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The Golden Door

News and views on immigration law

The spirit of the immigrant

February 1st, 2012 by Djung Tran

Following is a speech that I delivered last Friday at the Lunar New Year Banquet held by the Asian Pacific American Law Students Association of the Temple University Beasley School of Law.

I want to take advantage of this forum tonight to ask you to think about the spirit of the immigrant. As you may know, immigration is a theme that runs through my life. I practice immigration law, I am an immigrant myself twice over, and I work with APABA-PA on community outreach programs that target local APA immigrant communities.

Immigrants are my clients, my family, my friends and colleagues, and are a large part of the community that I strive to give back to in my pro bono work.

So I want to tell you a personal story.  It is about my family, but most of all about my father.

Last October, my parents came back from vacation, a cruise to New Zealand and Australia. They had visited friends and family and had had a good time and were in high spirits. By November, my husband remarked to me that my father was looking ill, and I had to agree. By December, my father had been diagnosed with advanced and aggressive colon cancer, which has metastasized and is attacking other parts of his body. Over the course of a few weeks, he transformed from an active person, a medical doctor with a bustling practice, an avid tennis player, gardener, tinkerer around the house, and jolly grandfather to my son, to a skeletal, bedridden figure whose voice had become labored and breathy with frequent pauses, someone who needs painkillers to get through the days and the nights. His life expectancy is in months, not years.

My father has handled this situation with a combination of stoicism and some quite understandable depression, but overall with grace and competence. He has not railed against his illness, or become defeatist and given up hope of a recovery. He has borne the pain of his disease, and the discomfort of medical treatment, without complaint. My husband has said to me that my father has handled this situation particularly well, much better than most members of his family would, and he added that it is not so surprising, considering what my father has experienced in his life.

So I have come face to face with the impending death of my father. It has made me think about his accomplishments and regrets, and of what he might want to do before he leaves this world. I have tried to put myself in his shoes, thinking back over the major decisions in his life, and get a sense of what it was like to be him.

My parents were childhood sweethearts who married in Saigon, Vietnam, shortly after dad finished medical school and mom finished law school. Their marriage began a few months before the fall of Saigon, and I was born a year later. Dad was a surgeon and the assistant medical director at a local hospital, and mom worked as an administrator at the same hospital. When I was three, we packed up our lives and fled Vietnam and communist rule on a rickety, overcrowded boat, joining the tide of Vietnamese known as boat people. We were lucky in that although our boat was raided by pirates, the pirates only took our belongings. They did not rape or kill. We ended up in a refugee camp in Indonesia, along with both my mom’s parents and siblings and my dad’s mother and siblings.

At times in my life when I was most at odds with my dad, mom would tell me, you don’t know how much your father loves you, and how much he’s sacrificed for you.

“When we were on that boat, your father and a few other young men spent hours bailing seawater out of the bottom of the boat so we wouldn’t sink, in exchange for drinking water, and after he exhausted himself doing that, the captain refused to give any of them drinking water,” my mother told me once.

The few photos that we have from the refugee camp show everyone in my family as stylishly thin, with prominent cheekbones and sucked-in cheeks, except for the young kids, like me, who were pleasingly plump because we were given the choicest foods.

After spending a year in the refugee camp, it turned out that although both my mother’s and my father’s families had been accepted to come to the United States, we could not come with them. Instead, we were on a waiting list, with no guarantee of when our number would come up. So, when my parents were offered the chance to leave the refugee camp and come to Australia immediately, or await their turn to come to the States where their families had already been accepted, they opted to strike out on their own and leave the refugee camp sooner rather than later.

My parents and I arrived in Australia with no family support, but the kind sponsorship of a Christian church group which helped us find housing, jobs, and provided us with what would nowadays be termed tastefully vintage second-hand clothes. (I loved those clothes!) In the years that we lived in Australia, we went from being the objects of charity to being a comfortable middle-class family, from refugees to citizens. My brother, Thai, was born in Australia, making us a family of four. My parents went from sorting mail at the local Australia Post mail center to white collar jobs. Dad’s resume runs from driving a cab to washing dishes to being a medical science officer. Mom at one point made hand-knit sweaters for pocket money when my brother was a baby, and eventually got her degree in computer programming and worked for the government. When mom was struggling to pass her classes because of her weak English skills, dad enrolled in her program so he could tutor her. He ended up collecting a degree in computer programming that he never used.

Although mom and dad had comfortable lives in Australia, dad had never been able to get back to the practice of medicine, his first calling. Dad has always been book smart, a constant reader. He graduated at the top of his high school class and did well in medical school, but he was never able to pass the foreign medical graduates exam, which he took several times.

Then, ten years after they built new lives from scratch in Australia, my parents were given the opportunity to emigrate to the States. Again they faced leaving what they knew, comfortable lives and good friendships, for the opportunity to reunite with their families and give my father the chance of obtaining his dream – to be a doctor again. Again, they chose to take a risk for the chance of greater gain.

Once we landed in the United States it took six years for my dad to get fully accredited as a medical doctor, which included passing the foreign medical graduates exam, obtaining clinical experience in the U.S. – a prerequisite before he could be admitted to a medical internship program – doing his internship, and then his fellowship. This included a stint where he lived in Newark, NJ, for two years, while we stayed in Philadelphia. Let’s just say, for those of you aware of the habits of drivers in Newark, NJ, that he came back a different driver after this temporary relocation. In any case, he became a fully fledged doctor – again – and opened his own practice so that he could be his own boss and not be dependent on others.

It has been 15 years since my father opened his practice. He had to close it down last month. He had planned to retire in a few years, and the sudden onset of his cancer forced him to abruptly shut it down. It is not what he would have chosen, but since there is no other choice he has accepted it and moved on.

In immigrant communities, my father’s story is not that unusual. Immigrants tend to open small businesses in larger numbers than native-born residents. They are more willing to take risks in pursuit of their dreams. And immigrants usually have faced and overcome significant hardship on the road to their new homeland, and maybe because of this, are often more persistent in pursuing their goals than native-born residents, more willing to push issues and not take “no” for an answer.

Many of you here tonight come from immigrant families, if you are not yourself an immigrant. So, I want to take this opportunity to acknowledge the spirit of the immigrant, many of whom, like my father, are brave risk-takers willing to endure hardship to forge a better life for themselves and their families. For those of you who, like me, owe a great debt to parents who were willing to start over in a foreign land to provide greater opportunity to their children, please don’t forget to show your appreciation. Too often we assume that our parents know that we love them and that we are thankful for the sacrifices they have made for us. Sometimes they do know. But it never hurts to say it and show that we mean it.

As law students in this economy, with the downturn in legal hiring, it may seem that law school might not have been the wisest choice. But whatever your long-term ambitions, one thing a legal degree and bar admission will allow you to do is to hang out your shingle. It can be intimidating to open your own business. It is a big risk. If you open a solo practice the buck stops with you and there is no safety net. But, drawing on the spirit of the immigrant, let me say that sometimes you have to take risks to achieve your dreams. That doesn’t mean you jump in with your eyes closed, and hope for the best. It does mean that whatever your goal is, there will often come a time when you have to give up a measure of safety to go after it. When that time comes, remember the immigrants who have come before us, who helped to create the opportunities we have today.

Thank you for allowing me to talk about my father tonight.

If you or your family is struggling with the naturalization process, trust an experienced immigration lawyer who has gone through the process herself. Learn more about Djung Tran, Esq. here.

Words matter: unauthorized immigrant versus criminal alien invader

November 1st, 2011 by Djung Tran

Being a practicing immigration attorney and someone who routinely interacts with immigrant communities on a pro bono basis, certain themes and questions recur in my experience of dealing with immigrants and the policy issues that immigration law raises.

One recurring theme that may seem technical and boring but  plays out in important ways is the status of immigration as civil rather than criminal law.  Immigration violations are not generally criminal violations, and thus foreign nationals who fail to maintain their lawful immigration status or who enter the country without permission are not per se criminals.  Although in the past I have tried to equate immigration violations to other civil penalties like a parking violation such as an expired meter, or not maintaining a proper business license or zoning permit, such as running a hair salon on property zoned for office use, this never felt accurate.

The fact is, an immigration violation is a different animal than a parking or zoning violation.  Although each type of regulatory regime – immigration, motor vehicle, and zoning – purports to regulate individuals for the greater public good, regulation of the use of personal property such as cars or regulation of the use of real property is different from regulation of where people can live and work.  The latter regulatory scheme can have a much more significant impact on people’s lives, controlling whether you can live with your spouse if you happen to fall in love transnationally, or whether you can work for a company that is more attractive to you than those in your home country.  Immigration laws have prevented clients of mine from attending a wedding in the United States, from working for a mom-and-pop business where the owners want to bring a foreign-national family member into the workforce, and from living in the United States with a foreign-national spouse.  Immigration laws have mandated the deportation of clients who have lived here since early childhood, established families here and sunk down deep roots here such that being returned to their “home” country would be akin to moving to a foreign country.

In addition to the way that immigration law regulates where foreign nationals can live in this country and whether they can can lawfully work here, once a foreign national falls out of lawful immigration status (or maybe never had lawful immigration status) he or she can be “detained,” a watered-down way of saying “thrown in jail.”  Although immigration detention is supposedly merely a means to an end, that is, making sure that the detainee is available for deportation if warranted, detention is a punishment – taking away an individual’s freedom – that is criminal in nature.  Some immigrant detainees are even housed with a prison’s criminal population.  Being detained means you don’t have  access to your important documents and cannot collect evidence to help build your case for relief from deportation but rather must rely on the goodness in the hearts of friends or family to act for you, and the effectiveness of your attorney.

But immigration laws in America maintain the fiction that detention is a civil penalty, and thus detainees do not have the rights of criminal defendants such as the right to counsel, regardless of ability to pay, or the right to confront adverse witnesses.  It’s a Catch-22.  You can be treated as a criminal, demonized as an “illegal” human, but once you are in custody the fact that immigration is a civil scheme of laws is used as the reason why you cannot claim such rights as are routine for criminal defendants.

Another recurring question in immigration is what to call foreign nationals who are present in America without proper authorization.  Some of these foreign nationals entered the country lawfully but then overstayed their temporary visas.  Others entered unlawfully, bypassing all checkpoints.  Others lost their permanent resident status due to a variety of reasons, including criminal convictions, findings of fraud on their original applications, etc.  If you an advocate for immigrants, you refer to this population as “undocumented immigrants” or “unauthorized immigrants” or, simply, people “without papers.”  If you feel that unlawful immigration is a scourge that is dragging our country down, you call this population “illegal aliens” or, more dehumanizingly, “alien invaders.” These latter labels suggest that this whole population becomes something to be eliminated, end of discussion.

Words matter.  Someone without papers is a very different person than an alien invader.  A person without papers can exist in a broad range of circumstances, and can be a good person or a bad person, or, like most of us, a complicated combination of characteristics, some admirable, others not.  An alien invader or an illegal alien is a person – or rather a thing, a criminal, a bad element – that should be summarily ejected, and need not be treated with basic human decency.  If we label this population “illegal” aliens, why do we not call parking violators “illegal” drivers and zoning violators “illegal” business owners?  The use of the word “illegal” acts to deem the entire person “illegal,” and therefore disposable, rather than just the person’s actions.  There is a difference between being unlawfully present and being an illegal human being.

Hector Tobar’s “The Barbarian Nurseries”

October 31st, 2011 by Djung Tran

Just finished Hector Tobar’s new novel, The Barbarian Nurseries. I’m an avid reader, but usually of fantasy and science fiction.  This novel, set in present-day, real-life Los Angeles and its suburbs, was a change of pace for me.  Its protogonist, a Mexican domestic employee and undocumented (or unauthorized) immigrant, is also a change of pace in terms of my leisure reading.  Maybe because I handle immigration matters on a daily basis, I usually look for topics far afield when I want to relax with a good book.

But I saw this title on the new books shelf at the library, and thought I would give it a whirl.  I’m glad I did.  So many observations in this book were dead on and familiar, putting in words things that I’ve noticed before and never bothered to parse out myself.  It kept me riveted from beginning to end, and now I’m looking for more by this author.

Here’s the set up:  A suburban couple, Scott Torres and Maureen Thompson, have laid off two of their three domestic employees due to money issues, leaving only the quiet, hardworking, standoffish, non-child-friendly housekeeper, Araceli.  After an argument,  Scott and Maureen each quietly and without word to anyone else exit the home thinking the other spouse will look after their two young sons, leaving Araceli as de facto guardian of the children in their unexplained absence.  Not being able to reach either husband or wife for days, Araceli decides to take the boys to the only other relative within hailing distance, Scott’s Mexican American father.

Thus begins a journey that will bring upheaval to each member of the household.  The novel does a wonderful job of painting a three-dimensional personality for Araceli and her yuppie employers.  As might be expected, the housekeeper’s undocumented status informs her every potential encounter with authority figures.  For those who need reminding, the novel also provides a portrait of an undocumented immigrant as more than just a statistic, more than just a stick figure  conveniently labeled as “illegal”  and “criminal” so that such individuals can be dismissed as not worthy of basic human considerations.  It presents us with a complex person with a past full of unfulfilled dreams, her own idiosyncratic hopes for the future, distinct quirks and dislikes, and very little in the way of resources except her own strength of character.

This contemporary novel takes a keen, unsentimental look at the everyday lives of people you feel you know already, and leaves you feeling like you’ve taken a tour into their inner lives.  Highly recommended.

The Meaning of Prosecutorial Discretion

September 26th, 2011 by Djung Tran

In the last few months, there has been a shift in the tenor of prosecution of immigration removal proceedings (deportation, in not-so-euphemistic terms).  Whether this shift is merely a superficial veneer that attempts to appease immigrant advocates but signifies nothing, or is an unlawful run-around of Congress that is allowing countless undocumented immigrants off the hook depends on who you ask.

The shift began with what is now known as the Morton Memo.  John Morton, Director of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”), has issued several official memoranda during his tenure, but this memo has such potentially wide-ranging significance to ICE personnel and undocumented immigrants that it has been dubbed the Morton Memo.  In a nutshell, Director Morton’s June 17, 2011, memo directs all ICE personnel to take into account two factors when deciding whether to place a suspected undocumented immigrant into removal proceedings:  (1) that ICE has limited resources to deport everyone who is theoretically deportable and thus must pick and choose who to deport, and (2) that in deciding who to prosecute for deportation there are specific factors that will favor putting that person in removal proceedings and specific factors that favor leaving that person alone.  This is not new policy, but it shows a newfound boldness in announcing the policy and inviting immigrants and their advocates to request favorable prosecutorial discretion, and a renewed emphasis on the importance of implementing the policy.

The Obama Administration then followed up, through a letter dated August 18, 2011, from Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano to Senator Dick Durbin, by announcing that a review would be conducted of ALL individuals currently in removal proceedings to determine whether they fall within DHS’s high priority categories for removal or whether they would merit the favorable exercise of discretion under the Morton Memo’s specific factors.  For the latter group, removal proceedings would be suspended.

When I was asked by WHYY reporter Elizabeth Fiedler what I tell my clients as an immigration lawyer when they ask what this policy shift means to them, I told her that, “This is not a total out.  It does not get them out of the removal situation.  It is like a suspension of an ax over their heads.”  The new policy can make a difference when an undocumented immigrant is in removal proceedings – or threatened with removal proceedings – and has not committed any crimes or otherwise shown a lack of good moral character.  The policy helps if the immigrant came as a child, and has established deep roots here, such as having U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident spouses or children, or if the immigrant have served honorably in the military or is a well-educated individual ready to contribute to society, and so on.  But the Morton Memo and the shift it represents can change with the next presidential administration, and does not grant undocumented immigrants any new rights, such as work authorization or the golden ring, a green card.

So, while the new emphasis on prosecutorial discretion is a positive development for undocumented immigrants who, aside from their undocumented status, are free of criminal histories and are just trying to build good lives for themselves and their families, this policy shift is not any kind of amnesty, and can be revoked with the next change in administration. If you have concerns regarding the policy, you should consult your immigration lawyer. Pennsylvania residents can contact Tran Law Associates.

834 Chestnut Street #206
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 690-1933

Backlog in the immigration courts

July 20th, 2011 by Djung Tran

Anyone routinely involved in immigration in the United States is aware that cases moving through the immigration courts take a long time.  Sometimes, cases take years to be adjudicated, and by years I don’t mean a year or two, I mean three or four or five years.  A recent article in the Philadelphia Inquirer in which I am quoted gives some idea of the backlog in the system.

Depending on where you stand, this backlog can be a good or a bad thing.  If you are not in immigration detention (which is a sugar-coated way of saying you are in jail), and you are fighting removal (which is a sugar-coated way of saying deportation), then it is a good thing because it gives you time to gather evidence for your case and lets you live your life in the United States for a longer period if you do not have a good chance of winning your case.  If you are in immigration detention, it means you languish in jail while your case plods through the system.  While you are in jail, it is difficult for your lawyer, if you have one, to communicate with you, and you are not free to gather evidence yourself but must rely on friends and relatives to do it for you, if you can persuade them to.

If, however, instead of being in removal proceedings you are affirmatively (rather than defensively) applying for an immigration benefit, such as asylum or permanent resident status based upon marriage to a permanent resident of U.S. citizen, but the government contests your eligibility for the benefit, this backlog in the immigration courts prevents you from getting on with your life.  You cannot make long-term plans while your immigration status is in limbo.  In addition, although you usually have work authorization while an immigration application is pending, this is not always the case so some applicants are faced with the question of how to support themselves while their case is being adjudicated.

Resolution of immigration court cases means that foreign nationals who have no legal right to be here are actually deported, while those who do have the right to be here can then concentrate on moving forward to build good, stable lives here, including contributing to their communities and the economy, rather than spending their time, efforts, and money on long drawn-out court proceedings.

One root cause of the backlog is that more people want to live in the United States than there are currently legal avenues for admission.  Comprehensive immigration reform that takes into account the factors that drive people to immigrate and promotes lawful immigration of the people who we want to welcome to our country would reduce the immigration court dockets and free these people to become contributing members of society.  Another cause is that while enforcement of the existing immigration laws has significantly increased since 9/11 and also under the Obama administration, thus funneling more cases into the immigration courts, the courts have not correspondingly been increasingly funded and enlarged.  While we can debate the pros and cons of ramped-up enforcement, the simple truth is that if we are putting more people in removal proceedings we need to also put more resources into processing these cases or else a huge bottleneck develops.  This means that more immigrants are held in detention for longer, on the federal dime, while their cases ooze through immigration court.  It’s pretty simple math, if you ask me.

If you are in immigration court proceedings and need a Philadelphia immigration attorney, contact us at, or check out the website at

834 Chestnut Street #206
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 690-1933

U.S. citizenship abroad, by birth – update

July 19th, 2011 by Djung Tran

As promised, here’s the update on the client who couldn’t renew his license to carry concealed weapons because he could not produce a U.S. birth certificate even though he is a U.S. citizen by birth.

The Philadelphia Police Department’s Gun Permit Unit re-considered its position, and this gentleman has been issued his license to carry, despite not being able to produce the mythical birth certificate.

When this client first came to me, I asked him out of curiosity what he carried and he answered, almost sheepishly: “Nothing.  But I want to be able to carry if I want to.  And now, it’s about the principle of the matter.”  Principles satisfied, case closed.

“Can I send her home?”

May 16th, 2011 by Djung Tran

The flip side of marriage-based immigration is when the marriage goes sour.

For couples who have been married less than two years by the time the petition for permanent resident status is filed, the immigrant spouse gets what is known as conditional permanent residency for a period of two years.  At the end of this two-year probationary period, the couple must show that the marriage is still intact to have the conditions removed and full permanent resident status granted to the immigrant spouse.  If the sponsoring spouse refuses to help the immigrant spouse apply to remove these conditions, it becomes a much harder process for the immigrant spouse to obtain full permanent resident status on his or her own.  During this two-year probationary period, then, the sponsoring spouse’s help to remove the conditions on residency can be used as a lever for the good behavior of the immigrant spouse.

Not infrequently, I get calls from men (and, so far, they have all been men) who, after jumping through the sometimes considerable hoops needed to get their fiancées or wives into the country legally, then become disenchanted with these women.  Maybe the women are not as nice as they were when the couple was courting.  Maybe the women used these men to get their green cards.  Maybe the men expected someone more servile and grateful for the privilege of bringing them into the country and are unhappy to be confronted with a person with strong views and desires of her own who is unwilling to merely be a housewife, mother, and housekeeper.  Whatever the reason, the marriage falls apart.  And then, the men ask me, “Can I send her home?”

“No,” I tell them.  “You don’t have the right to send her home.  You have the right to tell Immigration that she has left you and that you don’t want to live with her any more, but you do not have the right to decide whether she stays or goes back home.”  If the callers are interested in the why of this, I tell them that the decision as to whether someone who obtained  immigration status through marriage gets full permanent residency depends on whether that marriage was entered into in good faith and not  to obtain an immigration benefit.  And a child born of that marriage is pretty strong, although not definitive, evidence that the marriage was entered into in good faith.

I also get calls from women, and occasionally from men, who are being threatened by their sponsoring spouse with being “sent home” if they don’t “behave.”  And I tell them the same thing:  “No, he does not have the right to send you home.  That decision belongs to the government.  But he does have the right to refuse to help you get your permanent green card.  If you entered the marriage in good faith, you can apply for your permanent green card on your own and you may get it, if Immigration believes you.”

So, please, if you are thinking about filing a petition for a potential spouse, remember that while the decision to marry that person is yours, the decision as to whether that person can stay in America should you tire of him or her is not. You can save yourself the process of hiring an immigration lawyer to sort through such issues by thinking carefully before making such a decision. Please visit us at our address below if you have questions.

834 Chestnut Street #206
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 690-1933

Selective Service and Naturalization

May 7th, 2011 by Djung Tran

For men applying to become American citizens, an issue that often crops up is whether the applicant registered for Selective Service, the registration system for military-aged men so that they can be conscripted into military service if the draft is ever re-instated.

Male U.S. citizens (“USCs”) and legal permanent residents (“LPRs”) born after December 31, 1959, are required to register between the ages of 18 and 26.  But it’s not only USCs and LPRs who are required to register, but also certain seasonal agricultural workers here on temporary visas, refugees and asylees, and undocumented immigrants.

So, the United States government requires not only its citizens, but also undocumented immigrants, to register for a potential draft.  Being drafted would mean being forced to join the U.S. military and fight for America in time of war.  The first question that pops into my mind when considering this scheme is:  “Do we really want men without allegiance to the U.S. fighting in our military?”  The second question is: “So, we expect undocumented immigrants, who are currently being particularly demonized and whose already limited rights are being further restricted by anti-immigrant factions, to fight and be prepared to die for the U.S.?”  The third question is:  “Why on earth would an undocumented immigrant, who constantly lives life under the radar of government authorities, register for Selective Service and risk deportation?”

For immigrants eligible to naturalize, which means someone with at least three years, and usually five years, of legal permanent residency, some then face the hurdle of having not registered for Selective Service when required under the law to do so.  For a man who was once an undocumented immigrant but later obtains legal permanent residency, he then must under the letter of the law explain why he didn’t register for Selective Service.  Most applicants didn’t realize that this requirement existed at the time that they were supposed to register, and this good faith ignorance is usually accepted as a valid excuse for failure to register.  But, if the examiner decides to disbelieve the good faith ignorance excuse then this is a valid basis for denial of the naturalization application.

Should we deny a man U.S. citizenship after he has earned his legal residency; been a law-abiding member of society; and learned the basics of our history, politics, and legal system, often better than those born here, because when he was undocumented he chose not to register for Selective Service and therefore expose himself to deportation?  Especially given that the purpose of Selective Service is to identify men to conscript into military service for a country for which, at the time, the applicant had so few rights that he could be held in almost indefinite “detention” (read, “imprisonment”) without the right to free legal counsel, without the protections of criminal defendants against search and seizure, and yet he was widely dubbed a “criminal” and treated as a criminal.  In the balance, I feel that even a willful failure to register for military conscription for someone whose rights and options were already so limited should not be a bar to naturalization.

Please visit us at our address below for more information.

834 Chestnut Street #206
Philadelphia, PA 19107
(215) 690-1933

U.S. citizenship by birth, abroad

May 6th, 2011 by Djung Tran

A Catch-22 situation surfaced in my practice recently.  A man applying to renew his license to carry a concealed firearm (“CCF”) in Philadelphia was asked by Philadelphia Police to produce proof of his immigration status, since he was born abroad.  I’ll call him the Applicant.  The Applicant produced his valid U.S. passport, but this evidence was deemed unacceptable proof of his citizenship because the CCF permit application specifically states that “foreign-born” applicants must produce their naturalization documents, and “passports are not acceptable.”  (See Item 3.f.)

However, although the Applicant was born abroad — meaning not in the United States or any of its territories or possessions — he was also born a U.S. citizen.  Under the immigration law in effect at the time of his birth, and under the specific circumstances of his situation (I won’t bore you with the details but, if you’re interested, you can read the relevant statutory section, § 201(g), here), he meets the legal requirements for acquiring U.S. citizenship at birth and retaining that status.  As the Applicant was a U.S. citizen at birth he does not have a certificate of naturalization, just his U.S. passport.  In fact, it is impossible for him to legally obtain a certificate of naturalization , as he is already a U.S. citizen.

The Philadelphia Police Department’s application for CCF therefore now excludes, presumably inadvertently, an entire subset of U.S. citizens from obtaining a CCF permit.  It provides for legal permanent residents, and U.S. citizens born in the U.S., and naturalized U.S. citizens, to obtain a CCF permit.  But it fails to recognize that a person can be a U.S. citizen at birth — not a naturalized citizen — while born abroad.  Being born abroad of a U.S. citizen parent or parents is not an uncommon occurrence.  Examples of children of U.S. citizens commonly born abroad are the children of U.S. diplomats and other U.S. government employees, including the children of U.S. military personnel.  Even Americans who are not in the employ of the U.S. government have children abroad due to a variety of reasons and, based on the U.S. citizenship status of one or both parents, the child can still be a U.S. citizen.

Upon being informed of the fact that a person can be born a U.S. citizen abroad, the Philadelphia Police Department asked the Applicant to obtain a certificate of citizenship but did not guarantee that the certificate would be sufficient to meet the immigration status documentation requirements of the CCF application.  Obtaining a certificate of citizenship costs $600 for the filing fee.  The CCF application is $25.

What I don’t understand is why a U.S. passport is not valid proof of citizenship, whether naturalized or acquired at birth.  A U.S. passport is acceptable proof of citizenship, absent any contrary evidence, for the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), and all the immigration-related agencies under the aegis of DHS.  For example, on the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”) website, a search for “proof of U.S. citizenship” turns up this page.  The Social Security Administration accepts passports as proof of U.S. citizenship.  The Department of State accepts passports as proof of U.S. citizenship.  If I had more time, I would list more federal agencies that accept U.S. passports as valid proof of U.S. citizenship.  And yet, for some reason, passports are not good enough to establish U.S. citizenship for the Philadelphia Police Department’s Gun Permit unit.

Hopefully, the Philadelphia Police Department’s Gun Permit unit will revise its procedures so that it no longer inadvertently excludes U.S. citizens at birth born abroad from carrying, or requires them to spend an extra $600 to produce extraneous evidence of citizenship with no guarantee that this will be deemed satisfactory evidence.  One ironic side effect of this policy is that U.S. legal permanent residents and naturalized citizens are placed in a more beneficial category than those born to a U.S. diplomat or U.S. military personnel serving our country.

I’m still awaiting a concrete response.  I’ll post an update if I get one.

Children of Invention

January 26th, 2011 by Djung Tran

For you film buffs out there, especially those looking for less mainstream fare, I highly recommend Children of Invention, directed by Tze Chun.

The film is about a single mother from Hong Kong and her two children who are having a hard time of it.  Their house is foreclosed on, they end up squatting illegally in a model condo, and the mother, Elaine Cheng (played by Cindy Cheung), after having been scammed by one multi-level marketing (MLM) company, continues to chase down the dream of hitting it big with another MLM.  To tell you more would spoil the film for you.

I will tell you that the film is on topic for this blog.  Check it out if you get the chance.  I caught it on