Immigration resolutions for 2016

In my column This week's Consulta Migratoria® I share recommendations that may be useful next year.

This is the column:

As hard as it may seem to believe, we have reached the end of the year. 2015 has been a year in which we have seen the immigration issue continue to be a topic of general debate and one of great importance in next year's presidential election. But we have also seen great opposition to the implementation of immigration reform and temporary relief measures, such as President Obama's executive actions that were blocked by a federal judge in Texas.

We do not yet know if the U.S. Supreme Court will decide in favor of lifting the restrictions that will allow the expansion of DACA and the implementation of DAPA - the deferred action program for parents of U.S. citizens or permanent residents, but now is the time to reflect and make immigration resolutions for the new year.

These are my recommendations for 2016:

Obtain U.S. citizenship. If you are eligible, don't think twice. Take action. Especially in this presidential election year. It's in your hands to help change the government of your new country. If you are a citizen and register on time, you can vote for the next president of the United States. As a citizen, not only can you vote, but you will also have more advantages and rights, and the possibility of getting better jobs.

Also, something very important: you cannot be deported from the country, unless you committed fraud to obtain your U.S. citizenship. If you are a permanent resident, you are subject to deportation if you violate the terms of your stay in the country. Other advantages: you will be able to travel outside the U.S. with no time limit. You will also be able to process immediate relative petitions more quickly.

2. Help your family members emigrate to the United States. As a U.S. citizen, you can file family petitions to bring your parents, spouses, children and unmarried or married siblings to live in the U.S. One advantage of being a citizen is that immigration law allows you to bring your children and siblings, even if they are married, along with their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21. But if you are a permanent resident, you can only petition for your spouse and unmarried children of any age. You should file applications to bring your family members as soon as possible, because many of these procedures take years to complete.

If you are eligible, apply for permanent residence as soon as possible. If you have a pathway to permanent residency in the U.S., whether through family-based petitions, employment-based petitions, or special programs such as NACARA and the U visa, you should start the process as soon as possible to ensure your legal status in the country. Permanent residency opens the path to citizenship and allows you to petition for certain family members.

4. Never lie on immigration applications. This is one of the worst things you can do if you want to obtain permanent residency, citizenship or a legal status that allows you to live in the U.S. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is very rigorous in its investigation of foreigners who wish to immigrate to this country. If you lie on immigration forms, it is very likely that they will find out and deny you the benefits you are applying for. If you manage to obtain an immigration status through fraud and the federal government finds out after granting you a benefit, they can revoke your residency, citizenship or other benefits and place you in deportation proceedings.

5. Do not hire notaries public or immigration consultants for immigration legal advice. U.S. law prohibits such persons from giving legal advice. Only licensed attorneys or federally accredited representatives are authorized to give legal advice. In addition to the fact that these individuals are breaking the law by offering legal advice and services, they do not have the necessary knowledge to conduct immigration proceedings and may harm or ruin their cases by submitting incorrect forms or including false information in documents.

You should invest in your legal future in the U.S. If you are of limited means, there are some non-profit organizations that can help you. Just make sure that these organizations have accredited lawyers or legal representatives and the necessary experience to help your case. Ask to see their licenses to make sure they are authorized by the government to practice law.

6. Save to pay for immigration procedures. Obtaining U.S. residency or citizenship ensures a better life in this country and is therefore a very good investment in your future. But there are costs involved, and depending on your background and current situation, they can be expensive.

Saving is particularly important if you do not have a path to legal status at the moment, but are waiting for restrictions to be lifted so that President Obama's executive actions or immigration reform can be implemented in the future. It is estimated that there will be fines to pay, as well as fees to complete the paperwork. You should be financially prepared for that time.

7. Avoid problems with the law. One of the requirements for the government to grant residency or U.S. citizenship to an immigrant is good moral character. Getting in trouble with the law can hurt your immigration status because it can be considered bad moral character. In addition, permanent residents who commit certain crimes can be deported. Also, people in the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program can lose their immigration status if they are found guilty of two misdemeanors or one felony.

8. Keep your immigration records and proof that you have lived in the U.S.
It is important to know what immigration paperwork you have done in the past in order to better prepare for future immigration paperwork. You should always ask for a copy of any document that you or your attorney has sent to USCIS and keep it in your files. If you change attorneys or USCIS misplaces any documents, you will have copies that can be useful for future immigration proceedings.

On the other hand, many immigration benefits require you to prove that you have been living in the U.S. for a certain amount of time. You need to keep receipts for rent, utilities, etc., that prove you have been living in the country. This information will be very important if the restrictions on executive actions are lifted and the implementation of DAPA begins. To be eligible for the DAPA benefit announced in November 2014, you will need to show that you have lived in the U.S. continuously since before January 1, 2010.

9. Do your taxes. Paying taxes is the law and is a point that is always talked about in immigration reform proposals. Doing your taxes every year, even if you do not have legal status, is an excellent way to prove your stay in the U.S. and demonstrate that you are of good moral character. Consult a licensed and experienced accountant/bookkeeper for advice.

If the federal government learns that you did not comply with your obligation to file your taxes when you should have, they can force you to pay the taxes you owe plus interest and penalties. The reasoning is that you are earning money in this country and enjoying general benefits at the expense of taxpayers in the U.S., such as access to public schools for your children, highway infrastructure, and certain public services, and it is up to you to pay your share.

Thank you for reading my column and for all the questions you sent me during 2015. I will continue to keep you informed in 2016 - Happy New Year!