Sunday, February 28, 2016

Teach Immigration Classroom Project

I have been working with the American Immigration Council (AIC) and the amazing April Francis at Uniondale School District through the Teach Immigration Project on Long Island, teaching students about immigration history and policy.   AIC published Spotlight on the Teach Immigration Classroom:  An Inspiring Teacher, a Motivated Attorney, and 26 Engaged Middle School Students on their recent blog about the project:

Monday, October 5, 2015

Diversity Visa Lottery Now Open

Each year the Department of State conducts a lottery for visas (green cards) for nationals of certain countries with the aim of making the United States more diverse.  Applicants can enter the lottery for free on the Department of State's website,  Only applicants who are born in  certain countries qualify to enter the lottery. 

If an applicant born in a qualifying country applies, he/she must be truthful on his/her application, which means listing all spouses and children.  Additionally, an applicant will have to show that he/she has graduated high school or works in profession that requires at least a Bachelor's degree (or foreign equivalent).

Interested applicants can apply now.  The deadline to submit an application is 12pm EST on November 3, 2015.  Those applicants who are selected will be notified of their selection in the Spring of 2016, and will be eligible to receive their green cards by September 30, 2017.

Again, there is no fee to enter the lottery, and all selections are made by the Department of State, which notifies applicants directly.  Similarly, upon notification, the Department of State does not immediately request fees, but rather provides instructions for further payment and application requirements. 

Sunday, September 20, 2015

USCIS Makes it Easier to Submit Applications for Naturalization

In an effort to make applying for US Citizenship easier for eligible lawful permanent residents, the US Citizenship & Immigration Service (USCIS) announced on Thursday, among other items, that they will begin to accept credit card payment for N-400, Applications for Naturalization. The current fee for the application is $680.00, which includes the application filing fee and biometrics (fingerprint) fee.  USCIS has advised that the fee can be paid using only one method (i.e., applicants cannot pay part of the fee by check, and part by credit card).  This change is certainly welcome, and should assist many lawful permanent residents who are eligible to apply for US Citizenship before the next presidential election.

Friday, January 30, 2015

What Expanded Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) Means

Part of President Obama's Executive Actions announced in November included expanding deferred action to undocumented immigrants who arrived in the US before the age of 16.  When he first announced the program in 2012, only those immigrants who were under 32 could apply.  The President's announcement in November removed that requirement.

Today, the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) announced that it would begin accepting such applications for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) on February 18, 2015; and no earlier (

While the expansion of the DACA program will certainly help additional individuals who may not have previously qualified due to age restrictions, there are still groups of individuals who will not be eligible to request deferred action under the program.  The requirement that an applicant enter the US prior to the age of 16 still remains; thus individuals who were 16 or older when they entered do not qualify.

Further, the requirement that an applicant was physically present in the US on June 15, 2012 and that he/she was out of status on that day has not changed.  This means that individuals who otherwise qualify for DACA, but who were in valid status on June 15, 2012 and fell out of status after that date are not eligible for this expanded DACA.

Although expanding DACA certainly increases the number of individuals eligible for deferred action, it should not be viewed as encouraging other individuals to enter unlawfully or overstay their visas.  The program will not benefit recent arrivals who were not present and out of status in the US on June 15, 2012.

The specific requirements to qualify for expanded DACA, as explained by USCIS,  require applicants to show the following:

- They entered the US prior to the age of 16
- They have lived continuously in the US since January 1, 2010
- They have been physically present in the US on June 15, 2012.
- They had no lawful status on June 15, 2012.
- They are in the US at the time of filing for DACA.
- They are currently in school, have graduated, or obtained a certificate of completion from high school, have obtained a general education development (GED) certificate, or are an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the US; AND
- They have not been convicted of a felony, significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors; and do not otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety.

Monday, December 8, 2014

Need for Reform: Keeping Families Together

As I previously explained, President Obama's announcement that he will take executive action, which will result in undocumented immigrants obtaining work authorization will not permanently fix the immigration system.  One of the aims of the president's announcement is to keep families together.  This is certainly an important goal, however, our current immigration laws do little to reach this goal in a reasonable amount of time.

For instance, foreign nationals (immigrants) who marry US citizens are not immediately eligible to come to the US with green cards, as the general public may believe.   In fact, if the marriage takes place abroad, the foreign national must wait outside of the US before getting his green card, in a process that can take up to one year (or more)!   There is a fiance visa, which some apply for, but that process can take approximately 6 months before an immigrant fiance can enter the US.  Even then, the couple must marry within 90 days before the immigrant can apply for his green card, which process can take another 6-10 months depending on where the couple lives.  

Marrying a US citizen while in the US is not an immediate guarantee that a foreign national's green card will be issued immediately either.   For instance, if an immigrant entered the US as a tourist, but immediately gets married and files for his green card, the Immigration Service can charge him with fraud (since he entered the US stating that his intentions were to travel and return home, he committed fraud by lying to the officer, getting married, and filing a green card application). Alternatively, if an immigrant entered without going through the inspection process (crossed the border), she is not eligible to apply for her green card in the US.   Certainly there are exceptions to these rules, but this is the general law for foreign spouses of US citizens.

The rules become even more complex, and wait times longer when the familial relationship involves parents of US citizens and spouses of green card holders.  For example, if a US citizen's parents live abroad, in Canada for example, the US citizen can file an application for his mother and father to become green card holders.  The wait time is the same as for spouse of US citizens (approximately one year).  If the same US citizen has a sibling in Canada who is a minor and cannot be without her parents, the US citizen cannot immediately sponsor his sibling, and the parents have to find a way to come live in the US, while simultaneously caring for their younger child.  Only when the parents become green card holders can they file an application for their younger child.  That application can take up to two years, or more to process, and the child cannot live in the US during that time without valid status (a valid visa).

Similarly, if a green card holder wishes to file an application for his spouse, the spouse must either have a valid visa (valid status), or wait outside of the US while the application is processing.  These applications can also take two years or more to process.

The above examples are for simple relationships, spouses and parents of US citizens, and spouses of green card holders.  However, there is no "simple" way for these families to be together immediately.  The process is long, arduous and often frustrating.  If our country's goal is to keep families together, certainly we can simplify this system through meaningful reforms.

Friday, November 21, 2014

President Obama's Executive Action: Amnesty vs. Deferred Action

In the wake of President Obama's announcement last night to extend deferred action initiatives to undocumented immigrants, it is important to understand that such action is not amnesty, nor does it grant legal status to undocumented immigrants as suggested by various media outlets.

The term "amnesty" means a pardon or forgiveness.  Past immigration amnesties were pardons, forgiving undocumented immigrants who were in the United States, providing them a pathway to become green card holders first, and eventually US Citizens.

Deferred action is not a pardon or forgiveness.  In fact, it does not provide a pathway to obtain permanent resident status (green card) or US Citizenship.  Simply put, in this context, it is the government's decision not to place certain undocumented immigrants in immigration court, (deportation or removal proceedings).  It is an act of prosecutorial discretion.  While undocumented immigrants who qualify for this prosecutorial discretion will be eligible to apply for work authorization, they will not be entitled to other government benefits as they would be if they were granted amnesty.

Accordingly, stating that these undocumented immigrants who will benefit from President Obama's actions will be given legal status and be pardoned for their immigration violations is inaccurate.   They will merely be protected for a set period of time from deportation, with no clear path to obtain permanent legal status in the United States.