Immigration Law Frequently Asked Questions

Answers to Immigration Questions


  • When do you need a Attorney?
  • Ideally, many immigration issues and procedures can be handled without the assistance of an immigration attorney. In fact, many individuals accomplish their immigration goals with the assistance of their local BCIS office and other readily available resources. Proceeding without an attorney, however, is not appropriate for everyone. In most cases, you will know when you need an attorney. In other cases, failing to obtain the advice of an attorney could mean the difference between permanent residence and deportation. Many immigration attorneys will give you a free consultation or deduct the cost of the consultation from your total fees. There are also low-cost immigration law centers in many cities that serve low-income foreign nationals.

    If any of the following descriptions applies to you, it will be worth your while to seek legal advice:

    1. If you have committed or been convicted of any crime. Most forms ask whether you have committed or been convicted of a crime and you will be fingerprinted if you want to immigrate. Not all crimes create a barrier to immigration, but if you make misrepresentations on your immigration forms, you risk deportation.
    2. If your prior applications have been denied. An attorney should be able to determine what the problem is and whether it can be remedied.
    3. If you have attempted the process on your own and simply cannot figure out what to do next. The immigration process is notoriously complicated and many individuals hire attorneys because they have reached the limits of their patience. In many instances, it is better to hire an attorney than to improvise because your forms could become lost in the system and cause an unnecessary delay in your immigration process.
    4. If you have been deported or otherwise forced to leave the United States. Not all removals from the United States will result in permanent bars to immigration.
    5. If you have a communicable disease. Not all diseases are a permanent bar to immigration.
    6. If you have filed your immigration forms and have been waiting an unreasonably long time for a response. In many instances, a well-established immigration attorney will have relationships with BCIS personnel that will facilitate a timely determination of the status of your application.
    7. If you divorced your first U.S. spouse before the condition was removed from your permanent residence and you are now seeking to adjust status based on a marriage to another U.S. citizen. In many instances it will be difficult to prove that your first marriage was not a sham.
    8. If your marriage to a U.S. citizen failed before you were able to file your petition to have the condition removed on your residency and you will have to file alone. The procedure for waiving the joint petition requirement can be extremely difficult, particularly when your former spouse and his or her family won’t provide you with any evidence that the marriage was not a sham.
    9. If you are immigrating with your family and you have a child that could reach age twenty-one before your permanent residence status is granted. For example, if you are obtaining a green card through employment, your spouse and your children under the age of twenty-one will also be eligible for green cards. Current laws provide relief in many instances where a child reaches the age of twenty-one while his or her parent’s application for an immigration benefit is pending. However, those laws are complex, and consequently, you will want to consult an attorney to determine how they apply to your child, and if they do not, what is the most expeditious method of processing your paperwork.
    10. If you are obtaining a visa or green card based on an employment offer, but your prospective employer has not offered to handle the immigration process. The process of obtaining a visa or green card based on employment offers is complicated. Failure to follow procedures correctly can result in lengthy delays.

  • BCIS Interviews Dos & Don’ts
  • Many, but not all, immigration procedures require an interview with an officer of the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS), the agency of the U.S. government that took over responsibility for many of the immigration-related functions formerly performed by the INS. Although most interviews with the BCIS are anxiety provoking, being prepared and not arousing suspicion will make the experience less unpleasant. The tenor of each interview will depend on the personality of the BCIS official with whom you meet, so it is almost impossible to be entirely prepared. It is important to remember, however, that it is the BCIS official’s job to determine whether there is anything about your background or present circumstances that precludes you from obtaining the immigration status you desire. The officer does not have anything against you personally.

    The Dos

    Do prepare for the meeting. Have all of your original documents in order and review your forms. Bring copies all of your forms and all your document originals. You should be able to respond to questions about your forms without extensive referencing and confusion.

    Do be prepared to answer personal questions if you are at an interview related to your marriage to a U.S. citizen.

    Do follow the directions of the BCIS officer. If the officer wants to interview you and your spouse separately, that is perfectly appropriate.

    Do listen carefully and answer only the question that the officer asks you.

    Do bring an interpreter with you if you do not understand English.

    Do dress appropriately for the occasion. This is an important meeting for you and a good impression can’t hurt.

    Do remain calm. If you don’t understand the question, ask the officer to rephrase it. If you really do not know the answer to a question, it is better to admit ignorance than make something up. It also helps to be prepared. If you know there is a part of your application that will raise suspicion, practice a truthful response.

    Do show up on time. BCIS officers are notoriously difficult to reach and requests for changes in interview times are not well received. If you fail to show up for your appointment, you will have to endure a lengthy process to get another interview.

    Do hire an attorney to accompany you if the thought of going through an interview alone is too overwhelming.

    The Don’ts

    Don’t joke around with the BCIS officer. Particularly avoid joking or sarcasm related to drug dealing, communicable diseases, bigamy, or smuggling people into the country.

    Don’t argue with your spouse or other family members in the middle of an interview. Agree before hand on what you will do if a disagreement arises during the interview.

    Don’t argue with the BCIS officer. If the BCIS officer says part of your application is incomplete, ask for an explanation and attempt to remedy the situation by using the documents and forms you have brought with you.

    Don’t lose your patience with the BCIS officer and refuse to answer questions. Questions that may seem inappropriate or unimportant to you are probably within the boundaries of what is allowed by BCIS policy. Just keep remembering what the payoff is for going through with the interview.

    Don’t lie to the BCIS officer. If you feel you have something that would be difficult to explain, hire an attorney. Your attorney should be able to diffuse difficult situations during an interview.

  • A Brief History of the Rights to Freedom of Speech and the Press
  • “Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”

    The First Amendment of the United States Constitution is easy to read and straightforward. It simply says that federal statutes cannot limit the right of expression. Under the Fourteenth Amendment, neither can the individual states. Where did this right come from? Were the drafters of the Bill of Rights reacting to the tyranny of British rule? Why did this right need to be spelled out?

    In the mid-Eighteenth Century, Sir William Blackstone, a British judge and jurist wrote a comprehensive treatise on British law, based on lectures he gave at Oxford University. In his book, Commentaries on the Law, he summarized the right to speech and freedom of the press, as it then existed in England. In earlier times, publishers were required to have a license from the government, which effectively gave the government power to regulate and censor what was printed. Later, publishers were subject to a special tax, the Stamp Act of 1712, rather than direct censorship. Blackstone reports that the press had freedom to publish without that fear, within bounds.

    “Although blasphemous, immoral, treasonable, schismatical, seditious or scandalous libels are punishable by the English law… the liberty of the press, properly understood, is by no means infringed or violated. The liberty of the press is essential to the nature of a free state; but this consists in laying no previous restraint upon publications, and not in freedom from censure for criminal matter when published. Every freeman has an undoubted right to lay what sentiments he pleases before the public. To forbid this is to destroy the freedom of the press; but if he publishes what is improper, mischievous or illegal, he must take the consequences of his own temerity. To subject the press to the restrictive power of a licenser as was formerly done, is to subject all freedom of sentiment to the prejudices of one man, and make him the arbitrary and infallible judge of all controverted points in learning, religion and government.”

    As the thirteen states debated whether the new Constitution should be ratified, the notion emerged that the Constitution gave too much power to the federal government, and that people needed protection from that power. Various state legislative bodies proposed amendments, which were forerunners of the current Bill of Rights (the first ten amendments to the Constitution). One of the proposed amendments from the Virginia Constitutional Convention read:

    “[T]he people have the right to freedom of speech, and of writing and publishing their sentiments; that the freedom of press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty, and ought not be violated.”

    The Pennsylvania Constitution explicitly protected freedom of speech and freedom of the press:

    “[T]he people have a right of Freedom of Speech, and of Writing and Publishing their sentiments, therefore the Freedom of the Press ought not be restrained.”

    Thus people were concerned that, if they ratified the United States Constitution, they would be giving up the protections of their state Constitutions. A pamphlet from Boston and the minority of the Pennsylvania convention both described the freedom of press as the “scourge of tyrants.” Another pamphlet from one “John DeWitt” (a pen name) declaimed:

    “Civil liberty, in all countries, hath been promoted by a free discussion of publick measures, and the conduct of publick men. The Freedom of the Press, hath, in consequence thereof, been esteemed as one of its safe guards. That freedom gives the right, at all times, to every citizen to lay his sentiments, in a decent manner, before the people. If he will take that trouble upon himself, whether they are in point or not, his countrymen are obliged to him for so doing; for, at least, they lead to an examination of the subject upon which he writes.”

    Patrick Henry argued that England’s unwritten Constitution protected the rights of British subjects better than the United States Constitution, without the Bill of Rights, protected the rights of its citizens:

    “Here is a revolution as radical as that which separated us from Great Britain. It is as radical, if in this transition our rights and privileges are endangered, and the sovereignty of the States be relinquished: And cannot we plainly see, that this is actually the case? The rights of conscience, trial by jury, liberty of the press, all your immunities and franchises, all pretensions to human rights and privileges, are rendered insecure, if not lost, by this change so loudly talked of by some, and inconsiderately by others. Is this same relinquishment of rights worthy of freemen?… Is the relinquishment of the trial by jury, and the liberty of the press, necessary for your liberty? Will the abandonment of your most sacred rights tend to the security of your liberty?… 23 years ago was I supposed a traitor to my country; I was then said to be a bane of sedition, because I supported the rights of my country… [Suspicion of governmental power] is a virtue, as long as its object is the preservation of the public good, as long it stays within proper bounds.”

    But a proponent of the new Constitution, James Wilson, argued that the Constitution did not take away individual liberties:

    “[I]t would have been superfluous and absurd to have stipulated with a federal body of our own creation, that we should enjoy those privileges of which we are not divested, either by the intention or the act that has brought the body into existence. For instance, the liberty of the press, which has been a copious source of declamation and opposition-what control can proceed from the Federal government to shackle or destroy that sacred palladium of national freedom?”

    Alexander Hamilton, one of the authors of The Federalist Papers, also took the view that by agreeing to adopt the Constitution, people gave up none of their civil liberties. His analysis distinguishes between a bill of rights presented by subjects to their monarch, and a constitution founded by the people themselves.

    “It has been several times truly remarked that bills of rights are, in their origin, stipulations between kings and their subjects, abridgements of prerogative in favor of privilege, reservations of rights not surrendered to the prince. Such was the MAGNA CARTA, obtained by the [English] barons, sword in hand, from King John… ” Such, also, was the Declaration of Right presented by the Lords and Commons [the two Houses of Parliament in Great Britain] to the Prince of Orange in 1688, and afterwards thrown into the form of an act of parliament called the Bill of Rights. It is evident, therefore, that, according to their primitive signification, they have no application to constitutions professedly founded upon the power of the people, and executed by their immediate representatives and servants. Here, in strictness, the people surrender nothing: and as they retain every thing they have no need of particular reservations. “WE, THE PEOPLE of the United States, to secure the blessings of liberty to ourselves and our posterity, do ORDAIN and ESTABLISH this Constitution… ” Here is a better recognition of popular rights, than volumes of those aphorisms which make the principal figure in several of our State bills of rights, and which would sound much better in a treatise of ethics than a constitution of government.”

    Hamilton was just as emphatic about a declaration of the freedom of the press.

    “What signifies a declaration, that ‘the liberty of the press shall be inviolably preserved?’ What is the liberty of the press? Who can give it any definition which would not leave the utmost latitude for evasion? I hold it too impracticable; and from this I infer, that its security, whatever fine declarations may be inserted in any constitution respecting it, must altogether depend on public opinion, and upon the general spirit of the people and of the government. And here, after all… must we seek for the only solid basis of our rights.”

    In the end, the free press flourished in the early days of our nation. Alexis de Tocqueville, an assistant magistrate in France, went to the United States to study its penal system. He traveled throughout America in 1831 and was both amazed at and concerned about how free the press was. In his journal, which formed the basis of his best seller, Democracy in America, he made these several notes.

    In a conversation with a Mr. Spencer, a lawyer from upstate New York who was also a member of Congress and a representative to the New York legislature, he asked, “What limits do you impose on [the freedom of the press]?” Mr. Spencer responded:

    “We have a very simple principle in this matter. Everything that is a question of opinion is perfectly free. One could go to print daily in America saying that monarchy is the best of all forms of government. But when a paper publishes libellous facts, when it gratuitously suggests culpable motives, then it is prosecuted and generally punished with a heavy fine. I recently had experience of an example. At the time of the case in connection with the disappearance of [a member of the Masons, suspected of having been drowned in Lake Ontario by his fellow masons to prevent him from revealing Masonic secrets] a newspaper printed that the jurors had pronounced their verdict of guilty from motives of ‘party spirit.’ I prosecuted the writer of the article and had him punished.”

    DeTocqueville had a follow-up question: “What in your view is the way to diminish the power of the press?” Mr. Spencer replied:

    “I am completely convinced that the most effective way is to increase the number of newspapers as much as possible and not to prosecute them except in extreme cases. Their power gets less as their number gets greater, a fact which experience has incontrovertibly proved to us… With us there are an immense number of factors dividing our interests. There is no great centre of activity; it is almost impossible to get public opinion excited over a large area… Another reason why the personal opinions of journalists carry very little weight is the bad use they made of them in the first years of Independence. It was then proved that most of them had been bought by England. Since then they have lost public confidence.”

    While traveling through Kentucky, DeTocqueville, who was at heart a dedicated tourist, noted that citizens living in Kentucky were sophisticated thinkers rather than “rustic folk.”

    “These men… belong to one of the most civilised and rational peoples in the world. Their manners have nothing of rustic naivete. The philosophic and argumentative spirit of the English is found there as in all America. There is an astonishing circulation of letters and newspapers among these savage woods… I do not think that in the most enlightened rural districts of France there is intellectual movement either so rapid or on such a scale as in this wilderness.”

    DeTocqueville was, however, leery of the press’s freedom. While he was reading a treatise on English common law, Kent’s Commentaries, he wrote in the margin next to the principle that in England, proof of the truth was not permitted in defamation cases, “Controversial question in America. Strong tendency to permit proof. Freedom of the press too unlimited, breaking all bounds. Curious.”

  • Obtaining and Keeping Your Green Card Dos & Don’ts
  • The process of obtaining a green card can be time consuming and complicated. In almost all cases, it will take a supreme amount of patience. Not all foreign individuals are eligible to work in the United States, but if you are, following this list will better protect your green card status.

    The Dos

    Do follow the instructions on your Bureau of Citizenship & Immigration Services (BCIS) forms exactly. If the BCIS (which took over responsibility for the issuance of green cards from the former INS) didn’t think the information was important, it would not have included it on the form. Failure to provide all of the information requested could result in significant processing delays.

    Do attach all the documents called for in the forms and provide appropriate translations where necessary. In most cases, the BCIS will not process the forms if documents are missing.

    Do follow the BCIS photograph instructions. Your local BCIS office may even have an onsite photographer. It is worth inquiring.

    Do call your local BCIS office, or visit the office personally if you have questions. You can also access the BCIS website at www.uscis.gov/portal/site/uscis.

    Do request an interpreter if you have trouble understanding English. Many INS offices have interpreters on hand. To be safe, bring your own interpreter.

    Do hire an immigration attorney if you have been previously denied entry to the United States, deported, convicted of a crime, made misrepresentations to the BCIS (or the former INS), overstayed a visa, or are currently in the country illegally.

    Do tell your attorney about any previously denied entries to the United States, deportations, convictions, misrepresentations made to the BCIS (or the former INS), unauthorized employment, or overstayed visas. Your attorney will be able to determine whether any of these problems can be remedied or whether they are significant relative to your current immigration goals. If your failure to reveal potential immigration problems leads to your filing immigration forms with false information, you could be deported and barred from returning to the United States.

    Do consult an attorney if you are contemplating accepting public benefits such as welfare or AFDC. If the BCIS has reason to believe that you have become a “public charge,” you could lose your green card.

    The Don’ts

    Don’t commit any crimes. Your green card will not keep you from being deported.

    Don’t engage in politically subversive activities.

    Don’t smuggle other foreign nationals into the United States.

    Don’t charge others for legal advise. Even though your experience of obtaining a green card may have made you an expert, it is not legal to practice law without a license.

    Don’t create the impression that you are not living in the United States once you have obtained your green card. If you leave the United States for too long, you may lose your green card.

    Don’t lie on any BCIS form. If you feel you have something to lie about, contact an attorney.

    Don’t lie to BCIS officers. If you feel you have something to lie about, contact an attorney.

    Don’t leave parts of your forms blank, or assume that a part of the form is unimportant. If the information really does not apply to you, insert “N/A” or “none.” For example, if you are not married, you should put an “N/A” on the portions of the forms asking for spousal information. But if the form asks for your addresses for the past five years, you must supply complete addresses with no time periods unaccounted for.

    Don’t open the envelope with your medical exam results in it. If you want to see the results of your exam, most physicians will supply you with a copy.

  • Requirements for Naturalization and Typical Citizenship FAQs Examination
  • If you intend to permanently reside in the United States, there are many reasons to become a U.S. citizen (the process is known as “naturalization”) including:

    • You will no longer be deportable.
    • You can vote.
    • You can help other family members obtain permanent residence.

    The general requirements for naturalization are:

    • You must be at least eighteen years old.
    • You must maintain a continuous permanent residence in the United States as a green card holder for at least five years prior to your naturalization application.
    • You must reside continuously in the Unite States from the time of filing your naturalization application until the time of admission to citizenship.
    • You must reside for at least three months in the state (or the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services district) in which your naturalization application was filed.
    • You must be physically present in the US for at least 50 percent of those last five years.
    • You must be able to understand, read, and speak simple English.
    • You must demonstrate a knowledge and understanding of the fundamentals of U.S. history and of the principles and form of U.S. government.
    • You must be attached to the principles of the U.S. Constitution.
    • You must be of good moral character for the period of the required continuous residence in the U.S.
    • You must not be subject to one of the bars to naturalization, such as the bar applicable to members of certain political parties and advocates of certain political positions.
    • You must possess the required state of mind in taking the naturalization oath.

    After you have filed your naturalization application package, if you meet the requirements, the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) will schedule you for a naturalization examination. During the interview, the examiner will test your English reading and writing skills by giving you a simple dictation test. You will also have to sign your name in English. However, you do not have to take the literacy examination if:

    1. you are physically unable to read or write,
    2. are over fifty years old and have lived in the United States as a permanent legal resident for at least twenty years, or
    3. are over fifty-five years old and have been a lawful permanent resident for more than fifteen years. The examiner will also ask you some questions about the U.S. system of government and history to confirm that you have basic knowledge of these subjects.

    The following are questions you can expect to be asked:

    • What are the colors of the U.S. flag?
    • How many stars are there on the U.S. flag?
    • What color are the stars?
    • What do the stars stand for?
    • How many stripes are there?
    • What color are the stripes?
    • What do the stripes stand for?
    • How many states are there in the United States?
    • What is the 4th of July?
    • What is the date of Independence Day?
    • From whom did the United States gain independence?
    • What country did the United States fight during the Revolutionary War?
    • Who was the first President of the United States?
    • Who is President of the United States today?
    • Who is the Vice President of the United States today?
    • Who elects the President?
    • Who becomes President if the President dies?
    • For how many years do we elect the President?
    • What is the Constitution?
    • Can the Constitution be changed?
    • What do we call a change to the Constitution?
    • How many changes or amendments are there to the Constitution?
    • How many branches are there in the U.S. government?
    • What are the three branches of the U.S. government?
    • What is the legislative branch of the U.S. government?
    • Who makes the laws in the United States?
    • What is Congress?
    • What are the duties of Congress?
    • Who elects Congress?
    • How many Senators are there in Congress?
    • Who are the two Senators from your state?
    • For how long do we elect each Senator?
    • How many representatives are there in Congress?
    • For how long do we elect the representatives?
    • What is the executive branch of our government?
    • What is the judiciary branch of our government?
    • What are the duties of the Supreme Court?
    • What is the supreme law of the United States?
    • What is the Bill of Rights?
    • What is the capital of your state?
    • Who is the current Governor of your state?
    • Who becomes President of the United States if the President and the Vice President die?
    • Who is the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court?
    • What are the names of the thirteen original states?
    • Who said, “Give me liberty or give me death”?
    • Which countries were our enemies during World War II?
    • What are the 49th and 50th states of the United States?
    • How many terms can a President serve?
    • Who was Martin Luther King, Jr.?
    • Who is the head of your local government?
    • According to the Constitution, a person must meet certain requirements in order to be eligible to become President. Name one of these requirements.
    • Why are there 100 Senators in the Senate?
    • Who selects the Supreme Court justices?
    • How many Supreme Court justices are there?
    • Why did the pilgrims come to America?
    • What is the head executive of a state government called?
    • What is the head executive of a city government called?
    • What holiday did the American colonists celebrate for the first time?
    • Who was the main writer of the Declaration of Independence?
    • When was the Declaration of Independence adopted?
    • What is the national anthem of the United States?
    • Who wrote the Star-Spangled Banner?
    • Where does freedom of speech come from?
    • What is the minimum voting age in the United States?
    • Who signs bills into law?
    • What is the highest court in the United States?
    • Who was the President during the Civil War?
    • What did the Emancipation Proclamation do?
    • What special group advises the President?
    • Which President is called the “Father of our Country”?
    • What immigration and naturalization service form is used to apply to become a naturalized citizen?
    • Who helped the pilgrims in America?
    • What is the name of the ship that brought the pilgrims to America?
    • What were the thirteen original states of the United States called?
    • Name three rights or freedoms guaranteed by the Bill of Rights?
    • Who has the power to declare war?
    • What kind of government does the United States have?
    • Which President freed the slaves?
    • In what year was the Constitution written?
    • What are the first ten amendments to the Constitution called?
    • Name one purpose of the United Nations.
    • Where does Congress meet?
    • Whose rights are guaranteed by the Constitution and the Bill of Rights?
    • What is the introduction to the Constitution called?
    • Name one benefit of being a citizen of the United States.
    • What is the most important right granted to U.S. citizens?
    • What is the U.S. capitol?
    • What is the White House?
    • Where is the White House located?
    • What is the name of the President’s official home?
    • Name one right guaranteed by the First Amendment.
    • Who is the Commander in Chief of the U.S. military?
    • Which President was the first Commander in Chief of the U.S. military?
    • In what month do we vote for the President?
    • In what month is the new President inaugurated?
    • How many times may a Senator be re-elected?
    • How many times may a Congressman be re-elected?
  • What is a Green Card?
  • Foreign nationals who become “permanent residents” are given cards called “Alien Registration Receipt Cards,” otherwise known as “green cards.” Green cards give you the right to work and permanently reside in the United States. Foreign nationals who may be eligible to obtain a green card include:

    • Immediate family members of U.S. citizens or other permanent U.S. residents
    • Refugees and asylees
    • Individuals with job offers for positions in demand by U.S. employers
    • Educated professionals
    • Investors
    • Lottery winners in the U.S. government’s diversity visa program

    The processes for obtaining green cards vary. If you are not in the United States, you will begin the process by applying for an immigrant visa at a U.S. consulate in your home country. If you currently reside in the U.S., you will seek an “adjustment of status” through the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (the U.S. government agency which took over responsibility for adjustment of status applications from the former Immigration and Naturalization Service). Individuals who are issued green cards will eventually be able to apply for U.S. citizenship, a process called “naturalization.”

    Interestingly, green cards are no longer green; they are now high-tech and hard-to-forge cards with embedded identifiers and magnetic strip technology.

  • Tips for Entering the United States
  • When you arrive at a U.S. border post, you will be subjected to two types of inspection by the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (BCBP). BCBP agents will inspect your documents and decide if you are permitted to enter the country. (This inspection was formerly performed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS). However, the INS was abolished in 2003, and its functions were transferred to various other agencies, including the BCBP). In addition, BCBP agents will check your luggage to see if you are bringing any illegal or banned materials into the country. (This inspection was formerly performed by the U.S. Customs Service, whose duties were also transferred to the BCBP in 2003).

    Note: Certain foreign nationals who leave the United States and then wish to return may be subject to additional procedures.

    Don’t try to make light of the airport or border inspection process. It is serious and the government inspectors do not take their jobs lightly, even if they appear to be informal. To avoid the prying eyes of immigration and customs inspectors, remember to:

    1. Make sure nothing that you bring to the United States appears to contradict the visa status you have been given. If you are coming as a tourist, don’t bring along a book on how to immigrate to the United States or a stack of resumes. You might have these things because you have future plans to apply for immigration, but the INS won’t see it that way.
    2. Do not bring illegal or questionable items through customs. It may be legal in your country to carry a firearm (a gun). It is not legal to bring it into the United States and, if you have one in your luggage, it could lead to your immediate exclusion. Make sure you are not carrying other illegal or questionable items in your luggage, like illegal drugs, pornography or plants, fruits or animals that are not allowed into the United States.
    3. Pay attention to your appearance. Dress plainly and neatly. Someone coming to the United States on a tourist visa dressed in old, ragged clothes might raise questions from INS officials on how they can afford their vacation. Someone coming from a poor country dressed too richly might raise other questions on how they can afford their lifestyle. Someone coming for a short stay with a lot of luggage might also raise concerns.
    4. Be polite and calm. It may be hard after a long airplane flight, but a little politeness can go a long way. If you seem likeable, you are more likely to get the benefit of any doubts the INS inspector might have about you.
    5. Have all your required papers. If you lack any of the required documentation, you will be detained, even if you are otherwise entitled to enter the United States. Lacking papers will be a red flag to the INS official to take a closer look at you.

  • Do You Need an Immigration Lawyer?
  • The United States has a vibrant and diverse culture because of its long history of welcoming foreign nationals to its shores to live and work here. Immigrants from every country seek permanent residency and, in many cases, U.S. citizenship for a variety of reasons, but whatever the reason, the individual immigrant will in every instance have to deal with the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS), the U.S. government agency that is charged with the processing of immigrant and non-immigrant benefits provided to visitors to the United States. (The functions performed by the BCIS were formerly performed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS).

    Whether you will need an immigration attorney will be determined by your reasons for entering the United States and your background. If you just want to visit, you may not even need a visa. Check with a U.S. consulate or embassy in your country to determine the visa requirements. Many individuals who immigrate based on family relationships negotiate the process without an attorney. If you are coming to the United States as a result of a job offer from a U.S. employer, your prospective employer will probably either hire an attorney to do the work or use someone on staff with specialized training in immigration procedures. In many instances, you may consult an attorney because you are overwhelmed or frustrated by the process of obtaining a green card and have been unable to obtain assistance from the BCIS (or the former INS).

    If you are uncertain as to whether particular reporting or registration requirements apply to you, if you fear that there is something in your background that may prohibit you from obtaining a green card, or if you have been contacted by a U.S. government immigration enforcement agency and threatened with deportation, it is well worth it to seek advise from an attorney before further contact with the government.

  • The Bill of Rights
  • The first ten amendments to the U.S. Constitution make up what is known as the Bill of Rights. These amendments form part of the essence of what makes United States citizenship the privilege that it is. Many people are familiar with freedom of speech, freedom of religion, and freedom of the press, but these important Constitutional amendments offer more than those rights, as the following summary demonstrates.

    1. Congress cannot make a law that favors the establishment of one particular religion; that prohibits the free exercise of religion; or that restricts freedom of speech or of the press, or the right of the people to gather and engage in peaceful demonstrations and to petition the government for redress of their grievances.
    2. Because a well-regulated militia is necessary to national security, the right of the people to keep and bear arms may not be infringed.
    3. No soldier may be quartered in any house during a time of peace without the owner’s consent, or in a time of war except as prescribed by law.
    4. People have the right to be free, in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, from unreasonable searches and seizures, and no warrants may issue without probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and specifically describing the place to be searched and the persons or things to be seized.
    5. No person may be tried for a capital or other “infamous crime” unless he or she has first been indicted by a grand jury, except in military cases. No person may be made to answer for the same offense twice (double jeopardy); be compelled to be a witness against himself or herself in a criminal case; or be deprived of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. Nor may private property be taken for public use without fair compensation (eminent domain).
    6. Whenever someone is on trial for committing a crime, he or she has the right to a speedy and public trial by an impartial jury of the state and district where the crime was committed, to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation, to confront the witnesses against him or her, to be able to compel the testimony of witnesses in his or her favor, and to the assistance of defense counsel.
    7. Whenever the amount at issue in a lawsuit is over twenty dollars, the parties have the right to a jury trial, and no jury verdict may be overturned except according to the strict rules of the justice system.
    8. This list of rights should not be read to limit in any way any other rights of the people.
    9. The powers not specifically granted to the federal government by the Constitution, nor prohibited by the Constitution to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

  • Chronology of Obtaining Asylum Status
  • Asylum is granted to aliens (other than certain excluded categories of aliens) who are in the United States and are unable or unwilling to return to their homeland because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on race, religion, nationality, membership in a certain social group, or political opinion. Asylum status allows a person to live and work in the United States and to apply for permanent resident status a year after asylum is granted. Asylum status and refugee status are similar, except that refugee status is requested from outside of the United States.

    • To be granted asylum status, the applicant must apply for asylum on INS form I-589. Application must be made within one year of arriving in the United States. Exceptions may be made allowing later application if conditions in the applicant’s home country or his or her personal circumstances have changed, affecting eligibility for asylum, or if extraordinary circumstances prevented the person from applying within the regular one-year period.

      All asylum seekers must meet the definition of “refugee” under the Immigration and Nationality Act, which includes persons outside of their country (and some persons who are still in their home country) who are unable or unwilling to return to that country because of persecution or a well-founded fear of persecution based on their race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion. Even persons who are in the country illegally may apply for asylum.

    • After the application, an Asylum Officer or, in some cases, an Immigration Judge, who will decide whether asylum status may be granted, will interview the applicant. If the applicant is not eligible for asylum and is in the United States illegally, he or she may be placed in removal proceedings, which could lead to deportation.

      Asylum applicants can track the progress of their applications by contacting the office to which they applied. While the application is pending, applicants must obtain advance permission before leaving the United States. If they do not, the application is deemed abandoned and they may not be allowed back into the United States. Applicants must generally wait 150 days after applying for asylum to apply to the INS for employment authorization, unless asylum is granted before the expiration of the 150 day period.

    • If the asylum officer concludes that the applicant’s claim cannot be approved, and the alien appears to be excludable or deportable, the asylum officer will refer the case to an immigration judge to adjudicate as part of expulsion proceedings. Applicants may file an administrative appeal of the immigration judge’s denial of asylum with the Board of Immigration Appeals within a specified time period.

    Immigration matters are complicated and fraught with emotional implications. When something as important as asylum status is at stake, expert legal counsel is the best defense against an adverse decision.

  • Glossary of Immigration Law Terms
  • Application

    Specific forms and accompanying documents that request a green card or a visa.

    Asylee

    A foreign national who has been given permission to reside in the United States to avoid persecution in a home country. An asylee obtains his or her status after entering the United States.

    Alien Registration Receipt Card

    The formal name for a “green card”.

    Accompanying relative

    Immediate relatives (usually your spouse and children under age twenty-one who will be entering the United States at the same time that you do) who are eligible to receive the same immigration benefits as you based on your application.

    Bona fides of a marriage

    Documentation proving that a marriage is not entered into for immigration purposes.

    Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS)

    The U.S. government agency that in 2003 took over responsibility for the immigration service functions that used to be performed by the Immigration and Naturalization Service. BCIS is part of the new Department of Homeland Security.

    Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE)

    The U.S. government agency that in 2003 took over responsibility for the enforcement and investigative functions that used to be performed by the INS, the Customs Service, and the Federal Protective Service. BICE is part of the Department of Homeland Security Directorate of Border and Transportation Security.

    Diversity Program

    The “green card lottery”. A yearly lottery program designed to assure that immigrants come from a diversity of backgrounds.

    Deportation

    When an immigrant is forced to leave the United States as a result of a court proceeding.

    Directorate of Border and Transportation Security (BTS)

    The U.S. government agency that in 2003 took over responsibility for the immigration enforcement functions that used to be handled by the INS. The BTS is part of the Department of Homeland Security. Enforcement functions within the BTS are divided between two bureaus: the Bureau of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (BICE), and the Bureau of Customs and Border Protection (BCBP).

    Excludable

    The immigration laws deem certain individuals “excludable” and thus prohibited from obtaining visas or green cards. Excludability arises from prior criminal records, subversive activities, inability to support oneself, and various other circumstances.

    Green card

    The popular name for the Alien Registration Receipt Card. The card (which is not really green) is given to foreign nationals who are legal permanent residents.

    I-94

    A small card given to a non-immigrant upon entry to the United States. It proves lawful entry to the United States. The expiration date on the I-94 determines the amount of time a foreign national may legally stay here.

    INS (Immigration and Naturalization Service)

    The U.S. government agency that formerly had responsibility for matters concerning foreign nationals in the United States. In 2003, all of the, the INS ceased to exist. The INS’ functions were transferred to the new Department of Homeland Security. Within the Department of Homeland Security, the immigration service functions that were formerly handled by the INS were taken over by the new Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS). Immigration enforcement functions that used to be handled by the INS were transferred to the new Directorate of Border and Transportation Security.

    National Visa Center

    A private company under contract with the Department of State that receives approved green card petitions and green card lottery registrations.

    Naturalization

    The legal process of becoming a U.S. citizen. Once naturalized, an individual has the same rights as a U.S. citizen who was born in the United States.

    Non-immigrant visa

    A visa obtained by a person who wishes to enter the United States for a particular purpose, but does not intend to permanently reside in the United States.

    Permanent resident

    A foreign national who has been granted permission to live permanently in the United States. Permanent residents are given green cards and are allowed to work in and travel in and out of the United States.

    Petition

    INS forms and accompanying documents that request recognition of your eligibility for permanent residence or some types of non-immigrant visas.

    Public charge

    Your status when the state assumes primary responsibility for your support. Being deemed a public charge can result in the loss of your green card.

    Quota

    Each year there are only a certain number of green cards available for particular categories of applicants. A greater number of applicants than the number of green cards available have created backlogs.

    Refugee

    A foreign national who has been given permission to reside in the United States to avoid persecution in a home country. A refugee obtains his or her status prior to entering the United States.

    Registration

    What you file when you are applying for a spot in the green card lottery.

    Sham marriage

    A marriage entered into for immigration purposes.

    Special Registration

    A procedure, applicable to noncitizens from certain designated countries and to other noncitizens deemed by consular officers to require closer monitoring, under which the noncitizens must be fingerprinted and photographed at U.S. ports of entry and must make subsequent reports to the U.S. government at certain specified times and upon certain events, such as changes of address, employment or school.

    Status

    The privileges you receive with your immigration benefits either as an immigrant or non-immigrant. For example, your status as a green card holder is that of a legal permanent resident.

    U.S. Consulates

    Branch offices of U.S. embassies. Most consulates process immigrant and non-immigrant visa applications.

    U.S. Embassies

    Worldwide U.S. State Department offices that represent the United States in foreign countries. Embassies process immigrant and non-immigrant visa applications.

    Visa

    A stamp placed in your passport at a U.S. embassy or consulate that allows you to enter the United States.

  • Deportation and Removal
  • When an alien is placed in removal proceedings, the Depew Law Group, P.C. evaluates the client’s case to determine whether immigration relief is available to the client. Our attorneys also determine if the client can be released on bond.

    The Department of Homeland Security often transfers aliens in removal proceedings out of State and houses them in detention centers. A detention center will often have onsite immigration judges who hear removal cases.

    If necessary, we will order a client’s immigration file from the Department of Homeland Security and their criminal histories from the FBI and California Department of Justice to assist us in evaluating their removal case.

    An alien may be placed into removal proceedings for many reasons. These reasons are referred to as grounds of inadmissibility and grounds of deportability. In many instances, aliens are placed in removal proceedings because of their criminal history and/or illegal status.

    For aliens placed in removal proceedings because of a criminal conviction, the immigration attorneys at the Depew Law Group, P.C. are experienced in determining the effect that a conviction or convictions will have on an alien’s immigration status. In addition, our attorneys will explore with a qualified criminal attorney the possibility of vacating, expunging or reducing a criminal conviction when it is beneficial to the alien’s removal case to do so.

    Immigration court proceedings general consist of a bond hearing and removal hearings. At a bond hearing, the immigration judge will decide whether the alien should be released on bond while removal proceedings are pending. At the Master Calendar hearing, an alien will admit or deny the allegations in the charging document called the Notice to Appear, concede or deny removability and inform the immigration judge of the immigration relief that the alien will be applying for to avoid being removed from the United States.

    At the merits hearings, the immigration judge will decide if the alien will be allowed to stay in the United States after hearing all the arguments and evidence presented by the attorney for the alien and the U.S. government attorney. At the hearing, the alien’s attorney will present a legal brief which sets forth the legal argument on behalf of the alien; documents in support of the argument put forth for the alien; conduct a direct examination of the alien, alien’s family members and expert witnesses, if needed. The government attorney will also be given an opportunity to cross-examine any witness presented by the alien’s attorney.

  • Cancellation of Removal
  • Cancellation of removal is a legal remedy available for both permanent and non-permanent residents who are in immigration court deportation/removal proceedings. This relief is available for lawful permanent residents who have resided continuously in the United States for at least five years as permanent residents and have resided continuously in the United States in any lawful status for at least seven years. The alien must essentially demonstrate that there are more positive factors than negatives to justify being allowed to stay in the United States. In addition, a lawful permanent resident must not have been convicted of an aggravated felony.

    In order to qualify for Cancellation of Removal for Non-permanent residents, the non-permanent resident must have resided in the United States continuously for ten years after entering the United States illegally without inspection. The alien must establish good moral character during the ten year period preceding the decision made. And, the alien must show that his or her removal would result in exceptional and extremely unusual hardship to a qualifying relative who is a US citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident parent, spouse or child residing in the United States. The hardship requirement is a very difficult standard to meet.