by Grace Alano
I grew up in Los Angeles and went to Disneyland often, so this video brings back fond memories. I also plan to take my daughter there for the first time this summer.
This video is 14 minutes long, so play it on your downtime or as background music while you surf the web. But it does go through the entire ride.
Which countries can you spot? If you were you born outside of the U.S., do you see your country? If you are a native-born American like me, can you spot the countries your parents are from? Or your grandparents or great-great grandparents? Or your ancestors if your family immigrated centuries ago? Or did you love the cowboy and Native American?
Which are your favorites? I have to say, I have always loved the Hawaii/Oceana part, complete with the little Filipina doll.
by Grace Alano
News agencies are revealing an advanced memo of the bipartisan group of Senator’s comprehensive immigration reform bill. THIS IS NOT THE BILL! THE BILL WILL BE HUNDREDS OF PAGES LONG AND IS NOT PUBLIC YET! Here are some possible key provisions being reported in the press:
- The cut-off date for those applying for Registered Provisional Immigrant Status (RPI) is December 31, 2011. Undocumented immigrants without serious criminal convictions have one year – which may be extended – to apply for RPI.
- An applicant’s spouse and children can be sponsored at the same time. There is no provision yet for same-sex couples.
- Those in RPI status may become eligible to apply for permanent resident status after 10 years, showing they have worked regularly, paid taxes, learned English and Civics. They must also pay a $100 penalty. After three years they may apply for citizenship.
- DREAMers may apply for residence in five years.
- Undocumented farm workers will become eligible for an agricultural card. They must pay taxes and a $400 fine. Their spouses and minor children can get derivative status.
- This was interesting to see: “The bill addresses the issue of families who have been separated through deportation. Undocumented immigrants who had been deported for non-criminal reasons but who had been in the U.S. before the end of 2011 can reapply to re-enter and apply for RPI status, if they are the spouse of or parent to a child who is a U.S. citizen or legal resident, or a Dreamer eligible for the DREAM Act.”
- The sibling of U.S. citizens category will be eliminated, but I am assuming that those who have already been petitioned will be grandfathered in.
- Adult children of U.S. citizens who are married and over 31 years old will also be eliminated.
- The “immediate relative” category, where a visa number is always available, will also have a change, but I am unclear what it is from the article.
- Those with doctorates in the science, math, engineering and technology (STEM) fields, will be exempted from annual visa limits, as well as qualified physicians and multi-national managers and executives.
- There will be a new startup visa for entrepreneurs.
- There will be a merit-based program with points for education and employment.
- The cap will increase to 110,000 for H1-B visas.
By Grace Alano
This week, the Senate is likely to introduce the comprehensive immigration reform bill. This post focuses on probationary legal status and visas for low-skilled workers, as those are two of the areas of comprehensive immigration reform that are the most fleshed-out so far. A discussion of how immigration reform will impact high-skilled workers and entrepreneurs will be in another post once there are more details.
PROBATIONARY LEGAL STATUS
The Senate Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform provides that the government will require people to initially register with them. The process will include passing a background check and paying a fine and back taxes, in order to earn probationary legal status. It is unclear what the amount of the fine will be. Probationary legal status will allow people who register to live and work legally in the United States. People with criminal backgrounds should consult with an attorney before attempting to apply, as the Bipartisan Framework has made clear that those with serious criminal backgrounds will be placed in deportation proceedings. Those in probationary legal status will not be able to access federal public benefits.
Individuals with probationary legal status “will be required to go to the back of the line of prospective immigrants, pass an additional background check, pay taxes, learn English and civics, demonstrate a history of work in the United States, and current employment, among other requirements, in order to earn the opportunity to apply for lawful permanent residency. Those individuals who successfully complete these requirements can eventually earn a green card.” Specifically, the senators have agreed to a 13-year path to citizenship. It would take 10 years for those in probationary legal status to get a green card, and then another three years to gain citizenship.
“DREAMers” – children brought into the U.S. when very young – and agricultural workers, will not have to wait in the same line – theirs will be shorter. The rationale is that as young children, they did not have the mental capacity to commit immigration violations. With regards to farm workers, there is a shortage of native-born U.S. workers who are willing and able to do farm work. Farm workers may be able to apply for resident status after five years.
What is unclear at this point is how people who do not have criminal convictions, but may have previously misrepresented themselves or committed some kind of fraud, may fare. Will it be possible for them to apply for probationary legal status, but 10 years down the line be unable to apply for residency? Will those people be able to apply for fraud waivers? These are still unanswered questions.
GUEST WORKER PROGRAM
There will be a new “W” visa for workers doing low-skill jobs. The W visa would affect housekeepers, landscapers, caregivers, retail workers and some construction workers. The visa program may possibly launch in April 2015. The number of visas issued would never go below 20,000 per year and could rise as high as 200,000 annually, depending on employment levels. In other words, they would rise and fall with the economy. One third of the visas would be reserved for businesses that employ fewer than 25 people, while no more than 15,000 visas per year would go to construction workers. The petition/application process is still unclear.
Photo by ttarasiuk.
By Grace Alano
Musical genius, British national treasure, humanitarian and peace activist John Lennon’s green card from July 1976. He fought deportation for four years because he believed in the American dream. He believed his deportation charges to be an abuse of the law and stemmed from his outspoken stance against the Vietnam War and Nixon administration.
For more on the background of his story, here is a trailer for The U.S. vs. John Lennon. His immigration file from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is available online, but I feel funny posting the link because it seems like an invasion of privacy – from me, anyway.
Photo from wcbsfm.cbslocal.com
From time to time I encounter a client reluctant to apply for a green card through marriage because he does not want his girlfriend to feel that he is marrying her for a green card. I also encounter clients who are married and not sure whether to get a green card through their spouses or through employment instead. So the client asks “Should I get a green card through marriage or employment?” Or, “Should I try to come back on another visa or marry this year instead of next so that we can be together?”
In the first scenario, the foreign national may be here in student status or another type of nonimmigrant status. He may be very serious about marrying his girlfriend. The couple has usually been talking about marriage for a while and there is no doubt that they will marry, however, the foreign national’s immigration status is expiring. The most obvious solution is to marry and apply for a marriage-based green card. A lot of times, the foreign national is hesitant to do so because he is worried that his girlfriend/fiancee and her family may think that he is using her. He may also feel too proud to do it, and would rather try to get immigrant status on his own.
In the second, the foreign national may already have been petitioned by an employer and may be waiting for a visa number to become current. She may have to wait several years, or may have already waited several years to be able to apply for residence through her employment. She and her boyfriend or fiance have discussed marriage or she has already married and they are wondering what to do.
The law says that it is your intent at the time that you marry that matters. You should be marrying because you intend to spend the rest of your lives together. You should not be marrying primarily to get a green card.
As a practical matter, it is much simpler to apply for permanent residence through marriage rather than through employment. One may granted residence through marriage in a few months rather than several years through employment. That is also assuming that you already have an employer petitioning you for both immigrant status and nonimmigrant status while you wait for a visa number.
Additionally, if you are work authorized through a marriage-based adjustment of status application, or can receive your residence faster through marriage, then you will have universal work authorization. That means that you will not be tied to your employer and can work anywhere you please or start your own business.
The bottom line is that you have to do what makes you and your fiancee feel comfortable. You should marry for love and should not feel rushed. You must also weigh the pros and cons of being separated if the foreign national has to leave the country because his or her status has ended, or the stress of feeling tied to an employer because your employer has petitioned you. Also realize that if your fiance(e) really loves you, he or she will be more than happy for you to get your green card through marriage rather than struggling to get it on your own. I have seen this firsthand.
Also, having practiced for many years, those are the couples that stay together.
Images by Grace Alano.
Try to establish a good rapport with your lawyer.
Remember that old saying, “You can catch more flies with honey…” But be sincere.
Promptly return your lawyer’s phone calls and emails.
It can help a lawyer’s workflow if a client is accessible when the lawyer needs information. Also, a simple, “Thanks, got it.” or “I’m working on it” reply email can save your lawyer from having to send follow up emails or voice mails. That, in turn, frees up his or her time to do more substantive work for you.
Be neat and organized with your documents.
Make photocopies of your documents and give it to your lawyer in a neat stack. Or send or upload PDFs. If you send PDFs, send them as one document. For example, if your lawyer needs your tax return, send all pages in one PDF, not as 20 separate PDFs for your lawyer to open and download.
It is much easier for your lawyer to send you documents and forms by email than by snail mail. It is cheaper, too. It will help keep your lawyer’s overhead down, which will keep prices down.
Don’t expect too much handholding.
It takes time away from allowing your lawyer to actually work on your case. Some lawyers will also charge you more for the extra time spent on your case.
Give your lawyer whatever paperwork he or she asks for, and do so in a timely manner.
Don’t complain about getting a document if you can get it. Don’t take six months to send it in.
Pay your invoices on time.
Paying your bills on time frees the lawyer from having to follow up on payment.
Photo by Kozumel.
By Grace Alano
Clients often ask me why I became an immigration attorney. I had always wanted to do something in international law, which is different from immigration and nationality law. I stumbled upon immigration law by chance when I got my first job out of law school. It was fate, it gave me the international feel that I was seeking and I’ve found it to be the perfect law specialty for me.
I am the child of immigrants. My mother is from the Philippines and my father is from Venezuela. My husband is an immigrant, as are many of my best friends and a lot of my family. Although I have always been in such close proximity to the immigrant community, I never knew about what they went through to become lawful permanent residents and U.S. citizens until I began to practice immigration law.
I have a thing for diversity. I am a non-conformist and dislike anything cookie-cutter. I grew up in Hollywood, California, and now live in San Francisco. Both are very diverse cities. Hollywood is very Latino, and San Francisco is very Asian. However, there are so many different ethnic groups in both places. Diversity brings flavor. I don’t just mean that they bring ethnic restaurants! It brings different viewpoints, experiences, ideas, and spiritual and economic growth. To contrast it, I spent a few months in Buenos Aires, Argentina. It is a beautiful town, and I loved the people, but it was so homogenous. Not only how people looked, but how they dressed (however elegantly), and thought. So yes, I prefer diversity. I’ve also noticed that immigrants tend to be risk takers. As a lawyer, I am naturally risk averse, even though I have the entrepreneurial and creative spirit. Maybe I did get some of those risk-taking genes. There is an element of moving forward and desire to make things better that comes with that type of mindset.
So besides my appreciation of immigrants, I have found that the practice also suits me. An uncle of mine by marriage who is an attorney mentioned to me that after two years, a lawyer will become pigeon-holed into a law specialty. I thought of this often as I entered my second year of practice, which was many years ago. I stuck with immigration law because I really enjoy the client counseling and advocacy. I do a lot of family-based immigration, which requires more client contact than employment-based immigration, although I do that, too. I like to have that human connection. I’m also a good writer. Maybe with blogging, but definitely with briefs and cover letters. My client advocacy begins on paper, and I’m good at telling the client’s story. Although I do attend administrative interviews with clients and appear in court with them, my practice is not heavy in traditional litigation. I tend to find litigators bitter and repressed. Also, I don’t like to argue. I don’t think it’s cute and sexy as some people do! I like peace and harmony. I like protecting clients and looking out for their best interests. Maybe it’s my maternal and empathetic nature.
So that is how I found and stuck with immigration law. I like the international flavor, constant learning experience, and nature of the work I do. Now that I have had my solo practice for the last few years, I am also enjoying the creativity that comes with marketing, which is also a big part of my work week, and practice management. I hope this answers the question and that you were able to learn a bit about me and what I do.
Grace R. Alano is the Principal Attorney at The Law Offices of Grace R. Alano in San Francisco. Find Grace on Google+, Twitter and Facebook.
Provisional Unlawful Presence Waiver information from USCIS and AILA (the American Immigration Lawyers Association):
“Beginning March 4, certain immigrant visa applicants who are the spouses, children and parents of U.S. citizens (immediate relatives), and have been unlawfully present in the United States, can start applying for provisional unlawful presence waivers through a new process.
The new provisional unlawful presence waiver process is for certain individuals who seek a waiver of inadmissibility only for unlawful presence [emphasis added].They can now apply for a provisional unlawful presence waiver while in the United States and before departing for their immigrant visa interview at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate abroad. Under the current process, which continues to remain in effect, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens who are not eligible to adjust status in the United States have to travel abroad and be found inadmissible at their immigrant visa interview before they can apply for an inadmissibility waiver.
The new process is expected to shorten the time U.S. citizens are separated from their immediate relatives while those family members go through the process of becoming lawful permanent residents of the United States. For eligibility details and information on the process, please visit: http://www.uscis.gov/provisionalwaiver.”
“Under current law, immediate relatives of U.S. citizens who are not eligible to adjust status in the United States must travel abroad and obtain an immigrant visa. Individuals who have accrued more than 180 days of unlawful presence while in the United States must obtain a waiver of inadmissibility to overcome the unlawful presence bars under section 212(a)(9)(B) of the Immigration and Nationality Act before they can return to the United States.”
By Grace Alano
The following scenario has come up a few times in online discussions with my fellow immigration lawyers: a couple walks in to meet with the immigration attorney. One spouse is a U.S. citizen and the other is an undocumented immigrant who has come in from or through Mexico without inspection. That is, came in without a visa or border crossing card and did not go through a checkpoint to enter the U.S. The undocumented spouse will be here for a few months or a few years, and then his or her mother or father will get sick. The undocumented spouse will return to Mexico to visit the parent for a few weeks or months, then comes back to the U.S. Sometimes, the undocumented spouse will return to Mexico a few times. The husband and wife would like to know if the undocumented spouse can get a green card through the marriage to the U.S. citizen. Unfortunately, short answer is “No,” or “Maybe after your spouse has been out of the country for at least 10 years.” We as attorneys are often surprised that the immigrant community is still seemingly unaware of the dangers of going back and forth to Mexico when one has no legal status and how it might affect their immigration cases in the future.
There are other issues in this scenario that may possibly be overcome with the proper legal strategy, such as the lack of proof of lawful entry to the U.S. However, what cannot be overcome without the spouse leaving the U.S. for at least 10 years is the ineligibility for an immigrant visa due to what is called the “permanent bar.” Attempting to enter or entering the U.S. without permission after a past deportation or one year’s total stay in the U.S. without lawful immigrant status results in permanent “inadmissibility” as an immigrant. The permanent bar comes from Section 212(a)(9)(C)(i) of the Immigration and Nationality Act, which makes inadmissible “Any alien who (I) has been unlawfully present in the United States for an aggregate period of more than 1 year, or (II) has been ordered removed under section 235(b)(1), section 240, or any other provision of law, and who enters or attempts to reenter the United States without being admitted.” It is technically not “permanent,” but the spouse cannot return to the U.S. for a minimum of 10 years, and must then apply for consent and a waiver from the government, which are not easy to do. The permanent bar applies to those who made these types of entries after April 1997, when a change in the immigration laws went into effect.
The bottom line and in simple terms – immigration-wise, it is a bad thing to come back and forth to the U.S. unlawfully. It is also a bad thing if you have been deported and come back to the U.S. unlawfully. This is not meant to cast moral judgment on people who come in to the U.S. unlawfully to seek a better life. But be warned that while doing this once may be forgiven by the government, doing this more than once means that you may never be able to become a lawful resident of the U.S.
If this scenario applies to you, you should speak with an immigration attorney (NOT a notario!) to see if there is anything that you can do for your spouse. Otherwise, if you file a petition for your spouse, you could end up putting him or her in removal proceedings in the Immigration Court. Alternatively, if you send him or her out to pick up a visa abroad, the visa will be refused and your spouse will be out of the country for a minimum of 10 years.
Photo by Helga Weber.
Today, President Obama spoke from Las Vegas regarding the need for change in U.S. immigration policy and his pledge to push comprehensive immigration reform through.
President Obama urged Congress to “move forward in a timely fashion,” or he would send them a bill based on his proposal and insist they vote on it right away.
The White House’s proposal on immigration reform has four parts. 1) continue to strengthen the borders; 2) crack down on companies that hire undocumented workers; 3) hold immigrants accountable (more on that below); and, 4) streamline the legal immigration system.
Regarding part 3, immigrants who have been living here illegally will have to hold themselves accountable by paying taxes (which most already do anyway) and a penalty fee; learning English and U.S. civics; undergoing criminal background checks, submitting biometric data; and, going to the ”back of the line” – meaning waiting their turn for a visa number to become available due to backlogs – before they can apply for residence and, ultimately, citizenship. I am also still trying to absorb the profoundness of this wonderful statement: “There will be no uncertainty about their [undocumented immigrants'] ability to become U.S. citizens if they meet these eligibility criteria.”
Those who apply may be granted provisional legal status, which would likely involve obtaining work authorization. Obtaining employment authorization is beneficial not only for applying for jobs, but because it provides the ability to apply for a social security number, and depending on the state, a drivers license or identification card. After a period of time, the applicant will be able to apply for lawful residence and then citizenship.
There will also be earned citizenship for DREAMers, those who were brought here as infants and young children but are undocumented. ”By going to college or serving honorably in the Armed Forces for at least two years, these children should be given an expedited opportunity to earn their citizenship.”
If you would like to watch President Obama’s remarks, here is a link to the video on YouTube.
Photo from Beverly and Peck.
About the author: Grace Alano is the founder and principal attorney at The Law Offices of Grace R. Alano in San Francisco, California.