Program, and it one of the simplest and least expensive ways to garner permanent U.S. resident status. Each year more than 20 million people apply for these visas, but the U.S. awards only 50,000 each year.

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President-Elect Biden’s Proposed Immigration Reform

We can expect to see significant shifts in U.S. immigration policy next year. President-Elect Biden has vowed to begin rapidly dismantling the Trump-era immigration agenda after taking office on January 20, 2021.

Because President Trump used Executive Orders to enact a significant portion of his immigration reform, Biden will be able to overturn certain of Trump’s policies with executive orders of his own. But some of Biden’s proposals will be more challenging to implement, as they will require Congress to pass specific immigration legislation.

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USCIS Announces a Revised Naturalization Civics Test

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services <uscis@public.govdelivery.com> reported the following today:

WASHINGTON — U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services announced today plans to implement a revised version of the naturalization civics test. The agency first announced plans to revise the civics test in July 2019.

USCIS revised the civics test as part of a decennial update to ensure that it remains an instrument that comprehensively assesses applicants’ knowledge of American history, government and civic values.

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What is Adjustment of Status?

Adjustment of status is the process of applying to become a lawful permanent United States resident, also known as applying for a green card from within the United States

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Applying for Naturalization

Naturalization is the legal process through which a citizen of a foreign country becomes a U.S citizen. For those desiring to become a naturalized citizen, here’s an overview of the application process.

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What is Temporary Protected Status (TPS)?

What is Temporary Protected Status?

Temporary Protected Status (TPS) is a provisional immigration status granted to nationals of certain countries experiencing problems that make it difficult or unsafe for the national to return.
The Secretary of Homeland Security may designate a country for TPS because of temporary conditions such as national armed conflict or civil war, an environmental disaster (such as an earthquake or flood), or another extraordinary, temporary condition.

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Trump Administration Proposes Changes to International Student Visas

The Trump Administration has proposed changes to the international student visas. A summary of the proposal has been prepared by Penn State Law and is available here: https://pennstatelaw.psu.edu/sites/default/files/documents/pdfs/Immigrants/FJISummary9-27.pdf

At this point, these rules have not been approved. People in the US on student visas continue to be governed by current rules.

Divorce and Green Cards

Divorce is never easy. But if you’re a foreign national in the US, divorce can affect your US immigration status. Below, I will discuss whether or not a divorce could affect your permanent resident status. If you are in the US as the spouse of a visa holder, the divorce may render your status invalid as of the date of the divorce.

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Another day, another change in immigration: Court blocks USCIS’s fee increase

Another day brings another change to US immigration law and practice. As of yesterday, September 29, 2020, a federal court ordered a preliminary injunction against USCIS from implementing its fee increases, which were set to go into effect for all cases filed on or after October 2, 2020. See https://www.forbes.com/sites/stuartanderson/2020/09/30/judge-blocks-uscis-fee-increases-heres-why-it-happened/#6954d313583a.

Injunctions are temporary, and USCIS may ultimately win its campaign of raising fees. With that do not file any application without carefully checking the fees as of the date that you file your application, especially if you are filing after October 2, 2020.

Contact my office if you would like to discuss your immigration status and immigration options that may be available to you.

USCIS Fees Increase on October 2, 2020

USCIS increased most filing fees. The changes will take effect as of October 2, 2020. This means that any application that is postmarked ON or after October 2, 2020 will need the new fees.

Clinic Legal Services prepared a wonderful chart that describes the new fees. The chart is at https://cliniclegal.org/resources/fee-waivers-uscis/selected-uscis-form-fees-beginning-oct-2-2020 (also open at USCIS Form Fees Chart.2020.09)

A big change for many of my clients will be that the fees for I-765 Application for Employment Authorization and I-131 Application for Travel Document will NO LONGER be included in the fee for the I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status. Since approximately 2007, the I-485 fee covered the initial I-765 and I-131 documents if filed concurrently with the I-485.

Before you file any application, go to USCIS.gov/forms to check

  • the filing fee as of the date that you file
  • the form edition date as of the date that you file
  • the filing address as of the date that you file
  • the instructions for the forms, which include tips on how to answer questions on the forms, which documents/evidence must be submitted with the forms, and other important information about the various forms

What Should I Do if USCIS Denies My Visa?

The short answer is…you should talk to an attorney if your application has been denied. You should talk to the attorney about whether you can appeal the denial and/or resubmit the application.

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Green Card Photo Requirements

When you’re ready to take your photo for your green card, it’s not the time to get artistic. U.S. Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Department of State (the agency that runs US embassies and consulates) require that all visa and green card applicants follow specific requirements for their photos. The requirements are found here. The U.S. State Department website provides examples of acceptable visa photos.

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Going from a TN Visa to a Green Card

If you are a Canadian or Mexican citizen and you want to work in the U.S. temporarily, there are several visa programs available, one of which is the TN visa. The North American Free Trade Agreement, or NAFTA, created the TN visa to make temporary employment in the U.S. easier for approved Canadian and Mexican citizens. The purpose of the TN visa was to strengthen business and trade relationships between these countries. Note that the revised 2020 treaty, the United States, Mexico, Canada Agreement (USMCA) did not change the TN visa.

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When and How Can I Become a US Citizen?

The path to becoming a U.S. citizen isn’t always short or straightforward. The process through which a non-citizen becomes a U.S. Citizen is called naturalization. You can become a naturalized citizen if you:

  • Have had a permanent resident (green) card for at least five years; three if you are applying for citizenship through marriage to a U.S. citizen;
  • Meet eligibility requirements, including being a person of good moral character who is at least 18 years old and able to read, write, and speak basic English;
  • Complete the 10-step naturalization process, including determining eligibility, preparing the application, taking the U.S. naturalization test, and having a personal interview.
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What Should You Bring to a Green Card Interview?

If you’re preparing for a marriage green card interview, it can be an intimidating process. While the stakes are high, the best way to feel confident is to prepare. That’s why it’s essential to understand what you should expect during a green card interview and ensure you bring all of the correct records.

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Can You Get a Green Card With a Criminal Record?

If you’re beginning the process of immigrating to the U.S. and have a criminal record, you’re probably wondering whether this will affect your chances of getting a green card. While there’s no definitive answer to this question, serious criminal offenses may prevent you from obtaining a green card. For lower-level offenses, a green card may still be an option, but it’s good to work with an experienced immigration attorney.

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What is an I-601 waiver?

An I-601 “Application for Waiver of Grounds of Inadmissibility” allows a foreign citizen to immigrate to the U.S., adjust their status to permanent resident, or seek admission to the U.S. as a nonimmigrant if the immigrant can prove that a “qualifying relative” would suffer extreme hardship if the waiver is not granted. You will use Form I-612 if there is a reason U.S. immigration would deny you entry to the U.S. because you are inadmissible. The waiver process is complex and faces a great deal of scrutiny from the USCIS.

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Can I Work in the U.S. with a Tourist Visa?

Because tourist VISAs are the easiest to obtain, people often ask me if they can work in the United States with a tourist visa. The answer is no; you generally can’t do it. If you are in the U.S. on a visitor visa, a B1 or B2 visa, you cannot accept employment to work in the United States.

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Green Card Interview Questions & Preparation

You’re married! Congratulations! If you want to live in the U.S. with your new spouse, you’ll need to obtain a marriage green card. Getting a green card is generally a three-step process that involves preparation and answering Green Card interview questions. Here are the steps:

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Newest Presidential Proclamation

The White House Administration continues its assault on immigration to the US and immigrant communities already in the US. The latest Presidential Proclamation restricts issuance of visas to certain employment-based nonimmigrants.

The text of the proclamation is at https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-suspending-entry-aliens-present-risk-u-s-labor-market-following-coronavirus-outbreak/.

The local chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) provided the following summary of the order: AILANE-POTUS Proclamation 6-22-20-PressRelease

AILA National provided the following summary of the order:

“The Proclamation suspends the issuance of visas for those seeking entry pursuant to a(n):
• H-1B visa and any foreign national accompanying or following to join them;
• H-2B visa and any foreign national accompanying or following to join them;
• J visa, to the extent the foreign national is participating in an intern, trainee, teacher, camp
counselor, au pair, or summer work travel program, and any foreign national accompanying
or following to join them; and
• L visa, and any foreign national accompanying or following to join them.

The Proclamation will only apply to an individual identified above if they are:
• Outside the United States on the effective date of the Proclamation;
• Do not have a nonimmigrant visa that is valid on the effective date of the Proclamation;
and
AILA Doc. No. 20062291. (Posted 6/22/20)
• Do not have an official travel document other than a visa (such as a transportation letter,
boarding foil, or advance parole document), valid on the effective date of the Proclamation
or issued thereafter permitting the individual to be admitted to the United States.

Exemptions:
The Proclamation will not apply to the following individuals:
• lawful permanent residents;
• spouse or child of a U.S. citizen;
• any individual seeking entry to provide temporary labor essential to the U.S. food supply
chain;
• any individual whose entry would be in the national interest as determined by the Secretary
of State, the Secretary of Homeland Security, or their respective designees.

June 22 Presidential Proclamation

If you would like to set up a consultation to discuss your immigration situation, please contact Attorney Ellen Sullivan.

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DACA Defended! What happens now?

The US Supreme Court recently ruled that the Trump administration did not properly end the DACA program. This is good and bad news. First the good news: the Trump administration’s efforts to end the DACA program still have not been successful. Now the bad news: The US Supreme Court’s decision essentially gives the Trump administration general instructions about what the administration would need to do to properly end the program. Since the decision, the administration has said that it will attempt again to end the program, following the US Supreme Court’s recent ruling.

 

 

Expansion of HHS J-1 Waiver for Clinical Care Physicians

The US Department of Health and Human Services recently expanded the scope of its waiver of the two-year home residency requirement

The former waiver was available only to physicians working at Federally Qualified Community Health Centers (CHC), as designated by the government. The expanded waiver allows any facility, such as a hospital or private practice, to apply for an HHS waiver as long as the facility has an HSPA score of at least 7 and the physician will provide primary care treatment. 

Information about the waiver is available at https://www.hhs.gov/about/agencies/oga/about-oga/what-we-do/visitor-exchange-program/supplementary-b-clinical-care.html .

USCIS may reopen on June 4 for US naturalizations/citizenship

Today I received a message from the New England Chapter of AILA (American Immigration Lawyers Association) informing me that USCIS offices in Massachusetts plan to bring workers back into its offices on June 1 and reopen to the public on June 4 for limited services.

Once reopened, USCIS will focus on scheduled small-batch naturalization ceremonies. Also, USCIS will begin scheduling N-400 interviews.

We do not have information about when green-card/adjustment interviews, biometrics, or other in-person services will resume in Massachusetts.

Is Your Green Card or I-751 Extension Letter Expiring While USCIS is Closed?

Your Green Card and/or I-751 Extension Letter

AILA has issued guidance on how to request an I-551 stamp in your passport if your green card and/or your I-751 Extension Letter expire while USCIS is closed through June 4 (or later).

AILA reports that by calling the USCIS hotline number, you can request an appointment at your local USCIS office to get an I-551 for emergency reasons. There is no list of emergency reasons that make it clear when USCIS will or will not allow you to go to the USCIS office for an I-551 stamp. Possible reasons could include that the I-551 stamp is needed to prove work authorization or for necessary international travel. AILA’s practice advisory notes that USCIS has not stated whether an expiring state driver’s license that can only be renewed with a valid I-551 will be reason enough for an emergency USCIS appoinment.

The USCIS customer service number is 1-800-898-7180.

Are you in search of an immigration attorney? Ellen Sullivan P.C. represents families and businesses and defends clients against deportation. Call (617) 714-4375 or email ellen@ellensullivanlaw.com to get in contact.

USCIS Closure Extends to June 4, 2020

USCIS has extended its closure of in-person services until at least June 4, 2020. If you have an appointment scheduled between now and June 4, you can expect that it is cancelled and that USCIS will send you a notice regarding the cancellation and future rescheduling of the appointment.

Executive Proclamation About Immigration

Yesterday, the White House issued the Executive Proclamation against immigrants/immigrants. The order is at https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/proclamation-suspending-entry-immigrants-present-risk-u-s-labor-market-economic-recovery-following-covid-19-outbreak/ .

What does the Executive Proclamation actually do? Right now–NOTHING! For weeks most US embassies and consulates have been closed for visa processing, with certain emergency exceptions including visas for health care workers. Thus, unless a case fit an embassies criteria for emergencies, the applicant was not going to get a new immigrant or nonimmigrant visa.

That situation at the embassies has no end date. In contrast, the Executive Proclamation is currently set to expire in 60 days. In 60 days, it is possible that the embassies would have been closed anyway.

The Executive Order is a pointless, useless order that serves to stoke xenophobic politics.

What could the Executive Order do? Once the embassies and consulates reopen, they should begin processing cases as “normal” (Trump “normal” includes the Travel Ban). That won’t happen if the Executive Order is in effect. The Executive Order will bar most employment-based immigration (except for EB5 investors) and most family-based immigration (except for spouses of US citizens and children of US citizens).

Who is NOT affected by the order? The order applies to people who as of April 22, 2020 are outside the US, do not have an immigrant visa, and do not have some non-visa documents to allow them to enter the US. It appears that the order does not apply to people seeking “nonimmigrant” visas.

Further exceptions to the order are lawful permanent residents of the US, medical professionals coming to the US to provide COVID healthcare services, EB5 investor visa applicants, spouses and children of US citizens (but NOT parents of US citizens) visa applicants, families of members of US armed forces, SI and SQ visa applicants, and others whom the US government deems to be worthy of entering.

If you have a case with my firm, please feel free to contact me to talk about the impact of this order. If you are not a client, please contact the office to set up a consultation about how this order affects you.

American Immigration Lawyers Association: Talking Points about Tweet

Below are excerpts from a publication released yesterday by the American Immigration Lawyers Association in response to Trump’s “tweet” about limiting “immigration into the US.” All bullet points below are authored by AILA, although edited down to the most important points for my firm’s clients.

From AILA:

  • Unfortunately, this announcement is not a surprise. In the face of growing questions and criticism about his handling of the COVID19 crisis, it was only a matter of time before President Trump resorted to distraction, blame, and fearmongering.
  • There are no details and no language because this isn’t a policy, it is a political strategy. If or when the Administration turns this into a policy, it would be nothing short of a disaster. It would divert attention from the crisis at hand and would be a waste of precious time and resources that should be focused on the health and safety of the American people.
  • During this crisis we have seen first-hand the importance of the agriculture workers who put food on our table, healthcare workers who care for the sick, scientists and researchers searching for a cure, and the factory workers and truck drivers providing critical supplies. Regardless of where we were born, we all have an important role to play in building a better future.
  • Now is the time for us to stand shoulder to shoulder and work toward the day that this crisis is behind us. Isolation won’t make America stronger; fear and division can’t take the place of unity and determination.”
  • To restore the health of the country, both physically and economically, we need to keep our focus on moving forward together. Trump’s tweet, if policy, would do nothing to keep us safe from the virus and would be catastrophic for our economy.
  • The President of the United States has a lot of authority over immigration and we have seen that power used by the Trump administration to cause human suffering and economic pain. But, the power of the President is not unlimited and if the administration were to attempt a power grab of this magnitude it would be far beyond anything that has ever been attempted or contemplated in our lifetime.
  • We have seen the human and economic pain caused by the President’s previous efforts to assert his power over immigration. Now is not the time for another battle over executive overreach. If this were actually turned into a policy, the administration will have pushed past the brink of what the Constitution allows.
  • The President is playing fast and loose with his executive authority. We’ll wait to see what the Order says, but it’s more likely his tweet was a campaign message and in the form of a questionable exercise of executive authority.
  • Since the outbreak began, we have seen a renewed sense of interdependence and mutual care rise from all corners of our nation. We have learned the key role that U.S.- and foreign-born essential workers play to keep our society moving and our families safe.
  • America is facing a public health crisis unlike any we’ve faced in our lifetimes. We desperately need a more robust public health response so that we can get our society and economy back on track. This is a distraction from that priority. It’s all of us against the Coronavirus and people across America must stand together and resist extreme policies and politicians that seek to separate us in a moment of national crisis. Despite how uncertain this moment feels, America is at her best when we band together and take care of one another.
  • This is a sign of what is to come in the months ahead. Americans are tired of polarization and division and should not allow politicians to sow fear and mistrust. We must stand together and defend our country against this virus.

Cite as AILA Doc. No. 20042109.

Green card approval without USCIS intervew?

Yesterday, the American Immigration Lawyers Association reported that based on a survey of AILA members, it appears that in some cases USCIS is approving some family-based and employment-based green cards without an interview. Interviews, which are normally a requirement for most green-card cases, cannot be conducted until at least May 4 because USCIS is closed due to COVID. Waiving the interview requirement would be tremendously helpful to applicants awaiting decisions on their cases. Further, waiving the requirement will help USCIS reduce the backlog that it will inevitably face once USCIS re-open for in-person business.

If you have questions about this issue, please contact my office to set up a consultation.

Unknown: The Implications of Last Night’s “Presidential” Tweet about Immigration

Last night, Trump tweeted that he was closing immigration to the US. No one knows what that means. USCIS is the agency that processes immigration in the US. The Department of State’s embassies and consulates process US immigration from outside the US. The worst case scenario is that Trump actually effect a closure of both agencies’ immigration operations. While there is no “best” case scenario following such a hateful, incoherent xenophobic statement, the least worst thing that could happen is that Trump does not actually issue an order/proclamation doing what he claimed. With his record of inconsistency, that is possible. If he does make such an order, the “best” case scenario would be for the order to only affect one agency and for that order to be enjoined by a court, allowing operations to continue until the legal case goes to court.

My plan is to continue filing applications until USCIS and/or DOS tell us not to. Unfortunately, many cases will be stalled due to USCIS’s and DOS’s current in-person closures and restrictions. Nonetheless, USCIS continues behind the scenes processing of cases and in recent weeks has given indications that it is looking for creative solutions such as waiving in-person interviews and new biometrics, in order to allow cases to continue to process and be adjudicated.

If you have questions about immigration, please contact me to set up a consultation to discuss.

COVID & Change/Extension of Visa Status

USCIS/DHS just published the following statement about COVID Related Change/Extension of Visa Status:

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) recognizes that there are immigration-related challenges as a direct result of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. We continue to carefully analyze these issues and to leverage our existing resources and authorities to effectively address these challenges. DHS also continues to take action to protect the American people and our communities, and is considering a number of policies and procedures to improve the employment opportunities of U.S. workers during this pandemic.

Generally, nonimmigrants must depart the United States before their authorized period of admission expires.  However, we recognize that nonimmigrants may unexpectedly remain in the United States beyond their authorized period of stay due to COVID-19.  Should this occur, the following options are available to nonimmigrants: 

Apply for an Extension.  Most nonimmigrants can mitigate the immigration consequences of COVID-19 by timely filing an application for extension of stay (EOS) or change in status (COS).  U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services continues to accept and process applications and petitions, and many of our forms are available for online filing.

If You File in a Timely Manner.  Nonimmigrants generally do not accrue unlawful presence while the timely-filed, non-frivolous EOS/COS application is pending.  Where applicable, employment authorization with the same employer, subject to the same terms and conditions of the prior approval, is automatically extended for up to 240 days after I-94 expiration when an extension of stay request is filed on time.

Flexibility for Late Applications. USCIS reminds petitioners and applicants that it may excuse a nonimmigrant’s failure to timely file an extension/change of status request if the delay was due to extraordinary circumstances.

Under current regulations, and as noted on our Special Situations page, if a petitioner or applicant files an extension of stay or change of status request (on Forms I-129 or I-539) after the authorized period of admission expires, USCIS may excuse the failure to timely file if it was due to extraordinary circumstances beyond their control, such as those that may be caused by COVID-19. The length of delay must be commensurate with the circumstances. The petitioner or applicant must submit credible evidence to support their request, which USCIS will evaluate in its discretion on a case-by-case basis. These special situations have been used at various times in the past, including for natural disasters and similar crises.

Please see 8 CFR 214.1(c)(4) and 8 CFR 248.1(c) for additional information on late requests to extend or change status. In addition, please see our Form I-129 and Form I-539 pages for specific filing and eligibility requirements for extensions of stay and changes of status.

Flexibility for Visa Waiver Entrants. Visa Waiver Program (VWP) entrants are not eligible to extend their stay or change status. However, under current regulations, if an emergency (such as COVID-19) prevents the departure of a VWP entrant, USCIS in its discretion may grant a period of satisfactory departure for up to 30 days. Please see 8 CFR 217.3(a). For those VWP entrants already granted satisfactory departure and unable to depart within this 30-day period because of COVID-19 related issues, USCIS has the authority to temporarily provide an additional 30-day period of satisfactory departure.  To request satisfactory departure from USCIS, a VWP entrant should call the USCIS Contact Center at 1-800-375-5283. 

For More Information

USCIS will provide further updates as the situation develops and will continue to follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidance. Please visit uscis.gov/coronavirus for the latest facts and other USCIS updates.

Education and precautions are the strongest tools against infection. Continue to practice good health habits, refrain from handshakes or hugs as greetings, and wash hands and clean surfaces appropriately.

Noncitizens Divorcing During COVID

Divorcing During COVID

At any given time I represent clients who are in the process of divorcing a spouse. My representation on these cases ranges from joint I-751 petitions with notice to USCIS of the pending divorce to I-751 waiver petitions based on divorce to I-360 self-petitions based on abuse to an immigrant who wants to marry a US citizen but who still is married to someone else.

Right now COVID presents many challenges to clients who want to process the divorce. Family courts in MA as closed to the public, except for emergencies. However, the courts have expanded filing options and even options for obtaining judicial orders without a hearing. At this point, it does not appear a final order of divorce can be obtained without a hearing.

I work with many family law attorneys around Massachusetts who represent my immigration clients on family matters. One of my favorite parts of my job is collaborating with attorneys who specialize in other areas of law.

If you have legal needs related to immigration and divorce, contact me. I will be happy to discuss representation on immigration matters and collaboration with your family law attorneys.

H1B to Marriage Green Card?

Right now uncertainty is a part of life. Will I stay healthy? Will the people I love stay healthy? Will I keep my job?

For people in the U.S. on nonimmigrant visas tied to their employment, this is an especially uncertain time. For example, individuals in the US on H1B visas must keep their employment in order to keep their H1B status and lawfully remain in the US. What should you do if your H1B employment may be at risk?

Every week I meet couples made up of a US citizen and an H1B holder. They are in love and they plan to get married, but they are not sure when or where they will get married. Usually by the time they are in my office, they are getting closer to getting married, and a talk with me sometimes is all is takes for people to take the final step to tie the knot. It’s a fun part of my job!

Some people worry about getting married “just for a green card.” Correct–that is not allowed and I won’t help you with your case if the marriage is “just for the green card.” However, getting married now, instead of this summer or next year, because you need to maintain immigration status is not getting married “just for the green card.” It is making a decision for your future based on what is going on right now.

I give couples the example of healthcare. What if immigration status were not an issue? What if you were in a serious relationship with someone who has healthcare through employment but then loses the employment and therefore will lose healthcare soon? What if your partner needs prescription medication? Care for chronic illnesses? Or, an emergency? With these uncertainties, you and your partner decide to get married so that your partner can get healthcare through your employment-based healthcare plan. That is not getting married “just for the health insurance.” It is doing what you need to do to protect someone you love.

That’s the way to look at getting married now so that you can protect your partner’s ability to remain lawfully in the US.

If you or your partner risk losing H1B status in this uncertain time, you should consult with an immigration attorney to find out if there are ways to help you or your loved one stay living and working in the U.S.

USCIS Offices will remain closed until 5/4/2020.

USCIS offices have been closed since mid-March and were initially scheduled to reopen in early April. USCIS just announced that USCIS in-person services will remain closed until at least 5/4/2020.

Your case may still continue to process with USCIS. In some cases, USCIS will reuse previously obtained biometrics and apply them to currently processing cases. That would allow USCIS to approve certain types of applications, such as I-765 Application for Employment Authorization and I-131 Application for Advance Parole.

However, without biometrics, USCIS is unable to approve other types of cases such as I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status, N-400 Application for Naturalization, and I-589 Application for Asylum. Further, many of those applications (plus others) require in-person interviews, and unless USCIS establishes alternatives to in-person interviews, USCIS will not be able to approve applications for citizenship, asylum, and most applications for adjustment of status.

I have a green card. Can I be a “public charge”?

The new public charge rules implemented by this Administration are causing extreme stress and confusion among immigrant communities and their advocates.

A question that frequently has arisen in my practice is whether a “green card” holder is subject to public charge rules. The answer is, generally, no. A green card holder with a ten-year green card or a two-year (conditional) green card is not subject to the public charge rules. This means that the green card holder’s income does not matter after s/he obtains her green card, and does not matter at the time the green card holder files Form I-751 to remove the conditions of the two-year card. Also, public benefits for which the green card holder is legally eligible will not affect her/his eligiblity to maintain the green card.

There are two important exceptions. First, if the green card holder did not disclose prior use of public benefits at the time of obtaining the green card and was required to disclose such benefits, those benefits could come back to bite the green card holder from the perspective of misrepresentation. That means that USCIS may allege that the green card holder lied to get the green card.

The second important exception is a green card holder who leaves the US for more than 180 days. Upon returning to the US, CBP (and USCIS) can inquire about the green card holder past use or future use of public benefits. See https://www.federalregister.gov/documents/2019/08/14/2019-17142/inadmissibility-on-public-charge-grounds, which states: “DHS notes that a person who is already a lawful permanent resident has already undergone a public charge inadmissibility determination, unless she or he was exempt from such a determination at the time of application for such status. Such a person would not undergo another public charge inadmissibility determination unless U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) determines, upon the alien’s return from a trip abroad, that the returning lawful permanent resident is an applicant for admission based on one of the criteria set forth in section 101(a)(13)(C) of the Act, 8 U.S.C. 1101(a)(13)(C), such as the alien has been absent from the United States for more than 180 days. ”

Why Misrepresenting Yourself is an Immigration No-No

A top priority for the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is to identify people who are attempting to abuse the U.S. immigration process. As a result, if USCIS finds that you are misrepresenting yourself or your history to try to get into, or stay in, the United States, the penalties are severe. 

According to 8 U.S.C. §1182(a)(6)(C)(i), “Any alien who, by fraud or willfully misrepresenting a material fact, seeks to procure (or has sought to procure or has procured) a visa, other documentation, or admission into the United States or other benefit provided under this chapter is inadmissible.” What does this mean? Lying to an immigration officer, lying on any immigration application, or submitting fraudulent or even minorly altered documents to an immigration agency, subjects you to a lifetime ban from the United States.

Some examples of situations that may create a lifetime ban:

  • When seeking a marriage green card, if USCIS determines that the marriage wasn’t bona fide, meaning it was a marriage entered solely to obtain a green card, this can subject you to a lifetime ban.
  • If you abuse a tourist visa, USCIS may subject you to a lifetime ban. For example, you are not permitted to seek permanent residency by entering the U.S. on a tourist VISA. If you enter the United States on a temporary VISA with the intention of filing for a green card, you risk the agency finding that you were intentionally abusing your temporary visa and may subject yourself to a permanent ban from the U.S.
  • If you misrepresented yourself on a prior application, this could cause problems even if you didn’t fill out the form yourself. For example, if you hired an attorney in a foreign country to complete an application on your behalf, any misrepresentation on the prior application, whether approved by you or not, can subject you to a lifetime ban.
  • Immigration agencies often considers omissions from your application as intentional misrepresentation. For example,  USCIS may charge you with misrepresentation if you you don’t include your prior marriage, an earlier arrest, or you don’t include all of your group memberships, thinking they aren’t necessary.  

The immigration application process can be fraught with pitfalls. That’s why it’s a good idea to consult an experienced immigration attorney before filing an application with the USCIS. Even if you have a criminal or organizational history that you think may disqualify you, or if you believe you have engaged in misrepresentation, I may be able to help. I have helped people from around the world overcome small and large obstacles during the U.S. immigration process. I would love to help you too.

Boston EOIR Cases Postponed, Except for Detained Cases

As of 3/18/2020 the Boston Immigration Court will only hear detained master calendar and individual hearings. If you have a hearing (and you are not detained) it is crucial that you stay on top of your case. You should call the EOIR hotline at 1-800-898-7180 on a regular basis (every few days) until you learn of the new hearing date. You will need your A# with you when you call.

If you fail to attend the next hearing, you could be ordered removed/deported in abstenia.

Also, if you have recently moved, you must do two things. First, make sure to report your address change to EOIR and ICE. Second, try to get someone at your old address to notify you if you receive any mail at the old address.

USCIS Offices Closure & InfoMod USCIS Appointments

Is USCIS Closed? 

USCIS offices and Application Support Center Offices closed starting today through 4/1/2020. This means that all “green card”/adjustment of status interviews, InfoMod USCIS (formerly InfoPass) appointments, citizenship interviews, and biometrics interviews scheduled between 3/18 and 4/1 are closed. USCIS states that it will send de-schedule and re-schedule notices to applicants.

See USCIS.gov for more information.

If you are looking for assistance with an immigration case contact the Law Office of Ellen Sullivan, P.C. Ellen specializes in Immigration Law and more

 

 

Don’t Lie: An Immigration Golden Rule

The immigration process can be stressful and frustrating. It can be tempting to lie on an application or during an immigration interview to get it over with and keep the process “less complicated”. You may even know people who have lied and then successfully obtained their green card and even US citizenship. But lying on an immigration application, or to an immigration officer, is a bad idea. Please don’t do it!

  • One Lie Will Destroy Your Credibility

The immigration application is invasive and frustrating, and it may seem unnecessarily thorough. Let’s say you are applying for a marriage green card, and you were arrested once for something silly as a kid. Even though you know you copies of your arrest and court records, you’re having a hard time finding them or getting copies of everything you need. So, you leave that arrest at 17 off of your application. After all, it wasn’t anything serious, so why should USCIS care?

That kind of thinking is a big mistake. USCIS will investigate you, as they do all applicants. When USCIS finds that arrest record through its security check, you may be accused of fraud and your application could be denied for that reason—even if the arrest at 17 would have had absolutely not impacte on your ability to get the green card had you disclosed it and provided necessary documentation.

  • Lying is Grounds for Inadmissibility

If you lie or misrepresent something on an immigration application, you’re creating more problems. Lying is grounds for inadmissibility. Under 8 U.S.C. §1182(a)(6)(C)(i), “Any alien who, by fraud or willfully misrepresenting a material fact, seeks to procure (or has sought to procure or has procured) a visa, other documentation, or admission into the United States or other benefit provided under this chapter is inadmissible.”

If you’re concerned about something that you don’t want to include on your immigration application, or, if there’s something you are worried about discussing with an immigration officer during your interview, you should consult an experienced immigration attorney before you submit any application. An attorney can advise you, come up with workable solutions, and attend your immigration interview with you to help you explain the documentation or the facts of the situation. In some cases, an experienced attorney will tell you not to file for any immigration benefit for a certain period of time or, in some cases, ever. I’ve helped people around the world through complicated immigration situations for years, and I’m happy to guide you as well. So, don’t risk lying on an immigration application; I can help.

You Married a US Citizen. Now, document your life together and get a green card!

Congratulations on your marriage! Now that you’ve married a U.S. citizen, you’re probably wondering what comes next. U.S. citizens can apply for a foreign-born spouse to move to, or remain in, the U.S. to live permanently. Obtaining a marriage green card is a three-step process. 

  1. Apply for a “marriage-based” immigrant visa by establishing your marital relationship
  2. Apply for your green card
  3. Attend the green card interview

To establish your marital relationship, you will need to provide a marriage certificate. But aside from the basics, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services wants to ensure that your marriage isn’t one of convenience or a “green card marriage.” To establish the validity of your marriage, you’ll need to provide documentation showing the intermingling of your lives. Collect things such as:

  • Documents such as join leases or property ownership
  • Joint bank or investment accounts
  • Photos together with you and your spouse together with other family/friends in different location on different dates
  • Joint mortgage statements
  • Joint health or auto policies
  • Life insurance policies listing one another as your primary beneficiaries
  • Original copies of letters or cards from family, co-workers, friends, and employers showing both of you at the same address
  • Letters of support from family and friends attesting to the validity of the marriage and their support for the green card for the immigrant spouse

The documents you’ll need to apply for a marriage green card include the following:

  • Birth certificates for each spouse
  • Proof of US citizen spouse’s US citizenship in form of US birth certificate, US passport, or US Certification of Naturalization
  • Marriage certificate for this marriage
  • Divorce certificates for each spouse for any prior marriage
  • Police and/or court documents if either spouse has a criminal history. The US citizen will probably not have to submit the court records, but s/he should discuss the criminal history with the attorney before filing. The immigrant spouse MUST submit any criminal records, and must discuss the criminal history with an attorney.  
  • Previous immigration violation records if applicable
  • Current or expired U.S. visas if applicable
  • Immigrant spouse’s I-94
  • US citizen’s financial documents showing ability to support immigrant spouse. In some cases, the immigrant’s assets and income can be used to show ability to support him/herself.
  • Since USCIS instituted Form I-944 Declaration of Self-Sufficiency, the documents required to prove that the immigrant will not become a “public charge” have drastically increased. The documents now include the US citizen’s taxes and proof of income, the US citizen’s assets that will be available to the immigrant, proof of the immigrant’s debts, proof of the immigrants use of public benefits. I am still working on creating a list of documents that families will need to successfully complete Form I-944. Stay tuned for that list.

The final step is the green card interview. A USCIS officer will ask questions to determine the authenticity of your marriage. You must be prepared to discuss all of the documentation you’ve already submitted, and you should bring additional documentation that you have accumulated in the months between filing and the USCIS interview.

Applying for a marriage green card can be a stressful, confusing, and lengthy process. You don’t want to make mistakes that may jeopardize your application, so it’s a good idea to consult with an experienced immigration law attorney before you file your application with the USCIS. I’ve been helping couples around the world with this process for years. Even if you have complicated issues like a criminal history or prior immigration violations, I’d love to help you.

USCIS Obtains “Admissions” to Marijuana Use during USCIS Interviews

Use, possession, sale and other activities relating to marijuana/cannabis are legal in many states in the United States and in other places worldwide. However, all marijuana activities (with very limited scientific research exceptions) are illegal under US federal law and in turn under US immigration law.

Non-US citizens using marijuana and/or involved in legal cannabis activities throughout the US put themselves at risk of being found inadmissible to the US (that is, unable to enter the US), removable from the US (that is, deportable), and/or ineligible for US citizenship. Some immigration issues arise only when a person has a criminal conviction for marijuana related crimes; other immigration arise merely when a person admits to crimes related to marijuana use. Other immigration issues arise merely when a US immigration officer has “reason to believe” that a person is involved in marijuana trafficking (and trafficking can be as simple as a state law relating to intent to distribute).

In USCIS in Seattle and Denver, USCIS officers are asking enough questions in immigration interviews to elicit “admissions” to marijuana crimes, rendering immigrant ineligible for certain immigration benefits and in some cases, deportable.

AILA issued the Practice Pointer below discussing this issue.

If you use or have used marijuana in the past and are NOT a US-citizen, you should speak with an experienced immigration attorney about the potential consequences on your current or future immigration status.

Why Pay USCIS with a Check, When Will USCIS Cash My Check & More.

If you submit an immigration petition to the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), you almost always pay a fee. Paying a fee may seem pretty straight forward, but there are still small mistakes that can slow down, or in cases with deadlines, thwart your immigration application. You’ll need to ensure that you pay the correct fee. I recommend that clients pay by check or money order, not by credit card.

Ensure Your Fee Total is Correct

To determine how much you need to pay, you shouldn’t rely on anything other than official USCIS publications. The day that I file any form, I go to the USCIS forms page, open the form or forms that I am filing, and check the filing fees. The filing fees are listed on drop down menus on each form’s pages. However, you should also read the instructions (a PDF document) available for all forms. Sometimes the drop-down menu “Fees” does give you information about when you do not need to pay a fee.  There is also a USCIS fee calculator at https://www.uscis.gov/feecalculator.

Why Pay By Check and When Will USCIS Cash my Check?

When paying USCIS, never send cash through the mail. Also, even though USCIS accepts credit card payments for many (not all!) forms, I prefer that my clients pay by check. I have noticed that even when I submit the correct credit card information, USCIS sometimes rejects the application and claims that the credit card information is incorrect. I think that a USCIS agent types the credit card information from Form 1450, and if the agent types incorrectly, the form gets rejected. Checks, on the other hand, are electronically deposited, without the possibility of an agent mistyping the check’s information. After you file an application and send your check, look at your online bank statement every day or so to see when the check is cashed by USCIS. USCIS will usually cash the check in two days to two weeks after you file the application.

How Do I Pay By Check?

When you do pay your fees by check, you will still need to ensure that you have the correct filing fee amount on the check and you must make the check out to US Department of Homeland Security. On the “Pay to the Order” line, write “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” Do not use DHS or USDHS. Include numerals to indicate the amount of the check, such as $452.50. You should also spell out the digits on the correct line, such as “four hundred fifty-two and 50/100.” In the memo line, write a short description of your payment and include the applicant’s name, such as “John D. Smith, N-400 application and biometric services fee.”Sign the check with your legal name. Paperclip or staple your check to the upper left-hand corner of your application form. 

Keep A Photocopy of the Check (and the REST of your application)

When you file an application, keep a photocopy of every single page that you submit from mailing page (send by a mail service that you can track), your covr page (if any), the check, passport style photos, all pages of the application, and ALL supporting documents.

Wherever you are in your immigration process, it is a good idea to consult an experienced immigration law attorney before filing anything with the USCIS. Ellen Sullivan, P.C. has helped clients around the world and is ready to work with you. Call (617) 714-4375 or email ellen@ellensullivanlaw.com to get in touch. 

Form I-944 Financial Information Required for Most Green Card Applications from within the US

As of February 24, 2020, USCIS requires that all Form I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status (“green card applications”) be accompanied by Form I-944 Declaration of Self-Sufficiency. This form requires a burdensome amount of financial documents from the US citizen or LPR petitoner and from the intending immigrant. Also, this inquiry goes well outside the prior scope of financial inquiry of whether the US citizen or LPR petitioner is eligible to obtain a green card for his/her family member. In short, the form and the requirements are unfair and likely unlawful.

The Form is at https://www.uscis.gov/i-944 .

I am still in the process of making a list of documents that are necessary for this form. In addition to my standard requests for three years of IRS tax transcripts, three years of W-2, recent paystubs and employer letters, I am requesting many more financial documents from my clients. For now, the new list of documents includes:

1. Proof of Petitioner and Beneficiary having health insurance in the form of Form 1095 (a federal tax form), a policy explanation from your health insurance company, or a letter from  your employer regarding your health insurance

2. Credit reports for Petitioner and Beneficiary from one of the major credit agencies, Equifax, Experian or TransUnion

3. Latest bank statements for all Petitioner and Beneficiary’s accounts and

4. Latest statements for all retirement, investment, etc. for Petitioner and Beneficiary

5. Latest mortgage statement from any real estate owned by Petitioner and Beneficiary

6. Latest statements for any car loans, student loans, credit card debt, other loans for Petitioner and Beneficiary

Does a criminal record mean that I can never obtain any immigration benefit?

If you’re an immigrant who has ever been arrested, summonsed to court, admitted to criminal activity, or convicted of certain criminal offenses, you must discuss your legal history with an immigration attorney before submitting any paperwork to any US government agency or attending any interview or hearing. A broad category of crimes can render an individual ‘inadmissible’ to the United States and can trigger deportment proceedings of a legal resident. 

But having a criminal history or record does not necessarily mean that USCIS or the Department of State will deny your visa application. Although certain criminal cases and circumstances can make it more difficult to succeed in your immigration case, it is not necessarily impossible. Below are some important issues to consider and to discuss with an immigration attorney if you have them in your history. (There are NOT the only criminal issues to consider.)

Convictions for “Crimes of Moral Turpitude”: If a court has found you guilty of, or you have admitted the essential elements of, a crime involving moral turpitude, a controlled substance violation or certain other crimes, you are automatically rendered ‘inadmissible’ to the United States. For certain crimes, you do not need a conviction or an admission to be rendered inadmissible; USCIS or the Department of State can suspect you of criminal activity and deem you ineligible to enter the US or receive a green card in the US. 

That said, not all crimes are considered equal. Under limited circumstances, you may qualify for a “petty offense exception.” This exception is a request for legal forgiveness that, if granted, would allow you to proceed with your immigration case.  

Or, you may be eligible for a waiver of inadmissibility for crimes of moral turpitude. To be eligible for the waiver, you must show that your US citizen or LPR spouse or parent will suffer “extreme hardship” if you are not granted the waiver. This waiver is NOT available based on hardship to your US citizen or LPR children. 

For applicants for green card, there is absolutely no waiver of inadmissibility for any drug crimes, with the limited exception of certain crimes of possession of marijuana. This rule has a devastating impact on many immigrants who have convictions for minor possession crimes. Also, even when a drug conviction is very old and the individual is fully rehabilitated, there is no waiver of inadmissibility for drug crimes for applicants for green cards. Strangely, the blanket INA 212(d) waiver is available to any applicant for a temporary (nonimmigrant) visa, and such waiver does not require a showing of hardship to a US citizen or LPR relative. 

Guilty pleas: Many immigrants and often their criminal defense attorneys do not realize that for immigration purposes a guilty plea is equivalent to a conviction. If you have pled guilty to an offense, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will view the crime exactly the same as if a judge or jury convicted you. Such guilty plea may make you ineligible for a green card and/or temporary visas and may make you “removable”/“deportable” if you are in the US. 

Continued Without A Finding (CWOF): In Massachusetts, a defendant may dispose of a criminal case through with a “Continued Without a Finding” (CWOF). To receive this disposition, the defendant agrees that the prosecution presented sufficient facts to prove a case at trial, which federal immigration law equates to an admission to having committed the crime. From the perspective of Massachusetts criminal law, the case is considered “dismissed” if the defendant successfully completes the period of probation that accompanies the CWOF.

But the case is not considered “dismissed” for immigration purposes. The USCIS treats a CWOF as an admission of guilt because the defendant admits that the facts presented by the prosecution are sufficient to prove guilt. Thus, even if you had a CWOF and a “clean” record under Massachusetts law, you may be ineligible for a green card and/or temporary visas and “removable”/“deportable” if you are in the US. 

Pre-Trial Probation: Massachusetts has a disposition of “pre-trial probation” where the defendant does not admit to any facts of the charges crimes, does not admit guilt and is not found guilty, but is put on probation for a period. After successful completion of the pre-trial probation period, the charges are dismissed in way that does not affect your eligibility for immigration benefits. I advise all of my non-US citizen clients to hire an excellent criminal defense attorney, with the hope that they can obtain the excellent outcome of “pre-trial probation.” 

If you or a loved one are seeking immigration benefits but have been arrested anywhere in the world and/or have a criminal record anywhere in the world, it is essential that you speak with an experienced immigration attorney before submitting any application or attending any interview or hearing with USCIS, ICE, or the Immigration Court. 

Will my criminal history make me ineligible for immigration benefits?

Having a criminal record can affect your ability to receive immigration benefits, whether you’re seeking a temporary visa, green card, or an adjustment of status. But under the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) convictions for certain crimes, or admissions to committing certain crimes, will automatically make you “inadmissible” to the United States. If you’ve been convicted of or admitted to any of these crimes, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) will deny your immigration case, unless you will not succeed in your immigration case, unless USCIS grants you a waiver of admissibility. 

The Immigration and Nationality Act

Section 212 (A) of the Immigration Nationality Act sets forth the crimes that are grounds for inadmissibility, or in other words, ineligibility for a temporary or permanent visa to the US. Among other things, you will become inadmissible if you’re convicted of or admitted to having committed: 

  1. A crime of moral turpitude (e.g., murder, rape, child abuse, aggravated assault, theft, perjury, fraud, and many other crimes)
  2. A violation of any controlled substance law (drugs), whether in the U.S. or abroad.
  3. Multiple criminal convictions for which the total prison sentences were five years or more. 
  4. Illicit trafficking in any controlled substance (drugs). 
  5. Benefiting, financially or otherwise, from illicit drug trafficking, by a spouse, son, or daughter of the trafficker within the previous five years. 
  6. Prostitution and commercialized vice, including procuring prostitutes or receiving proceeds from prostitution. 
  7. Human trafficking or benefitting from human trafficking, whether inside or outside the United States.
  8. Money laundering.

This list provided here is not exhaustive, and each crime may have particular nuances or exceptions. Also, every criminal jurisdiction will define and use words for crimes in different ways. One important job of an immigration attorney is to “translate” your state or foreign conviction into the language of the INA in order to determine where it falls on the INA’s list of problematic crimes. 

Waiver for Inadmissible Crimes

In some cases, you may be able to gain entry into the United States despite your criminal history if the USCIS grants you a “forgiveness” waiver. Section 212(i) 212(h) of the INA describes the waivers for criminal history for someone applying for a visa or a green card. There are also special waivers available in Immigration Court, for example, under INA 237(a)(1)(H) for fraud/misrepresentations that do not result in criminal convictions and 240A for individuals who have been in the US at least 7 years (if a green card holder) or 10 years (if not a green card holder). Also, there is a general waiver under INA 212(d) for applicants for nonimmigrant (aka temporary) visas.

What to do if you have a criminal history

If you have a criminal history and you’re applying for immigration benefits in the United States, it’s crucial to seek the help of an experienced immigration lawyer. I’ve helped clients around the world with a range of complicated immigration issues, and I’d like to help you too.

Marijuana and Green Card Applications

US immigration laws prohibit the issuance of nonimmigrant or immigrant visas to anyone who has been convicted of or admits to the essential elements of federal controlled substances crimes. Generally, an admission to a drug crime happens in court as part of a plea or, in Massachusetts, a “continued without a finding.”

However, USCIS interviews can be the site of “admissions” to federal controlled substances crimes. In a green card interview, for example, a USCIS officer can ask an applicant if s/he has ever used, possessed, distributed, sold, etc. marijuana or any other federal controlled substances.

Apparently, just that has been happening at recent green-card interviews in Seattle. USCIS officers use the attached sworn statement to

What Kinds of Criminal Issues Will Not Hurt My Immigration Case? 

Few criminal issues hold zero risk of affecting your immigration case. However, a criminal history does not necessarily render you inadmissible, or in other words, ineligible for visas and/or a green card to the US. Certain criminal offenses pose much less risk to your case than others. 

Traffic violations

A basic traffic violation might not hurt your immigration case, but it depends on the nature of the violation. Some traffic violations must be disclosed on immigration applications, others do not. It is important to get copies of all documents relating to a ticket and/or traffic court appearance so that your attorney can determine whether the traffic violation is civil or criminal, and either way, whether and how it needs to be disclosed on your immigration applications.  

DUI issues

Laws relating to driving while intoxicated or under the influence may or may not be statutorily problematic from an immigration perspective. However, all DUIs are seriously and heavily weighed in USCIS’s discretionary decision to approve or deny your case. If you have any DUI arrest, even if later dismissed or acquitted, you must discuss this issue with an immigration attorney and prepare a strategy for explaining the situation to USCIS. 

Certain juvenile offenses

Mist juvenile records will not hurt your immigration case. However, you need to discuss all juvenile court issues with your immigration attorney because USCIS can take juvenile records into its discretionary decision about your case. 

Also, if you have records from when you were under 18 that were in a criminal court, those are not juvenile records. Those are criminal records. Some criminal records from when you were under 18 may be “forgiven” by USCIS if 5 years have passed since the incident. 

Petty offenses

If you are convicted of or admit to a crime of moral turpitude, you are inadmissible to the US, which means that you are not eligible for a visa or green card to the US unless you qualify for a waiver. There is a general waiver available to nonimmigrants and an “extreme hardship” waiver available to immigrant, or green card, applicants. However, it is important to know if the petty offense exception applies to you so that you are not inadmissible despite the crime of moral turpitude. You may qualify for a petty offense exception, if:

  1. You have committed only one Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT) ever, and  
  2. the maximum penalty for the offense you committed is one year or less, and
  3. you were sentenced to no more than six months in prison, regardless of how much time you actually served. 

To determine whether a particular offense falls with the petty offense exception or if you have other questions about whether your criminal history might affect your immigration petition, you should speak with a qualified immigration lawyer as soon as possible. I’ve helped clients around the world with a range of complicated immigration issues, and I’d like to help you too.

Disclosing Criminal Histories on Immigration Applications: What You Should Know

The United States requires all applicants for immigration benefits to disclose information about their criminal history, whether applying for a visa, green card, or U.S. citizenship. If you have a criminal record, this can be worrying. 

If you have any criminal history–even if you were never arrested nor convicted of anything–you should consult with an attorney about the immigration consequences of your criminal history. Having a criminal history does not necessarily mean your application will be denied. If you are eligible to apply for any immigration benefits, you must report your criminal history honestly and accurately. Omitting information, changing information, and other ways to misrepresent your criminal history could result in the US government charging you with misrepresentation, which is a problem to overcome. 

Here’s what you need to know.

Disclose your full criminal history

You should disclose any criminal conviction, arrest, or charge on your immigration petition unless advised otherwise by a qualified immigration attorney. In most cases, you should disclose a conviction even if the record is expunged or sealed. 

If you have a juvenile record, you should consult with an attorney about whether it needs to be disclosed, even if a court sealed the record. Some juvenile issues are not considered criminal. Others are considered criminal. Even if considered criminal, the issue may not negatively affect your eligibility for immigration benefits. There is an exception to ineligibility for immigration benefits based on a crime of moral turpitude if you were under 18 when the crime took place and took place over five years ago. 

How the USCIS evaluates criminal histories

Some crimes disqualify you for all immigration benefits. Some crimes require you to apply for a waiver of inadmissibility. Some crimes have no statutory effect on your immigration status, but will be considered in the total discretionary analysis of you as an application for immigration benefits. 

What to do if you have a criminal history 

You must consult with an experienced immigration attorney before applying for any immigration benefit through USCIS, the Department of State or the Immgration Court. 

As an immigration lawyer, I can assess how your criminal history might affect your application and how you should disclose the history on your application. My work with clients around the world and in the U.S. helps make complicated immigration procedures and paperwork go as smoothly and efficiently as possible.

Increased Processing Times of Immigration Applications Under the Trump Administration

Increased Processing Times of Immigration Applications Under the Trump Administration  

Why is my immigration application taking so long?  

Under the Trump administration, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has significantly lengthened the processing time of immigrant applications, creating a backlog of millions of applications. These delays impact the lives of countless people seeking family-based benefits, employment authorization or employment-based benefits, naturalization, or travel documents, as well as applicants’ families and employers.

 

According to the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s analysis of recent USCIS data, the average case processing time for all application types has risen by 46 percent since Fiscal Year (FY) 2016. In FY2018 alone, a shocking 94 percent of all immigration petitions and applications had longer process times in comparison to FY2014. Notably, processing times have increased even in years where the number of new applications has declined. 

 

Although many factors may delay an immigration application, the Trump administration’s policies and protocols bear significant responsibility for the increased backlog. For example, one new policy requires all employment-based green card applicants and their family members to have in-person interviews, a policy that floods local offices with more time-consuming work. Another policy requires USCIS officials to conduct a duplicate review of past decisions, again increasing agency workload and, worse, grave inconsistencies in adjudication of cases. 

 

What’s being done about the problem? 

The AILA describes the application backlog as reaching “crisis levels.”  Families are being kept apart and suffering financial distress, people seeking refuge from danger are left exposed, and many U.S. businesses face uncertainty as foreign talent remains in immigration limbo for a year or longer. 

 

Some immigration attorneys and their clients are turning to the courts for help in resolving this backlog. Congress created the USCIS to help efficiently process immigration-related applications and petitions, and the current slow processing times are making a mockery of its mission. Some attorneys are filing complaints against the agency to demand answers for their clients and force the USCIS to act per their mandate.  

 

What can I do to expedite the process? 

If you or a loved one have filed an immigration-related petition or application with the USCIS, and believe you have waited an unreasonable amount of time for a response, I recommend contacting me or another experienced immigration lawyer. I can help you through this process as quickly and efficiently as possible, or determine another course of action for getting the answer you need and deserve. I’ve worked with clients around the world to help make the immigration process smoother and less confusing, and I’d like to help you, too. 

Become a US Citizen. Find Help on Citizenship Day!

There is no better time to become a US citizen as we approach a critical presidential election in November 2020. In the Boston area, USCIS processes N-400 Applications for Naturalization (citizenship) in about five months. This means that if you apply soon (ex., January or February 2020), there is a great chance that you will be able to VOTE in the November 2020 election.

You can hire an attorney to represent you on your citizenship application. My firm represents clients with citizenship applications processing at USCIS offices around the United States.

There are many organizations and local government offices that provide free or reduced cost legal fees for representation or assistance with N-400 applications. The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) recently published a list of organizations nationwide that will provide free or reduced cost legal services in celebration of Citizenship Day. You can find the information here: https://www.aila.org/practice/pro-bono/find-your-opportunity/citizenship-day/become-a-citizen-find-assistance-in-your-community?utm_source=Recent%20Postings%20Alert&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=RP%20Daily .

If you have questions about your eligibility for US citizenship, you can schedule a consultation with my firm. If you have any immigration court, criminal court, tax problems (late payments; no payments; no filings), or other legal problems, you should consult with an attorney before you decide to file Form N-400 Application for Naturalization.

Decreased Communication and Negotiation with the Government Under the Trump Administration

Decreased Communication and Negotiation with the Government Under the Trump Administration 

To those paying attention, it is clear that the Trump administration is working hard to decrease legal immigration to the United States. The applicant backlog at the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) currently stands at around 2.4 million–a figure higher than it has been since 2013.  

 

While an increase in applications has contributed to this bottleneck, immigration experts note that the Trump administration’s new policies have greatly exacerbated the problem. For example, thanks to a 2017 policy change, every applicant for a green card through an employer must now submit to an in-person interview. Another policy change now requires USCIS to re-adjudicate every application for an extension of status. Analysts also note that Requests for Evidence have also substantially increased.  

 

The delays are further hampered by the government’s new policies that shuttered lines of communication between the applicant’s attorney and USCIS. Previously, USCIS offices were willing to communicate quickly and efficiently with immigration attorneys through walk-in Infopass appointments and even through phone, email and fax to supervisors. Through emergency or informal lines of communication, the attorney helped facilitate faster decisions or learn about issues in a case that needed to be addressed before a decision could be made.

 

Earlier this year, USCIS greatly reduced the number of Infopass appointments available to applicants and their attorneys. Also, USCIS increased the times that an applicant must wait before contacting USCIS to check on a case. The USCIS hotline number regularly has long wait times–even hours–to speak with hotline attendants and often requires the applicant to wait 72-hours for a call-back for answers to the questions. USCIS has called my office at 8pm–luckily I was able to take the call. If the applicant or attorney misses a USCIS call-back, the process–and waits–start again. 

  

If you or a loved one has filed an immigration-related petition or application with the USCIS, and if you believe you have waited an unreasonable amount of time for a response, I recommend contacting me or another experienced immigration lawyer. I can help you through this process as quickly and efficiently as possible, or determine another course of action for getting the answer you need and deserve. I’ve worked with clients around the world to help make the immigration process smoother and less confusing, and I’d like to help you, too. 

Increase in Requests for Evidence Under the Trump Administration

Increase in Requests for Evidence Under the Trump Administration 

 

You completed your application for an H-1B visa, marriage-based green card, or another immigration petition. Now you’ve received a “Request for Evidence” from the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Your stomach might be sinking, but stay calm. The request doesn’t necessarily mean that the USCIS will deny your application–just that you’ll have to keep fighting for approval.

 

What are Requests for Evidence? 

Requests for Evidence (RFE) are exactly what they sound like: a request for more information or documentation to support or your claim. You may have forgotten to include certain documents, or the government believes that you haven’t provided enough evidence to show you qualify for a green card. In the case of marriage-based green cards, the government may think that you haven’t given enough proof to show that the marriage is real.  

 

Recent Increase in Request for Evidence  

RFEs are becoming increasingly common under the Trump administration. With respect to H-1B visas, for example, USCIS data shows that 38 percent of all Fiscal Year (FY) 2018 applications had RFEs–a 77 percent increase over FY2017. In the first quarter of FY2019, that percentage jumped to 60 percent.  

 

USCIS data also shows that denials have doubled between FY2017 and FY2018, from 7.4 percent to 15.4 percent. The first quarter of 2019 shows an astonishing denial rate of 24.6 percent. Denials have tripled since FY2015 when the rate was 4.3 percent. Without a doubt, these unprecedented increases in RFEs and denials are due to President Trump’s “Buy American, Hire American” executive order.  Keep in mind, however, that despite these increased denials, the USCIS does approve the majority of applications.  

 

What should I do if I receive Request for Evidence? 

Given the USCIS’s extreme scrutiny of immigration applications, you should consult a qualified immigration lawyer as soon as possible after receiving an RFE. You only get one chance to respond to an RFE, and you don’t want to make even a small error. I can help you understand exactly what the government is demanding of you and help assemble all the necessary documentation. My work with clients around the world and in the US helps make complicated procedures and paperwork go as smoothly and efficiently as possible.  

President Trump’s Healthcare Insurance Proclamation for New Immigrants is Temporarily Barred

President Trump’s Healthcare Insurance Proclamation for New Immigrants is Temporarily Barred 

Since October many of my clients have asked me about health insurance requirements for their immigration cases. Should they apply for state-funded insurance for which they are entitled? Should they delay an immigration application until they have health insurance? How can they get health insurance in the U.S. without a U.S. social security number? Right now, the answer is that health insurance is not a requirement and use of government funded programs for which someone is eligible is not a bar to lawful immigration. However, the situation is confusing and could change at any time.  

A federal court has temporarily blocked the government from acting on President Trump’s most recent attempt to create a roadblock to legal immigration. 

On October 4, 2019, the president issued a proclamation that ordered immigration officials to bar any immigrant who doesn’t have health insurance within 30 days of entry into the United States, or the ability to pay for foreseeable medical costs once they become permanent residents. Acceptable health insurance would include employer-sponsored plans and individual or short-term plans, but would not include Medicaid or Affordable Care Act subsidies. Seven U.S. citizens and lawyers from Justice Action Center, Innovation Law Lab, and the American Immigration Lawyers Association promptly filed suit in federal court, arguing that the president’s actions unconstitutionally rewrite current healthcare and immigration laws. The lawsuit claims that the policy could bar as many as 375,000 otherwise qualified legal immigrants each year as well as substantially reduce the number of immigrants who enter the U.S. with family-sponsored visas.  

On November 26, Judge Michael H. Simon granted a nationwide preliminary injunction that prevents proclamation from taking effect while the lawsuit is pending.  

If you or a loved one seeks to enter the United States and have questions about any healthcare insurance requirements, please contact me. I am an immigration attorney dedicated to helping families stay together and help make complicated procedures go as smoothly as possible. 

Green Cards for Liberians through 12/20/2020

Liberians who have have been continuously physically present in the United States from Nov. 20, 2014 and who file an application for adjustment of status by Dec. 20, 2020 are eligible to adjust status to lawful permanent resident (that is, receive a “green card”) under Section 7611 of the National Defense Authorization Act (PDF) Liberian Refugee Immigration Fairness (LRIF), signed into law on Dec. 20, 2019. There are certain issues that will make a Liberian who has been present since 11/20/14 ineligible.

Contact Attorney Ellen Sullivan so that you can determine your eligibility for this program.

Getting a Marriage-Based Green Card in the U.S. Versus at a Consulate

Getting a Marriage-Based Green Card in the U.S. Versus at a Consulate

If you are a U.S. citizen or permanent resident married to a foreign spouse, getting a marriage-based green card can follow more than one path. If you are both living in the United States, your process will differ from that of a couple living abroad or living in different countries. However, no matter where you reside, eligibility for a marriage green card requires a valid marriage to a U.S. citizen or a US “LPR.”  

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Common Marriage-Based Green Card Interview Questions

Common Marriage-Based Green Card Interview Questions

The last part of the marriage green card process is an interview with the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Many of my clients thinks that idea of a face-to-face interview with a USCIS is scary and overwhelming. In most cases, I assure my clients that the interviews are generally easy-going conversations if they are prepared.

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The Importance of a Practice “Green Card Interview” with a Lawyer

The Importance of a Practice “Green Card Interview” with a Lawyer

If you are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident with a foreign spouse that you wish to bring to the United States to live and work, you will need to apply for a marriage green card. Part of this process involves an interview with an officer from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or a consular officer abroad. In the U.S. the interview may be done with the two of you together or separately. While this can be the most intimidating part of the immigration process, being prepared can help everything go more smoothly, make you less anxious, and dust of rusty memories that you will need to recount to the USCIS interviewer.

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The Role of Family & Friend Letters in Green Card Filing

The Role of Family & Friend Letters in Green Card Filing

Congratulations on your marriage! Now what happens if you are a U.S. citizen and your spouse is foreign? You likely want to petition for your spouse be “get a green card” either by coming to the U.S. or applying for a green card from within the US. to the U.S. as a permanent resident. As part of that “green card” application, you will also need to show that your marriage is “real.” Real? You may be wondering what on earth a “real” marriage is. Well, when people get married solely just to obtain a green card, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does not consider the relationship to be legitimate. These “sham” marriages are illegal and carry heavy penalties for fraud. The USCIS carefully scrutinizes the authenticity of marriages when applying for a green card. As a result, you and your spouse bear the burden of proving that your relationship is valid.

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Fiancé Visa Versus a Spouse Visa

Fiancé Visa Versus a Spouse Visa

Many of my clients have questions about the nitty-gritty of the fiancé or marriage visa application process. They want to know how they can prove and document that their marriage is real; if their same-sex spouse or fiancé will be recognized; and how the fiancé and marriage visas differ. 

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So, You’ve Married a U.S. Citizen: How to Document the Next Four Years of Your Life Until You, Too, are a U.S. Citizen

So, You’ve Married a U.S. Citizen: How to Document the Next Four Years of Your Life Until You, Too, are a U.S. Citizen

You married a US citizen. Congratulations on wedded bliss! Now, what comes next? You will need to document your life together for the next few years until you get your green card and then you too become a U.S. citizen. What do you need? What should you document? In this post, I’ll walk you through how to record the next few years of your life. 

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The New (Ab)normal Under the Trump Administration: Increased Processing Times

The New (Ab)normal Under the Trump Administration: Increased Processing Times

Delays and changes to U.S. immigration policy have been international news over the last few years. Many of my clients are frustrated over increased wait times at every step of the visa or permanent resident application. 

Under the Trump administration, processing delays have nearly doubled even as the number of immigration applications has decreased. The government established U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in 2002 to improve application backlogs. Unfortunately, backlogs are distressingly common in the Trump era. Here’s what you need to know.

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What Documents Should I Include in My Green Card Filing?

What Documents Should I Include in My Green Card Filing?

If you are recently married or engaged to a U.S. citizen, the green card application process can seem overwhelming. You may have questions about how long the process will take and how likely you are to have your application approved. While every couple’s situation is different, in this post, I will walk you through what you will need for your green card filing so you can start compiling the documentation you’ll need as soon as possible.

United States immigration law allows for a U.S. citizen to petition for a green card for a spouse who is already in the U.S., for a spouse who is outside the U.S. or for a fiancé to obtain a visa to travel to the U.S. to seek admission with a green card. 

Right now, it takes about 6 to 12 months for USCIS to approve a green card for a spouse in the U.S. and about one year for USCIS, the National Visa Center and then the U.S. Embassy to approve to a fiancé visa or spouse visa from outside the U.S. as of 2019 and an additional one to two years to get the U.S. green card. 

The documents you include will vary based on your specific circumstances. To start preparing your application, you will need to gather:

  • The spouse’s foreign birth certificate
  • Your fiancé or spouse’s U.S. birth certificate, U.S. passport or green card
  • Marriage certificate (if married) or proof of intent to marry
  • Previous marriage termination documents
  • Proof that your marriage/relationship is real, like joint bank account statements, a joint lease agreement, photos together, and letters of support from family and friends
  • Court, police, or prison records. You will need to provide information about any interaction you’ve had with law enforcement, whether in the U.S. or abroad, even if the case was “dismissed”
  • Government filing fees and passport-style photographs

Never include fake or altered documents. Pay attention to details on the documents–do not include documents that will hurt, rather than help your case. 

I recommend that all applicants consult with me or another immigration attorney before filing any application, even if you ultimately decide to file without the representation of a lawyer. I work with clients from all around the U.S. and the world to make this process less confusing and as efficient as possible.

Some issues that may make it more difficult or even impossible for certain immigrants to get spouse visas. For example, criminal issues, misuse of visas, fraud or misrepresentation, unauthorized time in the U.S., and deportation/removal from the U.S. may change the spouse’s eligibility for the green card. 

Courts block USCIS’s Implementation of New Public Charge Rules

On October 11, 2019 various courts blocked the Trump administration’s implementation of new public charge rules that drastically increase the scope of inquiry for the public charge determination.

The new rules, if ever formally implemented, will prevent applicants for receiving green cards if they have used a wide variety of “benefits” most of which fall well outside the long-standing practice of considering “cash” benefits (often called “welfare” payments). The new rules consider the applicant’s family’s receipt of benefits, even when the family members are clearly eligible for the benefits as US citizens.

Since the announcement of the proposed rules, immigrant families and communities have been in fear of losing their current immigration statuses or being ineligible for future immigration statuses. Schools have seen decreases in enrollments for subsidized school-lunches. Health-care facilities have seen decreases in Medicare enrollment. (Schools and medical clinics may still be helping the same numbers of hungry and sick kids–but they are not getting financial credit (funds) for their numbers because of the decline in official enrollment in the programs. To me, this outcome is completely unacceptable and immoral. The Trump administration is scaring parents into not seeking food and medical care for their children. Like many other humans in the US and around the world, this result of this administrations policies sickens me.

Despite the courts blocking the formal implementation of the rules, the new public charge rules have been sneaking into immigration policy for many, many months. For example, many embassies/consulates are requiring additional documents for immigrant (“green card”) applicants and temporary visa (such as tourists and students) to prove that they will not be “public charges.” For example, people with medical conditions that would clearly be eligible for medical treatment in the US (that is, there is proof of future medical insurance) have been denied visas because they cannot prove ability to pay for treatment or prescriptions out of pocket. Similarly, tourists and students have been asked to prove that they will carry full insurance in the US–something that in most cases (at least that I know of) is impossible for a non-resident of the US to prove.

Until the Trump administration, one of my main jobs as a lawyer was to tell clients the law and the likely possible outcomes of their interaction with the law. Under this administration, we are bombarded by unconstitutional, illegal and/or immoral policies and proposed rules almost on a daily basis. Many of the proposals go no where legally but almost all of them have one effect of the administration: to make people live in fear. My practice has been affected. For example, while these horrible public charge rules are not “officially” in place, I now counsel clients on how to deal with the issues as if those rules were in place. I have talked with parents about making a difficult decision of whether to get their children covered for health insurance for which they qualify or to forgo such benefit to avoid any potential problem with immigration applications. What a horrible decision for a parent to have to make. Let’s hope that this madness ends soon. If you are eligible to become a US citizen, apply now so that you have a chance of voting in the presidential election of 2020!

 

 

Be careful when using online/social media!

For years, DHS agencies including USCIS and ICE have investigated non-citizens through social media. USCIS and ICE will present documents that show clients, for example, using controlled substances, advocating support for terrorist-designated organizations and other problematic organizations, and having romantic relationships with people other than the US citizens petitioning for green card.

 

This week DHS announced that it will create fake social media accounts to further its long-standing practice of investigating non-citizens through social media. This announcement caused Facebook to reiterate its policy of prohibiting fake accounts and caused uproar among immigrant advocates, privacy advocates and free-speech advocates alike.

 

This policy, however, should not surprise anyone. Non-citizens have fewer privacy, free-speech and other rights in this country than do US citizens (generally speaking except for systemic issues of racism, sexism and other discrimination that may trump immigration status). Non-citizens need to strive for very clean, if not non-existent, social media presences. Regardless of whether Facebook prevails in disallowing DHS from setting up fake accounts, non-citizens in the US need to make sure that their social media records do not cause them harm vis-a-vis their immigration status.

 

Maine ACLU Obtains US Border Patrol Training on Transportation Checks

Maine ACLU Obtains CBP Training on CBP Transportation Checks

The US Border Patrol routinely uses “transportation checks” as a means for investigating the immigration status of individuals it accidentally or purposefully encounter. The document above describes the law that arguably allows for stops anywhere within 100 miles of a US border. In Maine and other states along the Canadian border, much of the state is within 100 miles. Because of this, the US Border Patrol can set up transportation stops on highways for the purpose of conducting “consensual” checks of drivers’ and passengers’ immigration status. Also, as discussed in the attached document, the US Border Patrol can enter buses and conduct “consensual”  checks of identity and immigration status. The training manual states that the US Border Patrol does NOT have to inform individuals of their right to refuse to answer questions, and most people do NOT know of this constitutional right. Individuals without immigration status are in a Catch 22. Regardless of their constitutional rights including the right to refuse to answer questions, if they do not answer questions, it is likely that the US Border Patrol will find a way to change the encounter from “consensual” to probable-cause based, and thereby will require cooperation and disclosure of identity.

 

If you have questions about your immigration status, about ways to possibly fix your immigration status, or about your constitutional rights in encounters with law enforcement officials, contact my office to set up a consultation with Attorney Ellen Sullivan. The initial consultation is scheduled for 55 minutes, with a charge of $200 that you may pay by cash, check or credit card.

 

Uncertain Processing Times of I-765 Applications for Employment Authorization

Many of my clients feel frustrated right now because of the uncertain and often slow processing times for USCIS benefits. One of the most significant problems is with I-765 Application for Employment Authorization, aka “work permit.” Many of my clients file for “work permits” in conjunction with I-485 Application for Adjustment of Status (“green card”). Historically, the work permit took under 90 days to process, and if it did not, I could advocate on behalf of my client to get the card processed. Now, the cards are taking three, four, five months and even longer. Importantly, I can no longer go to the local USCIS office to request that the work permit application be expedited due to slow processing or due to a client’s offer of employment. In many cases, work permits are not decided before my clients “green card” interviews. Last month, two clients received the actual work permits in the mail AFTER they received their green cards! (The work permits are not necessary and in fact are invalid once the “green card” is approved.)

USCIS publishes “processing times” on its website, but in the past year or so, I have found that information to be unreliable. In addition to publishing processing time dates, the USCIS website publishes a “case inquiry” date, which if often months or a year after the processing time date. That means that even if a case is outside the normal processing time, we cannot complain until the case reaches the “case inquiry” date.

If you have questions about your current pending case/s, consult an immigration attorney. I am an experienced immigration attorney located in Cambridge, MA. Call (617) 714-4375 or email ellen@ellensullivanlaw.com to get in touch today.

Did You Know That You Can Pay G-1450 Fees Via Debit Card or Credit Card?

Submit Payment for G-1450 with Debit Card or Credit Card

Did you know that you can pay some USCIS fees via credit card? Go to https://www.uscis.gov/g-1450 to read about which fees can be accepted by credit card. For the most part, any fee for a form that goes to a “Lock Box” can be paid by credit card. To pay by credit card, submit Form G-1450 with the USCIS form that you file with USCIS.

However, before submitting the credit card payment for a USCIS fee, make sure that your form is going to a lock box and that your form fee can be paid by credit card. Also, before paying by credit or debit card, make sure that your card has enough funds or a sufficient credit limit to accept the charge from USCIS. USCIS will only attempt to charge the card once. If the card is rejected for any reason, USCIS will immediately reject the case and send the entire case back to you or your attorney. If there is a deadline for your filing, USCIS’s rejection of the filing fee could affect your eligibility for the USCIS benefit that you are seeking.

If you are seeking an immigration attorney with years of experience, Ellen Sullivan, P.C. is here to help. Call (617) 714-4375 or email ellen@ellensullivanlaw.com to get in touch with Ellen.

Why is my USCIS Case Taking So Long? Where is my Case?

Are you wondering, “Where is my USCIS case?” Check out this free resource: Why is my USCIS case taking so long

The American Immigration Lawyers Association recently released the attached memo that explains the rise in processing time and possible reasons behind the slow-down in USCIS processing times. As case processing times increase, individuals and businesses with pending applications and petitions suffer from the government’s lack of predictability, lack of transparency, and lack of consistency in the way that it handles USCIS cases.

Stay on top of your case by following it on USCIS.gov’s “Case Status” page. Consider linking your email to USCIS’s updates (although the updates do not always come). Make sure to update your contact information with your attorney and your address with USCIS so that you do not miss important communications. Tip: Even if you do update your contact information with your attorney and USCIS, have a way to check your old mailing address even after you move.

Are you looking for legal assistance? Ellen Sullivan, P.C., practices immigration law and more in Massachusetts. Call (617) 714-4375 or email ellen@ellensullivanlaw.com to schedule a consultation.

September 2017 Visa Bulletin

The US Department of State issued the September 2017 Visa Bulletin. It is available here: https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/law-and-policy/bulletin/2017/visa-bulletin-for-september-2017.html.

Heartbreaking Deportation of Connecticut Mother

The Trump Administration continues its senseless and arbitrary deportations of longtime members of our communities, of people who have contributed to our neighborhoods, our schools, our restaurants, our shops, and our diversity. The administration forgets, or likely refuses to admit, that our economy and our culture depends on people who are willing to work hard at jobs that are difficult or impossible to fill, whether those jobs are high-tech jobs or home-cleaning jobs. US workers should not be displaced, however the reality is that US workers are not able to fill some jobs, such as high-tech jobs or rural physician jobs, or are unwilling to take other jobs, such as low-paying, grueling jobs such as cleaning our homes.

Read the story at http://wnpr.org/post/without-documentation-or-criminal-record-immigrant-mother-faces-deportation?utm_source=Recent%20Postings%20Alert&utm_medium=Email&utm_campaign=RP%20Daily.

August 2017 Visa Bulletin

The August 2017 visa bulletin is available on the US Department of State website at https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/law-and-policy/bulletin/2017/visa-bulletin-for-august-2017.html.

I-751 Facing Lengthy Delays

In my practice, I represent many couples on removing conditions on residency, a requirement for conditional permanent residents who are married to US citizen less than two years at the time that they adjust status based on that marriage. To remove the conditions, clients must file Form I-751 with extensive supporting documents.

Currently, my clients are experiencing lengthy delays on their pending Forms I-751. Some of my clients face wait times of over one year, which is well over the published USCIS processing times for the form. The processing times are at: https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/processTimesDisplayInit.do;jsessionid=bacXD1OC9RCyFagQNRyeu

If you need to file Form I-751, remember to file it BEFORE the expiration of the current green card. If not, your case becomes much more complicated and you risk facing removal proceedings in immigration court.

Please contact me at ellen@ellensullivanlaw.com or 617-714-4375 if you would like to consult on your current pending I-751 or if you would like to discuss my representation on new cases relating to removal of conditions on residence.

Trump Cancels DAPA Plans

The current president’s Secretary of Homeland Security, John Kelly, recently rescinded President Obama’s plan to extend protections to certain parents of US citizens and lawful permanent residents. See https://www.maldef.org/assets/pdf/DHS_DAPA_061517.pdf. This change in policy is not a surprise. Instead it is another assault on immigrants who live long, lawful and productive lives in the United States of America and who are fundamental parts of our communities.

If you would like to discuss your current immigration status with an immigration attorney, please contact Attorney Ellen Sullivan at ellen@ellensullivanlaw.com or 617-714-4375.

 

US Embassies and Consulates To Ask For Social Media Information

For years, I have asked my clients about their social media. What names are listed on the social media? What countries, states, towns of residence are listed on social media? What employers are listed? Which friends and photos are connected to them via social media? All of that information can be, and has for years, been used by various US government agencies to determine a person’s eligibility for immigration benefits in the US or to the US.

The current administration is ramping up the government’s effort to use social media to “vet” immigrant and nonimmigrant applicants to the US. Sometimes this makes sense because social media can provide true information about a person. On the hand, often times, social media statements are hyperbole, exaggeration, or just plain misstatements. In those cases, it is unfair for the US government to use free-speech statements (intentional or not) and associations with others as bases for denying a truly eligible individual’s application for immigration benefits.

The Washington Post recently published an article about the current administration’s plan to use social media as a basis for vetting immigration applicants.

USCIS Extends Haitian TPS for Six Months; Re-Registration Required

USCIS extended TPS for eligible Haitian for six months. All currently enrolled Haitian TPS recipients MUST RE-REGISTER by July 24, 2017. The new registration will allow the applicant to apply for a new work permit (employment authorization document).

USCIS’s notice regarding the extension warns Haitian TPS recipients to “prepare for their return to Haiti in the event Haiti’s designation is not extended again, including requesting updated travel documents from the government of Haiti.” By November 22, 2017, USCIS “will re-evaluate the designation for Haiti and will determine whether another extension, a redesignation, or a termination is warranted” and will “determine whether Haiti’s TPS designation should continue.”

See USCIS notice (quoted above) at https://www.uscis.gov/news/news-releases/temporary-protected-status-haiti-extended-six-months.

Proposed “Extreme Vetting” Topics

AILA recently posted the following information about DOS’s proposed supplemental questions for visa applications from certain nations:

 

The proposed questions includes (quoting from AILA below):

“[T]he new ‘extreme vetting’ questions for certain non-immigrants applying for visas through the consulates. State is requesting emergency review and approval from OMB by May 18, which would be valid for 180 days. Comments on the emergency request are due May 18th. Some key language from the notice is below:

The Department proposes requesting the following information, if not already included in an application, from a subset of visa applicants worldwide, in order to more rigorously evaluate applicants for terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities:

  • Travel history during the last fifteen years, including source of funding for travel;
  • Address history during the last fifteen years;
  • Employment history during the last fifteen years;
  • All passport numbers and country of issuance held by the applicant;
  • Names and dates of birth for all siblings;
  • Name and dates of birth for all children;
  • Names and dates of birth for all current and former spouses, or civil or domestic partners;
  • Social media platforms and identifiers, also known as handles, used during the last five years; and
  • Phone numbers and email addresses used during the last five years.

 

Most of this information is already collected on visa applications but for a shorter time period, e.g. five years rather than fifteen years. Requests for names and dates of birth of siblings and, for some applicants, children are new. The request for social media identifiers and associated platforms is new for the Department of State, although it is already collected on a voluntary basis by the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) for certain individuals. Regarding travel history, applicants may be requested to provide details of their international or domestic (within their country of nationality) travel, if it appears to the consular officer that the applicant has been in an area while the area was under the operational control of a terrorist organization as defined in section 212(a)(3)(B)(vi) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, 8 U.S.C. 1182(a)(3)(B)(vi).

Applicants may be asked to recount or explain the details of their travel, and when possible, provide supporting documentation.” Quote from AILA.org, May 4, 2017.

Immigrants Successful In Challenging ICE Detention

Nationally, ICE is detaining immigrants who under previously administrations would not have been detained. For instance, spouses of US citizens who have filed for certain immigration benefits, for which they are eligible, are being detained at USCIS marriage interviews. While ICE has a legal argument for initial detention of these individuals, it often does not have a basis for continued detention. Moreover, in prior administrations, ICE did not detain individuals with valid immigration options for humanitarian reasons and also for economic reasons (that is, the wasted money of detaining an individual who will seek and win relief in bond proceedings).

Locally, three spouses of US citizens were detained in recent months at USCS in Lawrence. The New England Chapter of AILA reports that all three have been released through different means (one through attorney advocacy; another through a bond hearing in immigration court; and the final individual through a habeas corpus petition in federal court).

It is always smart to consult with an immigration attorney about your status. However, the current administration’s policies against immigrants makes it even more important that you talk with an immigration attorney about your status, especially before filing any applications with any government agency, before appearing at any hearing before a government agency, and before leaving the United States.

USCIS Policy Memo about Translators at USCIS Interviews

On January 17, 2017, USCIS published new guidelines on the use of translators at USCIS interviews. See https://www.uscis.gov/sites/default/files/USCIS/Laws/Memoranda/2017/2017-17-1-RoleUseInterpreters-PM-602-0125-1.pdf.

The policy sets forth requirements for the interpreter’s qualifications including fluency, competency and impartiality. The policy prohibits the use of an interpreter who is under the age of 18, who is a witness in the case, who is biased, or who is the applicant’s representative/attorney. There is a new form, Form G-1256, that must be completed and signed by the interpreter and the interviewee.

How Can I Check My USCIS Case Status Online?

USCIS Case Check Status Online

If you have an application pending with USCIS you should have received a Receipt Notice from USCIS. That notice will have an application form number, Receipt Number and a Priority Date or Received Date. Also, generally at the bottom left of the form, there will be a USCIS office listed. You can check the status of your case online by going to USCIS.gov/check case status and punching in the Receipt Number. You can compare your case’s processing with processing times for the same type of application at the same service center by going to https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/processTimesDisplayInit.do;jsessionid=bacXD1OC9RCyFagQNRyeu.

Contact Attorney Ellen Sullivan if you’d like to schedule a consultation to discuss your case. Contact her at Ellen@EllenSullivanLaw.com or call 617-714-4375.

May 2017 Visa Bulletin

https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/law-and-policy/bulletin/2017/visa-bulletin-for-may-2017.html

April 2017 Department of State Visa Bulletin

The US Department of State released the April 2017 Visa Bulletin. Find the Visa Bulletin, with priority dates for family-based and employment-based visas, at https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/law-and-policy/bulletin/2017/visa-bulletin-for-april-2017.html.

New White House Executive Order on Immigration

See the White House’s website for Trump’s latest Executive Order.

https://www.whitehouse.gov/the-press-office/2017/03/06/executive-order-protecting-nation-foreign-terrorist-entry-united-states

Apply for US Citizenship!

Now is the time to apply for US citizenship if you are eligible. Consult with me or another immigration attorney about your eligibility and check out USCIS.gov for information about the citizenship/naturalization test.

The basic requirements for citizenship are:

  1. Five or three years of “green card”/LPR/lawful permanent resident status. You need five years of “green card” status unless for the past three years you have been married to and living with your US citizen spouse. To qualify for the three year citizenship, you do not need to have obtained your green card through your spouse, but you do need three years of marriage and joint residence.
  2. 50% of your time in the US in past five or three years.
  3. Residence in the US for the past five or three years.
  4. No trips outside US for more than six months  unless you obtained permission to maintain your eligibility for citizenship or you can otherwise prove that you did not abandon your residence in the US.
  5. No outstanding US federal, state or local taxes due.
  6. No alimony or child support due.
  7. No bad acts in the past five or three years including alcohol/drug abuse (or use in the case of federally illegal drugs), no convictions for or even commission of certain crimes, no fraud or misrepresentation to any government official for any purpose, no unlawful voting.
  8. No open court cases, even for violations or crimes that would not make you ineligible for US citizenship

There are certain acts (generally criminal convictions and commissions) that make people permanent ineligible for citizenship. There are certain issues that make a person deportable/removable, but the person could still be eligible for citizenship. Because of the confusing nature of the law, make sure to talk with an immigration attorney before you file Form N-400. You do not need to hire the lawyer to represent you after the consultation, but you should understand your eligibility and any issues relating to your case before you file.

 

Immigration under Donald Trump

Donald Trump and his administration issued memoranda relating to the administration’s deportation/removal priorities. These memos do not change the definition of deportable, that is, reasons why someone could be deported from the US. However, the memos signal a drastic change from President Obama’s humane focus on immigrants with certain criminal backgrounds, to anyone who has ever made any criminal mistake (whether charged and whether convicted) and who has ever made any misrepresentation to a government agent. The memos leave no room for a compassion and reasonable immigration officer to determine that an individual may not have authorized status in the US, but nonetheless deserves to be considered for non-prosecution for deportation. In addition to making unrealistically broad priorities for deportation, the memos set forth the administration’s intention to authorize state and local law enforcement to enforce federal immigration law. Again, these memos do not change the law but they drastically change prosecutorial discretion and execution of the federal immigration laws.

Memos at https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/17_0220_S1_Enforcement-of-the-Immigration-Laws-to-Serve-the-National-Interest.pdf

and

https://www.dhs.gov/sites/default/files/publications/17_0220_S1_Implementing-the-Presidents-Border-Security-Immigration-Enforcement-Improvement-Policies.pdf

First they came and I did not speak out

First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.

Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.

Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.

Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.

Quote attributed to MARTIN NIEMÖLLER

Welcome Immigrants

Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed, to me:
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.

By Emma Lazarus

AILA New England Conference

As a member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA), I benefit from a wonderful, smart community of immigration lawyers in the New England Area. Each month our AILA chapter has a meeting on a timely topic, and each year, the chapter hosts an amazing conference. I am excited to attend this year’s conference on March 3. At the conference, I look forward to hearing from government officials about new policies and practices under the new administration.

The conference agenda is available at http://www.ailane.org/assets/cms/files/2016-2017/2017%20Conference/14th%20Annual%20AILA%20NE%20Conference%20Agenda%20(2016.12.15).pdf

Prepare for your N-400 English and Civics Tests

The English test and civics tests can be scary for some applicants. Some tips to get ready:

  1. Practice English as much as you can with as many people as you can!
  2. Check out USCIS’s N-400 guide at https://www.uscis.gov/citizenship/learners/study-test.
  3. Take a citizenship prep class.
  4. Talk with an attorney about your legal eligibility for US citizenship.

The Irish International Immigrant Center in Boston offers English language and civics classes. The classes are for people studying for their N-400 citizenship/naturalization test. Also, the classes are for people who have already submitted their N-400 Applications. Even if the applicant is working with me or another attorney on legal matters, the classes are a great way for any applicant to prepare for the test. Call theIrish International Immigrant Center at 617-542-7654, ext. 36. Or see http://www.iiicenter.org/ for more information!

Contact my office if you’d like to set up a legal consultation to talk about your eligibility for citizenship.

 

Trump Issues Anti-Immigrant Executive Orders

Yesterday Trump issued an aggressive, anti-immigrant, unrealistic executive order that seeks to build more detention facilities and a wall between the US and Mexico, that targets immigration enforcement against immigrants with “southern” violations, that hopes to charge unqualified local and states law enforcement officials with federal immigration jobs, and that takes away the dignity of millions of immigrants living in the US. Trump’s beliefs on immigration are unconscionable and, on a more practical level, absurdly out of touch with reality.

Yesterday’s presidential actions are available at https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions.

Today is a very sad day for our country.

Trump Vows to Build a Wall, Scare Immigrants, and Deny Help to Refugees

The new administration set the tone for immigration months ago. Today we see that it plans to continue its anti-immigrant stance. Check out the Boston Globe article at http://www.boston.com/news/politics/2017/01/24/trump-to-move-on-border-security-immigration-enforcement.

 

February 2017 Visa Bulletin

The new visa bulletin is available at https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/law-and-policy/bulletin/2017/visa-bulletin-for-february-2017.html.

USCIS Processing Times

About every month, USCIS publishes processing times for its decisions on most USCIS forms. Whenever you receive a receipt notice from USCIS, it should have an address at the bottom of the form (generally on the left side). That is the office that is processing the form. At the top of the form, there is a “receipt” or “priority” date. Check the status of your form by looking at the Processing Times for the office processing your form, checking the published date against your receipt or priority date. If USCIS is processing applications with a date BEFORE your date, then your application should be processed. If not, you can contact USCIS to request that it take action on the case.

See USCIS.gov for Processing times.

Happy New Year, New Fees and New Forms

Happy 2017! Make sure to check USCIS’s new versions of most forms and most new fees at USCIS.gov. USCIS will reject unauthorized versions of forms immediately and others after a cut-off date on February 17, 2017. USCIS will reject ALL applications that are not submitted the new, correct fees listed for each form.

N-400 Application Has New Required Form

USCIS has updated Form N-400 Application for Naturalization. As of December 23, 2016, USCIS will ONLY accept the new version. Also, as of December 22, 2016, USCIS will require the new fees to be paid for N-400 and all other USCIS forms that have been subject to the fee increase.

You can find the new USCIS Form N-400 here: https://www.uscis.gov/n-400

You can find the USCIS fee increase list here: https://www.uscis.gov/forms/our-fees

Whenever you send a form to USCIS, make sure to check the required form version on the day that you postmark the application. Likewise, whenever you submit fee to USCIS, make sure to the check the required fee on the day that you postmark the fee. Periodically USCIS changes form versions and sometimes eliminates earlier versions from being accepted. If you submit a form that is outdated or an incorrect fee, USCIS will almost always return the application and fee to you. Generally, you can refile the form and fee with the corrected version or fee. If you must file a form by a specific deadline, however, USCIS may not forgive a late form or fee that is the result of you having originally submitted the incorrect form version or fee.

 

 

DREAMers be wary

As stated by AILA, “This article from the Associated Press reports that some advocates are advising DACA recipients to make sure they are not traveling abroad when Donald Trump is sworn in as president on January 20, 2017, and quotes AILA President William Stock on how Trump could rescind the DACA program.”

 

See https://www.washingtonpost.com/national/fearing-trump-crackdown-dreamers-advised-to-end-travel/2016/12/11/c4ec6e08-bfad-11e6-a52b-a0a126eaf9f7_story.html?utm_campaign=RP%20Daily&utm_medium=Email&utm_source=Recent%20Postings%20Alert&utm_term=.53094c98b718.

January 2017 Visa Bulletin with Updated Priority Dates

The US Department of State publishes an updated Visa Bulletin each month with updated priority dates for family and employment based immigrant petitions.
The January 2017 Visa Bulletin is at https://travel.state.gov/content/visas/en/law-and-policy/bulletin/2017/visa-bulletin-for-january-2017.html.

What Can Trump Do On Day One?

Many of us are concerned about President-Elect Trump’s views on immigration (aside from his wife’s alleged misuse of her visa). Attached is information from the American Immigration Lawyers’ Association about what Trump could do with a “stroke of a pen” on the first day (or any day) of his Presidency.

As of the writing of this blog, however, no immigration laws or policies have been changed. If you ever hear about an immigration change and believe that it could affect you, consult with an attorney before you take any action in reliance on what you heard from friend, family, co-workers or other members of your communities.

12-5-2016-with-the-stroke-of-a-pen_-what-executive-branch-actions-can-president-elect-trump-_undo_-on-day-one_

Moving Forward After the Election

We are facing a new administration, and many immigrants, their families, their friends and their advocates face this change with uncertainty and even fear. At this point, no one can provide clear answers about whether, and how, the new administration will change laws. Right now, I’m finding some solace in the press statements made by  the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and what it plans to do to work with the administration in order to preserve policies that help hard-working, law-abiding immigrants deeply rooted in and needed by the United States and work towards expanding protections for immigrants who contribute to the rich, diverse life we are privileged to have in the United States.

See these attachments for some positive words.

aila-aila_-the-time-is-now-to-move-away-from-the-negative-rhetoric-and-commit-to-real-immigration-reform

aila-leadership-blog-the-american-people-have-elected-the-45th-president

Visa Bulletin – November 2016

Visa Bulletin is a monthly publication prepared by the US Department of State. It provides the availability of immigrant visa numbers during the month of publication.

Visa Bulletin is intended as a guide for consular officials, attorneys and immigrant visa applicants who would like to know if visas are immediately available for individuals in particular categories.

This Visa Bulletin summarizes the availability of immigrant visas for coming month of November.

USCIS Finalizes New Guidance for Extreme Hardship

USCIS finalized new guidance for “extreme hardship.” This standard is applied to many immigration processes, but most commonly to Form I-601 and Form I-601A. The guidance provides a long list of factors to consider when trying to prove extreme hardship to the qualifying relative.

You can find the guidance on the USCIS website.

USCIS Fees to Increase on 12/23/2016

Important notice! USCIS will increase most fees starting on December 23, 2016. This means that if you file Form I-130 or Form I-140 (“immigrant petition”), Form I-485 (adjustment of status, “green card”), Form I-129 (worker petition for visas including H1B and L), N-400 (citizenship) and many, many other forms, the fees will be increased starting on December 23, 2016. Any application postmarked on December 23 or after must include the increased fees.

You can see all of the new fees at the USCIS website.

Eligibility to Apply for a Green Card as a Refugee or Asylee

If you were granted a refugee or asylee status by the US, 1 year after your entry to the US as a refugee or asylee you become eligible to apply for a green card/permanent resident status.

1 year after being admitted to the US, refugees are required by law to apply for a permanent resident status. Although the asylees are not required to apply for a permanent resident status 1 year after being granted asylum status in the US, you should consult with an immigration lawyer to see if applying for a green card is your best option.

2-Year Employment Authorization Now Available for Asylum Applicants

If you are an asylum applicant and applied for your employment authorization for the first time or renewing your existing employment authorization on or after October 5, 2016, the validity period of employment authorization is now increased from 1 year to 2 years by the USCIS.

Visa Revocation Due to a DUI Arrest or Conviction in the US

Can a Consular Officer End Validity of a Visa due to a Driving Under the Influence (DUI) Arrest or Conviction while the visa holder is in the US?

The answer is yes. If a visa holder is arrested/convicted due to a DUI violation while physically present in the US, the Department of State’s consular officers may revoke the visa, meaning ending the validity of a visa without making a determination that the visa holder is inadmissible.

It is important to know that cancellation of a visa by the Department of State/consular officers does not override the visa status granted by Customs and Border Protection at the time of entry to the US or the visa holder’s stay in the US. However, the visa holder should know that the visa is not valid for future entries to the US if the visa holder travels outside the US. The individual has to apply for a new visa and demonstrate eligibility, which s/he may not be able to do on account of the DUI arrest/conviction.

Should I file to renew my permanent resident card if I have a pending N-400 naturalization application?

Yes, if your card will expire within six months of filing an N-400 form with the USCIS. No, if you file Form N-400 while your card is valid for at least 6 months. You must be eligible to file Form N-400 at the time you file, regardless of the expiration date of your “green card.”

If you file according to the above timelines, you will be able to obtain proof of your status—a stamp in your passport called “Alien Documentary Identification and Telecommunication” (ADIT) stamp as temporary proof of permanent residence.

Are you looking for legal assistance from an immigration attorney? Ellen Sullivan, P.T. is located in Cambridge, MA and specializes in immigration law. Call (617) 714-4375 or email ellen@ellensullivanlaw.com to schedule an appointment with Ellen.

$10 million in Grants to Fund Citizenship Preparation Services

USCIS recently funded many community-based organizations that help permanent residents prepare and apply for U.S. citizenship. Look at the information at the USCIS website to see where you may be able to get low-cost or free legal services relating to naturalization. In Boston, Massachusetts, the Irish International Immigrant Center is one of the organizations that recently received funding. Also, look at  Citizenship Resources to use web resources to learn more about the N-400 Application for Naturalization.

If you have complications (such as criminal convictions, tax issues, or lengthy periods of time outside of the US), you should consult with an immigration attorney about your eligibility for US citizenship. I have helped many LPRs with legal complications win citizenship, and I may be able to help you too.

Please visit Citizenship Resources to use web resources that provide learning materials to help permanent residents prepare for the naturalization process.

Change of Address Information (Form AR-11)

Why is it important to notify USCIS about your address change? 
First, federal law requires that all non-US citizens promptly notify USCIS and sometimes other agencies of changes in physical and mailing addresses. The address change must be reported to USCIS and sometimes other agencies like EOIR, ICE, and DOL within five days of the address change. Next, in order to make sure you receive all correspondence from USCIS and other agencies, you want to make sure that USCIS has your updated address. If you fail to report the address change and then miss an important USCIS notice, USCIS is likely to blame you for missing an appointment, interview, hearing or deadline.

 

How do I change my address with USCIS?

You can complete Form AR-11 and change your address on any pending application or petition by using Online Change of Address service.

Green Card Approved After I-130 Denied

In my practice, I work with many clients who require marriage-based “green card” applications (I-130 Petition for Alien Relative and I-485 Application to Register Permanent Resident).
Recently, I was hired to represent a couple after their own I-130/485 filing was not successful. They came to me with a denied I-130. We immediately re-filed a new I-130/485 package, and within months, we were scheduled for a hearing. In light of the very strong package that we submitted, the interview was very smooth and even fun, and the clients’ case was approved. This good news was especially welcome for the couple because they were expecting a baby only days after the interview!

US Citizenship Naturalization Civics Test

If you think that you are eligible for US citizenship, start studying for the naturalization civics test. There are many study documents available at the USCIS website.

Before you apply for US citizenship, contact my law firm or another immigration attorney and set up a meeting to discuss your eligibility. You may decide to file on your own, but it is always recommended to talk with an attorney before filing.

Naturalization Ceremonies at National Parks

On August 25, 2016, the National Parks Service partnered with the USCIS to celebrate their 100th anniversary with a series of naturalization ceremonies in national parks throughout the country.
To view a complete list of naturalization ceremonies held in national parks on August 25, please visit USCIS website.

I-601A Waiver Expanded to Include

What does the I-601A Waiver Do? The I-601A waiver helps someone avoid being barred from re-entry from the United States after she departs the US. Someone would be barred from re-entering the US for 3 years or 10 years if she had been present in the US for more than 180 days (3 years) or one year (10 years). This means that someone who is not eligible to get a green card in the US can apply for an I-601A waiver, get it approved, leave the US, and re-enter the US with the green card–without waiting 3 or 10 years outside the US. 
 
What Does the Expansion of the Waiver Do? USCIS expanded eligibility of the I-601A waiver to those who are statutorily eligible for an unlawful presence waiver under INA Sec. 212(a)(9)(B)(v). This means that if the green card applicant can demonstrate extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen or LPR spouse or parent, she may apply for and receive a provisional waiver, whether the basis for the immigrant visa is an employment-based preference category, a family-based preference category, the diversity visa lottery, or a special immigrant classification.
Can I Apply for the I-601A Waiver Now? It is important to speak with an immigration attorney to discuss whether you are statutorily eligible for the waiver and whether the facts of your case make it likely that you will be granted the waiver.
See AILA’s recent fact-sheet about the I-601A expansion.

I-94 Information Available Online

Did you know that I-94 information has been online since 2013? This means that when you enter the US, you no longer get paper I-94s. Instead, you must obtain your I-94 information at the CBP website.
You will not have I-94 information if you are a US citizen, lawful permanent resident, visa waiver entrant, and certain others.
It is a good idea to go to the Customs and Border Protection website shortly after you arrive to make sure that the I-94 information is correct. Sometimes, CBP makes mistakes in coding the manner of your entry, the date of your entry, or the length of your authorized stay.

Re-registracion para Salvadorenos con TPS

USCIS abrio el periodo de re-registracion para Salvadorenos con TPS. El periodo es desde el 8 de julio de 2016 hasta el 6 de septiembre de 2016. Para mantener el estatus de TPS, Salvadorenos con TPS tiene que registrarse durante este periodo. Para mas informacion, vea esta pagina en el sitio de USCIS.
USCIS opened the re-registration period for Salvadorans with TPS. The period runs from July 8, 2016 through September 6, 2016. To maintain TPS status, Salvadorans with TPS must register during this period. For more information, see this USCIS page.

New Edition of Form N-400, Application for Naturalization

As part of USCIS’s ongoing forms improvement initiative, effective April 13, 2016 USCIS revised Form N-400. The 9/13/13 version of Form N-400 can still be used until August 9, 2016.

Some of the changes include removing the 2D barcode technology from the form, removing parts that do not apply to certain applicants and providing additional instructions to help applicants identify what evidence they need to submit with the form and bring to the citizenship application interview.

Revised N-400 form can be accessed here: Form N-400

USCIS Extends and Re-designates South Sudan for Temporary Protected Status

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) announced the extension of Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for both (1) Sudan and (2) South Sudan for 18 months, from May 3, 2016 through November 2, 2017. Re-registration is REQUIRED during the the re-registration period from January 25, 2016 through March 25, 2016.

The ongoing armed conflict and extraordinary and temporary conditions that prompted the 2014 TPS re-designation have persisted, and in some cases deteriorated, and are still posing a serious threat to the personal safety of South Sudanese nationals if they were required to return to their country.

For further information on TPS, including guidance on the application process and additional information on eligibility, please visit the USCIS TPS Web page at http://www.uscis.gov/tps

Extreme Hardship Policy Guidance

USCIS has issued draft guidance relating to the “extreme hardship” requirement of certain waivers of inadmissibility. While this is still draft guidance, USCIS lays out numerous factors that any potential waiver applicant should consider, as well as hypothetical scenarios that USCIS would or would not deem to rise to the level of “extreme hardship” to a qualifying relative.

The draft guidance can be found here.

Credit Cards Payments Accepted for N-400 Applications Now

Effective September 24, 2015, you may pay for your N-400, Application for Naturalization, using a credit card. The N­400 is the only form that can be paid for by credit card using the G­1450, Authorization for Credit Card Transaction.

For further information please visit AILA.

Suspended Final Decision on Employment-Based I-485s

USCIS announced that final adjudication of employment-based I-485s is suspended for the remainder of FY2015 due to the statutory cap being reached for the employment-based preference categories. USCIS will accept current I-485s and resume final adjudication when visa numbers are available.

For more information please visit AILA.

Overworked Immigration Courts: New All-Time High Hearing Wait Times

According to the very latest information (end of August 2015) obtained from the U.S. Department of Justice, there is a backlog of 456,644 cases pending before the judges in the nation’s Immigration Courts. This means the court backlog has increased by more than 100,000 cases from the 344,230 that were pending at the beginning of FY 2014.

The average wait time for an individual in the Immigration Court’s pending cases list has also reached an all-time high of 635 calendar days. But this average wait time only measures how long these individuals have already been waiting, not how much longer they will have to wait before their cases are resolved.

For detailed information on the hearings scheduled and wait times by hearing location, please visit TRACImmigration.

Revised Procedure for Applicants Waiting to File for Adjustment of Status

Big news last week from the USCIS and DOS. Applicants with approved I-130s and I-140 immigrant visa petitions can now file for immigrant visas through the Department of State or adjustment of status through USCIS before their priority dates are current. The actual visa/green card/adjustment cannot be approved until the priority date is current, but filing ahead of time may allow for the visa/green card to be approved as soon as is available.

Until now, the immigrant visa/adjustment application could not be submitted until the priority date was current, which resulted in lengthy waits for approval during a period when the individual technically was eligible to already have the visa/green card in hand.

Visit the USCIS website for this important change.

Temporary Protected Status Designation for Yemen

Today, the Department of Homeland Security announced a Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Yemen for 18 months due to the ongoing armed conflict in the country.

Eligible nationals of Yemen residing in the United States may apply for TPS with the USCIS effective September 3, 2015 through March 3, 2017.

For further information about the eligibility requirements please visit www.uscis.gov/tps

DOL’s Response to Prevailing Wage Determinations & the Online Wage Library

The Department of Labor recently clarified a prevailing wage question that has been causing difficulties to employers for a long time.

Online Wage Library Guidance

Here is what the employers should do when the OFLC Online Wage Library displays “N/A” for each leveled wage covering a specific geographic area and occupational code: DOL FAQ on Prevailing Wages for H-1B, H-1B1 and E-3 Programs

Are you looking for an immigration attorney? Ellen Sullivan, P.C., is a Cambridge, Massachusetts immigration lawyer. She also practices non-profit law and Massachusetts medical marijuana law. Email Ellen at ellen@ellensullivanlaw.com or call 617) 714-4375 to get in touch with her today.

Deferred Action Requests: No AILA Liaison Currently Available

According to New England AILA, Homeland Security is no longer working with AILA’s liaison to help faciliate requests for Deferred Action. Clients should work directly with their attorneys, without AILA assistance, to request Deferred Action at the local Homeland Security offices.

AILA recently informed attorneys: “UPDATE FROM OUR HSI LIAISON REGARDING REQUESTS FOR DEFERRED ACTION: Unfortunately, the Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations has been reassigned to Washington, DC. Therefore, for the foreseeable future, HSI will no longer entertain requests for Deferred Action and/or Surrender Cases (to be placed in proceedings). When or if this policy changes, we will notify the membership.”

 

Is Shoplifting a Crime of Moral Turpitude? Not Always.

You may be wondering, “Is shoplifting a crime of moral turpitude in every situation?” The answer is no. An immigration judge in Georgia recently terminated removal proceedings against an LPR (lawful permanent resident) who had been twice convicted of shoplifting in Georgia. See full case decision here: Shoplifting Not CIMT IJ Case July 2015. The judge held that the convictions were not CIMTs or aggravated felonies. The reason was that the statute (Georgia criminal statute 16-8-14) was divisible into two parts–one involving temporary, not permanent, depravation of property to the owner.

Analyzing a Crime of Moral Turpitude and Immigration

Immigration law is extremely complicated and it can be difficult to asses a crime of moral turpitude and immigration. Though it is not correct to consider shoplifting a crime of moral turpitude in every situation, It is important to closely analyze any and all removal/deportation charges along with criminal convictions (or other criminal history) that is the basis of DHS’s charges of removability. Make sure to contact an immigration lawyer if you receive any notice to appear in an immigration court!

Are you in search of an immigration attorney? Ellen Sullivan, P.C., is an immigration and non-profit lawyer in Cambridge Massachusetts. Call her at (617) 714-4375 or email ellen@ellensullivanlaw.com to get in touch.

Marriage Equality!

US Supreme Court declared same-sex marriage legal throughout the United States!

AILA National Conference in Washington, D.C.

I will be co-presenting at the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s (AILA) National Conference in Washington, D.C.

The presentation will be on marijuana and immigration law, with a specific focus on how state legalization of various marijuana related activities may affect non-US citizens.

Here is more information about the presenters and AILA conference:

AILA 2015 Washington, DC Conference

US Supreme Court Fails to Help Bi-National Couple

BREAKING: High Court Says Visa Denials Not Open To Judicial Review

Share us on:   By Allissa Wickham

 

http://www.law360.com/immigration/articles/651007?nl_pk=2eb45903-66c1-4b69-9c1d-ce9dd6fe6548&utm_source=newsletter&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=immigration

 

Law360, New York (June 15, 2015, 10:25 AM ET) — The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday upheld the long-standing concept of consular nonreviewability by ruling that visa refusals cannot be subjected to court scrutiny, while also holding that the denial of a visa to a U.S. citizen’s spouse does not impact the citizen’s own constitutionally protected interest.

In a closely watched 5-4 ruling, the high court reversed the Ninth Circuit’s finding that a U.S. citizen, whose spouse’s visa application was refused for security reasons, has due process rights that allow her to seek judicial review, along with a broader explanation for the decision.

Justice Anton Scalia, writing in an opinion joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justice Clarence Thomas, said that because the U.S. citizen was not deprived of “life, liberty, or property” when the government denied the spouse admission to the U.S., there is no process due under the Consitution.

“To the extent that she received any explanation for the government’s decision, this was more than the Due Process Clause required,” Scalia wrote.

Justices Anthony Kennedy and Samuel Alito wrote their own concurring opinion.

The decision falls in line with the concept of consular nonreviewability, which holds that aliens outside the U.S. cannot have a consular officer’s denial of a visa reviewed by a court.

The case itself stems from an attempt by U.S. citizen Fauzia Din to secure a visa for her husband, Kanishka Berashk, a clerk for the Afghan Ministry of Education.

After Din filed Berashk’s visa petition in 2006, and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Serviceseventually told her that the visa petition was approved and her husband was scheduled for a visa interview at the embassy in Islamabad, Pakistan.

However, although the consular officer who interviewed Berashk said he should expect to receive his visa in two to six weeks, Berashk was instead informed nine months later that his visa had been denied.

The embassy later said the visa was rejected under a provision of the INA that deems a noncitizen ineligible for a visa due to terrorist activities, without providing a detailed explanation of the reasons for its decision. Din then filed suit in district court, but the case was dismissed on grounds of consular nonreviewability.

But the Ninth Circuit reversed the decision in May 2013, finding that without allegations of proscribed conduct, the government’s citation of the INA anti-terrorist provision wasn’t enough to deny the visa. The government subsequently filed a petition with the high court.

While Din argued that she has a constitutionally protected liberty interest in being able to choose where to live with her husband, and the government contended that nothing in the INA gives Din a right to judicial review of a visa denial.

Specifically, the government argued that Din has no liberty interest, under the INA or the due process clause, the is implicated by a visa denial to her foreign-born spouse. Further, an examination of the consular officer’s visa denial can’t be squared with consular nonreviewability, the government said.

“No such congressional authorization for review of visa denials exists,” the government argued. “Congress has not provided even for administrative review of a consular officer’s refusal of a visa.”

Several outside parties had weighed in on the case, with the National Immigrant Justice Center, the American Immigration Lawyers Association and Muslim rights organization the Council on American-Islamic Relations have all asking the high court to affirm the Ninth Circuit’s decision.

The government is represented by Edwin S. Kneedler, Deputy Solicitor General at the U.S. Department of Justice.

Din is represented by Mark Haddad and Heidi Larson Howell of Sidley Austin LLP.

The case is John F. Kerry, Secretary of State, et al. v. Fauzia Din, case number 13-1402, in the Supreme Court of the United States.

–Additional reporting by Kelly Knaub and Aaron Vehling.

USCIS Now Publishes Some International Processing Times

USCIS just announced that it now publishes processing times for I-130, I-131, and I-730 petitions processing at certain overseas offices. This is a great start to helping immigrants understand and manage expectations about what to expect when applying for immigration benefits at US embassies, consulates, and regional international offices. Immigrants, their families, and their attorneys will hope that USCIS publishes data about more forms that are processed overseas.

See: https://egov.uscis.gov/cris/ptIntlIntro.do to check out processing times at certain overseas USCIS offices.

Post-DOMA Immigration Law

Since the 2013 fall of DOMA (Defense of Marriage Act), the US federal government recognizes same sex marriages for the purpose of federal laws and benefits, including immigration law.

I have years of experience consulting same sex couples. Here are some quick highlights of certain issues that you should be aware of.

Post-DOMA Immigration Law

Volunteering at Irish International Immigrant Center

For the last eight years, I have been a volunteer attorney at the Irish International Immigrant Center (“IIIC”).
The IIIC holds free legal clinics a few times a month at various locations in Boston, providing free legal consultations and referrals to immigrants and their families.
I attend the clinic at the downtown IIIC location about once per month. I advise clients on a variety of immigration matters, refer them to private counsel, and help others set up their cases for direct representation by the IIIC. The clients with whom I meet are from all parts of the world, although the IIIC has special funding for representation of Irish citizens.
For volunteer and internship opportunities please visit IIC

US Supreme Court Limits Definition of “Controlled Substances” for Immigration Purposes

This week the US Supreme Court in Mellouli v. Lynch decided that an immigrant can only be found removable for convictions related to “controlled substances” where the substance is actually listed on the federal controlled substances list. In this case, Mellouli was convicted of a controlled substances violation in Kansas. In Kansas, the controlled substances list includes items not on the federal controlled substances listed. Mellouli was convicted of Kansas’s state crime of possession of unnamed pills and paraphernalia (a sock!). Because the pills and the socks were not on the federal controlled substances list, his conviction in Kansas–even for “drug” crimes–could not trigger removability under INA §237(a)(2)(B)(i).

 

 

TPS Somalia

USCIS released the following announcement:

“Temporary Protected Status Extended for Somalia

Release Date: June 01, 2015

WASHINGTON—Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for eligible nationals of Somalia (and eligible individuals without nationality who last habitually resided in Somalia) for an additional 18 months, effective Sept. 18, 2015, through March 17, 2017.

Current TPS Somalia beneficiaries seeking to extend their TPS must re-register during the 60-day re-registration period that runs from June 1, 2015, through July 31, 2015. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) encourages beneficiaries to re-register as soon as possible once the 60-day re-registration period begins. USCIS will not accept applications before June 1, 2015.

The 18-month extension also allows TPS re-registrants to apply for a new Employment Authorization Document (EAD). Eligible TPS Somalia beneficiaries who re-register during the 60-day period and request a new EAD will receive one with an expiration date of March, 17, 2017.

To re-register, current TPS beneficiaries must submit:

Applicants may request that USCIS waive the Form I-765 application fee and/or biometrics fee based on an inability to pay. To do so, applicants must file a Form I-912, Request for Fee Waiver, or submit a written request. Fee waiver requests must be accompanied by supporting documentation. USCIS will reject the TPS application of any applicant who fails to submit the required filing fees or a properly documented fee waiver request.

All USCIS forms are free. Applicants can download these forms from the USCIS website at uscis.gov/forms or request them by calling USCIS toll-free at 1-800-870-3676.

Additional information on TPS for Somalia —including guidance on eligibility, the application process and where to file—is available online at uscis.gov/tps.  Certain individuals who are not current TPS beneficiaries may be able to apply late for TPS under the Somalia designation.  Information on Late Initial Filing is also available at uscis.gov/tps. Further details about this extension of TPS for Somalia, including the application requirements and procedures, appear in a Federal Register notice published today.

Applicants seeking information about the status of their individual cases can check My Case Status Online, or call the USCIS National Customer Service Center at 1-800-375-5283 (TTY 1-800-767-1833).

For more information on USCIS and its programs, please visit uscis.gov or follow us on Twitter (@uscis), YouTube (/uscis) and the USCIS blog The Beacon.”

Congratulations to client and his family on 237(a)(1)(H) win in Boston Immigration Court!

Attorney Ellen Sullivan successfully represented a client on an application for 237(a)(1)(H) before Judge Gagnon at the Boston Immigration Court. The client was charged as removable (deportable) for fraud related to his immigration benefits. In addition, the client had two criminal dockets, neither of which resulted in criminal findings against him.

By painting a full picture of the client’s life with his wife and their young children, Attorney Sullivan was able to convince the Immigration Judge not to deport the client, despite his serious mistakes. By winning the 237(a)(1)(H) waiver, the client is able to maintain the lawful permanent residence status that he obtained years ago.

This is truly a happy ending for a deserving American family!

USCIS incorrectly sends approved I-130s to National Records Center

When your I-130 is approved, it should be sent to the National Visa Center if you will be consular processing your immigrant visa. Recently, applicants have reported that approved I-130 cases have been sent to the National Records Center instead of the National Visa Center. Clearly, this poses a problem for any consular processing application. For folks applying for I-601A provisional waivers of inadmissibility, this causes an additional problem of delaying their ability to file Form I-601A because it can only be filed after the applicant pays the immigrant visa fee to the National Visa Center (NVC).

USCIS has created an email address (for attorneys only) to notify USCIS when this problem occurs on a case. Please contact my office if your case involves this USCIS mistake so that I can help you resolve the problem quickly and correctly.

TPS Registration Deadline for Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone is May 20, 2015

The deadline for registration for TPS for Liberia, Guinea, and Sierra Leone is quickly approaching. USCIS must receive applications by May 20, 2015. I advise clients to file before the last day, but in all cases, by May 20, 2015. Clients should keep a full copy of the entire application package and send it via certified USPS or secure carrier such as Federal Express or DHS.

Note that TPS applicants must submit Forms I-821 and I-765 along with all required fees, supporting documents, and photos.

Additional information about TPS for these countries is available on the USCIS website: http://www.uscis.gov/news/alerts/tps-registration-deadline-liberia-guinea-and-sierra-leone-may-20-2015.

Don’t say you are US citizen and don’t vote unless you are!

There are extremely harsh and unforgiving penalties against immigrants who claim (in almost any way) to be a US citizen or who vote in (almost any) local, state or federal election in the US. The Board of Immigration Appeals recently upheld a removal (deportation) order against an immigrant (not a US ciitzen) who did not realize that voting was unlawful. For more information see Matter of Fitzpatrick, 26 I&N Dec. 559 (BIA 2015).

Board of Immigration Appeals Reverses Discretionary Denial of Adjustment

The Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) sustained the respondent’s appeal and found the immigration judge erred in denying his application for adjustment of status as a matter of the discretion. Unpublished BIA decision reverses discretionary denial of adjustment application upon finding respondent’s positive equities outweighed his conviction for driving while intoxicated and more than $1,200 in student debt. For more details please check Misumi case.

Take Action Today: Help a Mother and Her Daughter

Please take a moment to check the sign-on petition on AILA website and tell ICE you support the release of Melida and her four-year-old daughter Estrella from family detention in Karnes City, Texas.

The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) and her counsel will deliver the petition to ICE and DHS.

Contact Karen Lucas, klucas@aila.org, or Greg Chen, gchen@aila.org, with questions.

Attorney Ellen Sullivan Joined AILA’s Pro Bono Program

I recently joined American Immigration Lawyers Association’s (AILA) volunteer program to assist military members and their families on immigration matters. AILA generously devotes time and professional skills to public service.I am looking forward to actively support this program.
For further information on voluteer programs visit AILA Pro Bono

Attorney Sullivan Attended AILA New England Chapter Meeting

Attorney Sullivan has been an active member of the American Immigration Lawyers Association, AILA for almost ten years. AILA provides excellent opportunities for learning from experience colleagues on all matters related to the practice of immigration law.

On Thursday, April 9, 2015 Attorney Sullivan will attend AILA New England’s monthly chapter meeting. The topic of the meeting was asylum and featured Susan Raufer, Director of the Newark Asylum Office.

Attorney Sullivan represents many clients on asylum cases with a focus on gender-based and sexual-orientation based claims. Some cases have been lingering for almost three years without an interview. At the meeting, Attorney Sullivan learned why the cases are so backlogged.

Local DHS/ICE Changes Surrender and Deferred Action Requests

The local AILA chapter just announced that the current Special Agent in Charge of Homeland Security Investigations will be transferring to Washington, DC in June 2015 and that “as a result of a change in leadership, the future of the surrender and deferred action program is uncertain.” This means that local immigration attorneys and their clients may face more challenges when requesting ICE to issue Notices to Appear and to agree to Deferred Action. If you believe that you have a strong Surrender or Deferred Action case, you may want to consider immediately consulting with an immigration attorney who can help you meet the imminent deadlines for having your case reviewed locally.

Tufts University Takes Unconventional Stand to Provide Education to Undocumented Students

The Boston Globe reported this week that Tufts University announced a plan to recruit and provide 100% financial assistance to undocumented immigrants who are admitted to the university. The plan demonstrates a deep compassion for children who brought to the U.S. at very young ages, grew up in the U.S., excelled in school, and upon graduation face the bleak reality that without immigration status, their options for education and employment are severely limited, if not non-existent. Opponents of Tufts’ plan point out that many U.S. citizens and/or documented immigrants face enormous challenges in financing education at private secondary institutions. 

What are your thoughts on this complex dilemma? 

Boston and Cambridge Challenge the Court Injunction Against DACA & DAPA

The temporary court decision to block President Obama’s immigration programs have been challenged by over 70 municipal leaders nationwide. Recently, Boston’s Mayor Marty Walsh and the City of Cambridge joined to challenge the injunction against DAPA and DACA, proposed by President Obama to help long-time immigrant residents of the U.S. obtain basic immigration status.

Nationwide local leaders indicate that: “Local officials witness every day the contributions that immigrants make to their neighborhoods and communities, as well as the harms that result from keeping long-time residents of those neighborhoods and communities in the shadows due to their immigration status.”

Very Helpful Practice Advisory on Inspection, Entry and Admission

In this recently issued practice update below, the American Immigration Council summarizes a case where an individual who entered without inspection, clarifies the meaning of admission in different circumstances and discusses possible immigration consequences.
For more information about this practice advisory please visit the American Immigration Council website.

March 24, 2015

Washington, D.C. – The American Immigration Council is pleased to release an updated version of its practice advisory Inspection, Entry and Admission. This Practice Advisory has been updated to include a summary of arguments to be made on behalf of an individual who entered without inspection, subsequently was granted Temporary Protected Status, and now seeks to adjust his or her status. The basis for this argument—and for the court decisions which have adopted it—is that a grant of TPS satisfies the requirement in the adjustment statute that the applicant has been “admitted” to the U.S.

The advisory also discusses of the meaning of “admission” in three frequently encountered situations: when an individual is “waved through” a port of entry with no questions asked; when an individual gains entry through a misrepresentation; and when an individual gains entry by making a false claim to U.S. citizenship. With respect to each, the advisory addresses whether an admission has occurred; what the noncitizen’s status is upon entry; what possible immigration consequences there are to such an entry; and what impact this type of entry may have on a DACA application.

Attorney Ellen Sullivan Quote in the Daily Beast

The Daily Beast quoted Attorney Ellen Sullivan in a story about removal proceedings against Mustafa Ozseferoglu, a co-worker/acquaintance of the Boston Marathon bombers. In short, Attorney Sullivan stated that Mr. Ozseferoglu’s immigration case would be extremely difficult without any association–innocent or not– with the Marathon bombers. That is, in a “cancellation of removal” case such at Mr. Ozseferoglu’s case, the burden on the immigrant is extremely—almost unreasonably–high. With the specter of an illicit association with the alleged perpetrators of the Boston marathon tragedy, Mr. Ozseferoglu and his attorney face considerable challenges to successfully arguing that the United States should grant Mr. Ozseferoglu lawful status in this country.

US Government Tries to Continue expanded-DACA and DAPA roll-out despite injunction

A Texas federal district court issued an injunction against the US government from implementing its expanded-DACA and new DAPA programs. In response, the US governmentn filed an emergency request to stay that injunction. If the US’s order is granted, then it would be able to begin to receive expanded-DACA applications.

AILA maintains frequent updates about this issue. Check out AILA’s website for more information about this issue and other immigration issues.

Marijuana Law at AILA Conference

This week, I’m working on final drafts of an article that will be presented at the AILA National Conference in Washington, DC in June. The article and the June presentation discusses how, and if, non-US citizens in the US can exercise their state rights to use marijuana medically and, in Colorado and Washington, recreationally. This is a fascinating example of conflict of laws that has drastic, if not devastating, effects on immigrants who choose to use state-legal marijuana.

Any non-US citizen immigrant should think carefully before using marijuana in states where it is legal. Remember that state-legal marijuana is still illegal under federal law. Violations of federal drug laws can result in loss of immigration status, revocation of US visas, removal from the US, and denial of applications for adjustment of status (green cards) and citizenship.

Hopes Dashed for Work Permits and Legal Status

Many immigrants and supporters of the immigrant community received a wonderful 2014 Thanksgiving gift from President Obama–expanded DACA, the new DAPA program, and other changes in immigration policies. However, this week, hopes were dashed for many immigrants in Massachusetts and throughout the country. See a recent Boston Globe article about Boston immigrants’ responses to this dramatic court order.

As the week wraps up, I have files on my desk containing applications that cannot be filed. My clients, their families, and I are all disheartened by this unjust turn of events. I have hope that the application process will open up again soon. Until then, immigrants can still prepare applications, but must not submit them until USCIS provides further guidance on its response to the injunction against filing expanded DACA applications.

 

Federal District Court Blocks USCIS Implementation of Expanded DACA

The USCIS website recently reported: “Due to a federal court order, USCIS will not begin accepting requests for the expansion of DACA on February 18 as originally planned. The court’s temporary injunction, issued February 16, does not affect the existing DACA. Individuals may continue to come forward and request an initial grant of DACA or renewal of DACA under the guidelines established in 2012.”

This means that President Obama’s executive action on immigration is being challenged by the courts, and that those challenges are delaying some immigrants’ ability to access immigration benefits that have lawfully been made available to them. If you planned on applying for expanded DACA, please check USCIS frequently for updates and/or consult your immigration attorney about this unfortunate turn of events.

Tips: What to Wear to Court

It is common knowledge that when attending court, you should dress respectfully. What isn’t common knowledge is what dressing respectfully entails. In general, respectful clothing for court includes clothing that is modest, clean and that fits you well. The goal is to allow the judge to notice you and your message, not your appearance. Below are court attire tips for anyone attending a court hearing or USCIS interview.
You should wear business attire, such as a suit, dress pants with a formal shirt and blazer, dress, or skirt with a blouse, sweater or button-up shirt. If you decide to wear a skirt, make sure that it is no more than two inches above your knee. You should match your outfit with business casual, clean shoes.
Other general tips:
  • Do not wear heavy make up
  • Wear a shirt with a modest neckline
  • Steer clear of distracting jewelry
  • Pull your hair back so that it is out of your face
  • Tuck in your shirt
  • Keep cologne to a minimum
  • Remove visible piercings
  • Cover up visible tattoos

You Should Never Wear:

  • Shorts
  • Hats
  • Sleeveless, see-through, or halter tops
  • Flip flops, sandals, or sneakers
  • Clothing that exposes your midriff
  • Ripped or torn jeans
  • Baggy pants that fall below your hips
  • Clothing that promotes illegal or inappropriate activity

Remember that you are trying to convince the judge or officer that you respect the importance of hearing or interview. Let your appearance reflect that respect.

Ellen Sullivan Published in The List

Attorney Ellen Sullivan posted a post about the effects of President Obama’s executive actions in Boston Queer Agenda’s weekly publication The List. To read her missive, subscribe to the List, or continue reading below.

 

President Obama’s recent immigration announcement is exciting for many folks who for many years have lived and worked in the US and, during that time, given themselves to communities here in the U.S. By allowing some undocumented immigrants that have children who are US citizens or lawful permanent residents to obtain temporary status in the US, President Obama demonstrates his commitment to keeping families together and avoiding devastating deportations of US children’s parents. A summary of the President’s plan is here.
The President’s plan takes much-needed humanitarian action to address the dire unfairness of keeping millions of our neighbors in the shadows. However, the new policies have serious shortcomings. First, the President’s offer of “work permits” requires vulnerable individuals to declare their undocumented status to the government, without any information about how the government will deal with their situations once the “work permits” expire in three years. It is important for individuals who may apply for the “work permit” to consider how they will be affected if/when the government ends the program. That is, what will these folks do if the government puts them into deportation proceedings after the work permits expire? For many, the opportunity to come out of the shadows-even temporarily-is worth the risk of potential detention and/or deportation. For others, such as those who fear persecution in their home countries, the stakes are much higher.
Also, the new policies fail to help many individuals and families, especially LGBT families without children and those families where a parent may not be the biological or legal parent of a child. The Huffington Post reported on this issue here.
I applaud the President’s action, yet I hold out hope for broader action that will help more of my neighbors to live more freely and productively. Feel free to get in touch with me if you have questions: Attorney Ellen Sullivan at Ellen@EllenSullivanLaw.com and 617-714-4375.

 

DHS to Expand Opportunities for High-Skilled Businesses and Workers

The Department of Homeland Security will give businesses more flexibility to hire highly skilled foreign-born workers through President Obama’s executive actions.

As an update to the current employment-based immigrant visa system, the Secretary of Homeland Security has directed USCIS to consider a few practical changes. According to his direction, USCIS ought to issue all of the immigrant visas available to qualified applicants, rather than letting many go unused. Furthermore, USCIS will update its practice for when it makes such visa applications available throughout the year. The Secretary also recommended that USCIS consider any other potential changes that would make the application process more accessible and stable to any such highly-skilled applicants and beneficiaries.

Read more about how DHS is attempting to support high-skilled workers and the businesses that hire them.

Expansion of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), which continues to implement President Obama’s proposed immigration executive action, will expand the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Program. Under this program, the DHS uses its power of prosecutorial discretion on a case-by-case basis for deferred action concerning undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States as children. As a result of the President’s executive action, the program will no longer require—among other things—eligible immigrants to have been born after June 15, 1981, and the entry date for these individuals has been pushed back from June 15, 2007 to January 1, 2010.

 

Read more about the proposed changes to the DACA program, and please feel free to contact our office if you have any questions.

Many LGBT Families Feel Left Out of President’s New Immigration Plan

President Obama’s new immigration plan focused on keeping families together and avoiding devastating deportations of the parents of children. However, the plan does not help families that do not have children. Also, the plan does not help the parents of US citizen children or lawful permanent resident children, when the parents are not the biological or legal parents. The Huffington Post reports that LGBT advocates say that these exclusions disproportionately affect LGBT families.

DHS Announces Revised Removal Priorities

As part of President Obama’s proposed immigration executive actions, the Department of Homeland Security has announced revised removal priorities as applied to illegal immigrants. Among those illegal immigrants whom the DHS plans to focus their resources on removing are convicted felons, national security threats, immigrants apprehended at the border, and those who entered unlawfully after January 1, 2014. President Obama summarized these removal priorities by stating that the United States government would focus on deporting “felons, not families.”

Follow the link for DHS’s memorandum on these revised removal priorities and further details: DHS Revised Removal Priorities.

President to Speak on Immigration Reform

After weeks of speculation surrounding the proposed use of executive authority, President Obama announced an address that would outline his plans for unilaterally passing immigration reform, The New York Times reports.

Reports have indicated that up to 5 million undocumented immigrants could receive work permits and additional protection from deportation as a result of the President’s authority. However, those individuals covered by the executive action would still not be granted full legal status and would not have access to government subsidized health care coverage or other benefits.

President Obama’s proposed use of executive authority comes after his mounting frustration with House and Senate Republicans for not passing meaningful immigration reform. Republicans–who will wield a Congressional majority beginning in January–plan to fight and overturn the President’s executive action, arguing that the President is using his authority too broadly.

Details of the reform will be discussed in the President’s address, which will give a clearer view of the impact of the executive action both in terms of immigration reform and political fallout.

The address is scheduled for 8:00 p.m. EST on Thursday, November 20.

Office Relocation

Just a brief—but important—announcement:

I have officially completed my office relocation to 111 Rice Street in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

After months of working diligently to establish my new practice, I am very excited about this new space, and it is my hope that it will allow me to better represent my clients with a more accessible office and workable space for both myself and others. Relocating to this new office will give me even more time to focus on my passion: helping individuals and businesses navigate the demands of their immigration matters. I would like to thank everyone who has made this transition possible (and so seamless!), as well as my clients who inspire me to come to work every day.

We plan to continue updating both our office space and online presence, so please check back often. Feel free to contact me with your immigration related matters, and I hope to hear from you soon!

Kicking Off the Blog

The Law Office of Ellen Sullivan opened in September 2014 as a solo law practice so that I may represent individuals, families, and businesses primarily on immigration matters. I have practiced law since 2005, representing hundreds of families and businesses with their immigration needs, including H1B visas, family based petitions, K-1 visas, and I-751 petitions. Since the fall of the Defense of Marriage Act last year, I have also expanded my practice to represent same-sex families on their immigration petitions.

As part of my legal practice, I plan to maintain this blog as a medium to share some of the knowledge that I have acquired throughout my practice. I will also share news articles that are of particular relevance to my practice and clients.

Please feel free to leave comments on the blog, or visit my Facebook and LinkedIn pages for more announcements and information. If you would like to contact my office, please either use the contact submission form on the website, or call my office directly.

-Ellen

Come work with us!

Please use our simple online scheduling tool to request a consultation or contact us directly with further questions.
We look forward to partnering with you to resolve your immigration concerns.

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Marriage-Based Green Card Document Guide

We work hard to make your immigration case easy for you. Use this easy guide to help you organize the documents that you would use if you are eligible to submit an application for a marriage-based green card application. You should consult with an attorney to figure out if you are eligible for a green card before you submit any applications or documents to the U.S. government.