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Avoid These Immigration Pitfalls

Immigration law is one of the most complex and evolving areas in the American legal system. Immigration law is administrative and thus allows for a great deal of discretion by those in authority. It is extremely important for immigrants to understand some common pitfalls that can have serious negative immigration consequences. The consequences can be severe, leading to incarceration and deportation, even for lawful permanent residents who have lived here their entire lives. The following are a few pitfalls that clients have fallen into along the way.

1) Change your residence with the AR-11 Form within 10 days of moving.

Under INA Section 265(a), “Each alien required to be registered under this title who is within the United States shall notify the Attorney General in writing of each change of address and new address within ten days from the date of such change and furnish with such notice such additional information as the Attorney General may require by regulation.”

The consequences for failing to change your address can be harsh. INA Section 237(a)(3)(A) states, “An alien who has failed to comply with the provisions of section 265 is deportable, unless the alien establishes to the satisfaction of the Attorney General that such failure was reasonable excusable or was not willful.”

You can obtain a Change of Address Form AR-11 at the United States Customs and Immigration Services website.

2) Register for the Selective Service.

If you are a male between the ages of 18-25, you must register for the Selective Service. If you fail to register, you may be denied citizenship until you reach the age of 30. This applies to all males living inside the United States, regardless of whether you are documented or have a greencard.

When you apply to become a United States Citizen, the government will look at the last five years to determine whether you have “good moral character” as describe in INA Section 101(f). The fact that you did not register with the Selective Service between the ages of 18-25 could lead to the denial of you Application for Citizenship if it has not been more than five years from your 25th birthday. Therefore, generally, if you are 31 years or older, failure to register for selective service will not lead to a denial. If you are younger than 31 years old and failed to register, USCIS could deny your application for citizenship unless you can establish that the violation was not knowing or willful. If you have failed to register with the Selective Service and are considering applying for Citizenship, you should consult with an Immigration Attorney to fully advise you.

For more information on the Selective Service, or to register online, visit the Selective Service Service website at www.sss.gov.

3) Do not plead guilty or no contest, or enter into a pretrial diversion program for any criminal offense, no matter how minor, without first consulting with an immigration attorney.

Many clients believe, or are told by their criminal defense attorneys, that a criminal conviction will not have negative immigration consequences, only to find out later that the government is going to deport them based solely on that conviction. Sometimes, charges are dropped when a person enters into a pretrial diversion program, only to later learn that they admitted to the elements of the offense when entering into that pretrial diversion agreement, and that admission can be used against for immigration purposes. Still others are told that a withhold of adjudication will not be considered a conviction for immigration purposes, only to find out that a withhold is considered a conviction in immigration law. The moral of this story is to obtain an immigration lawyer to review your criminal case and the potential immigration consequences before you agree to anything in the criminal case.

The government is focusing on deporting non-citizens with criminal convictions, no matter how minor and no matter how long you’ve been here as a lawful permanent resident. Even the most minor criminal cases can lead to deportation. Criminal defense attorneys that do not practice immigration law usually will not understand how a certain criminal case outcome will affect your ability to stay in this country. Always consult with an immigration lawyer as soon as you are charged with any criminal offense.

4) Do not register to vote or vote if you are not a United States Citizen.

There are Federal, State and local laws related to who can vote in various elections. Most laws require you to be a United States Citizen. If you vote in an election in violation of law, you are deportable. This is a very serious immigration violation taken seriously by the government.

5) Do not get married to a U.S. Citizen to circumvent the immigration laws.

USCIS adjudicators and ICE agents are trained and focused on weeding out fraud in the U.S. immigration system. They will look at every adjustment of status case based on marriage to a U.S. citizen to determine whether they believe it is a fraudulent marriage. They will look at factors such as length of marriage, length of courtship, level of intimacy between the couple, whether you live together, whether you have commingled your assets, interaction between your families, and many other factors to determine whether the marriage is valid. They will also conduct separate interviews and ask both parties very detailed questions that most married couples should know about each other.

If the government believes that the marriage is fraudulent, they can deny the adjustment application and charge both parties with a federal crime.

6) Consider holding off on getting your record sealed or expunged.

In most areas of immigration law, the alien has the burden of proof. If you have a prior criminal case and you want to get it sealed or expunged, you should consider holding off on that process until you become a U.S. Citizen. USCIS may deny your application if you are unable to provide certified documents that they request. When you get a record sealed or expunged, those documents may no longer be available. Getting a record sealed or expunged can cause you long delays and many headaches in dealing with future immigration issues.

These are only a few pitfalls in immigration issues that are easily preventable. There are many other pitfalls and if you are not a U.S. citizen, you should keep yourself updated constantly with the changing landscape.