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“Should I become a U.S. Citizen?” The Case for Naturalization and Trump’s Executive Order

imm_3I received a call the other day from a friend of mine in Boston who said he wanted my help in applying for citizenship. He’s been a permanent resident (i.e., Green Card holder) for many, many years, and I know for a fact that he’s an upstanding individual (and the Commonwealth of Massachusetts knows that too since he’s a restaurant owner and maintains a liquor license). I asked him why he now wanted to become a U.S. citizen? As you can imagine, he expressed concerns about just being a permanent resident under President Trump. This individual is Irish to the core and he should have nothing to worry about. His concerns, however, are well-founded.

Not everyone who is a permanent resident becomes a U.S. citizen (i.e., naturalizes), nor is there any legal requirement that one must naturalize. However, permanent residents who naturalize gain important benefits, not the least of which (these days) is security from deportation (in most cases) and the ability to travel with a U.S. passport.

Under the law, to qualify for U.S. citizenship, permanent residents must (a) be at least 18 years of age, (b) reside continuously in the United States for five years (or three years if they are spouses of U.S. citizens), (c) be of good moral character, (d) demonstrate the ability to read, write, speak, and understand English (unless they are exempt from this requirement), (e) pass an examination on U.S. government and history (unless they are exempt from this requirement), and (f) be willing and able to take the naturalization Oath of Allegiance.

Seems simple, right? Sometimes it is. Other times, however, issues arise as to whether someone is a person of good moral character (because of something he or she might have done in his or her past), continuous residency in the United States, to name just a couple.

Is it worth it? I don’t often counsel clients to become a U.S. citizen. I think that’s a very personal decision, and there are many factors that go into that decision. However, these days, I personally think there’s much more at stake for permanent residents, whether they’re from one of the seven predominantly Muslim countries designated in President’s Trump’s Executive Order of January 27, 2017 entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” or otherwise.
Few people expect to be arrested for a crime. But the risks for permanent residents who are arrested for a crime, even a seemingly minor one (like a misdemeanor under state law) are much, much higher. Permanent residence can be revoked and the individual can be deported. While there are many benefits associated with being a permanent resident, “permanent” does not necessarily mean “permanent.”

And if not for you, what about your children? We all know that kids make mistakes, and many times they’re really stupid ones. Immigrant kids are especially at risk if they make stupid mistakes. For example, with few exceptions, most convictions related to the use of illegal drugs can result in deportation of a permanent resident. So can a conviction related associated with sexual conduct by a young adult with a person who is a minor. Indeed, many immigrants who have lived in the United States with their families as permanent residents since they were very young children have been deported after being convicted of crimes they committed as youth or young adults. Becoming a U.S. citizen can protect you and your children from deportation.

We are living in an unprecedented moment in history, and it feels like the rules of engagement in the world of immigration are changing by the day. I would not normally counsel clients (or anyone for that matter) to become a U.S. citizen. However, in these uncertain times, I think it’s very much worth looking into.

Tags: President Trump, Executive Order, Refugees, Muslims, Deportation, Removal, Citizenship, Naturalization.

Trump’s Executive Actions – Travel Advisory

imm_2To say that this past weekend’s events were extraordinary would be an understatement. Here’s a recap and the very latest on President Trump’s Executive Order (“EO”) entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States.” In sum, the EO does six (6) primary things:

1. Suspension of U.S. Refugee Admissions Program. The EO suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days.

2. Ban on Syrian Refugees. The EO halts the processing and admission of Syrian refugees indefinitely until President Trump determines that sufficient changes have been made to ensure that the admission of Syrian refugees is in the national interest.

3. Ban on Entry of Nationals of Muslim-Majority Countries. The EO bans immigrant and nonimmigrant entries, for at least 90 days, for nationals of Iraq, Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen. Other countries may be added as well.

4. Requires In-Person Interviews for Most Nonimmigrant Visa Applicants. The EO suspends the Visa Interview Waiver Program, essentially requiring all nonimmigrant visa applicants to attend an interview unless an interview is statutorily exempt.

5. Screening of all Immigration Benefits. The EO directs federal agencies to develop screening standards and procedures for all immigration benefits to better identify fraud and detect whether a person intends to do harm in the United States.

6. Biometric-Entry Exit. The EO directs agencies to expedite the completion and implementation of a biometric (e.g., fingerprinting) entry-exit system that includes reporting requirements.

The EO was effective immediately. Chaos ensued as foreign nationals were detained at airports around the world, pulled off planes set to depart to the United States, or otherwise had their visas cancelled. Advocacy groups sued, and people all over the United States rallied in opposition to this EO. (As you will recall, there were two other EO’s issued by President Trump earlier last week.)

On Saturday, a federal judge in the Eastern District of New York issued an order, granting a nationwide stay of removal preventing deportation for individuals with valid visas and approved refugee applications affected by the EO. Later, a federal court in Massachusetts issued a decision which barred federal officials from detaining or removing individuals subject to the EO.

There are so many questions and concerns that my colleagues and I have about this EO (and the others too), and of course there’s little to no clarity coming out of the White House. (Indeed, there’s contradicting information coming out of the White House and the Department of Homeland Security on some issues, including whether the EO applies to lawful permanent residents, i.e., Green Card holders).

So, where does that leave us? It’s way too early to tell as the situation is very fluid. However, I am advising my clients who might be affected by the EO (and frankly many others as well as there is not a lot of clarity on important issues, e.g., how this effects dual nationals where one nationality is of a Muslim-majority country) to refrain from traveling outside of the United States. Plain and simple, if you don’t have an urgent or compelling reason to travel outside the United States, then don’t.

Immigration Reform by Executive Action: What Did Obama Actually Do?

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So, the President finally did it.  On November 20, 2014, President Obama announced a series of actions (not executive orders as it turns out) that his administration is taking to “fix” what he has repeatedly described as a “broken immigration system.”  These actions involve, among other areas, border security, providing a temporary status (commonly called “deferred action”) for some aliens who are currently unlawfully present in the United States, and future legal immigration.  So what did the President actually do?  I’m glad you asked.

Border Security.  Likely to placate those on the right, and certainly consistent with this Administration’s record level of deportations, the President announced he is implementing a “Southern Border and Approaches Campaign Strategy” which the Administration argues will “fundamentally alter” the way in which it marshals resources to the border.  We’re informed that this will involve the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) commissioning of three (3) task forces, consisting of various law enforcement agencies, which will focus on the southern maritime border, the southern land border and West Coast, and investigations to support the other two task forces. The primary objectives of this new strategy is increasing the risk of engaging in or facilitating illegal transnational or cross-border activity, interdicting people who attempt to enter illegally between ports of entry, and preventing the illegal exploitation of legal flows (e.g., alien smuggling at ports of entry).

Aliens Unlawfully Present in the United States.  The centerpiece of President Obama’s announcement, and no doubt the most controversial, is to grant deferred action (basically temporary relief from removal) to some aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States (i.e., those who were brought to the United States as children and raised here, or those who have children who are U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents (“LPR’s”)).

In addition, President Obama expanded a program his administration announced in June 2012, known as Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”).  That program allowed aliens who were unlawfully present in the United States, and who had been brought to the United States as children and met other criteria, to also receive deferred action and, in many cases, employment authorization.  DACA, as originally proposed, expressly excluded aliens who were unlawfully present aliens and who were over 31 years old, or who had entered the United States on or after June 15, 2007.  Under President Obama’s recent action, aliens who are over 31 years old, or entered the United States between June 15, 2007, and January 1, 2010, could receive deferred action.  The President’s recent initiative would also extend the duration of grants of deferred action (and work authorization) received by DACA beneficiaries from the current two years, to three years.

As noted above, aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States who have children who are U.S. citizens or LPR’s will also be eligible for deferred action (and employment authorization) provided they can show (1) “continuous residence” in the United States since before January 1, 2010, (2) physical presence in the United States both on the date the initiative was announced (i.e., November 20, 2014) and when they apply for deferred action, (3) not being an enforcement priority under the administration’s newly announced priorities, and (4) they present no other factors that, in the exercise of discretion, makes the grant of deferred action inappropriate.  Individuals who are granted deferred action pursuant to the President’s initiatives, or otherwise, are eligible for employment authorization provided they can show “an economic necessity for employment.”

There were other provisions which addressed aliens who are unlawfully present in the United States too, but these are the big ones.

Legal Immigration.  The President also announced certain initiatives intended to affect aliens who are lawfully present in the United States, and which was described by the President as supporting high-skilled business and workers.  One such provision is to ensure that all immigrant visas (basically “Green Cards”) which are authorized by Congress in a given fiscal year are actually issued.

Yet another initiative that the President announced is expanding the duration of “optional practical training” (“OPT”) available to F-1 nonimmigrant students in the United States studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (“STEM”) fields at institutions of higher education in the United States, as well as expanding the actual degree programs that are eligible for OPT.

Again, there were other provisions which the President announced in this category.

I realize the President’s actions are very controversial, and a lot of people are unhappy with them.  As I’ve said before, and I’ll say it again, our immigration system is broken and it desperately needs to be fixed.  In a perfect world, Congress would pass meaningful, comprehensive and bipartisan legislation, and send it to the President for his signature.  That has not happened for way too long. So I suppose this is the next best thing.

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