Image 01

The Golden Door

News and views on immigration law

Same-sex marriage cases post-Windsor

August 1st, 2013 by Djung Tran

You may not have heard, but an important change in immigration law happened on June 26, 2013.  On this date, the U.S. Supreme Court handed down its decision in U.S. v. WindsorThe Windsor case came up as a tax matter.  But Windsor isn’t just about taxes, although over $300,000 in federal estate taxes was at stake.  It was about the legal definition of marriage.  It was about whether a same-sex marriage can be treated differently than marriage between two people of the opposite sex.  Ultimately, the Supreme Court held that defining marriage as a union between a man and a woman violated the equal protection clause of the Fifth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, and in doing so struck down Section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”).

This leaves the path clear for same-sex marriages to be (among many other things affected by federal law) the basis for immigration benefits, especially marriage-based immigrant visas and marriage-based adjustment of status applications.

The U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services has, in an admirably prompt fashion, already gone on record as now accepting I-130 petitions from same-sex couples.  You can check out the guidance here.

The main thing you need to know if you want to file a petition for immigration benefits based on a same-sex marriage is that the marriage must be legally valid.  This means that the marriage must have been performed in a jurisdiction that allowed same-sex marriage at the time of the event.  This is sometimes referred to as the “place of celebration” rule.  It should not matter if you no longer live in that jurisdiction and currently live with your spouse in a place that does not legally permit same-sex marriage.

A legally valid marriage must be documented, whether by a certificate of marriage issued by a county government as is usually the case in the United States, or whatever is accepted as legal documentation of marriage in the place where it occurred.  For marriages abroad, a good place to check what documentation is considered legally sufficient are the websites for local U.S. embassies and consulates.  There is usually information for U.S. citizens interested in marrying in that foreign country, including what documents should be issued once the marriage is done.

So, for all those who thought they could not file for immigration benefits for their same-sex partners, the law has changed for the better!  If you need more help, advice, or representation in filing your application, contact Tran Law Associates about how to get your case started.

Eulogy for my Dad

July 16th, 2013 by Djung Tran

My father died recently.  Below is the eulogy I delivered at his funeral.  I wrote about him last year, a few months after it was clear that he was terminally ill:  see The Spirit of the Immigrant.  This, I guess, is the coda to that piece.

 

My dad is gone. I was wondering if it would be any less painful if dad died at a later age, after a very full and complete life? Maybe. I think part of the grief I feel is because dad was so vigorous and full of life before he got sick. His cancer robbed him of that vitality long before it took his life.

Dad was always there for us, opinionated, always ready to help, playful and grouchy in quick succession (like me, like my son). His love for his family, although almost never said in words, came through loud and clear in his actions. His last thoughts were what he could do to make sure my mother, my brother, my son, and I were taken care of. His last instructions to us were that we love and take care of each other.

It was sometimes hard to know, because dad rarely spoke about his own feelings, when he was proud of us or when he was disappointed. But in the end, I don’t think it really matters. He loved us, his children, whether we succeeded or failed in our endeavors.

As my mother has said in the days since his death, you cannot take any of your possessions with you when you go. What dad leaves behind are our memories – all of our memories – of a hard-working man who was always there for his family and friends. I have never known him to let anyone down, and I will miss his laughter, his bright smile, his stories that poked gentle fun at people, how he never complained about how unfair life can be, his strength of will, and his unconditional love.

Dad would want to thank many of his family and friends for their love and support over his lifetime, but particularly, since he became sick, I know that he would want to give special thanks to his good friends, Bac Bao and Bac Nhung, Di Ngoc Ha and Bac Chuong, and Bac Chan and Bac Thanh, and Bac Dich and Di Bich-Ngoc for caring for him in his time of need. Thank you for being good friends to my dad.

May his journey continue in peace and the knowledge that he is loved and deeply missed. Con tuong ba va nho ba nhieu.

Post Script to Consular Nonreviewability

July 7th, 2013 by Djung Tran

A few months ago, I wrote about a K-1 fiancé visa case of mine that was impossible to move forward and where repeated requests for information and clarity went nowhere.  (See The pitfalls of the K-1 fiance visa: Consular nonreviewability.)

A recent episode of National Public Radio’s This American Life illustrates this same frustrating experience perfectly.  The show put up a web page providing the email correspondence between an Iraqi interpreter for the U.S. government and the U.S. immigration office handling his case.  In the end, the applicant was killed before his employment with the U.S. government was verified to the (impossible standard of) satisfaction of the agency.  You have to read it to believe it:  This American Life – Taking Names.

Expungements: What you need to know before you expunge.

April 30th, 2013 by Djung Tran

For most people who acquire a minor criminal record that conviction becomes both a professional and a personal thorn in their side.  On the career-side, having a criminal record can make landing a job more difficult or might prevent you from doing the work you want to do altogether, whether that’s lawful on the employer’s part or not.  On the personal side, you may feel ashamed that you have this record that shows that you broke the law, or were convicted of breaking the law, and having to explain it whenever it comes up.

After experiencing the ramifications of having a criminal conviction, most people want to eliminate this from their record if they can, which usually means requesting that the record be expunged.  Expungement means that the record is destroyed, and anyone looking up your name in the jurisdiction in which it the record was generated should come up empty-handed.  Once an expungement petition is granted, the court administrator (usually the clerk of courts) where the record was originally generated should notify any other agencies to which the criminal record was sent, requesting that this information be removed from those databases as well.  In reality, such requests may or may not be made by the original keeper of the records, and the other agencies that received the criminal record information may or may not update their files in a timely manner, so information about your conviction may still show up in other databases, such as the FBI database.

In terms of immigration, before you expunge your record you should know this:  USCIS and the federal immigration courts often require that you disclose whether you have ever been arrested or detained by a law enforcement officer, charged with a criminal offense, convicted, and what your sentence was if you were convicted.  They require this information regardless of whether the record has been expunged.  And they expect you to provide certified records of these events, or a statement from the relevant agency stating that no record is available.

This means that once you record has been expunged there is no way for the record-keeping agency to issue you a certified copy of that record.  And, not infrequently, when you then request a statement that the record is no longer available due to expungement, the agency may not comply with this request for various reasons, including not understanding the request, or due to a policy of declining to verify the prior existence of a record that has been expunged.

Then you are stuck.  You have admitted to immigration authorities (in the course of, for example, applying for citizenship or for cancellation of removal) to having a criminal record, as the law requires, and yet you cannot provide verification of what happened, also as required.  It is because of this conundrum that I often advise clients to delay having their criminal records expunged until after they become naturalized.  A “clean” criminal record procured through the expungement process can be a headache in immigration proceedings because of the requirement to disclose ALL, even expunged criminal records.

This is an example of when consulting an attorney earlier rather than later is the wiser course of action.  Sometimes you don’t know what you don’t know!  Sometimes a consult early on the process can alert you to potential pitfalls before you commit them.  At Tran Law Associates, we aim to make the immigration process as painless as possible, including warning you of actions that may negatively impact your application for benefits.

 

Review of “De Novo – mas alla de las fronteras (beyond borders)”

March 29th, 2013 by Djung Tran

I saw the play “De Novo – mas allas de las fronteras (beyond borders)” last night.  It was a beautiful, touching, realistic depiction of what some undocumented immigrant youth face when they are placed in deportation proceedings, produced by Houses on the Moon theater company.

There are so many different meanings of “de novo” that resonate throughout the play.  From a lawyer’s perspective, it is a term of art meaning review by a court from the beginning, without relying on prior adjudications, and assessing all evidence afresh rather than through the lens of another adjudicator’s decision.  In a more general sense, it means taking things from the beginning, or starting anew.  The play invites us to both look at the life of one undocumented immigrant youth from the beginning, and to think about the roots of the circumstances of his life, and the immigration system that we have and how it is should be reformed.  It made me think, “What controlled this person’s life?  What could he have done given his circumstances?  Could he have made different decisions?  What are our responsibilities for the circumstances of his life?  What is the U.S. government’s responsibility here?”

“De Novo” is about Edgar Chocoy-Guzman, a real person.  The play uses language taken from real documents, including letters, psychological evaluations, and court transcripts.  He was born in Guatamala in 1987.  He never really knew his father.  His mother left for America when he was an infant.  He lived in his grandfather’s house but no one really parented him.  He joins the gang Mara Salvatrucha and then leaves it, and leaves Guatemala because the gang has put a hit on him.  He joins his mother in Los Angeles and ends up joining another gang.  He is then placed in juvenile detention and then, after he has served his time, instead of being released he is transferred to immigration detention and placed in deportation proceedings, at age 15.  Knowing that he would still be a target of assassination back in Guatemala, he applies for asylum.

The scenes of immigration court proceedings were spot-on.  This is not your Law & Order polished court scene.  The court scenes in “De Novo” were just like the real thing.

There was a panel discussion after the play, and the moderator took the stage visibly emotionally affected by the performance.  I won’t tell you any more as it would spoil the play for you.  All of the actors were excellent.  The fact that the words used in the play were the actual words uttered or written as Edgar’s story unfolded in reality made the story even more affecting.  That this is a real story makes it even more immediate, compelling and thought-provoking.  This is about someone’s actual life and experience.  If you get the chance to see this, I highly HIGHLY recommend that you go.  If you know people who are hostile to immigrants, bring them along.  Let them see what it’s really like to be an unauthorized immigrant in America, instead of thinking of unauthorized immigrants one-dimensionally as nothing more than law-breakers who need to be deported.

 

Fraud or misrepresentation – a small mistake can derail a case

March 29th, 2013 by Djung Tran

I recently finished an adjustment of status case which should have been straight-forward.  It involved an elderly couple, both originally from Jamaica.  They had been married for decades, then divorced after wife moved to the United States and they grew apart.  She re-married, to a U.S. citizen, and got her permanent resident status and then her U.S. citizenship.  Her second marriage ended several years later, and several years after that she and her first husband grew close again and re-married.  She then applied for him to obtain his permanent resident status.

They were represented by prior counsel.  Everything seemed fine until they attended the adjustment of status interview.  At the interview, the officer asked about husband’s tourist visa application from 10 years ago.  Apparently, husband, who was recently divorced from wife at that time, had checked the “married” rather than the “divorced” box.  This was deemed by USCIS to be a fraud or misrepresentation and the adjustment of status application was denied.

“Fraud” or “misrepresentation” are words that you do not want to hear from USCIS.  They are definitely a sign that your application is in trouble, because it makes you inadmissible and/or deportable.  Luckily, “fraud” or “misrepresentation” are not as adverse a bar to obtaining immigration benefits as a false claim of U.S. citizenship, which is an immutable (non-waivable) bar unless you fall into a very narrow exception.  Still, it’s a very serious matter.

In this case, husband was illiterate and had not completed his visa application himself.  A stranger waiting in line with him at the visa office helped him.  So the first response to the charge of fraud or misrepresentation should have been that he had no intent to deceive and, further, the alleged deception would not have helped him get his visa.  Had he been married, as indicated on the visa application, to a U.S. lawful permanent resident, as his then ex-wife was by this time, this would have been an adverse factor in his visa application.  This is because having strong ties to the U.S., such as to a lawful permanent resident spouse, weighs against being able to establish strong ties to your home country, a condition of being issued a tourist visa.  So this misrepresentation would not have helped him get his visa approved.

Even had husband deliberately intended to deceive in his visa application, a waiver of this ground of inadmissibility is available if you can demonstrate that denial of the adjustment of status application would result in extreme hardship to a U.S. citizen spouse.  In this case, both husband and wife had serious health problems.  Husband was frail and in severe ill health.  In fact, he had suffered a serious medical emergency in Jamaica the last time he was there from which he could easily have died.  Part of what made that event so life-threatening was that after he arrived at the hospital he was not treated for 16 hours while the hospital demanded upfront payment for treatment.  If he were forced to return to Jamaica then the next time he needed acute medical care he would face the same lack of prompt service and he would be allowed to die waiting for care.  Deportation to Jamaica would be a death sentence.

Prior counsel in the case did not dispute the finding of fraud or misrepresentation, or submit information about husband’s or wife’s medical conditions and medical history.  In fact, the only thing prior counsel submitted to argue hardship was statements from husband and wife, and their friends and family, that they loved each other and had for decades, and now were reunited and could not bear to live apart.  Not good enough.

Long story short, I disputed that husband deliberately misrepresented his marital status, and we submitted medical records and information about hospital conditions in Jamaica, and the case was approved.  What really helped, I believe, was to show the human costs in the case.  This was an elderly man who would have died the next time he needed emergency medical care in Jamaica.  That would have caused an extreme hardship to his wife.

 

The pitfalls of the K-1 fiance visa: Consular nonreviewability

February 15th, 2013 by Djung Tran

Sometimes the law makes no sense. Sometimes it is unjust.

Take the case of consular processing for K-1 visas. For immigration neophytes, consular processing occurs when the intending immigrant is not physically in the United States and, thus, the individual must request a visa to lawfully enter the country. The visa application process is handled, usually, by the U.S. Department of State rather than the US. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), part of the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.

In my experience, consular processing of family based immigration is rife with opportunities for visa offices to exercise bias and apply inconsistent standards. That is because there is no system of external oversight for visa issuance decisions. The K-1 visa, where the applicant is a foreign national whose only tie to the United States is that he or she is engaged to marry a U.S. citizen, is particularly vulnerable to such abuses.

A K-1 visa case came to me, after the fiancée of the immigrant had filed the I-129F petition pro se, after the petition had been approved by USCIS, after applicant had the visa interview, and then… nothing. No news, no decision. Ten months after the visa interview in Kabul, Afghanistan, I started work on the case, requesting a decision or some direction as to what concerns were holding up the application. Unfortunately, due to a rule known as the doctrine of consular nonreviewability, there was no way to require a U.S. Department of State visa office to justify either its lack of action or rejection of a visa application. We cannot get a federal court to force a decision, because the courts will defer to the U.S. Department of State under this doctrine. The only way to get past this judicial deference to visa decisions is to prove that the visa office acted in bad faith, an impossibility in the vast majority of cases. This is because the applicant has no information from the visa office, much less information about what evidence the decision is actually based upon.

The rationale for the deference, according to visa decisions under the doctrine of consular nonreviewability, is that the United States government has broad powers to determine who it permits to enter its borders, and decisions to deny admission to foreign nationals, barring bad faith, will not be second-guessed by the courts. This sounds somewhat rational until you play out the consequences. The procedures used to evaluate applications lack transparency. While the Foreign Affairs Manual (the U.S. Department of State's operating manual) references the statutory and regulatory requirements for reviewing visa applications, it leaves broad discretion to the visa officer to make credibility determinations. In practice, denial letters never tell you why exactly the application was rejected, except to conclude that you failed to prove that you have a real relationship. In other instances, you may have failed to prove sufficiently strong ties to your home country (for tourist visas). There is no meaningful appeal process for such denials. When I have filed appeals to the U.S. Department of State visa office in the past, the result has been a pro forma affirmation, with no response to the mistakes in fact. Plus, there is no appeal of that decision, particularly no judicial appeal. The result is that applicants are denied permission to enter the United States, without the right to present additional evidence to rebut the grounds of the denial. That’s because our right of Due Process does not to apply to foreign nationals residing abroad. Apparently, it also does not matter that U.S. citizens are also deprived of due process as a consequence of the visa denial.

In my Afghan K-1 visa case, my client and her fiancée had participated in a ceremonial wedding and signed a nekah, a Muslim marriage contract, while waiting for the K-1 visa to be approved. Under Afghan law, the nekah must be registered with the family court and a marriage certificate must be issued by that court before a legal marriage is created. More than a year and a half after the visa interview, and over two years after the application was filed, my client's K-1 petition was denied because my client and her fiancée were deemed to already be married.

In my Afghan K-1 visa case, my client and her fiance had participated in a ceremonial wedding and signed a nekah, a Muslim marriage contract, while waiting for the K-1 visa to be approved.  Under Afghan law, the nekah must be registered with the family court and a marriage certificate issued by that court before a legal marriage is created.  More than a year and a half after the visa interview, and over two years after the application was filed, my client’s K-1 petition was denied because my client and her fiance were deemed to already be married.

Had my client filed an I-130 Petition for Alien Relative and attempted to bring her fiancée to the United States based on the same facts, that petition would have be denied for lack of proof of a valid, legal marriage, according to the Kabul U.S. Embassy website. Thus, this was a classic Catch-22 situation.

I had already pointed out the facts of the case and the applicable Afghan law of marriage to the Kabul visa office, pointing out that a wedding without a legal marriage had taken place and that the same standard should be applied for an I-130 petition as an I-129F petition in evaluating whether a legal marriage existed. The visa denial did not address any of my points.

The current state of the law accords deference to visa decisions under the doctrine of consular nonreviewability. Due to this long-standing doctrine, courts refuse to demand any sort of accounting in visa decisions. It is past time to scrap this outdated rule that allows bias and abuse to occur under the guise of protecting our borders. While I agree that the United States should have broad authority to decide who is eligible to enter the country, once the statutory and regulatory rules are enacted that define the limits of this authority, these rules should be followed. There should be a mechanism to evaluate that the statutes and regulations are, indeed, followed by visa offices. Under the doctrine of consular nonreviewability, there is no way to require visa offices to identify the evidence relied upon in issuing a denial. Thus, applicants are left stranded without any avenue for appeal or external review. In my Afghan visa case, my client is left without the ability to live with her fiancée in the United States. She is forced to confront the choice of moving to Afghanistan or some other country that will accept both her and her fiancée as residents with the right to work.

Rumblings of immigration reform…

February 1st, 2013 by Djung Tran

I just read through the “Bipartisan Framework for Comprehensive Immigration Reform,” put together by a group of eight U.S. Senators, and the White House’s four-point platform on immigration reform, both statements which are (deliberately, no doubt) fairly similar in substance.

My first impression:

Good things:  both statements agree that (1) there should be a route for non-criminal unauthorized immigrants to obtain lawful status, including making amends for their unlawful actions such as paying back taxes and paying a fine; (2) our immigration system should permit individuals who have received advanced educational degrees in the United States to stay here without first getting an employer to sponsor them, thus freeing them to start businesses rather than rely upon an employer-sponsor for their status; (3) children brought to the United States without knowingly violating our immigration laws – commonly referred to nowadays as DREAMers – will face a less onerous route to obtain their permanent resident status than their parents; and (4) immigrant agricultural workers who have been paid “subsistence wages” should be granted permanent resident status, as there simply are not enough American workers for these agricultural jobs, and granting these workers permanent resident status would make them less vulnerable to exploitation by employers.

There seems to be a recognition running through the Senators’ framework that unauthorized immigrant workers are easily exploited by unscrupulous employers and thus granting these workers lawful status will, among other things, help build up stronger labor protections for workers in general.  (Of course, that brings us to a separate debate on business competitiveness when industries have to compete with overseas workers with weaker labor protection movements.)

Bad things:  The Senators’ framework makes permanent resident status for unauthorized immigrants contingent on “securing our borders and combating visa overstays.”  This statement raises the question of when will our borders be considered secure “enough”?  Another point made in the Senators’ statement restricts this class of “lawful probationary immigrants” from accessing federal public benefits, which means that while this class of immigrants would be required to pay taxes and thus fund these benefit programs they will not be able to access them when in critical need of social services.  This will create a new class of persons, with less rights than citizens or legal permanent residents.  Sounds complicated, and ripe for adverse unintended consequences.

Some of the points stated in these platforms sound great on paper but the real question is how they will be executed, such as:  Prohibit racial profiling; create an effective entry-exit tracking system so that we will know when someone who entered on a valid visa fails to depart on schedule; and provide “businesses with the ability to hire lower-skilled workers in a timely manner.”  I would love to see the “timely” part of that statement turn into reality.  Will timely mean a month?  Six months?  A year?  Two years?

The issue that faces one of the biggest implementation hurdles is creating an effective employment verification system.  As an immigration lawyer, it is difficult for me to sometimes identify the immigration status of the person in my office who has brought me all their immigration documents, and sometimes immigration officers themselves have a hard time, even with government databases at their fingertips.  The E-Verify system currently in place to verify employment authorization does not stop incorrect verifications through identity theft.  The Senators’ platform calls for an identity-theft-proof system.  A tall order.

Overall, a good start to the debate over what should be changed in our immigration system.  We’ll see where it goes from here.

Immigration Reform – hopeful and wary

January 26th, 2013 by Djung Tran

In immigration circles there’s a feeling in the air that we may actually get comprehensive reform this year.  President Obama has clearly put his support behind it, and a small group of Democratic and Republican senators are working on hammering out a core set of principles that both sides can agree on prior to drafting any proposed legislation.

Immigration reform can mean a lot of different things, depending on what you think is wrong with the current system.  Some people think it is too harsh, penalizing infractions of law in ways that are disproportionate to the violation and tearing apart families, and in doing so often hurting U.S. citizens.  Others think it is too lenient, not holding people adequately accountable for violations or deterring future violations.  When we talk about immigration laws, we have to think about authorized immigration – the foreign nationals who come (or want to come) to the United States on visas, whether to visit, work, go to school, or who permanently immigrate here based on family ties or work skills; and unauthorized immigration – the foreign nationals who enter without inspection or enter using a visa and then overstay, becoming unlawfully present.

There is plenty of room for improvement in our existing scheme of distributing visas, especially if one thinks, as I do, that we should increase the number of authorized immigrants we permit to join our ranks.  One of the most frustrating issues in immigration is the visa quota system, which creates huge backlogs in several categories of both family and employment-based immigration.  Backlogs of two to 24 years exist in the family-based quota-limited visa categories.  Backlogs of five to ten years exist in the most popular employment-based visa categories.  (See Visa Bulletin.)  These backlogs undermine the policy considerations that created these categories of visas in the first place:  promoting family reunification and helping U.S. businesses employ qualified workers when such cannot be found in the existing pool of local U.S. workers.  The promise of family reunification or employing qualified workers from abroad becomes effectively meaningless when one has to wait an average of 12 years to bring a sister and her family to the United States, or a business has to wait six years to hire the worker it needs.

While these considerations are particularly frustrating to those of us who deal with immigration on a daily basis, the more attention-grabbing aspect of immigration is the unauthorized immigrant population.  There are an estimated 11.5 million unauthorized immigrants in the United States, according to the U.S. Department of Homeland Security.  Declarations that this population should be deported or should  “self-deport” are unrealistic to say the least.  These are people who have built their lives here, and whose children, whether born in the United States or not, have grown up here and know America as their home.  Most people left their native countries, which was no small step – leaving family, friends, everything that is familiar and dependable – because they could not see any hope in the future for themselves and their children there.  Yes, they violated our immigration laws to come here.  Yes, we should impose a consequence for that violation.  But it is unrealistic to try to identify and then lawfully deport all 11.5 million or more unauthorized immigrants.  Making life so unpleasant for unauthorized immigrants that they will leave of their own accord – well, what level of unpleasantness is enough to convince someone to return to a place where they had no hopes for their future?  And what level of unpleasantness are we willing to stomach to achieve this goal?  I think the answer is that we, as a nation, believe in human rights, and to get a person to the point where he or she is willing to self-deport would require suspending our respect for human rights.  I have to believe we are not ready to do this.

Whatever your view on the appropriate penalty to be levied for unauthorized immigration before the immigrant can get his or her green card, one unfortunate reality for this population is that its members can be uniquely vulnerable to scammers.  Many unauthorized immigrants, even those who have lived in the United States for many years, do not speak English.  (I’ve already expressed my views, as an immigration attorney, on long-term immigrants who still do not speak English in this blog.)  Those who do speak some English may still rely on media sources in their native language for news.  Already, I am hearing rumors of ethnic language newspapers reporting that a route now exists to lawful status for unauthorized immigrants.  For someone without their legal papers, including work authorization or a driver’s license and social security number, getting lawful immigration status can mean being able to bank instead of always using cash, being able to drive legally instead of relying on others or driving in fear of being stopped by the police, and being able to go to the police for help without fear of being reported to immigration authorities, among many other things.  For people in this situation, the hope of getting a green card can be used against them.  Unscrupulous ethnic “services brokers” promise that they can get the immigrant their papers if they pay a (usually exorbitant) fee.  Filing a petition for a green card when you are not eligible can result in being placed in deportation proceedings.  So the prospect of comprehensive immigration reform, including a path to lawful status for non-criminal unauthorized immigrants, while a reason for cautious optimism, also creates opportunities for hucksters to ply their trade.  For those of you who know unauthorized immigrants (which of us does not?), please tell them to be careful of promises of a “guaranteed green card” if they just pay the fee.  No such thing exists.

 

False claim of U.S. citizenship – beware this pitfall!

January 19th, 2013 by Djung Tran

As an immigration attorney, I find it important to make people aware of this potential pitfall. It may seem like a minor thing.  You, a non-U.S. citizen and lacking working papers, fill out a job application and check the box that says you are a U.S. citizen.  If you don’t check it, you don’t have the documents to prove that you’re eligible to work.  If you do check it, you get the job.  You know it’s probably against the law, but it’s what you need to do to get a job and pay the bills.

And it’s not like you’re going out and robbing someone, dealing drugs, or committing some sort of violent crime.

But, under immigration laws, the penalty for making a false claim of U.S. citizenship is the heaviest one available:  deportation without the usual avenues for relief.  If you are convicted of making a false claim of U.S. citizenship you are ineligible to apply for Cancellation of Removal, the same as if you are an aggravated felon or drug trafficker, or committed certain crimes of moral turpitude.  So the act of checking the “U.S. citizen” box on an I-9 form can land you in the same hot water as if you had  been caught dealing drugs or assaulting someone with a deadly weapon.

Harsh reality, but reality it is.