Year: 2012

September 18, 2012

The latest version of USCIS’ Frequently Asked Questions on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals clarifies several points on which both applicants and attorneys have been waiting for guidance.


Q: May an applicant travel abroad after August 15, 2012 but before applying for Deferred Action, or after filing but before approval?

A: No, that will result in denial of the DACA application.

Q: Will a person granted Deferred Action be allowed to travel abroad?

A: Not automatically. Those who are granted Deferred Action will have to apply for an Advance Parole travel document.

It is strongly advisable to consult an immigration attorney before filing for permission to travel. Most applicants who qualify for Deferred Action will have accrued long periods of unlawful presence in the United States, so travel abroad may trigger the 3-year, 10-year or permanent bars to readmission, which could cut off eligibility for all future forms of relief or more permanent immigration benefits, even if the person is temporarily allowed back in to the United States on the basis of an Advance Parole travel document.

The latest USCIS FAQ notes that even if you are granted Deferred Action and an Advance Parole travel document, if you have been in deportation or removal proceedings in court before the Executive Office of Immigration Review, before you travel abroad you should seek to reopen the case and have the immigration proceedings terminated or administratively closed. Do not leave the country before termination or administrative closure is granted.

Social Security Number:

USCIS has clarified that where Item 9 on the Form I-765 asks for a social security number, the only number DACA applicants should enter in that space is a genuine Social Security Number officially issued to you, not a made-up one or one that belongs to someone else.

Documenting Continuous Residence:

Q: Do you need to provide documents establishing physical presence & continuous residence in the United States for every month since June 15, 2007?

A: No, but you need at least one document every 11 months or so, and some evidence within a month or two of June 15, 2012.

For DACA applicants who graduated from high school or college several years ago, some or all of the five-year period between June 15, 2007 and June 15, 2012 will not be covered by school transcripts, and may be difficult to document with medical or work records. You may use other circumstantial evidence – I am one of many immigration lawyers who recommend printing screenshots from your Facebook timeline, particularly where you are tagged in photos at some identified location in the United States.

Employment Records:

Q: Can providing your work records as part of the evidence of continuous residence in a DACA application result in enforcement actions against your past or present employers?

A: This information will not be shared with ICE for civil violations under INA 274A, but it will be shared for criminal enforcement actions if there is evidence of “egregious violations of criminal statutes or widespread abuses.”

What does that mean in plain English? We don’t know yet, but evidence of a consistent pattern of hiring people who lack work authorization can result in criminal penalties, so if you know of many other employees at your workplace who are not authorized to work, the safe course of action is not to use evidence of that job in a DACA application.

September 3, 2012

If you want to apply for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) or learn more about the process, there are lots of free resources to help educate yourself. These range from information hubs like United We Dream and the National Immigration Law Center, to short FAQs like these from the Legal Aid Society on DACA eligibility, crimes, travel, and public health insurance, and the New York Immigration Coalition’s document checklist, to a comprehensive lawyer-oriented practice advisory. Here, my blog will offer a few important tips about things you need to know and do first, before you attend a legal service clinic or meet with an immigration lawyer.

1. Criminal History:

Get original Certificates of Disposition for every arrest or summons you have ever had, whether it was an ACD, dismissed, pardoned, youthful offender, juvenile delinquency, open beverage, or fare-beating on public transit. Tell the attorney even if it is a record you cannot obtain, such as a sealed or expunged conviction. Past offenses that do not count in other settings can have severe, permanent consequences under immigration laws. Whatever it was, make sure you have the Certificate of Disposition in hand so that when you meet with a lawyer, he or she can give you a realistic idea of what may flow from that event, and whether it may be a bar to Deferred Action.

No attorney can counsel you on the effects of conduct they don’t know about, so be honest. Do not guess! Be aware that once you have filed a DACA application, everything in it is known to USCIS, and may be revealed to other agencies as well if they decide that you are a “high enforcement priority.” All applicants have to give biometrics – digital fingerprinting and a digital photograph. Fingerprints will be forwarded to a wide array of law enforcement agencies for background checks (not just within the U.S.), and the photo alone is a reason not to file if you have visible gang-related tattoos.

2. Alien Registration Number

If you have ever been in immigration court, or held resident status and then lost it, or had an Employment Authorization card, or if anyone ever filed papers on your behalf, then you may already have an A#. If any of these apply to you, but you do NOT know your A# or even whether you have one, it may be worth the wait to file a Freedom of Information Act request to find out if you have one. If you know your A#, call the immigration court hotline (1-800-898-7180) with a pen & paper handy, and enter the A# to see if you are in the system already. If it says there is no record, then you have not been ordered removed, nor had proceedings commenced in your absence.* If there have been any immigration court proceedings against you, then the automated system will spell out your name and give other details. Know this before filing for DACA, as you must disclose it on the forms.

*The A# that appears on a work authorization card begins with a “1” and will not show up in the court system.

3. Employment & Use of False SSN

If you have ever worked without authorization using a false Social Security Number, do not file for DACA relief now, even though all the FAQs and document checklists say to include your employment records. The first reason is because using someone else’s SSN could be grounds for denial of your application and issuance of a Notice to Appear, which begins removal proceedings. The second and more serious reason is, it may be treated as a felony false claim to U.S. citizenship, and a bar to future immigration benefits such as residence or citizenship. If you have used an SSN for employment, but you are not sure whether it was a made-up number or if it used to be somebody’s real one, err on the side of caution. Don’t file now, wait to see how these applicants are treated by USCIS.

Also, if you have not had work authorization, avoid disclosing the names of present or past employers. USCIS has made limited statements that filing a DACA application will not result in enforcement actions against family members of applicants, but there are no such protections for employers who have hired unauthorized workers. Naming employers could subject them to fines or audits.

4. Entry Without Inspection

If you did not cross the border on foot, and are not sure how to characterize your entry into the United States, consult the family member who knows the most facts about how you came into the US, and then consult an immigration attorney or legal service provider to help you complete the DACA forms. For instance, if you were driven across the border in a vehicle, it makes a big difference whether you were concealed in the back or sitting on the seat where you could see out the windows.

5. Travel and the Permanent Bars

If you have lived in the U.S. unlawfully for more than a year, and then left voluntarily, and re-entered the United States illegally, OR if you were previously deported or removed, and then you re-entered the United States illegally, you are subject to a permanent bar, and will be ineligible for residence or citizenship. If one of the permanent bars applies to you, alerting USCIS to your presence through filing a DACA application would be unwise. However, “unlawful presence” is complex, especially for people who entered the U.S. lawfully as students or exchange visitors, so this analysis may require a lawyer.

These are just a few areas in which “forewarned is forearmed.” Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals presents a welcome opportunity and offers a temporary relief from removal for many, but it also poses significant risks. Know the risks to avoid placing yourself and others in harm’s way.

*Like all publications on Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, this is a work in progress and may be updated from time to time.

August 8, 2012

Senator Dick Durbin and Representative Luis Gutierrez released a video message to the DREAMers on August 6 that is one of the most irresponsible and dangerous public messages from a voice of authority in living memory. It is a deep disgrace that supposed champions and co-sponsors of the DREAM Act would advise young people who are eligible for Deferred Action for Childhod Arrivals, “Do Not Hire a Lawyer.” Yet Sen. Durbin said those those words, doing a huge disservice to the very vulnerable class of people they are ostensibly trying to help.

These elected representatives perpetuate a dangerous source of confusion between unscrupulous ‘notarios’ who engage in the unauthorized practice of law, and licensed, trained attorneys who are subject to ethical rules and have the ability to advise DREAMers properly on the process and potential consequences of applying for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals.

An experienced immigration lawyer who has carefully reviewed the applicant’s background and documents can ensure that DREAMers file applications which will have the best possible chance of success. This is why Senator Durbin’s patently false claim that “Virtually everyone will be able to go through this process without a lawyer,” is so disturbing. Perhaps he has already forgotten that the Deferred Action application process includes no right of appeal, and permits no motions to reopen. This is a one-shot opportunity. Applicants must get it right on the first try, or else they face a discretionary denial that is final and cannot be reviewed.

Perhaps Sen. Durbin and Rep. Gutierrez have also forgotten that both USCIS and ICE have extremely poor track records with respect to granting any forms of discretionary relief to applicants who are unrepresented by counsel. The memos of June 2011 from ICE Director John Morton authorized broad use of prosecutorial discretion for those already in proceedings who have no criminal convictions, but the rate at which such relief has been granted in immigration courts is less than 2%. Self-represented applicants who misunderstand any of the Deferred Action criteria and thus fail to interpret their own eligibility correctly, or who get the standard right but provide documentation that USCIS regards as insufficient, or who believe that the information they provide will remain confidential, may be placing themselves and their families at risk of deportation. These are some of the key reasons why it is so very important for DREAMers seeking Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals to consult with a knowledgeable
immigration attorney or legal service organization, and why the message from Messrs. Durbin & Gutierrez will do real harm.

June 21, 2012

On Friday, June 15, 2012, President Obama announced that certain DREAMers (young people without lawful immigration status who were brought here as children by their parents) would be eligible to apply for Deferred Action, a temporary relief which would allow them to remain in the United States without threat of imminent deportation for up to two years, subject to renewal. Those granted Deferred Action will be eligible to apply for work authorization. The Deferred Action policy for DREAMers was also formalized on Friday in a memo from Janet Napolitano, Secretary of Homeland Security.

Per that memo, DREAMers who are eligible for Deferred Action must meet all of these criteria:

• They must have entered the United States before age 16.
• They must be able to prove at least five years of continuous physical presence in the United States prior to June 15, 2012, through school records, medical records, employment, military or financial records.
• They must be currently enrolled in school, or have graduated from high school or college, or have earned a GED, or served in the US Armed Forces (*But people without lawful immigration status are not currently eligible to enlist in the Armed Forces, even with Deferred Action and work authorization).
• They must be between the ages of 15 and 30.
• They will have to undergo a background check, and will be ineligible for Deferred Action if they have been convicted of a felony, a particularly serious misdemeanor (such as DUI) or multiple misdemeanors.

*There is no application process in place at this time, so there is no formal way to apply for relief yet!

However, individuals who are already in removal proceedings may contact the ICE counsel in charge of their case with written documentation establishing that they meet all of the above criteria.

On Monday, June 18, 2012, USCIS Director Alejandro Mayorkas, ICE Director John Morton and CBP Acting Commissioner David Aguilar held a joint stakeholders teleconference to discuss the new policy. They established that the policy authorizes all three sub-agencies of DHS to make case-by-case decisions to exercise prosecutorial discretion not to remove eligible individuals.

In practice, this will have three basic elements:

1. Non-issuance of Notices to Appear.
2. Grants of relief for eligible individuals in proceedings.
3. Establishment of an affirmative request process for those not already in proceedings. They clarified answers to some key questions during this stakeholder call.

• DREAMers already subject to an outstanding final order of removal will be eligible for Deferred Action under this policy, but they will have to apply through USCIS, not through ICE, and must await the Service’s establishment of a Deferred Action request process.
• USCIS will develop parameters for an application process in the next 60 days. As no process has yet been developed, they are still considering what documents to collect, and what form the proof of a grant of Deferred Action will take.
• A grant of Deferred Action confers no status, but tolls unlawful presence.
• Once an individual is granted Deferred Action, they will have to apply to USCIS for employment authorization, on Form I-765.
• Individuals whose requests for Deferred Action are denied will not be automatically placed in removal proceedings. If a request is denied and the applicant has no criminal history, the case will be governed by the Nov. 7, 2011, USCIS memo on issuance of Notices to Appear. Likewise, those granted Deferred Action will not be automatically referred to ICE once this program ends. (Beware DHS assurances on this score: some risk remains.)
• A request for Deferred Action by a DREAMer will not by itself serve as a trigger for investigation of their potentially-removable family members present in the United States.
• All branches of DHS will aggressively investigate notario fraud, to ensure that implementation of this policy is marked by integrity.

The mechanisms of this policy are not new. Deferred Action has existed since 1975, and entails no form nor specific request procedures. It succeeded the “non-priority” program in the wake of the John Lennon case, when INS revised and published its previously non-public Operations Instructions.

“In every case where the district director determines that adverse action would be unconscionable because of the existence of appealing humanitarian factors, he shall recommend consideration for deferred action category.” -[Legacy]Immigration and Naturalization Service, Operations Instructions, O.I. 103.1(a)(1)(ii).

Although the Operations Instructions were later rescinded, and the INS was dismantled in 2002 to create the Department of Homeland Security, Deferred Action survives as an exercise of prosecutorial discretion. While not enshrined in regulation, it has been defined by periodic internal agency guidelines and formal policy memoranda, The most recent of these came in a pair of policy memos from ICE Director John Morton at this time a year ago. The first Morton memo, on factors warranting the exercise of prosecutorial discretion, urged ICE agents and attorneys to refrain from removing individuals with close family, education, military and other community ties to the United States. The second Morton memo urged similar leniency with respect to victims of crimes, witnesses to crimes, and good faith plaintiffs in civil rights cases. Both invoke the goal of focusing the agency’s limited resources on the removal of criminals who pose a serious threat to public safety or national security.

To date, implementation of the Morton memos on prosecutorial discretion has been stingy at best. When Mr. Morton testified before the House Sub-Committee on Homeland Security, he admitted that only 1% of pending deportation and removal cases had been tabled under the guidelines he promulgated last summer.

What President Obama did was to announce a specific directive implementing this policy, so that DHS can stop wasting its resources on deporting a subset of young immigrants who are not criminals, who know only the US as their home, and whose very presence in this country was not their own decision.

Removal proceedings are costly, so administrative closure or termination of proceedings against young people who overstayed a visa or entered without inspection years ago as a result of choices made by their parents will save government resources that could be better spent removing serious criminals. Allowing these young people to apply for employment authorization will bring in new fee revenue. This policy directive creates a net gain for DHS in purely financial terms, aside from its obvious humanitarian and public policy benefits, plus the long-term economic benefits of allowing young people anxious to contribute to their country to remain here, to pursue their education and careers, to become the Americans they already believe themselves to be.