Friday, December 23, 2011

Commandment #6 of Applying for Naturalization: Thou Shall Go Back to Your Roots

Not remembering important information can complicate an applicant's naturalization application.  This is especially true when dealing with issues of eligibility.  That's why having a copy of one's  "A file" has become increasingly more important. The "A file" is basically a person's record maintained by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). Once created, it contains all immigration records for that particular person.  Recently I wrote about the Five Benefits of Having a Copy of Your "A File" from USCIS or the Immigration Court through a FOIA Request.   I encourage readers to review that post for some practical information.

Take for example the case of an applicant who obtained Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) status through an employment-based petition.  The answers to the questions that USCIS may have can get complicated when considering the passage of time, promotions, employers with subsidiaries, change of ownership, and other factors.  Some questions could be:
  • What was the original title for the position?
  • What were the duties?
  • What were the minimum requirements for the position?
  • Did the position require the supervision of any workers?
  • Who signed the petition?
USCIS wants to ensure that all eligibility requirements were met at the time of adjudication.  However, since in all likelihood at least five (usually more) years have passed since the original petition was filed with the U.S. Department of Labor and USCIS, the applicant should have at least reviewed those old files to refresh his or her memory.

Applicants should come to the interview prepared to address potential concerns that the adjudicating officer may have.  If the applicant obtained LPR status through employment, then the applicant should bring documentation showing that the applicant continues to work for the same company. This evidence could include tax returns, W-2s, pay stubs, and a letter of employment.  If the applicant is no longer employed by the sponsoring company, then the applicant should come prepared to show the time he or she was actually employed by the company.     

The general rule of thumb is that if an applicant has changed to a different employer (or changed spouse's for that matter) within one year of obtaining their LPR status (based on that relationship), they should come prepared to show the legitimacy of the employment or marriage relationship. The closer the severing of the relationship is from the time of LPR grant, the more likely it is that questions will be asked.  It's important to keep in mind that an application for naturalization gives USCIS a fresh opportunity to review the applicant's file in its entirety - not just the naturalization or citizenship application.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Have We Lost Our Mojo? Revisiting Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR)

I think for the most part supporters of Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) have lost their mojo. To understand what mojo is, and why it's important, I encourage you to watch this short video on YouTube.  I'm not exactly sure what happened, or when, but at some point all mojo powers were zapped from community organizers, congressional leaders, common citizens, stakeholders, and yes - even from President Obama. 

Do you remember when President Obama had major mojo when he ran for president and promised CIR? At some point leaders of the CIR movement found themselves outnumbered and outmaneuvered and they simply threw in the towel.  Before we knew it, proponents of CIR were sitting quietly on the sidelines while the national debate raged on.  Opponents of CIR in the meantime took over the high places in the marketplace of ideas. All of the sudden deporting all 15 million supposedly unlawful immigrants in the U.S. actually sounded like a great and feasible idea.  Our highly organized, effective, articulate, tech-savvy, champions of the cause that inspired thousands of people to take to the streets were left neutralized - mourning and lamenting what could have been.  

It is time for our leaders to rise to the occasion and bring some clarity to the table by explaining why CIR is good for the United States, who will benefit, under what conditions, and what's in it for our country, our communities, for the American worker - from Joe the Plumber to the investment banker in Wall Street.  We need to articulate what CIR will do to enhance: 
  • Border security to stop the flow of undocumented people from crossing the border.
  • Providing tools to employers to ensure employment eligibility and sanction those employers who knowingly employ unauthorized workers. 
  • Removal of serious criminal offenders and enforcement of immigration laws consistent with the government's immigration enforcement priorities and resources. 
These are legitimate concerns that we ignore at our own peril. They must be part of a sensible solution to reform our immigration laws.  So far the arguments from both sides have left much to be desired and have been plagued with missed opportunities to create a feasible road map where both sides can meet half way. On the one hand we have some calling for the immediate deportation of all "illegal aliens" and on the other side we have some calling for complete open borders with no restrictions.   I think both sides can meet somewhere in the middle.  I say we get back to the basics - let's re initiate the conversation.  I think (for the most part) both sides have very reasonable concerns that are better addressed by sitting together to discuss these issues in an informed, honest, and constructive manner. 

Regaining the territory lost will require some major mojo power - but I think it can be done. By being informed of the issues and understanding what's at stake, proponents of CIR should have a well-reasoned and articulate defense of CIR when making their voices heard.  The election cycle coming up in 2012 will give us a fresh opportunity to retake this cause.   

Thursday, November 17, 2011

Five Benefits of Having a Copy of Your "A File" from USCIS or the Immigration Court through a FOIA Request

Obtaining a copy of your "Administrative" or "A" file from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) or the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR) has many benefits.  As most of our readers know, USCIS is part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and it is responsible for the administration of immigration and naturalization adjudication functions and establishing immigration services policies and priorities.  The Immigration Courts are a component of EOIR under the U.S. Department of Justice.

The request for a copy of the A-file is done through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request. The "A file" is basically a person's record maintained by USCIS (and legacy INS) since at least 1955. Generally speaking each individual should have only one A-file.  The A-file is created when action is required for a particular individual. This "action" can include for example petitioning for an immigrant visa, requesting an immigration benefit, the initiation of removal proceedings, or submitting an adjustment of status petition.  The A-file can also be created at "any other time a case file is needed". Once created, it contains all immigration records  for that particular non-citizen applicant.

I'm not very fond of the word "alien" so I use "non-citizen applicant" instead.  In all fairness to our friends at USCIS, the term "alien" is actually a statutory term defined in the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).  INA section 101(a)(3) defines an "alien" as any person not a citizen or national of the United States.

Although there are many reasons why an applicant should have a copy of his or her A file, here are some:   
  • It helps you determine whether or how to proceed with an application. In some cases the A file will reveal facts that may have not been disclosed previously or were simply forgotten.  Some of the information contained in the A file may affect eligibility for the benefit desired, or may affect where and how the application has to be submitted.
  • It will help you see what the immigration officer is seeing.  The A file will have the documents you submitted and those that others have submitted on your behalf.  The interviewing officer will be making his or her decision in part by what's in the record. It's important that the applicant also know what's in the file.
  • It helps you prepare.  By knowing what you have in the file, you can prepare adequately for an interview and anticipate issues that may be addressed.  In some cases many years have passed since the original A file was created and it's important to review the file. 
  • It helps you determine eligibility. In some cases obtaining a copy of the A file will help determine eligibility for the relief sought such as a Motion to Reopen or assist in documenting an application for relief.
  • It's free (for the most part). Most requests have no fees associated with them (unless the records are voluminous or take several hours to research).
Keep in mind that each agency has different procedures on how they handle FOIA requests.  Because every agency has different FOIA procedures, Customs and Border Protection and Immigration and Customs Enforcement should be contacted separately.  Below is some information on how to submit a FOIA request with USCIS and EOIR. 
  • USCIS.  Utilize Form G-639USCIS' website has a lot of useful information that will assist you in preparing and submitting the application. 
  • EOIR (Immigration Court).   The request should be made in writing to EOIR. The request should have some information such as a description of the records sought, the applicant's name, "A number", and the date and court location of the proceedings.  A Certification of Identity (Form DOJ-361) may also be required.   For more information please review EOIR's Fact Sheet on FOIA requests. 
Done with time, the results of a FOIA request can be a very useful tool.  Keep in mind that FOIA requests take several months to process. Submitting the request as early as possible is the way to go.

Saturday, April 9, 2011

How a Government Shutdown Might Affect Your Immigration Case

Because the U.S. federal government may shut down, it's important to know how your immigration case may be affected.  

If you have a case pending before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) your adjustment or naturalization interview will most likely take place as scheduled.  The same would apply for naturalization ceremonies.  Because USCIS is funded primarily through application fees, it is expected that most of its services and centers will operate normally.  However, because USCIS works with other agencies to adjudicate pending cases, temporary delays should be expected. 

If you have a removal or deportation case pending before the Executive Office for Immigration Review, most likely only detained cases will go on as scheduled.  The immigration courts in Arlington, Virginia and Baltimore, Maryland have stated that, in case of a government shutdown, only detained cases would be heard and that non-detained master or individual hearings would be rescheduled. Also, the front window of the immigration court would be closed and the immigration court phones would not be answered. 

If you have a case pending before the U.S. Department of State, DOS is expected to cease non-emergency visa services and non-US citizen services at U.S. Consular Posts abroad. As a result, no new visas are expected to be issued and visa application interviews would be rescheduled. Also, no passport applications will be accepted during a government shutdown.  

If you have a case pending before the U.S. Department of Labor, their offices will be closed.  This will delay the processing of PERM cases, as well as the processing of Labor Condition Applications for nonimmigrant visas such as H-1Bs, E-3s, etc.  Also affected would be requests for Prevailing Wage Determinations with the U.S. Department of Labor.

Hopefully the government will not shut down as expected and the processing of all immigration-related cases will not be affected. Should you have any questions please feel free to contact our office.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

Matter of Vo: CIMT for Attempt Offenses

In Matter of Vo, 25 I&N Dec. 426 (BIA 2011), the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) held that where the substantive offense underlying a foreign national's conviction for an attempt offense is a crime involving moral turpitude, the foreign national is considered to have been convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude for purposes of section 237(a)(2)(A) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).

The respondent is a native and citizen of Vietnam who was admitted to the U.S. as a lawful permanent resident in 1989. He was convicted in California of grand theft and receipt of stolen property. He was also convicted, at a later date, of attempted grand theft. The Department of Homeland Security (DHS) initiated removal proceedings against the respondent, charging that he was deportable under INA § 237(a)(2)(A)(ii) as an alien convicted of two or more CIMTs that did not arise out of a single scheme of misconduct.

The Immigration Judge found that because section 237(a)(2)(A) does not expressly reference “attempts,” as does section 212(a)(2)(A)(i)(I), the respondent’s crime did not qualify as a deportable offense, so he terminated the proceedings. The Department of Homeland Security appealed. The BIA reasoned that, with respect to moral turpitude, there is no distinction between the commission of a substantive crime and the attempt to commit it. Noting that Congress added the “attempt” language to various sections of the Act at different times, the Board determined that it could not reasonably conclude that the inclusion of attempts in those other sections represented a unified design to effectuate a single intent or that Congress’ express inclusion of attempt offenses in some sections indicated its intentional exclusion of them from other sections.

Since grand theft is a CIMT, the respondent's attempted grand theft was also a CIMT, rendering him deportable based on his convictions. Therefore, the BIA concluded, the respondent is deportable as charged for a crime involving moral turpitude within the meaning of the statute.

Matter of Sesay: K-1 Adjustment Possible Even After Divorce (In Some Cases)

In Matter of Sesay, 25 I&N Dec. 431 (BIA 2011), the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) held that a K-1 fiance can adjust status even if the marriage to the U.S. petitioner does not exist at the time that the adjustment application is adjudicated, if the applicant can demonstrate that the marriage was bonafide and done within the required 90-day period.  The BIA also held that: 
  1. A K-1 visa holder can only adjust status based on the marriage to the K-1 petitioner.
  2. A K-1 visa holder whose bonafide marriage to the K-1 petitioner is more than 2 years old at the time the adjustment application is adjudicated is not subject to the provisions for conditional resident status.
The respondent in this case, a native and citizen of Sierra Leone, was admitted to the United States in April 2000 as a K-1 non-immigrant.  He married and filed an application for adjustment of status which was later denied. The couple divorced on June 5, 2003 and later that year the respondent was placed in removal proceedings. In 2004, the respondent married his second wife, who filed an immediate relative visa petition (I-130) on his behalf.

In removal proceedings, the respondent renewed his adjustment application based on his I-129F fiancé petition. He also filed an adjustment application premised on the I-130 petition filed by his current wife. The Immigration Judge denied both adjustment applications, finding that he had no jurisdiction to adjudicate the adjustment application based on the respondent’s first marriage because it was no longer in existence. The Immigration Judge denied the I-130 adjustment application because the respondent had been admitted on a fiancé visa and therefore could only adjust based on the I-129F petition.

The BIA concluded that the respondent had completed the required steps in the fiancé adjustment process and that he was not subject to the provisions of section 216 of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) because his marriage was more than 2 years old when his adjustment application was adjudicated. Accordingly, the Board found that his divorce did not render him ineligible for adjustment of status and remanded the record for consideration of his application as a matter of discretion.

Thursday, March 24, 2011

7 Reasons Why An Immigration Attorney Might Not Take Your Case (But Won't Tell You)

As with any other profession, immigration attorneys have difficult choices to make when deciding which cases to take on. Some reasons why the attorney won't take the case are very legitimate, and those tend to be centered around procedural, law, ethics, or competence grounds.  For example:
  • Not being entitled to any immigration relief.
  • The time to file an appeal is very close or has already lapsed.
  • There's a conflict of interest with other cases the attorney is handling or has handled in the past.
  • Representation would be unlawful, unethical or imprudent.
  • Commitments to current clients make it impossible to take on new cases.
  • Not being familiar with that particular area of the law.
Some reasons however, deal more with a matter of preference, lessons learned from previous cases, or personal pet-peeves. Although many factors come into play, here are some reasons why an immigration attorney might not take your case - but won't necessarily tell you: 
  1. You've had three previous attorneys, and none of the other five attorneys you've visited since then will take your case. 
  2. You're complaining about, and bad-mouthing, all of the attorneys mentioned in #1.
  3. You have your own opinions as to how the attorney should handle the case - regardless of what the law says.  
  4. You have unrealistic expectations as to the handling or outcome of the case.  
  5. You call the office four times before the initial consultation insisting to talk with the attorney because you "don't talk with staff" - just to ask for directions on how to get to the office.  
  6. You bring six people to the initial consultation, each one having their own immigration problems, and one being a notario that is just "helping out". You then ask for a discount on the initial consultation fee.
  7. Your three children are jumping up and down on the reception room sofa while trying to stick their hands with Oreo crumbs in your fish tank to hold the "little fishes".
OK, maybe I'm exaggerating a bit but you get the point.  I'm sure people have plenty of reasons why they wouldn't hire an attorney.  If you have some suggestions please let me know.  

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Matter of GUEVARA ALFARO: Silva-Trevino's mandatory three-step framework supports finding that intentional sexual conduct by an adult with a child is a Crime Involving Moral Turpitude (CIMT).

In Matter of GUEVARA ALFARO, 25 I&N Dec. 417 (BIA 2011), the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) held that:
  1. Any intentional sexual conduct by an adult with a child involves moral turpitude, as long as the perpetrator knew or should have known that the victim was under the age of 16.
  2. Absent otherwise controlling authority, Immigration Judges and the Board of Immigration Appeals are bound to apply all three steps of the procedural framework set forth by the Attorney General in Matter of Silva-Trevino for determining whether a particular offense constitutes a crime involving moral turpitude.
In a decision dated April 27, 2010, an Immigration Judge terminated the removal proceedings against the respondent. The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) appealed from that decision. The appeal was ultimately sustained, the proceedings reinstated, and the record remanded for further proceedings.

The respondent in this case was a citizen of El Salvador  who adjusted his status to that of a lawful permanent resident in 1997. He was placed in removal proceedings after being convicted of several offenses, including unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor (statutory rape) in violation of section 261.5(d) of the California Penal Code. That section provides as follows:
Any person 21 years of age or older who engages in an act of unlawful sexual intercourse with a minor who is under 16 years of age is guilty of either a misdemeanor or a felony, and shall be punished by imprisonment in a county jail not exceeding one year, or by imprisonment in the state prison for two, three, or four years.
In Matter of Silva-Trevino the Attorney General established a three-part framework for determining whether a particular offense constitutes a crime involving moral turpitude.

  • First, a categorical approach must be employed under which the criminal statute at issue is examined to ascertain whether moral turpitude is intrinsic to all offenses that have a “realistic probability” of being prosecuted under that statute.
  • Second, if the issue cannot be resolved under the categorical approach, a modified categorical approach should be undertaken, which requires inspection of specific documents comprising the alien’s record of conviction (such as the indictment, the judgment of conviction, jury instructions, a signed guilty plea, or the plea transcript) to discern the nature of the underlying conviction. 
  • Finally, if the record of conviction is inconclusive, probative evidence beyond the record of conviction (such as an admission by the alien or testimony before the Immigration Judge) may be considered when evaluating whether an alien’s offense constitutes a crime involving moral turpitude. 
When applying Matter of Silva-Trevino to this case, the BIA analyzed this case as follows:
  • It first analyzed section 261.5(d) of the California Penal Code under the categorical approach. Since the statute does not require a perpetrator to have engaged in intentional sexual contact with someone he or she knew or should have known to be a child, there is a realistic probability it could be applied to conduct that does not involve moral turpitude. The offense prohibited by section 261.5(d) is therefore not a categorical crime involving moral turpitude under the first step of Silva-Trevino. 
  • Applying the second step, the BIA found that there were no documents in the record of conviction establishing that the respondent knew or should have known that his victim was a child.
  • The only remaining step of Silva-Trevino is the third, which provides for consideration of probative evidence beyond the record of conviction. For this step, the BIA analyzed the respondent's testimony before the Immigration Judge. 
Because the BIA generally lacks the authority to make findings of fact in the course of deciding appeals (8 C.F.R. § 1003.1(d)(3)(iv)), it remanded the case for the Immigration Judge to make specific factual findings regarding whether the respondent knew or should have known that his victim was a minor, taking into consideration the respondent’s prior testimony before the Immigration Court and any other relevant evidence.

Thursday, February 17, 2011

Matter of Nelson: Continuous residence clock for Cancellation of Removal not reset by alien's departure and reentry - absent waiver of inadmissibility for conviction.

In Matter of Nelson, 25 I&N Dec. 410 (BIA 2011), the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) addressed the question of the “stop-time” rule under section 240A(d)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA).  More specifically, the BIA addressed the issue of whether the clock can be reset by an alien’s departure from, and reentry to, the United States after a conviction for a crime that would otherwise stop the accrual of continuous residence for purposes of determining eligibility for cancellation of removal under INA section 240A(a).

Section 240A(d)(1), which sets forth the “stop-time” rule, provides in pertinent part:
Termination of Continuous Period. For purposes of this section, any period of continuous residence or continuous physical presence in the United States shall be deemed to end (A) . . . when the alien is served a notice to appear under section 239(a), or (B) when the alien has committed an offense referred to in section 212(a)(2) that renders the alien inadmissible to the United States under section 212(a)(2) or removable from the United States under section 237(a)(2) or 237(a)(4), whichever is earliest.
The BIA held in this case that continuous residence cannot be restarted absent a waiver of inadmissibility in regard to the conviction. That is, once a foreign national has been convicted of an offense that stops the accrual of the 7-year period of continuous residence required for cancellation of removal, INA section 240A(d)(1) does not permit such residence to restart simply because the alien has departed from, and returned to, the United States.

In this case the respondent, who is from Jamaica, was admitted to the United States as a lawful permanent resident in 1994.  In 1999 he was convicted of possession of marijuana in New York. In 2000 he visited Canada for two days and returned to the United States. In removal proceedings the respondent applied for Cancellation of Removal. The Immigration Judge denied the respondent’s application for cancellation of removal under INA section 240A(a) because he failed to establish the requisite 7 years of continuous residence. Specifically, the Immigration Judge found that the respondent was admitted in 1994 and that under section 240A(d)(1) of the Act, his period of continuous residence ended in 1999 when he committed the drug offense that rendered him removable.

The BIA agreed with the Immigration Judge’s conclusion that under INA section 240A(d)(1), the period of time the respondent was in the United States after his conviction and subsequent reentry cannot be counted toward the accrual of the 7 years of continuous residence required for cancellation of removal, since the clock does not start anew when the alien departs and reenters the United States following the commission of a triggering offense.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Matter of ALYAZJI: 5-year clock for 237(a)(2)(A)(i) removability is not reset each time a foreign national is admitted (within the United States).

Matter of ALYAZJI, 25 I&N Dec. 397 (BIA 2011), identifies when the date of admission begins to run for purposes of section 237(a)(2)(A)(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), which in a pertinent part, authorizes the removal of any alien who “is convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude committed within five years . . . after the date of admission,” provided the crime is punishable by a sentence of imprisonment of 1 year or longer.

In Matter of ALYAZJI the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) held that  a conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude triggers removability under section 237(a)(2)(A)(i) only if the crime was committed within 5 years after the date of the admission by virtue of which the alien was then in the United States.  The BIA concluded that the class of aliens “in and admitted to the United States” referred to in the opening sentence of 237(a) of the INA consisted of:
  • Those who entered the United States with the permission of an immigration officer after being inspected at a port of entry; and
  • Those who entered the United States without permission or were paroled, but who subsequently became lawful permanent residents.
Under the BIA's new understanding of the phrase “the date of admission", the 5-year clock is not reset by a new admission from within the United States (through adjustment of status). To ascertain an alien’s deportability under section 237(a)(2)(A)(i), one must first look to the date when the crime was committed. If, on that date, the alien was in the United States pursuant to an admission that occurred within the prior 5-year period, then he is deportable. Conversely, the alien is not deportable if he committed his offense more than 5 years after the date of the admission pursuant to which he was then in the United States.

Matter of ALYAZJI overrules Matter of Shanu, 23 I&N Dec. 754 (BIA 2005), where the BIA held that the term “admission” used in section 237(a)(2)(A)(i) referred to adjustment of status as well as admission at the border; and second, that an alien’s conviction for a crime involving moral turpitude supported removal under that section so long as the crime was committed within 5 years after the date of any admission made by the foreign national.

This case involved Alla Adel Alyazji, a Palestinian citizen who entered the United States on a temporary visa in 2001 and became a lawful permanent resident in 2006.  In January 2008, the respondent was convicted of indecent assault in violation of Pennsylvania law, based on a 2007 offense. As a result of that conviction, the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) initiated removal proceedings. Shortly after removal proceedings commenced, the respondent sought termination on the ground that his indecent assault conviction resulted from an offense committed more than 5 years after his “admission” as a nonimmigrant in August 2001. The Immigration Judge denied the motion based on Matter of Shanu, holding that the respondent is removable because he committed his offense less than 5 years after his “admission” to lawful permanent resident status in April 2006.

The BIA terminated removal proceedings against Mr. Alyazji concluding that when he committed his crime involving moral turpitude in 2007, he was in the United States pursuant to his 2001 admission as a nonimmigrant. Because he committed his offense more than 5 years after that “date of admission,” he was not deportable, even though he was “readmitted” by means of adjustment of status in April 2006.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Naturalization Through Military Service

The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) provides for an expedited naturalization process for current or recently discharged members of the Army, NavyAir Force, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and certain components of the National Guard.  

On July 3, 2002 President Bush signed Executive Order 13269 authorizing all noncitizens who have served honorably in the U.S. armed forces on or after Sept. 11, 2001 to immediately file for citizenship. This order also covers veterans of certain designated past wars and conflicts. This was done pursuant to Section 329 of the INA which covers periods of service during periods of hostilities. Section 328 of the INA covers periods of service during peacetime.   Under this section, members of the U.S. armed forces and those already discharged from service may qualify for naturalization if he or she has:

  • Served honorably in the U.S. armed forces for at least one year;
  • Obtained lawful permanent resident status; and
  • Filed an application while still in the service or within six months of separation.
Every military installation has a designated point-of-contact, generally in the personnel division or the Judge Advocate General’s Office, to assist members of the military prepare and file their naturalization application packet. Here's where members of the military can go for additional help:
Members of the military seeking to naturalize must still meet some of the basic requirements.  For example, the applicant must be a person of good moral character, have a basic command of the English language, and must also have a basic knowledge of U.S. History and Government. An applicant for naturalization must also show that he or she is attached to the principles of the Constitution of the United States, and will be required to take the Oath of Allegiance. Members of the military however are exempt from other naturalization requirements, including residence and physical presence in the United States. 

Thursday, January 27, 2011

What You and Your Interpreter Need to Know - 6 Suggestions for a Smoother Immigration Interview

Interpreters play an important role in our immigration system.  Unlike the Immigration Court where a professional interpreter is supplied by the Court, the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) does not provide an interpreter for immigration interviews such as for an adjustment of status or naturalization interview.  An applicant before USCIS, who needs interpretation, needs to supply his or her own. 

As I came to find out some time ago when talking with a professional interpreter, there's actually a difference between a "translator" and an "interpreter".  Here's the difference: an interpreter is a person who interprets orally from one language to another, whereas a translator translates written material from one language to another. 

Although a professional interpreter is always recommended, financial considerations many times trump this recommendation.  Most clients who need an interpreter for an interview before USCIS bring a friend or neighbor.  This is not always a good thing.  When considering which friend or neighbor to ask, look for:

  • A person who is not a family member. Family members have a vested interested in your success (at least one would hope). They're not really the most impartial people we can find. Officers know that, and it may affect your credibility. 
  • A person you can trust.  You want someone that can keep your personal information in confidence. Interviews can expose very personal and potentially embarrassing information that are best kept "in-house". 
  • A person that will be on time and has all day to spare.  Just like interviews can start right on time, interviews can take much longer than anticipated.  You want to bring a person that can be at the USCIS district office on time and can afford to stay all day.  If you're called in for your interview at 2 p.m. and your interpreter needs to pick up her children by 2:30 p.m., I guarantee you she will prefer to pick up her children.  I don't blame her.
  • A person that can speak better English than you. An applicant wants to make sure that the person they bring has a good command of both English and their native language. 
  • A person who is in the United States lawfully and has no criminal record.   This should go without saying, but, bringing an interpreter to your interview who is not in the country lawfully or has pending matters before the same office, is not really a good idea. You want to bring an interpreter who is a U.S. citizen who has no outstanding criminal matters because it might affect not only his credibility, but yours. If not a U.S. citizen, bring a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR).  Every state has a case information system.  For example, Virginia has a Case Status and Information page where one can look up a person's record.  Give it a shot and see what you find. 
  • A person who is not a "notario" or immigration consultant.  Use one at your own risk.  The American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) created a new consumer website providing information and resources to immigrants to avoid being defrauded by a notario, and where to get help if they are harmed. 
Below are some suggestions for the interpreters helping out a friend or neighbor.  I understand that interpreters might have a handful of suggestions for us attorneys.  If you have suggestions, please contact me and we might have you as a guest on our blog.
  • Plan ahead.  Traffic jams, getting lost, and delays at the security counter are common. Give yourself plenty of time to get to the USCIS office and plan to stay there for at least 2-3 hours. You might end up being there for 30 minutes but things could get delayed.  Also, bring your driver's license or ID with you. The interviewing officer will make a copy of the ID and keep it in the file
  • Legal advice is best left to the attorney.  Your experiences or the experiences of others may or may not apply to the case at hand.   Avoid suggesting an answer to a particular question or coaching the person in matters that you may not be qualified in.
  • Ask for a copy of the forms submitted (or at least blank ones) to review them before the interview.  Some of the questions can be long, complicated, and right out confusing.  Reviewing the questions beforehand will give you a pretty good idea what the officer will be asking. 
  • Begin interpreting as soon as the officer begins speaking.  Don't wait for the adjudicating officer to give you a green light. Begin interpreting as soon as the officer speaks. If there's something you don't understand, kindly ask the officer to repeat himself.     
  • At the interview, avoid having side conversations. The officer might think you're coaching him or her or giving them "the answer".   
  • Remember you're under oath.  Interpret faithfully what is being said.
Most interviews don't take more than 30 minutes - so relax.  If you're helping out a friend or a neighbor, you're doing a good thing.  Yours is an important responsibility that you have to take seriously if the interview will go smoothly.  Keep these suggestions in mind and you'll do fine. 

Monday, January 24, 2011

BALCA's "Matter of Sanmina-SCI Corporation": Clarifying the "Employee Referral Program" recruitment step under PERM

In Matter of Sanmina-SCI Corporation the Board of Alien Labor Certification Appeals (BALCA) found that in order to make the employee referral program recruitment step meaningful, an employer must minimally be able to document that:
  • Its employee referral program offers incentives to employees for referral of candidates;
  • That the employee referral program was in effect during the recruitment effort the employer is relying on to support its labor certification application; and 
  • That the Employer’s employees were on notice of the job opening at issue. 
In this case the employer, Sanmina-SCI Corporation, filed an Application for Permanent Employment Certification on behalf of a foreign national for the position of Software Applications Engineer.  Following an audit, the Certifying Officer denied certification on the grounds that:
  • The Employer's Notice of Filing was only posted for nine consecutive business days because one of the posting days was Columbus Day;
  • The Employer failed to provide adequate documentation of its employees referral program with incentives. 
BALCA vacated the denial based on the Notice of Filing ground and remanded the case to permit the Employer an opportunity to present evidence as to whether Columbus Day for the Employer was a "business day" consistent with Il Cortile Restaurant, 2010-PER-683 (Oct. 12, 2010).  In Il Cortile Restaurant BALCA held that, for purposes of the Notice of Filing requirement, a "business day" is any day that the employees are working on the premises and can see the Notice of Filing. 

BALCA in this case also reversed the CO's finding that the Employer had not adequately documented its use of an employee referral program with incentives. In its reasoning BALCA held that the Employer's documentation was adequate to fulfill the required elements in that the Employer established that it had an employee referral program with incentives, that the program was ongoing during the recruitment for the position at issue, and that the job was advertised within the company. 

BALCA is the administrative appellate body within the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL) consisting of administrative law judges assigned to labor certification matters. As way of background, a permanent labor certification issued by the Department of Labor (DOL) allows an employer to hire a foreign worker to work permanently in the United States. In most instances, before the U.S. employer can submit an immigration petition to the Department of Homeland Security's U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the employer must obtain an approved labor certification request from the DOL's Employment and Training Administration (ETA). More specifically, the DOL's Office of Foreign Labor Certification  (within the ETA) must certify to the USCIS that there are no qualified U.S. workers able, willing, qualified and available to accept the job at the prevailing wage for that occupation in the area of intended employment and that employment of the foreign national will not adversely affect the wages and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.

To review previous decisions, visit BALCA's Digest of PERM Decisions.  DOL's Office of Foreign Labor Certification (OFLC) also has a lot of information about the permanent labor certification process under their Program for Electronic Review Management or PERM. This includes: Policies and Regulations, Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs), Forms and Instructions, along with other useful information. 

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

USCIS and Immigration Court Closings Due to Inclement Weather

From time to time inclement weather forces the closing of government offices, including offices of the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR).  When that happens, it's important to know where to go or who to call to ensure an applicant is not missing an important scheduled hearing or interview. 

Here are some suggestions applicants can follow if they have an appointment scheduled with USCIS and they want to verify that the office is open for business and to obtain further instructions on rescheduling the appointment if the office is closed.
If an individual has an immigration hearing scheduled before an immigration court of the Executive Office for Immigration Review (EOIR), here are some recommendations to verify that the office is open for business. Not attending a scheduled hearing can have grave consequences.  Check ahead with more than one source to make sure.
Needless to say applicants should be contacting their attorney if they have one.  If the attorney doesn't know whether the office is open for business, let the attorney know where to obtain the information and bill them for your time.  

Monday, January 10, 2011

Requesting Return of Original Documents from USCIS

Applicants should not submit original documents to the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) in support of an application or petition. If original documents such as passports or birth and marriage records were submitted however, USCIS provides a way to get those documents back.  To request that an original document be returned, Form G-884 should be submitted.

A few things to keep in mind when submitting the application:  
  • The application requires a notarized signature;
  • A copy of two identity documents must also be submitted;
  • No filing fee is required; and
  • The application should be filed with the USCIS office or service center that is currently processing the case, or, if a final decision has been issued, Form G-884 should be submitted to the USCIS office or service center that took the last action on the case.  The name and address of the USCIS office that adjudicated or is adjudicating the case will normally be on the bottom left-hand corner of the latest Notice of Action or receipt notice.
Additionally, be sure to specify what documents are specifically being requested along with any additional information that might assist USCIS in locating the file and the specific document requested. If requesting documents from a file not relating directly to the applicant, additional documents such as proof of the relationship or a power of attorney may be required.  

On a different post we will cover the benefits and the how to's of obtaining a copy of an applicant's "A-File" from USCIS through the use of a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request on Form G-639.  

Thursday, January 6, 2011

The 112th Congress and what Naturalization Applicants Need to Re-Learn

As the members of the 112th Congress go about taking care of the business of the American people, there are a few things that naturalization applicants need to know as they prepare for their interview.  Due to the recent elections, some civics test answers will change.  More specifically, applicants should check the answers to questions 20, 23, 43, and 47 prior to their interview. The answers to the first three questions may vary depending on where the applicant lives. 
  • Question #20: “Who is one of your state’s U.S. Senators now?”  The U.S. Constitution provides for two Senators from each state for a total of 100 Senators.  Article I, Section 3, provides that "The Senate of the United States shall be composed of two Senators from each state, chosen by the legislature thereof, for six years; and each Senator shall have one vote." To check the names of your U.S. Senators and much more information about them like where they stand on the issues that are important to you, visit the U.S. Senate's website (top right-hand corner under "Find Your U.S. Senators"). 
  • Question #23: “Name your U.S. Representative.” With at least 63 seats changing hands in this last election cycle, there are lots of new faces as the 112th Congress convenes.  To find your congressman, visit the U.S. House of Representative's website (top left-hand corner under "Find Your Representative"). Article I, Section 2 of the U.S. Constitution provides that "The House of Representatives shall be composed of members chosen every second year by the people of the several states, and the electors in each state shall have the qualifications requisite for electors of the most numerous branch of the state legislature."
  • Question #43: “Who is the Governor of your state now?".  The Governor is the chief executive of each state and is vested with considerable limited powers.  To find the governor for your state, visit the following link
  • Lastly, Question #47 asks "What is the name of the Speaker of the House of Representatives now?”  The correct answer is John Boehner.  Mr. Boehner represents the 8th District of Ohio.  View Speaker Boehner's remarks to the opening session of the 112th Congress
As you prepare for your interview, carefully review the study guides and other materials provided by the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. Be sure to also check out my previous post with interview preparation tips.