Articles Posted in Green Card/Perm. Residence

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'Blue Nile Falls Ethiopia' by Jialiang Gao www.peace-on-earth.org (Original Photograph) [GFDL (http://www.gnu.org/copyleft/fdl.html), CC-BY-SA-3.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/) or CC-BY-SA-2.5 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/2.5)], via Wikimedia CommonsAlthough allegations of fraud and abuse have caused a decline in international adoptions worldwide, they remain popular for prospective adopters in the United States. While some countries have taken steps to prevent fraud and have seen the number of international adoptions decrease, other countries have apparently risen in popularity because they present fewer restrictions. This can lead, in some cases, to corruption and fraud, and the risk that a false statement made by someone filing paperwork abroad could eventually hurt the adopted child in some future immigration application or petition.

The United States became subject to the Hague Convention on Protection of Children and Co-operation in Respect of Intercountry Adoption (the “Hague Convention”) in 2008. It establishes transparency procedures and safeguards to protect children in adoptions between countries. The U.S. State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) deal with petitions for international adoptions. In addition to the family court procedures in a prospective adopter’s state of residence, USCIS requires a series of steps in order to obtain approval for an international adoption. It has one procedure for adoptions conducted under the Hague Convention, and another for non-Hague “orphan” adoptions. The State Department handles petitions for visas, filed at an embassy or consulate abroad, to legally bring the child to the U.S. Once the child has a visa and arrives in the U.S., the adoptive parents may adjust the child’s status to permanent residence, and the child may eventually be eligible for citizenship.
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View of the New York City skyline as seen from Stevens Institute of TechnologyTechnology companies have taken steps on their own to promote immigration reform. They recently encouraged members of Congress to ease restrictions on immigration and pass reform legislation, including the DREAM Act, which came up for a vote in 2010 but did not pass. Tech companies in California have also begun to provide financial assistance to undocumented college students, helping them attend school, develop careers, and find legal immigration status.

Bills relating to technology, internet, and intellectual property issues have nearly monopolized the news of late. The primary purpose for the trip to Washington by the tech companies’ trade group, the Silicon Valley Leadership Group, was to discuss the Cyber Intelligence Sharing and Protection Act (CISPA) and other similarly-controversial bills. Immigration reform is central to their agenda, however, since they want to draw talent from as broad a pool as possible. If students from around the world can come to the United States to study technology subjects, the group argues, and they can remain here after they graduate to start their careers, America will attract the “best and brightest” tech employees. This will preserve and improve America’s competitiveness on the world stage.

A group of tech companies, reportedly tired of waiting for reform from Congress, have started their own set of programs to help undocumented youths. Several companies have funded scholarships and supported organizations that provide assistance to undocumented students. One group, Educators for Fair Consideration (E4FC), offers scholarships and counseling to students who arrived illegally in the U.S. as children.

The tech companies are exploring ways to provide job experience and mentoring to undocumented students without violating federal employment laws. Employers can face both civil and criminal penalties for knowingly employing an undocumented immigrant. Unpaid internships with tech companies, while far from ideal for college students, could offer a way to connect students to employers without specifically violating immigration employment laws. Companies could later sponsor their interns for work visas.
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Wedding cake of a same sex marriageAn immigration judge in Houston, Texas granted a reprieve to a Costa Rican man facing deportation based on the man’s marriage to a United States citizen. What makes this case unusual is that the man, David Gonzalez, is in a same-sex marriage. The judge’s decision is reportedly the first of its kind in Texas, and is part of a growing trend nationwide of immigration judges dismissing or deferring deportations based on same-sex marriage to a U.S. citizen. Despite the peace of mind Gonzalez must feel knowing he will not be deported, he still does not qualify for any particular immigration benefits, since federal law does not officially recognize same-sex marriages. This puts him in a sort of “twilight zone,” unable even to obtain employment authorization.

Gonzalez says that he arrived in the U.S. in 2000, coming from Costa Rica on a tourist visa in order to get away from an abusive former partner. He met Mario Ramirez, a U.S. citizen, about six years later. They got married in California in 2008 during the brief window when the state allowed same-sex marriage. They moved to the Houston area not long after that.

The government sought to deport Gonzalez for lacking legal immigration status, since he overstayed his tourist visa. The federal Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), passed by Congress and signed by President Bill Clinton in 1996, prevented Gonzalez and Ramirez from obtaining an immigrant visa and green card for Gonzalez as the spouse of a U.S. citizen. DOMA prevents the federal government and its agencies from recognizing the validity of same-sex marriages. The decision by the Obama administration not to defend DOMA allows judges and other officials some leeway, but the law still prohibits nearly all benefits to same-sex couples that opposite-sex couples receive.

Now that Gonzalez has a reprieve, he still cannot obtain any affirmative immigration benefits. His marriage to Ramirez does not allow him to petition for an immigrant visa, and he cannot obtain a green card. In the case of opposite-sex couples, the spouse of a U.S. citizen can petition for an immigrant visa. U.S. citizen spouses are not subject to an annual numerical limit, so the waiting time is typically very short, as in weeks instead of years in many cases. While the immigrant spouse petitions for a visa, the citizen spouse can apply to adjust the immigrant’s status to that of a legal permanent resident, commonly known as a green card. Unless Gonzalez finds a different means of legal immigration, he may remain in the United States but cannot enjoy most of the benefits of legal immigration status. Perhaps most importantly, he has no way of obtaining work authorization.
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434537_83650076_03112012.jpgPolice in Elizabeth, New Jersey arrested a woman for allegedly posing as an attorney and offering legal services to immigrants to assist them in filing documents with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Prosecutors in Union County then charged Mariza Chavez, age 44, with theft by deception and numerous other charges.

Chavez allegedly operated an organization from several addresses in Elizabeth that purported to offer immigration legal services. Posing as an attorney, prosecutors say, Chavez would charge between $80 and $6,000 for a variety of immigration services, which they say she was neither licensed nor trained to provide. She has reportedly operated such a group in Elizabeth for at least five years, and may have operated a similar organization in New York in the past. It is not clear if she actually filed applications with USCIS on behalf of her “clients,” but the Star-Ledger reports that, whenever anyone inquired about their applications, Chavez would give “various explanations for the rejections” and say she had received a refund of the fee.

An attorney representing three of Chavez’s alleged victims reported the matter to the Union County Prosecutor’s Office in September 2011. Investigators have reportedly interviewed ten possible victims and are examining immigration applications Chavez may have filed.

Prosecutors charged Chavez with multiple third degree crimes, including several counts of theft by deception, relating to the alleged false pretenses of claiming to be a lawyer, and failure to make a required disposition of property, for retaining money paid for legal fees and expenses. They also charged her with the fourth degree offense of unauthorized practice of law.

Immigration legal services are a ripe field for unscrupulous individuals seeking to defraud members of the immigrant population. This can be a case of members of a specific immigrant community targeting other members, or someone advertising fraudulent services to immigrants in general. Most often, fraudulent schemes involve offers to assist with immigration paperwork such as visa or green card applications, and may include some guarantee of fast or preferential service.

Generally speaking, only licensed attorneys are legally authorized to provide immigration services to the public. This includes drafting and filing petitions for visas or green cards, applications for citizenship by naturalization, representation in any sort of matter before an immigration judge, and legal advice on any specific immigration issue. No one, unfortunately, can offer any specific advantage in getting an application processed quickly or guaranteeing approval. United States immigration law is extremely complex, and it can even be difficult to understand for lawyers who do not focus their practice on immigration law.
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1329056_54448191_02242012.jpgLidiane Carmo, a 15 year-old undocumented immigrant from Brazil, learned on Tuesday, January 31 that a massive auto accident on Florida’s Interstate 75 had killed her entire immediate family. The family was headed home to Georgia after a conference in Orlando, Florida when the accident occurred on January 29. A brush fire allegedly caused such severe smoke and smog that drivers on the highway near Gainesville were blinded. In all, eleven people died and eighteen more, including Carmo, were injured. The girl’s parents, 17 year-old sister, uncle, and uncle’s girlfriend lost their lives in the crash.

Concerns immediately arose that, with no immediate family and no legal immigration status, the government would move to deport Carmo to Brazil. A spokeperson for Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) issued a statement dispelling any rumors of any intent to deport her, saying that “reports of her facing deportation are completely false.”

Carmo’s family came to the United States from Brazil on nonimmigrant visas twelve years ago, when she was a toddler. They remained after their visas expired, and have resided here ever since. According to relatives, the family wanted to obtain legal immigration status, but no laws allowed them to do so. Friends and relatives describe Carmo as being a “regular American girl” who just “wasn’t born here.” She can barely speak Portuguese and has little knowledge of Brazil, according to a pastor at her church in Marietta, Georgia. Members of her church have expressed readiness to fight to help her gain citizenship, which may be possible through a special status granted to juveniles under the immigration laws.

ICE specifically cited the Obama administration’s policy, announced last year, of using discretion in pursuing removal cases, focusing on violent criminals and threats to national security. A memorandum dated June 17, 2011 from ICE Director John Morton outlines positive and negative factors to consider in deciding whether to pursue removal of a particular person. People who are low on the list of priorities may never face a deportation action. This gives people like Carmo an opportunity to look at options for obtaining legal status.
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310312_5696_02022012.jpgA judge in Queens sentenced a family of three to a total of 418 years in prison for a series of scams that cost fellow immigrants $1.8 million. Shane and Gomatee Ramsundar and their adult daughter Shantal were charged with grand larceny and other related offenses. They were convicted in November. Shane Ramsundar received a 235-year sentence, the maximum allowed by law. His wife Gomatee received a 153-year sentence, and their daughter received a 30-year sentence. The family is originally from Trinidad in the Caribbean, and their victims are also immigrants from Trinidad and other Caribbean countries.

According to prosecutors, Shane Ramsundar would pose as an agent of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) working with the FBI. He would approach fellow immigrants in Hindu temples in Queens. Appealing to their religious faith, he would allegedly present a fake badge and ID card. He also carried an air gun to complete the disguise. Prosecutors allege that he would play on the trust engendered by the fact that they were all immigrants from the West Indies. Part of the scam reportedly involved offers to purchase distressed properties in Florida with his purported government connections, then transfer the deeds to his victims. He collected around $1.5 million from ten individuals in this phase of the scam.

Ramsundar also allegedly claimed that he could help the victims obtain legal immigration status and remove their names from deportation schedules and terrorist watch lists using his government connections. He received over $250,000 from twelve victims in this phase, some of whom also gave him money for the real estate scam. In all, he was accused of collecting $1.8 million from nineteen victims. Gomatee Rasmundar reportedly assisted in convincing victims that her husband could obtain immigration benefits for them, and Shantal Rasmundar allegedly laundered the money they received through various bank accounts.

Prosecutors charged the three with 34 criminal counts including grand larceny, money laundering, criminal impersonation, and more in March 2010. All three pleaded not guilty. A jury convicted them of grand larceny and other charges in November 2011, and the sentencing was done in mid-January 2012.

Their case demonstrates the risk posed to many immigrants because of the complexity of our immigration system. Unscrupulous con artists may prey on immigrants, particularly those who lack legal immigration status, offering them assistance in obtaining green cards or other benefits in exchange for cash. This immigration law blog has reported on efforts by the government to educate people about common types of scams that target immigrants.
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251751_6443_02022012.jpgThe federal government has traditionally handled both establishing and enforcing the nation’s immigration laws. Since its creation, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has had authority over immigration enforcement. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) processes applications and petitions for visas, green cards, naturalization, and other benefits. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) investigates individuals they suspect of being present in the United States without proper documentation, or “illegally” as some might say. Article I of the U.S. Constitution places authority over laws affecting citizenship and “aliens” squarely in the federal government’s jurisdiction. More and more state governments, however are passing their own laws regarding enforcement of immigration laws. These state laws could conflict with federal law, cause civil rights violations, and have many other unforeseen consequences affecting immigrants and citizens alike.

A bill introduced in Missouri by Republican State Senator Will Kraus would expand immigration enforcement beyond just local law enforcement. Under the bill, school officials would also be required to check their students’ immigration status. State and local police would be required, during stops, to check immigration status if there is “reasonable cause.” Failure to carry documentation of immigration status or citizenship would also be punishable as a misdemeanor.

The bill is similar to laws passed in the last few years in Arizona and Alabama. These laws make state and local law enforcement responsible for verifying immigration status of people stopped or arrested, and in some cases the laws might even allow police to stop a person based solely on suspicion of some immigration violation. Federal courts have blocked enforcement of some parts of the laws, and the U.S. Supreme Court will consider the constitutionality of Arizona’s law later this year. Still, the mere passage of these laws has had a profound impact on immigrant populations in both states, and that impact has affected everybody else.

Senator Kraus has explained that his bill is part of an effort to calculate the cost to Missouri of efforts by the state government and local governments to enforce federal immigration laws. He has previously tried to get the state Attorney General to sue the federal government to recover the state’s expenses incurred in immigration enforcement. He claims that the bill is not intended to prevent immigrant children from attending school. A 1982 U.S. Supreme Court decision affirmed the right of children, no mater what their immigration status may be, to attend public school. The bill’s requirement that school officials check students’ immigration status is allegedly part of a bigger plan to enable the Missouri Board of Education to calculate the cost of educating undocumented students.
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824603_31220029_01252012.jpgA bill that seeks to lift certain restrictions on visas for highly-skilled immigrant workers met with substantial bipartisan support in the House of Representatives, but has stalled in the Senate. It has also generated controversy among immigrants, some of whom worry it will lead to favoring of certain countries over others. The Fairness for High-Skilled Immigrants Act passed the House by a vote of 389 to 15 in November. In the Senate, Republican Chuck Grassley of Iowa held it up with various amendments after raising concerns about its effect on the availability of jobs for workers already present in the U.S. The main issue raised by the bill is its effect on visa applicants, who face varied waiting periods based on their home countries.

The United States grants 140,000 employment-based visas each year, and immigration officials cannot give more than seven percent of the total number of visas to applicants from any one country. This applies regardless of the total population of the country or the total number of applications received from that country. Prospective immigrants from countries that have few total applicants, therefore, may only have to wait a short while to get a visa. Applicants from high-volume, often referred to as “oversubscribed,” countries may encounter a waiting period lasting years. High-population, high-volume countries like the Philippines and India have exceptionally long waiting periods.

The new bill does not increase the total number of authorized visas, but it does remove the per-country quota of seven percent. Under the new law, visas would be granted essentially on a first-come, first-served basis. This would help many immigrants currently in the United States who are living in a sort of limbo, but it could also increase wait times for other applicants.

Many immigrants currently live in the United States on temporary worker visas and are waiting for a decision on an employment-based visa application. The employment-based visa offers a way to obtain legal permanent residence, commonly known as a green card. Permanent residents may eventually apply to become United States citizens. People who are here on temporary workers visas, however, are very limited in their options. They cannot change jobs, and visa restrictions make it difficult to plan for the future. They must renew their visas every two years. For immigrants from high-volume countries, who might wait years for a decision on a green card, this places them in a sort of “twilight zone.” A removal of the seven percent limit could significantly speed up the review of their applications.
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New York and New Jersey lawmakers introduced a bill in Congress last week that would help a group of Indonesians remain legally in New Jersey, where they have lived under a conditional agreement with the federal government for years. About seventy Indonesian immigrants recently received deportation letters from Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), according to the Wall Street Journal. The ICE letters either warn the immigrants of the agency’s intent to deport them, or they explicitly instruct them to come to the nearest ICE office with a one-way ticket to Indonesia. The immigrants have lived in a sort of legal gray area for years, lacking official immigrant status. The proposed legislation, the Indonesian Family Refugee Protection Act, would allow Indonesians meeting certain criteria to reapply for asylum, which could give them a chance at full legal permanent residence.

Most of the affected individuals are Christians who came to the United States in the late 1990’s. They were fleeing from instability and religious persecution in Indonesia, which has the world’s largest Muslim population and a history of political and economic upheavals. They mostly came on tourist visas and were able to get work authorization and Social Security numbers. They largely settled in New Jersey, but communities also formed in New York and New Hampshire.

These Indonesian immigrants have truly settled in the United States. They have jobs, they pay taxes, and they have U.S.-born, and therefore U.S. citizen, children. Many applied for asylum, but the applications were denied as untimely. In 2003, federal authorities implemented a program in response to the terror attacks of September 11, 2001, that required adult males from fifteen countries with large Muslim populations to register with the government. The immigrants complied with this requirement. Then, in 2006, ICE began deporting Indonesians.

A minister in Highland Park, Rev. Seth Kaper-Dale, intervened on behalf of a group who sought refuge in his church. Immigration authorities agreed to allow “conditional supervision” of the Indonesians. This allowed them to continue living and working in the United States while they “tried to sort out their paperwork.” This is the legal gray area under which they have lived for years.

The deportation letters started coming several months after the Obama administration announced a new policy of “prosecutorial discretion,” under which it will focus its efforts on deporting individuals with criminal convictions and those who pose a clear threat to national security. It is not clear what prompted ICE to send the letters out now, but the Indonesians affected by the letters do not appear to fit the profile covered by the White House’s new policy. They now face the prospect of leaving the homes they’ve know for over a decade and their U.S. citizen children.
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