Google Webmaster Tools
The battle for child custody is ugly. Parents fight for the right to gain custody of the child. Some of the most pathetic and sad stories of the American family are sometimes displayed in full public view in American courtrooms. The child always caught in the middle –helpless.
The legal standard that judges use when parents fight over their children is the “best interest” standard. The Court determines custody based on what is in the “best interest” of the child. However, in reality, we see often that parents appear to forget about the child’s interest. In Court, it often becomes a mudslinging contest between the mother and the father. Sad but true. See for yourself. Go into a family court room - any family court room- and listen to the parents. Listen to how they plead their case. Listen to how they complain about the need to be with their children. Listen to their gripe about having to drive and pay for gas to pick up their kids. They whine about not getting this or not getting that. All of the sudden, it’s about the hardship of the parent. The child no longer matters.
Parents have the right to fight for custody of their beloved child. But when the child is used as an instrument to hurt or to retaliate against the other parent, the child suffers. Parents who forget about this may wage an all out war to gain custody. They will scream and curse and act in obnoxious ways trying to convince the court the he or she can best care for the child.
California has a policy of attempting to assure that the minor child has frequent and continuing contact with both parents. The Court has broad powers to make other orders related to the welfare of the child. And some good judges always remind the parents that child custody is not a fight between them. It is not a grudge match. It is trying to figure out the best possible parenting plan so that the child can grow as normal as possible despite the obvious hardships in having separated parents.
In many jurisdictions, parents are ordered to attend mediation in an attempt to settle their differences. The court may order counseling for parents with custody disputes. But despite the structured court procedures; the “best interest” standard is often ignored by resentful parents.
What parents must understand is that a child custody proceeding is not about them. It is a time when all responsible adults must resolve to agree for the “best interest” of the child. It is a time for civility and respect and to focus on the child’s interest. Parents may not agree with the system or the rules, but for the sake of the child, selflessness is warranted. It’s time to have big heart and an open mind. Realize that any child caught in the middle of a divorce suffers emotional pain. And the wounds may run deep.
When facing a potential child custody dispute, resolve to create a parenting plan amicably. Talk about how the child can retain as much contact with both parents. Be specific about when and how much time the child will spend with each parent. Discuss the quality of the child’s life as he or she adjusts to a new life. If the child is mature enough, be honest and truthful about the situation. You, the parents, don’t have to agree. But you will need to get along somehow. You will need to find a way to communicate and co-exist. For as long as you live, you will be both parents to that child.
People come to America for many reasons. We come in search of a better life and future. We come for our children – to provide them with more opportunities. But sometimes people try to enter the U.S. at all cost – even if this means committing fraud.
The U.S. Embassy in Manila is considered a high fraud post because of the enormous amount of fake documents and scams people use to get past the gatekeepers. For example, one would pretend to be single while actually married. Another will use a fake passport with a different name or identity. And yet another will not reveal that he has children.
Many immigrants get away with the fraud. They get admitted in the U.S. They arrive and become productive members of the community. Others are less fortunate. They get caught. The penalty is severe. Removal from the U.S. may mean a bar of over ten years.
However, even if a fraud is committed, there is a way to legally stay. Preparation and knowledge are keys. Find out ahead of time how to handle the interview at the immigration office. Any willful misrepresentation of a material fact or the presentation of a fraudulent document will get you in trouble.
However, there are solutions. If you can show that the fraud or misrepresentation was not willful or if it was unintentional, you maybe off the hook. If you didn’t know that you were committing a fraud, how can you be guilty of the fraud? Don’t act as your own attorney. The saying that “one who acts as his own attorney has a fool for a client” applies here. Seek legal counsel if possible.
Even you are caught committing a fraud; there may be waivers that are available. A waiver is a legal term for “forgiving the fraud.” You may be allowed to admit the fraud and still enter the U.S. These are called “waivers of inadmissibility.” There are requirements attached to this waiver. Many of these waivers require that you are related to a U.S. citizen or a “green card” holder. Again see an attorney to find out about these requirements.
If the consul is unable to approve your case the first time, you are entitled to a written explanation. If the fraud can be mitigated, you’ll be given a chance. If not, the reason for the denial should still be in writing. Many consular decisions can be challenged. These State Department employees are humans and they make mistakes. Due to the high volume of cases that are reviewed, errors are not unusual. If you are accused of fraud or misrepresentation and you don’t agree, relax. Take your written explanation with you and see a qualified immigration lawyer.
It’s always better to enter the U.S. legally. But if fraud was committed, don’t give up hope. There are legal loopholes and there are potential reliefs. You can still live a normal life and be a productive member of the community. The key is to know your rights and to get the right advice
Roselva Chaidez, a legal U.S. Resident – not a citizen – lives in the U.S. along with her three children and two grandchildren, all of whom are bona fide American citizens. She was born in Mexico and had been a lawful permanent resident since 1977. However, in 2003, under a lawyer's advice regarding a plea agreement, she plead guilty in an accident insurance scam. She had illegally received $1,200 by falsely claiming to be a victim in a car accident. She received four years probation as a result of her plea agreement.
End of Story
A person makes a poor choice, ends up in trouble with the law, and does her time. That's a rather typical end for a rather typical American story – law broken, justice served, society placated. But the story doesn't end there. Roselva applied for citizenship in 2007, thinking that her debt to society had indeed been paid. “Not so!” said immigration authorities. They denied her application for citizenship and sought to deport her because of her single conviction. Her crime is regarded as an aggravated felony and grounds for deportation of even legal U.S. residents.
As matters have come to light, during her criminal trial Roselva's attorney never disclosed to her the possibility that her plea agreement of guilty could lead to her deportation. Roselva did not discover the issue until she applied for citizenship. She figured she'd done the time to pay for the crime. As a last ditch effort to stay in America with her family, Roselva is applying for relief by virtue of the Sixth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution which guarantees any defendant in U.S. Courts the right to competent legal representation in courts of law.
Telling the Story to the Judges
Though the court has always been strong about incompetent counsel, it has not been really clear about how that should affect immigrants. In 2010, the Supreme Court held that a lawyer has a constitutional duty to advise a client – who is not an American citizen – that pleading guilty to a criminal offense could lead to being deported. So, if a lawyer fails to do that, the client does indeed have a claim regarding ineffective counsel under the Sixth Amendment, even as an immigrant, and thus has a qualified plea in immigration proceedings.
Though there are some other legal considerations, precedent exists as it is set in the language of the 2010 case, and some other previous cases, that matters regarding immigrants and incompetent attorneys can be considered retroactively regarding criminal proceedings and how they affect immigrants.
One Story, Many Issues
Roselva did her time. Roselva had a lousy lawyer when she was in criminal court. Now Roselva is facing deportation and alienation from her close family. Sometimes the mills of the law grind up lives a little too finely. Roselva may have made a bad choice, but she doesn't deserve what may befall her, especially if she could have been advised by competent counsel when she faced a criminal conviction. Her attorney probably didn't have a clue as to how her status as an immigrant would have been affected by her plea bargain. Roselva herself has even stated that she would have accepted far harsher punishment in return for allowance to remain in America with her loved ones.
The Morals of the Story
If anything is to be learned from this story, it's the admonition that you better have competent counsel when faced with a legal or criminal problem, especially if you are looking to become a citizen. Another thing to consider from this story is that if you are having problems with attaining legal status because of a past conviction, there may be a Sixth Amendment reprieve if incompetent counsel regarding your immigrant status can be proven.
When Roselva's ruling comes through, the immigrant community may experience some relief. But, filing for relief from deportation under the premise of having a conviction overturned that is causing that deportation, is a very complicated process. So many maze-like avenues exist; they can range through dealings with immigration courts, state courts, district courts, filings of injunctions, and myriad other complications.
Don't Write the Story Yourself
If you are on unsure ground regarding your immigrant status, don't attempt a foray into such a legal morass as unfolded above without a competent immigration attorney. This case alone shows that belaboring clients to seek effective guidance from the outset of any legal proceeding is the only way to ensure happy endings. Incompetent counsel has always been a problem; after all, the American founders wrote the Sixth Amendment more than two-hundred years ago – and based that on ancient knowledge. Thanks to Roselva, maybe we'll soon have an update for American immigrants.
Imagine. Just imagine that you're a 25-year-old guy having lived his past nineteen years on Maple Street in one of the suburban enclaves of Oakland or San Francisco. You have grown up like any other American kid: going to school, riding bikes with your buds, working at odd jobs and helping your family, volunteering in the community, unfolding the dreams of your future. You have no yearnings for a foreign land; you're an American.
Then you suddenly find yourself in the Philippines at Manila's Ninoy Aquino International Airport. To hitch a bus ride into town, you're getting ready to spend too many of the last few dollars you were able to yank from your bank account. You have the clothes on your back, maybe a duffle bag of personal belongings. You have no family, no friends, no home, no job.
You may know a little Spanish, maybe even a smattering of Tagalog, but not quite enough to ask for simple directions, or find a cheap but safe hotel, or a decent place to eat. You are a Dreamer. But your dreams have been shattered. You have been deported from your American home because the nation's lawmakers couldn't figure out how to deal with your kind.
I have a client, Chris, facing such a dilemma. When it comes down to it, he could possibly be facing life-or-death situations if forced to return to his long-forgotten land of origin. Presently, he is under the protection of DACA, or Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an executive order benevolently provided by former President Obama. That president felt compelled to wield that executive order when a recalcitrant Congress chose not to govern on behalf of youngsters – youngsters who are Americans in every way, except on paper.
The Congress was just too scared to put their political lives on the line by ruling on such a controversial subject. They knew the right thing to do – give these youngsters a solid path to citizenship. But, in a do-nothing mode of governance, which they seem to have perfected over the last eight years or so, they sat on their hands.
Chris is one of the 800,000 facing deportation should DACA be allowed to vanish. These kids and young adults have committed no crime except to innocently follow their parents in search of opportunity and a better life – the American Dream. Trump has vacillated, demanding that Congress come up with legislation. And his attorney general, though all too happy to announce the demise of DACA, has given a do-little Congress six months to find a solution. Don't hold your breath, even though the nation faces bitter loss.
Have a Heart
Yes, Chris and others may be out of luck in a few months. Like many, he is a talented and humble person. He has ambitions of becoming a doctor. He arrived in America from the Philippines at the age of six. (Incidentally, approximately 10,000 Filipino childhood arrivals could be affected if anti-immigrant forces have their way.)
His family was poor but they persevered. His dad took labor-intensive jobs while his mom was the homemaker. Chris has expressed his desire to help those who can’t afford to pay for a doctor. He knows he has a long way to go, but doesn't mind the wait and the hard work to get there.
He continues to go to school and works to help his family. He has never committed a crime and volunteers often at a local homeless shelter. During one meeting Chris told me that he sees the need for caring doctors in the community. “People just need to feel that they are being listened to,” he told me. Of course, he has hopes of one day raising an American family in an American home.
An Assault on Contributing Americans
The cancellation of DACA would be a direct assault on the thousands of immigrants like Chris. They are studying and working, paying taxes, and making a significant contribution to America. Dreamers like Chris are Americans. These youngsters have tried to make the best of the opportunities that they encounter. Many are volunteers within their communities.
DACA has proved to be a success. Simply put, it gives undocumented young people, brought to the U.S. as children, an opportunity to study and work without fear of deportation. It provides a two-year time of protection and a permit to work legally. And then there is a renewal process and the requirements are stringent. High school enrollment or successfully receiving a diploma or GED is necessary. Honorable military discharges are acknowledged. There can be no criminal record. Each must have lived in the U.S. continually since 2007.
There is no sane reason to deport or remove these Dreamers. In fact, consider the insane costs incurred should the authorities have to hunt down 800,000 youngsters, take them to court, and then physically relocate them abroad.
Consideration should also be given to the loss of revenue should we deport these folks. Dreamers contribute significantly to our economy. For instance, reports have shown that eliminating DACA would cost $433.4 billion in GDP over a decade, and reduce Social Security and Medicare tax contributions by $24.6 billion over the same time period.
Relying on the hope and promise of our American government, these trusting youngsters have come forward, revealing their lives and their whereabouts, submitting résumés and applications. Should DACA fall away, they have laid themselves bare, ready to be grabbed by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and sent abroad to lands they do not know. A trust betrayed.
Anti-immigrant forces assert that ending DACA would mean more available jobs and more economic opportunity for natives. No facts back up those assertions. To the contrary, young and busy people have always been an economic benefit to our nation, no matter their origin.
Indeed, we are already seeing immense opposition from the high-tech industry sector. Apple and Microsoft employ many DACA workers. Some of my friends from Stanford University believe that many Ivy League schools will be taking a formal position opposing the loss of DACA.
As a nation of well-meaning immigrants – And we all are, aren't we? – we cannot afford to stand aside and let these Dreamers be tossed away. It's plain cruel and not in line with traditional American values. This is not a time to be partisan, or to label ourselves liberal or conservative, or to make this a racial issue. This is a human crisis crying out for humane action.
Good Americans must raise their voices in communications with representatives and use their ballots for the good cause. What’s at stake are the lives of thousands of young people who call America their home. Congress must act quickly to pass a bipartisan Dream Act of 2017, without any holds, games, or trades by any party. We must not play political ping-pong with the futures of these young American Dreamers.
Perhaps one day my client Chris will become Dr. Chris, if we allow him to have his American dream. Or, maybe one day Chris will be sitting at a desolate bus stop in a foreign land, wondering what happened, what his next desperate move might be, shaking his head about America and lost promise. There is no point to this cruel madness.
We are currently reviewing the most recent development about DACA. There will more updates on this website. In the meantime please do the following:
Here we go, once again. As he did throughout his campaign, and now well into his presidency, President Trump is using the political ploy of pitting his base against the “other” by hinting about race and ethnicity, and by pandering to beleaguered, underemployed, or just plain frightened voters. Now he is using that ugly political ploy to foment a specious attempt at immigration reform.
This August, along with Republican Senators Tom Cotton of Arkansas and David Perdue of Georgia, Trump introduced the Reforming American Immigration for Strong Employment, the RAISE Act. Of course, the use of the word “raise” to name the bill is part of the ploy. The contention of the bill is that by limiting immigration, the labor force would shrink and, for working-class Americans, the availability of jobs would increase and wages would rise.
Congress has tried limiting immigration to raise American wages three times in American history (1882, 1924, 1964) and it failed each time. And if passed, the bill would cause great pain to those immigrants already here and seeking to reunite with their families, and it would cause great turmoil among other potential immigrants having already spent a long time on visa waiting lists.
Cynicism and Racism at its Best
The RAISE Act would cancel family-based immigration which reunites scores of families. Sorely hurt would be those applying for entry for their parents. As for those already on waiting lists, they would be culled by a point-based system bent toward favoring those potential immigrants with wealth, higher education, and English proficiency – read “white” or “European” or “upper-class Asian.”
Of course, immigration would become a trickle and that's what the sponsors want. And they intend to get it by avowing that this has nothing to do with race. They cynically say that its cause is to protect and benefit working Americans.
The thing is, it won't. The bill is just the culmination of a decades-long attempt to thwart an immigration policy largely put in place during the Johnson years – you know, Johnson, the president who championed civil rights. This effort hearkens back to the 1920's when the Congress, also then in a “protectionist” mood, limited immigration mostly to Europeans.
With this point system, the door would be slammed on immigrants from Africa, Asia, and Latin America. That is the object – those with darker skins need not apply. If you are already here and your family happens to be from one of those areas and can't meet the point system – too bad.
The Lies About Getting a Raise
American history proves that reducing immigration has little bearing on increasing wages or opening up more jobs. Our nation had to overturn three restrictive immigration acts to keep our economy rolling. Three times we had to reopen our doors.
We needed eager people with new ideas willing to work, people willing to be American yet bringing their invigorating cultures, people willing to make America great again – if I may borrow a phrase. RAISE would close those doors once again. One case in point: Many companies in Silicon Valley, where I live, were started by immigrants allowed into this great nation by family-based immigration visas.
The National Academy of Sciences, with a survey measured over 10 years, concluded that the impact of immigration on the wages of native workers was negligible. Negative impacts were felt mostly by immigrant workers already here, or native-born workers with less than a high-school education – about nine percent of the population.
The agreement among many economists is that immigrants have little impact on American wages. The Cotton-Perdue bill won't create a skills-based immigration system and it won't increase American wages. But it will wreak havoc on our economy and, worse yet, it will embolden the racism of the alt-right.
The Truth About Wages and Immigration
The truth of American history shows that Latino, Filipino, Chinese, Japanese, Ethiopian, and other minority immigrants serve as the spine of many parts of the nation's economy, especially in agriculture, construction, and service-oriented industries. What's more is that many of these folks further spur economic growth by opening businesses themselves and creating even more jobs.
Ethnic ghettos may exist at first. Yet Irish, Italian, German, and other groups eventually became part of our rollicking American society. So will others. If skin color bothers you, go hide under a bed. I have never personally seen an absolutely white person nor an absolutely black person. The many shades in between are what make humans different, and alike.
If politicians could overcome their phony purity-of-heritage standards and really wanted to improve wages, they have many options. Go for a higher minimum-wage increase, understanding that all American economies, from rural to urban, cannot support the same minimum wage, but at least propose some federal guidelines. How about addressing pay equity for women? Strengthening our national health care system would relieve workers and employers of prohibitive expenses – not to mention just putting the populace more at ease on that front.
And, how about coming up with comprehensive, sensible – and just (You know what I mean.) – immigration reform? RAISE doesn't do anything to address the 11 million living in the shadows. Give them a path to citizenship. They already pay taxes. In fact, economic studies have shown that immigrants pay more into the system than they take out. They use less public benefits than the native-born.
What about the backlog of those waiting for immigration? And what about the backlog of those waiting to be united with their loved ones? Somebody is not doing their job. And RAISE is not a job-doer. It's a racist sham catering to a frightened base.
Raising the Matter of Cruelty
Fortunately, the chances may be slim for passing RAISE. Democrats probably won't buy it. Plus, Trump has many problems. He is alienating his Republican partners in the Congress. His approval ratings are plummeting. The Russian investigation is causing him great consternation. And he's ranting about a wall that Mexico won't pay for, so he's threatening a budget default. Hopefully, RAISE will fall by the wayside. Maybe some senators more sane than Cotton or Perdue will produce some effective immigration reform.
Many American-immigrant families have filed papers to reunite with their families. Many are already at an advanced age. The act should at least have provision for those who have been waiting too long. At my practice, I have an 80-year-old client who filed for her sister 20 years ago. If RAISE passes without that provision, that 20-year wait could be in vain. And that raises the matter of shameless cruelty to fellow human beings.
A few months ago, a bill was introduced in Congress that would severely change the family based immigration as we know it. It proposes to do the following:
Our society has a common and overwhelming fear of death and this paralyzing fear often leads to hesitation and inaction in planning for the inevitable. But estate planning doesn’t have to focus on the end of a life, but rather can be an affirmation of life, an act of love for the people you care about.
An estate plan is basically a set of written instructions about what should be done before and after one dies. Having an estate plan already in place protects the people you love during a difficult time of their lives; protects them from bad decisions, creditors, and ill-intentioned relatives. Thus, you can safeguard your family during a time of mourning and sorrow.
WHY PEOPLE DON’T PLAN
There are many misconceptions that keep people procrastinating their estate planning. Most people have good intentions and think they’ll get to it one day. Some believe that estate planning is for older people. The excuse that “I’m too young for that” is fairly common among the younger generation. They think they have plenty of time to plan, later. They believe they have a long life ahead of them and thus plenty of time to put it off. But, unfortunately, we all know that “death doesn’t wait for you to be ready…”
Another misconception many people have is that estate planning is only for the wealthy. In fact, people with modest incomes have even more reason to plan for their death; these are the people who can afford to lose the least. Every family can be hurt by infighting and creditors and that’s why estate planning is for everyone.
It isn’t just about what happens after you die; it’s also about what happens if you get incapacitated. Who makes decisions for you if you are unable to do so for yourself? A power of attorney grants legal power to the person you choose, allowing them to make decisions for you if you become unconscious or mentally incompetent due to illness or accident. You can also decide in advance what will be done for you regarding life support. Having plans already in place will save your loved ones from having to make these tough choices, tough choices that often lead to disagreements among family members. Without an estate plan, your family might end up fighting amongst themselves during a time when they should be caring for one another.
IF YOU DON’T PLAN, YOUR STATE HAS ONE FOR YOU
Some statistics show that only around 50% of people have a will or trust, meaning 50% of people lack the proper planning in the event of their death. But this doesn’t have to be the case! These documents can easily be created with the help of a competent attorney. Basically, a last will and testament lets you direct how your assets should be administered and distributed. If you die without a will, you die intestate. Intestate means that your assets are distributed according to the laws of your state. The problem with this is that you may not like how it’s done.
On the other hand, with the help of a competent attorney, you can ensure that your assets are allocated as you wish. A trust is basically a legal agreement between the grantor, the trustee, and the beneficiaries. The grantor transfers ownership of certain assets to the trustee, who then manages them for the benefit of the beneficiaries. This means that your wishes will be carried out the way you want it.
Over the course of the past twenty plus years, we’ve heard horror stories of people dying without a will or trust. These stories are made all the worse knowing that our services could easily have protected these families and made a difficult time a little easier. One client came to our firm while he was fighting with his siblings over the $100,000 asset that his dad left behind after he passed. He told us that his dad would’ve wanted them to love and care for each other instead of mudslinging and fighting. This client knew that his father would be disappointed knowing that his children were arguing. In the case of this client, even though the father died without a will, his heirs could still file a claim to the asset, which was the cause of the fighting.
In yet another case, a man died without a will, leaving behind his second wife and children. One of the kids came to us in order to ask about his rights. In some states, the children could be completely out of luck: they would get zero from his estate. Nothing. Luckily for this client, this happened in California and, under their intestate law, the children would still get a part of the estate.
Another client’s wife of over 40 years passed away without a will and trust. In this situation, tons of paperwork needed to be filed with the court which meant time and expense while the matter was in probate. While he should have been focused on celebrating his wife’s life and their years together, he had to deal with paperwork and legal matters. All of these situations could have been avoided with estate planning.
THE NITTY GRITTY
If you’re wondering what types of assets go into a trust, here is a partial list:
cash accounts, including checking, savings, and money markets; non-retirement investment and brokerage accounts; annuities; tangible properties; business interests; life insurance; monies owed to you; and real estate, among others.
SAVE ON TAXES
Let’s talk briefly about tax. Estate tax is expensive. How expensive? Try 45%-55%. Your estate will have to pay federal estate taxes if its net value when you die is more than the exempt amount set by Congress at that time. I’ll avoid the overwhelming details, but suffice it to say, your loved ones could end up paying a large sum. Fortunately, you can help your loved ones. If planned properly, you can reduce or avoid getting hit with a hefty estate tax.
One client who came to us to ask about a revocable trust confessed his motivation for seeking help: “It’s about peace of mind and the quality of the lives of the people I leave behind. I have six children, and I want to ensure that when I’m no longer around, they will continue to live comfortably and relatively happily.” You can have that same peace of mind. Plan your estate, not because death is inevitable, but because life is too precious for the ones you leave behind. ******
You Don't Have to Be a “Mother Theresa”
To become a U.S. citizen, one must possess “Good Moral Character.” What that means is rather vague and subjective. The legal definition reads: Good moral character is character that measures up to the standards of the average citizens of the community in which the applicant resides. However, you don’t necessarily have to be a “Mother Theresa” to become a U.S. citizen. In fact, there are many who have attained citizenship even after a stint on criminal probation.
What Were You Up to These Last Five Years?
In a naturalization or citizenship proceeding, an immigration officer will back-check law enforcement records for at least the five years preceding your application. Will your name pop up? A short list of offenses that could raise a red flag include: Incarceration for 180 Days (or Longer), certain Gambling Related Charges, perjury (Lying Under Oath), Habitual Drunkenness, Aggravated Felony, Prostitution, Polygamy
Those with a “Background” Need Legal Advice
Are you safe if your bad conduct background extends to more than five years ago? It depends. The immigration officer could indeed consider earlier malfeasance. If the officer feels that you have not reformed, or feels that the charges are pertinent to other circumstances regarding your application, you may very well be penalized. Can you be deported? Absolutely. Applying for citizenship should never be done without the support of an attorney, especially if you bear the onus of past criminal charges.
Little White Lies Can Become Big Black Marks
Fudging the facts a little to obtain immigration benefits is often seen as normal. But be careful on this one. If false testimony is made orally, under oath or affirmation, and with intent to obtain any immigration benefit; you can get nailed. Take your time to carefully recall your past history. Go slow, be sure that your facts line up. If you’re concerned about any past misconduct, check with an immigration attorney to help you avoid misrepresenting yourself.
Perform Your Own Background Check
Even if you have a long list of past offenses, don't be discouraged; that does not necessarily mean denial. Go back to the courts that processed your convictions and obtain a certified record of disposition for each. The immigration officers will want to see these dispositions to ensure that your cases have been resolved. Your attorney should see these as well.
Officers Demand Excruciating Detail
A good attorney will scrutinize each of your past offenses and have you recount your stories. The facts of each offense, why they happened, and how the court system dealt with them, are very important. With this knowledge, an attorney can help you prepare for the inevitable immigration interview. In the interview, a seasoned immigration officer will painstakingly require you to recall all the facts that led to your convictions – in excruciating detail.
Dress Rehearsals for Immigration Interviews
A typical story involved a client who had eight convictions within the ten years prior to his application. Luckily, the convictions were minor. Along with his attorney, he reviewed and examined each conviction and rehearsed how he should answer any possible questions. One slip, or one not so thoughtful answer, could have led to his detention and even deportation. The client’s application for citizenship was granted because of our careful preparation.
Good Reasons for Citizenship Do Not Negate Bad Records
Many people with a criminal record arrive in our office with a vague understanding that filing a naturalization application may lead to removal proceedings, or even mandatory detention for certain convictions. Grounds for mandatory detention are included in §236(c)of the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1952 (INA), Pub. L. No. 82-414, 66 Stat. 163, (codified as amended at 8 U.S.C §§1101 et seq.), with reference to INA §§212(a)(2), (3) and 237(a)(2), (3).Some people are shocked that a simple criminal offense, or even a very old offense, may cause them to lose permanent residence. No matter how good their intent or how great their need for making application, bad records won't disappear.
Know Your Stuff
Regardless of the reason why a person may want to become a U.S. citizen, be very aware that the Immigration Service will conduct a thorough background check on each applicant. At the time of the interview, every speck of information that could be in variance with “Good Moral Character” will show up. It’s best to be prepared and ready to adequately explain your spotty legal history to ensure that the interviewing officer sees that you are presently above reproach, and that you are a decent candidate for U.S. Citizenship. ***
Romance and Immigration
Marriage is romantic. Marriages of convenience are not. But if it’s a permanent residency or green card you want, then it’s imperative that you prove to immigration officers that your marriage is in fact, a marriage born out of love and passion.
But that’s easier said than done. Consider these questions: “When did you and your spouse last bathe together?” “What did your spouse wear to bed last night?” “Do you and your spouse use condoms?” These are the kinds of question – often asked in separate interviews – which you will have to be prepared to answer.
To prove your marriage is real, the government will poke into your private lives and nothing about it will be romantic.
No Enemy of Romance
It’s not that the U.S. government wants to dampen romance or marital bliss. Quite the contrary, the government knows that it is important on many levels that those legally bound in matrimony deserve to be near and dear to each other. In fact, U.S. immigration laws even have special visas available for fiancées.
Every year, almost half-a-million citizens of the United States marry foreign-born folks and petition for them to obtain permanent residence in the U.S. Much of the ponderous bureaucracy and documentation required to obtain residency has been put aside for their benefit. Spouses of U.S. citizens are considered an “immediate relative” under immigration laws. Thus, they are exempt from all numerical quota limitations that could otherwise mean months, sometimes years, of being unable to live together freely and permanently.
The U.S. government has made it so easy for an American and a foreigner to get married, that marriage to a U.S. citizen is often referred to as the “fast lane” to permanent residency and a green card. The “immediate relative” status wipes away a number of medical, civil, and criminal bench marks that could possibly prevent a similar unmarried person from even considering a visit to the U.S., much less gaining residency.
As a consequence, immigration authorities certainly raise an eyebrow when a foreign-born person marries immediately upon entering the U.S. If a foreigner marries while in the midst of a U.S.C.I.S. legal proceedings to remove them from American soil, the authorities will certainly check the bona fides of that marriage.
Going Too Far
Any number of circumstances in a petition for permanent residency can cause immigration authorities to wonder about marital bona fides. That marriage to a U.S. citizen is often traded on the international black market probably makes immigration officers a bit over-zealous in trying to weed out marriages of convenience.
This over-zealousness has led immigration officers to go too far during marriage interviews. This is where lawyers come in to protect couples they are representing by coaching them on which questions are within and out of bounds of the marriage interview.
Usually, the foreigner spouse’s culture makes the situation even more unpleasant. Many immigrants to the U.S. come from countries with many sexual taboos that Westerners can't even imagine. A question as innocuous as, “Do you and your spouse have sex?” is cause for many to blush, squirm, and become tongue-tied. This only casts further aspersions on their attempt to have their marriage declared valid by immigration authorities.
To understand the breadth and depth of scrutiny perceived marriages of convenience undergo, know that almost nothing about a couple’s private life is spared from questioning – from the mundane to the most private, like sex. Myriad questions concerning the excruciating minutiae of their day-to-day life together, from the color of the bed spread, to where the car keys are kept, and on to the names of aunts and uncles are asked before moving on to the couple’s sex life.
Consider again: “Do you and your spouse use condoms?” What if the woman says “No!” to the question, because she knows it's against certain religious tenets and fears perhaps those tenets have some authority in immigration law? What if the husband says “Yes!” because it's true? Sex questions are, at best, meaninglessly embarrassing and, at worst, harassing and confusing and can endanger a couple’s petition for validity.
The Ability to Blush
One of the great givens in American law is that innocence is presumed until proven otherwise. Also, the dignity and the worth of the individual are prized. It is demeaning to those precepts, as it is demeaning to the couple under scrutiny, to ask unnecessarily detailed questions regarding sex. Does asking perhaps indicate a bit of prurience on the part of the investigators?
Questions regarding sexual details really have no place in establishing the bona fides of a marriage. They prove nothing except the ability to blush. The plethora of other questions provides material enough to detect the realities of the relationship. Even though sex is part of the romance of marriage, it does not define a couple’s love and relationship.