In my last column Migratory Consultation® of 2016, I offer you some recommendations for the new year.
This is the column:
We closed 2016 with great uncertainty about the future of many immigrants living illegally in the United States. During the course of the election campaign and after being elected president, Donald Trump repeated numerous times that when he takes office he will deport millions of undocumented immigrants. This has caused panic in some communities. But before we assume the worst, we must rationalize the situation. Is mass deportations really feasible? And what order of priority will the immigration issue be for the new president? Is it possible for the new administration to carry out immigration reform?
Mass deportations are not feasible for several reasons, including because it would negatively affect the country's economy. However, that does not mean there will be no deportations. There certainly will be - just as there were during President Obama's administration, which has deported millions of undocumented immigrants by focusing primarily on certain categories of people, including criminals and those apprehended at the border. It must be assumed that these priorities will remain in place under the Trump administration.
But the reality is that we don't know what the new President will do or if he will push for immigration reform.
Faced with so many questions, you have to be prepared. I understand the concern, but we must remain calm.
Therefore, I have the following recommendations for 2017:
- Find out if they are eligible for an immigration benefit. Consult with an immigration attorney to see if there is an avenue by which you can obtain temporary or permanent legal status. A thorough analysis of your situation can give you clarity about your legal options.
- Do not hire notaries public, immigration consultants or multiservices for immigration legal advice. In 2016, as in previous years, we have seen numerous cases of notarios, immigration consultants, multiservices, so-called activists and charlatans who have taken advantage of the need of immigrants to scam them, ruining or damaging their immigration cases. Fortunately, some of them have been arrested and prosecuted, including Gloria Saucedo of Hermandad Mexicana Transnacional in Panorama City, California, Maylin Silva of Todos por Venezuela in Miami, Florida, Rose Sanchez-Cañete of the Latino Federation of Tenants Association (LAFEOTA) in Alexandria, Virginia, Sara Salcido of Immigration and Court Services of the Desert in Riverside, California, and Oswaldo Cabrera of the International Latin American Coalition in Los Angeles, California. But there are many more lurking. Now more than ever, it is important to make sure you have the right advice. Being able to stay in the country legally depends on it.
Remember that in the United States only licensed attorneys or federally accredited representatives are authorized to provide legal advice.
- Verify the credentials of the attorney or government accredited representative. Your immigration future and your money are at stake when you seek immigration legal advice. Make sure the person you go to is licensed, experienced and has no criminal record. If they do not want to show you their diplomas, certifications and proof that they can practice law, it is a bad sign. If they suspect they are showing you any false documentation, they can always check to see if a lawyer is licensed to practice law with the state bar in the state where they are licensed. Since immigration law is federal, a lawyer can be licensed in any state. Ask the lawyer in which state he or she is registered as an attorney. In the case of an accredited representative, you can check with the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA).
- If eligible, apply for permanent residency. People who have family members who are residents or citizens or employers who wish to sponsor them or who are currently housed under special programs such as the U visa and who meet all the requirements should start the process as soon as possible to ensure your legal status in the country. I know people who procrastinate because of carelessness or lack of money. But investing in a process that can give them a status and authorization to work legally is fundamental for a better life and future prosperity in the country.
- Obtain U.S. citizenship. If they are eligible, they should act as soon as possible and become citizens. Permanent residency allows them to live and work legally in the United States, but they can lose it if they commit acts that make them deportable from the country. Once they become citizens, their stay in the country is assured, because they can no longer be deported from the country, unless they committed fraud to obtain U.S. citizenship. In addition, they have more advantages and rights, and the possibility of getting better jobs. They can also process petitions for immediate relatives more quickly.
- Help family members emigrate to the United States. U.S. citizens and permanent residents may file family-based petitions to legally bring their relatives to the United States. Citizens have more advantages, since in addition to parents, spouses, and children they may petition for their unmarried or married siblings. In addition, immigration law allows them to bring their children even if they are married, along with their spouses and unmarried children under the age of 21. Permanent residents may only petition for spouses and unmarried children of any age. Applications should be filed as soon as possible because many of these procedures take years to complete.
- Report if you are a victim of crime. Undocumented immigrants who are victims of crimes should report it to the police. They should not fear being reported to immigration authorities. Certain crime victims may be eligible for a U visa, which would allow them to live and work legally in the country. But if the crime is not reported to the police, they cannot apply.
- Saving to pay for immigration procedures. In addition to having to pay for good legal advice, all immigration proceedings have costs. Depending on the history, complexity of the case and the immigrant's current situation, the costs can be high. Many cases are handled in stages, so you do not need all the money at once. But be prepared.
Saving is particularly important now if they do not have a path to legal status, but expect immigration reform in the future. If that happens, it is estimated that they will have to pay fines as well as filing fees. When the time comes, they should be ready to be able to make the necessary payments.
- Never lie on immigration applications. The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) thoroughly investigates all foreign nationals who file applications for the purpose of immigrating to this country and severely penalizes individuals who lie on immigration forms. If they discover false information on an application, they can deny the benefit being applied for. If they commit fraud to obtain an immigration status and the federal government finds out after granting a benefit, they can revoke the residency, citizenship or other benefits granted and place the immigrant in deportation proceedings.
- Avoid problems with the law. One of the requirements for the government to grant an immigrant residency or U.S. citizenship is good moral character. If they are in trouble with the law - such as driving under the influence of alcohol or committing an act of domestic violence - it can be considered moral turpitude and may jeopardize their paperwork or be grounds for denial of immigration benefits.
Keep in mind that permanent residents who commit certain crimes can be deported. Individuals under the Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program may lose their immigration status if they are found guilty of two misdemeanors or one felony.
- Keep your immigration records and proof that you have lived in the U.S. In order to analyze what options exist to obtain legal status and prepare for immigration proceedings, it is important to know the person's history, whether applications have been filed in the past, and if so, what immigration proceedings have been done in the past. They should always request a copy of any documents that have been sent to USCIS and keep them on file. If you change attorneys or USCIS loses a document, you will have copies that can be used for future immigration proceedings.
It is also important to keep receipts for rent, utilities, etc., that prove you have been living in the country. Many immigration benefits require proof that you have been living in the U.S. for a certain amount of time.
- Doing your taxes. Paying taxes is the law. It doesn't matter what your legal status is. Doing your taxes every year is an excellent way to prove your stay in the United States and demonstrate that you are of good moral character. Undocumented immigrants without a social security number must get an Individual Taxpayer Identification Number (ITIN) in order to file their returns. Consult a licensed and experienced accountant for advice.
If the federal government learns that they did not comply with their obligation to file taxes, they can be penalized with penalties and interest on the money not paid to the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The reasoning is that they are making money in this country and enjoying general benefits at the expense of taxpayers in the United States, such as access to public schools for their children, highway infrastructure, and certain public services, and it is incumbent upon them to pay their share.
Thank you for reading my column and for all the questions you sent me during 2016. I will continue to keep you informed in 2017 - I wish you a happy and prosperous new year!