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The Golden Door

News and views on immigration law

Archive for May, 2011

“Can I send her home?”

Monday, May 16th, 2011

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

Saturday, May 7th, 2011

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

Friday, May 6th, 2011

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.