Monthly Archives: November 2013

This Is News: Actual Enforcement Against Shady Immigration Consultants!

oakland courtIn today’s news piece, “Judge: Co. Owes $15M in Botched Immigration Forms,” NBC Bay Area states that the Oakland City Attorney has obtained a $15.1  million court judgment against a fraudulent immigration consulting  business, so-called “American Legal Services.” This company’s actions — we can’t call them legal services, because there seems not to have been a single attorney on staff — are said to have resulted in many Oakland families who were seeking immigration help losing vast amounts of money or winding up in removal (deportation) proceedings.

This story is both surprising and not. The “not surprising” part is that immigrants and their families are prey for unscrupulous fraudsters. That’s been going on for years.

Every immigration attorney has had clients come to them after their case was botched by someone who had no idea what they were doing, but pretended otherwise and charged a lot of money. Many use the name “notario,” because in the Spanish-speaking community, it implies someone with actual training, while in the U.S., it just means someone who’s a notary public — that is, can confirm your signature using a rubber stamp.

The surprising part is that someone is actually doing something about it! Immigrants are seemingly so low on the list of societal priorities that such issues often go unaddressed by enforcement authorities — even when all the evidence is right in front of their faces.

I once had a case where a client paid a fraudster to put a green card stamp in her passport (a stamp which he’d somehow acquired straight from U.S. immigration authorities). You’d think that would have been seen as a serious matter by anyone within the immigration system. But when I pointed it out to the attorney for the Department of Homeland Security, and urged him to go after the guy, he shrugged. As far as I know, that was the end of it.

But let’s hope the Oakland court judgement is a sign of more enforcement to come. If you’ve been harmed by a fraudulent immigration service provider, you can add to the push for further enforcement by reporting it to the police, district attorney’s office, and state bar association. And if you’re seeking immigration services, see “How to Avoid a Sleazy Immigration Lawyer” for more information.

Foreign Student Numbers Recovered Since 9/11

Graduation-5502One of the unpredictable consequences of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks on the U.S. was that the number of foreign students coming to the U.S. plummeted — and remained low for several years thereafter. The reason was, in no small part, rumors indicating that many of the hijackers had come to the U.S. on student visas.

Only one of them did, actually, as detailed by FactCheck.org. The rest of the 19 hijackers mostly used business or tourist visas. But that fact did not slow down efforts to add security checks to the student visa application process and to the monitoring of students after arrival in the U.S. — efforts which went a little haywire and led, for a time, to massive delays, denials, and discouragement facing would-be foreign students.

Why should we care? Well, there’s the fact that foreign students tend to learn about the U.S. and adjust their preexisting stereotypes, — and vice versa as they meet U.S. students — potentially leading to greater worldwide understanding.

Foreign students also contribute financially, starting, but not ending, with their payments of tuition (out-of-state, in many cases). See this report from the American Immigration Council: “Record Number of International Students Add $24 billion to U.S. Economy.”

Also, the “bait and switch” aspects of American immigration law have always bothered me. We offer various visas and benefits, but then frequently treat the people who would like to take advantage of them as criminals, regardless of whether they’ve done the slightest thing to warrant suspicion.

In any case, things seem to have calmed down a bit, and statistics collected by the Institute of International Education show that, since approximately 2007, the numbers of foreign students in the U.S. have steadily risen. In 2013, the U.S. reached a record 819,644 foreign students, most of them from China, India, and South Korea. See the “Open Doors Data” portal for details.

And if you’re interested in studying in the U.S., the Nolo site offers a wealth of information in its “Student and Exchange Visitor Visas” section.

Check Your Passport BEFORE Submitting Form N-400 Naturalization Application

airplanePicture this: You fill out Form N-400, the application for U.S. citizenship. On one of the questions, you’re asked to list all your trips outside the U.S. for the past five years. “That’s easy, I haven’t taken any trips for at least five years,” you think, and enter “N/A” in this section.

The day of your interview arrives. You go over the list of what you need to bring to the interview. It includes the passport of your home county. You dig through your possessions until you finally find the passport, and rush to your interivew.

Everything at the interview is going well. Your spoken and written English are fine, and you’ve memorized the history and government questions and easily pass this part of the test. Then the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) examiner opens your passport. “Hmm, there’s a visa stamp showing that you HAVE traveled outside the U.S. in the last five years,” she notices.

Uh oh. This is exactly the situation faced by an applicant with whom I reasonably spoke — a careful, professional person, whose memory had just happened to lapse slightly when it came to the matter of recent travel. And now the applicant was facing a USCIS examiner who was suddenly suspicious about the discrepancy between what was written on the N-400 application and what the passport showed.

Fortunately, after some embarrassed explanation, this applicant was able to convince the examiner that the undisclosed travel was a mere oversight, and obtained approval for U.S. citizenship. But not every applicant is going to meet a similarly understanding examiner.

The lesson here is simple: No matter how good you think your memory, check your passport and any other official documents concerning matters to be entered on your N-400 application for U.S. citizenship. For more information on the application process, see the book, Becoming a U.S. Citizen: A Guide to the Law, Exam & Interview (N0lo).

It’s National Hug Your Immigration Lawyer Day!

mexican immWell, no, it’s not really. (But with all the national days on the calendar, who’s checking?)

And immigration lawyers are one group that deserves more appreciation than it gets, in a world where lawyers consistently rank at the bottom of the public opinion scales.

Here are some reasons to give a little love to this country’s immigration lawyers (the good ones, anyway — there are some bad ones out there, too):

  • They’re not getting rich off their work. Immigration lawyers usually work as solo practitioners, which means paying a lot of office overhead in return for payments of flat fees or low hourly rates, at amounts that reflect their clients’ typical lack of ability to pay big bucks. (And forget chasing down payment if the judge orders the client deported!) Noodling around online, all the surveys I found put immigration lawyers’ salaries in the $70,000 range — which would be considered peanuts by most attorneys. It’s less if the attorneys work at a nonprofit organization.
  • They do a lot of volunteer work. Huge numbers of immigrants cannot afford even an hour of a lawyer’s fees, yet are desperately in need of representation, for example with cases for asylum (because they’ve fled persecution in another country) or  deportation defense. The U.S. government provides no funding at all to help with this. (There is no immigration equivalent to the “public defender” program for U.S. criminal cases.) So immigration lawyers, often with the coordination and help of perpetually underfunded immigration-service nonprofits, attempt to pick up the slack.
  • They’re grappling with the most complex body of law on the books. For real. As is often repeated, it’s more complicated than the tax code. And it’s treated as a political football, with clauses added and subtracted with every new Congress or President.
  • They can do everything right and still have the case go wrong. I don’t want to point fingers, but . . . well, yes I do want to point fingers. The entire immigration bureaucracy, including the State Department and U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, is a morass of paperwork, process, and inconsistency. Ask any immigration lawyer, and you’ll get tales of frustration — delays and lost files or checks, demands for documents that are legally irrelevant, denials that made no sense or were based on bias or lack of cultural awareness, and so on. These can be difficult to explain to clients, who’ve paid their fees and expect to see some results — or who even believe that the attorneys are somehow in league with the U.S. government.
  • They occasionally pull off miracles. Every time I attend an immigration lawyer’s conference, I hear some story of a lawyer who went to bat on a case I would have thought was a sure loser — and won. That kind of spirit and optimism is hard to maintain, and makes a big difference for other immigrants down the line.

Need I say more? Actually, I have said more, about the important process of choosing, hiring, or firing an immigration attorney.