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President Trump’s administration has recently changed a longstanding rule that has placed immigration lawyers on notice relating to a common occurrence in immigration law.  Many non-U.S. citizens enter the United States on Visitor Visas for many different reasons.  To visit family, to take a vacation, to see what the United States is like.  It is not uncommon for non-citizens find love and decide to get married to a U.S. citizen while in the U.S. on vacation.  While many may call this impetuous, it is not a situation that is confined to citizens and non-citizens.  The difficulty arises when you apply for a green card based on your marriage to a United States citizen when your marriage was within a short period of time after you entered the United States.  You could be denied a green card based on what is called “preconceived intent.”  So, how do you establish that you did not have preconceived intent to get married and stay in the United States when you entered on a temporary visa?  Well, the government has just made it a little harder with the implementation of the 90 day rule.  This rule replaces the old 30/60 day rule.


WHAT IS PRECONCEIVED INTENT?


Temporary visas are just that.  Temporary.  In order to obtain a temporary visa, you must establish that you intend to depart the United States by the time your temporary visa expires.  For example, if you have a visitor visa that is good for six (6) months, when you enter the United States, you must have the intent to depart the United States within six (6) months.  If the government believes that you intended to stay in the United States longer than your temporary visa at the time you entered, this is called preconceived intent.  Prior to entering the United States, you conceived the intent to stay longer than authorized.  If you have preconceived intent, this is a violation of your status.  The key issue for a determination of preconceived intent lies in what your intent was at the time you were admitted into the United States.  It is not preconceived intent if you change your intent after you were admitted.  For example, if you truly entered the United States simply to visit and intended to leave within the six months allotted under your visitor visa, but you fell in love and only decided to stay after you were already admitted, then this would not be preconceived intent.  Regardless of your true intent, however, the problem arises when you apply to adjust your status and obtain a green card based on the marriage to a United States citizen that occurred within a short period of time after your admission to the United States.  Immigration officials will not simply take your word for it.  They will look to outside evidence to establish whether they make a finding that you had preconceived intent.  Let’s take a look at the old rule that USCIS (United States Customs and Immigration Services) used to follow.

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Sometimes, there just is no relief in deportation proceedings that will allow the person to stay here.  Whether it’s because of lack of ties to the United States, lack of hardship to U.S. citizen relatives, criminal history, or other factors, you just may not be eligible under any provision of the Immigration and Nationality Act to remain in the United States.  No cancellation of removal.  No waivers. No asylum or withholding of removal.  Your immigration attorney has looked at your case from every angle and there just is no possible way to keep you here.  In those cases, there is often one last option that may have some very beneficial consequences.  It is called Voluntary Departure.  Florida immigration attorneys often request voluntary departure in the Orlando Immigration Court in both detained and non-detained cases.  So what is Voluntary Departure?


WHAT IS VOLUNTARY DEPARTURE?


Voluntary Departure is a form of relief that allows a person to leave on his or her own rather than under a removal (deportation) order.  Although, the person does have to leave the United States, it can have some really important benefits that help the person lawfully come back into the United States on a later date.

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Orlando immigration attorneys and Jacksonville immigration attorneys know the frustration of the Infopass system.  Appointments are few and far between.  When an appointment becomes available, there is a mad rush to reserve your spot.  Clients often get frustrated that an appointment cannot be made more quickly. And once an appointment is finally made, the answers are often not very useful.

There are few agencies that are more tightly wound in red tape than the United States Customs and Immigration Services (USCIS).  You can’t just pick up a phone and give them a call.  You can’t simply drop in and ask a question.  There is a process.  Not a very good process.  But there is a process.  If you have a question about your pending application or petition, you can set what is called an “Infopass appointment.”  An Infopass appointment is the vehicle you can use to get answers to your questions.  Unfortunately, you will often get vague or conflicting answers, but sometimes these appointments can be very helpful.

The most common use of the Infopass appointment is to answer the question, “What is taking so long on my application or petition?”  Customers often ask when a decision will be made.  Sometimes, simply having the Infopass appointment can jog the case the loose and get it back in line for a decision.  The adjudicator who you meet with at the Infopass appointment won’t be the adjudicator that decides your case, but they often can look up the status in the system, see where the file is, determine where in the process the case is, and offer other useful information.

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D33297D9-99FD-4694-B69E-241571194F03A person in deportation proceedings is eligible for a fraud waiver even when they are not specifically charged with a fraud based basis of inadmissibility.  The Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals recently held that the Board of Immigration Appeals erred in finding that Mr. Acquaah was ineligible for a 237(a)(1)(H) fraud waiver because he was charged with having his permanent resident status terminated, rather than being charged with being deportable for committing fraud.   Acquaah v. Sessions, No. 16-3277 (7th Cir. 2017).  

Mr. Acquaah entered the United States on a visitor visa.  He was married to a citizen of Ghana at the time.  He divorced the Ghana citizen and married a U.S. citizen, who filed an petition on his behalf and he was able to obtain a conditional greencard.  Mr. Acquaah and his wife filed a joint petition to remove the conditions of the greencard, but they separated during the pendency of that petition.  INS denied the petition because he had failed to establish that the marriage was bona fide and the agency placed him in deportation proceedings.  While he was separated from his U.S. citizen wife, Mr. Acquaah remarried his Ghana citizen wife, who had received a greencard through the diversity lottery.  Mr. Acquaah, using the name Kofi Obese, applied for a second greencard, which was approved.

Ultimately, throughout decades of litigation, the government found out that Mr. Acquaah had two greencards and the agency charged him with two counts: 1) fraud or willful misrepresentation of a material fact sough to procure an immigration benefit and 2) termination of conditional residency based on marriage fraud.  The Immigration Judge determined that Mr. Acquaah was deportable because his conditional residency terminated.  The Immigration Judge further found that he was ineligible for a 212(h) fraud waiver.  The Board of Immigraiton Appeals affirmed the decision using its own rationale that Mr. Acquaah was not found deportable for fraud or willful misrepresentation count, and therefore he was not eligible for the 212(h) fraud waiver.

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If you are just a witness in an immigration case, you may think that you are safe from deportation and criminal prosecution, but under the Trump Administration, that is not the case. Increasingly, Department of Justice and Homeland Security officials have been calling for more criminal prosecutions and deportations in immigration-related matters. Even if you are not the person facing deportation in immigration court and you are only a witness, you could be in jeopardy.

When you testify in immigration court for a friend, family member or employee, you have to swear under oath to your testimony. If you lie during a hearing, you can be prosecuted for perjury or giving false statements to a federal official. If you admit to committing crimes or engaging in acts that can get you deported as a non-citizen, you can be criminally prosecuted, put in prison and even deported.

Under the Trump administration Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) Attorneys and even Immigration Judges are becoming much more enforcement oriented and looking for cases where people admit to immigration-related crimes and grounds of removability during other non-citizen’s immigration cases.

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The President recently announced that the DACA (Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or “Dreamers”) program is ending as we know it. The government will not accept any new applications for DACA effective September 5, 2017. If you had a new DACA application pending already, the government will not automatically deny it, they will give you a decision. If you currently have DACA and your Work Permit is set to expire before March 5, 2018, you can apply to renew your DACA and work permit, BUT YOU MUST FILE BEFORE OCTOBER 5, 2017 or your application will be rejected.

It is very, very important for everyone with DACA to look at their work permit immediately. If the expiration date is between September 5, 2017 and March 5, 2018, you should go see an experienced immigration attorney as soon as possible for advice on what to do. Do not wait, you must apply to renew your DACA and work permit before October 5, 2017 or you will lose both when the work permit expires.

One important thing to remember about the President’s announcement is that everyone with DACA and a work permit will continue to enjoy the protection of not being deported and being able to work until the documents expire. That is, unless the government terminates your DACA before then for one of many reasons, like you were convicted of a crime or committed some sort of immigration fraud.

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On September 5, 2017, President Trump announced that he was ending DACA . . . sort of.  Its true, DACA, formally known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, is ending as we have known it since 2012 when President Obama created the program.  However, its important to remember, the program is not ending immediately for people who already have DACA or who have already applied for DACA for the first time.  If you have already applied for DACA, or applied to renew your DACA, or have DACA, today’s announcement does not effect you immediately.  But that doesn’t mean you have nothing to worry about.

Today’s announcement immediately stops anyone who does not already have DACA from applying for it.  It also stops anyone who has DACA from applying for advanced parole, which is a benefit that allows people without a lawful immigration status to leave the U.S. and return without a visa.  Advanced parole is important for DACA recipients for two important reasons, 1) people without status in the U.S. cannot usually travel abroad and return to the country legally without advanced parole and 2) once a DACA recipient travels outside of the country and returns on advanced parole, they may be eligible to apply for adjustment of status through a family member when they were not eligible previously because they had entered the country without inspection and admission or parole.

If you have DACA, or have already applied for DACA for the first time, it is important to know how today’s announcement affects you and what you can do to protect your immigration status.

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Typically, if the government is going to institute deportation proceedings on the basis of a criminal charge, there must be a conviction.  In immigration court, the term “conviction” is interpreted very loosely.  For example, in the State of Florida, if a person receives a “withhold of adjudication,” they are technically not convicted, even though they have pled no contest or guilty and receive some form of punishment.  However, in immigration court, a withhold of adjudication would serve as a conviction sufficient to form the basis of a removal order.  This has been pretty well established in the immigration law community for some time.  What hasn’t been established is whether a person can be deported when there has been no formal conviction in criminal court, but the non-citizen admits to the elements of the offense before a criminal law judge.

The Fourth Circuit has recently spoken on this issue in Boggala v. Atty Gen’l, No. 16-1558 (4th. Cir. 2017).  Vijaya Boggala, a citizen of India, was arrested for solicitation of a minor.  He entered into a deferred prosecution agreement with the state.  A deferred prosecution agreement is basically front loaded probation.  It is an agreement to complete certain conditions (i.e. probation, counseling, etc.) and the state agrees to drop the charges upon successful completion of those conditions.  In this case, Mr. Boggala was required to admit to elements of the offense in open court before a judge, which he did.  He then successfully completed all the conditions of his deferred prosecution agreement and the charges against him were dropped.  You wouldn’t think that he would be subject to deportation, right?  After all, the charges were dropped.  Despite not being convicted of the crime, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) instituted deportation proceedings against Mr. Boggala. They charged him with being deportable under INA Section 237(a)(2)(A)(iii), as an alien convicted of an aggravated felony, and under INA Section 2237(a)(2)(A)(i), as an alien convicted of a crime involving moral turpitude.  The question presented to the Fourth Circuit was whether Mr. Boggala was “convicted” of the offense as that term is interpreted under the Section 237(a)(2) of the Immigration and Nationality Act.

Section 101(a)(48)(A)(i) of the INA defines “conviction” as a “a formal judgment of guilt of the alien entered by a court or, if adjudication of guilt has been withheld, where…the alien… has admitted sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilt.”  The Fourth Circuit thus analyzed whether Mr. Boggala admitted sufficient facts to warrant a finding of guilt and not whether the court actually made a finding of guilt.  The Court found that because Mr. Boggala stipulated to the facts that were to be used against him, he was convicted within the meaning of Section 101(a)(48)(A)(i), despite not having been convicted in criminal court.

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Recently, memos have surfaced that the Trump administration is working to expand the use of Expedited Removal in an effort to become tougher on immigration enforcement. This is bad news for anyone in the United States who doesn’t carry around their U.S. birth certificate, passport, or green card at all times. This is really bad news for anyone who entered the country without inspection or valid immigration documents less than three months ago.

What is Expedited Removal?

Expedited Removal is a way that immigration officers can detain and order someone removed from the United States without taking them before an Immigration Judge. This is one of many “alternatives to removal proceedings” that the government can use to obtain an order of removal against a non-citizen while trying to keep them out of court.

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The government is deporting people at a record rate.  The current administration has said that it is focused on “bad hombres,” but people who have been here for many years with no criminal convictions are being targeted as well as those with criminal charges.  There are things that can be done to protect yourself or those you love from deportation.  Here is a list of some of the more common ways:

  1. Become A U.S. Citizen – Proud-American-Citizen-really-small-150x150So many lawful permanent residents (greencard holders) put off becoming a United States citizen for a variety of reasons.  Whether they don’t want to pay the fee or go through the administrative process or study for the test or renounce their loyalty to their country of birth, they put off becoming citizens. This is a mistake.  Once you become a United States citizen, you can disregard the Immigration and Nationality Act.  This means that you can come to and go from the United States as any other U.S. citizen does.  This means that if you are ever convicted of a minor crime, you would not be deportable.  This means that you would not have to deal with the hassle and uncertainty of being inspected by Customs and Border Protection agents in the same way as non-citizens, including random secondary inspections.  If you wanted to reside outside the United States with the option of coming back, you could do this as a United States citizen.  You may be able to apply for your non-citizen relative or help keep that relative from being deported, if you are a U.S. citizen.  The naturalization process takes several months and often times it can be too late for people to apply when they need it.  For example, if you are arrested for battery, minor drug possession, theft, criminal mischief, fraud, or any other criminal charge, it could prevent you from applying for citizenship for 5 years, and sometimes forever.  Or even worse, it could be a basis for deportation, no matter how long you have lived in the United States and been a lawful permanent resident.  The immigration laws are complicated.  Do yourself a favor and become a U.S. citizen as quickly as possible.
  2. File a Petition –AdobeStock_37194399-150x150 In some cases, you may be able to file a Petition on behalf of your non-citizen spouse or other family member, even if they are here without authorization.  For example, a spouse of a person who came into the United States without authorization may be able to file a petition and that person may be able to file a provisional waiver to excuse their unlawful presence in the U.S. An approved petition alone could help if the person is placed in removal proceedings or taken into custody by ICE.  The immigration laws are designed to be more forgiving of certain immigration violations if the person is an immediate relative of a U.S. citizen.  Filing a petition may or may not be beneficial in your case.  Consult with an immigration attorney to see whether it would help or hurt you or your loved one.