November 5, 2013

What Ever Happened To The INS?

The Immigration and Naturalization Service is history.

The Immigration and Naturalization Service is long gone.

In its wake lie a slew of acronyms that can leave your head spinning.

Recently, I met with some clients who wanted to know if their prior applications for immigration benefits would cause any harm to a new application. They showed me a copy of their old documents and across the top of many pages were the words “Immigration and Naturalization Service.”

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October 29, 2013

Will There Be A New Immigration Law In 2013?

With the federal government shutdown now in the rearview mirror, the question now becomes: Is there going to be a new immigration law this year?

New Immigration Law

Here’s some of what I learned as a political science major: The two parts of Congress — the House of Representatives and the Senate — have to pass the same bill. If the House and Senate pass two different versions of a similar bill, then the bill goes to a conference where the differences get hammered out and then both parts of Congress have to vote again.

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October 22, 2013

Green Card Holder With A Prior Conviction Asks "Can I Leave The Country?"

I’m a green card holder with a prior conviction. Am I able to leave and come back to the United States?Green Card Holder International Travel With Conviction

What you should know about traveling internationally if you’ve had a prior conviction.

Over the years, I have encountered this scenario multiple times: “I have a green card. A long time ago, I had some trouble with the law and I pled no contest to [some crime]. It’s been so long ago that I forgot about it. I have left the country and re-entered using my green card at least twenty times. But just last week, as I was coming back from my vacation, they told me at the airport that they want to start court proceedings to take away my green card based upon that old conviction.”

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October 10, 2013

Immigration and the Government Shutdown 2013

How does the government shutdown affect immigrants, the courts and our border?

United States Government Shutdown 2013

Although the federal government has been shutdown, the effects upon my immigration clients have been varied.


U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the primary agency that handles petitions and applications related to immigration. For most filings, USCIS charges a filing fee. According to USCIS spokesperson Christopher Bentley, USCIS can continue to operate during the shutdown because these fees cover 95% of their budget. I have filed applications and received the processing receipts. Interviews for naturalization and adjustment of status applications are going forward.

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June 27, 2013

Green Cards for Same-Sex Couples -- Yes, We Can!

Rainbow yes.pngOn Tuesday, 26 June 2013, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the constitutionally discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). A US citizen or Legal Permanent Resident may now submit an immigration petition for a same-sex spouse.  This is historic news and a true change in the way immigration law will be applied to the community of immigrants. The telephone has not stopped ringing at either the Palm Springs office or the Los Angeles.

Even as we consider moving forward for the paperwork to unite our families, some things to keep in mind.

Among the key requirements is MARRIAGE. Civil unions, domestic partnerships, civil registrations, PACS, and other forms of "marriage lite" are NOT recognized. Only marriage: plain, old-fashioned, garden-variety marriage. The list of jurisdictions where same-sex marriages are currently permitted includes New York, Washington state, Massachusetts, and nine other jurisdictions plus the District of Columbia; and Argentina, France, Canada, South Afrika, and a significant number of other nations. A good list can be found here.

Here in California, Gov. Jerry Brown has ordered the state to begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples as soon as the stay is lifted on the lower court order. This should happen within about 30 days.

For immigration purposes, the marriage must be legal where it was celebrated. As long it is as it is legal where it was performed, it can be used for legal permanent resident ("green card") purposes. Processing time is currently about four to six months, from the time of the application until the interview in Los Angeles or Riverside California. For those interviewing outside the United States, at US embassies and consulates, the process will take approximately 8 months, start to finish.  Fiancé(e) cases are a bit more complex and will take an additional few weeks.

Not surprisingly, all of the other immigration law issues, such as criminal records, financial sponsorships, prior deportations, unlawful status, and so on, still apply to same-sex couples, so it would be wise to set up a time to chat as soon as possible with an experiences immigration attorney.

After 30 years of counseling and advising couples from the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender communities, it is thrilling to be able to counsel our community through this momentous change and opportunity in the law.

This has been a long time coming. If you or anyone you know might benefit from the court ruling, please do not hesitate to contact the office. Meetings can be arranged at either the Los Angeles office or the office in Palm Springs.

Los Angeles Office:
6255 W Sunset Blvd, Ste 915
Los Angeles, CA 90028-7410

Palm Springs Office
777 E Tahquitz Canyon, Ste 328
Palm Springs, CA 92262

The contact phone is the same for both offices. Please feel free to give us a call (323.769.8187) to set up an appointment as soon as possible. Best and warmest regards!

April 18, 2013

New Zealand Legislature Approves Same-Sex Marriage

Kiwi-300x300.jpgAs an immigrant advocate for gay and lesbian couples, I regularly receive calls at my Los Angeles and Palm Springs offices about whether same-sex marriage is available in x, y, or z country of the world. The legislature of New Zealand yesterday approved same-sex marriage. The measure must be given royal assent by the Queen's representative, the Governor-General. This assent is typically automatic, a formality.

The number of countries which now or are on the verge of legalizing same-sex marriage is growing week by week. Pretty soon, it will cease to be news for me to post on this blog. However, please keep in mind that the United States' Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) STILL denies recognition of same-sex marriages for any US government benefits.

It is NOT YET the time to file a green card application (immigrant visa application) for your same-sex spouse.

If you have questions about US immigration and a nontraditional family or a same-sex couple, please do not hesitate to contact me. --jcf

April 16, 2013

Tell me! Tell me! Tell me!

dogs-hearing-by-Muffet.jpgYes, yes, yes. Some information about the proposed Comprehensive Immigration Reform was released today.

As an immigration lawyer with over 30 years of experience, my phones here in Los Angeles and in the Palm Springs office have been ringing off the hook. I already have over 100 emails from France and the UK. The message is always the same, "J Craig Fong, is there anything for me in the new immigration law?" Everyone wants to know the recently-released details for the proposed Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR). Enough! Assez! ¡Basta!

FIRST: I am studying and thinking about the proposal now.

SECOND: There are NOT many details in the limited release of information. It is more of a set of goals and principles.

THIRD: The actual legislative language is NOT yet available, so I can't give you answers to specific issues.

FOURTH: I will send up a blog when I have a better idea of each set of provisions, but not right now, because I do not want to mislead anyone if I incorrectly analyse something which is so new and vague.

MOST IMPORTANT for you and for your friends: DO NOT RUSH OFF TO "REGISTER" WITH A NOTARIO!! Keep your money safe. At this time, there is NOTHING to register for. There is NO new program. There are NO immigration benefits available, because this is just a proposal. No one even knows whether this will pass through the Congress. Be patient. Let the details become clearer. Wait for President Obama to sign it into law. For now, just wait.

More later. --jcf

April 13, 2013

Brothers And Sisters, File Your Petitions Now!

If you are a United States citizen with overseas siblings that want to immigrate, file those petitions NOW!

Members of Congress are contemplating some major immigration reform.  According to the New York Times, one of the things that a bipartisan group of Senators is proposing to eliminate are visas available to brothers and sisters of United States citizens.

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April 12, 2013

French Senate Approves Same-Sex Marriage

champagne-popping.gifI wrote a few weeks ago that the French National Assembly voted to approve same-sex marriage. Today, the French Senate passed a bill approving same-sex marriage, also. In the coming weeks, the two bills will undergo a "second reading" to reconcile minor differences in language. It is expected that the final bill will pass and same-sex marriage could be a reality throughout France by mid-Summer.

Yesterday, I noted that the Legislature of Uruguay also passed a same-sex marriage bill, and early in February, the United Kingdom was moving in the same direction.

In my work as an immigration lawyer and advocate on gay and lesbian issues, clients always ask me whether a legal marriage in, say, Canada or Netherlands would qualify a foreigner to apply for US Legal Permanent Residence through a petition by a US citizen spouse. At the present time, even with so many countries of the world recognizing and approving same-sex marriages, the United States still labors under the effects of §3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which prohibits the US from granting any benefits, including green cards, based on a same-sex marriage.

A few weeks ago, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) heard arguments in a case that has the potential of invalidating §3 of DOMA. If this happens -- and I am cautiously optimistic -- then the US citizen in a legally-married same-sex couple would be eligible for apply for legal resident status for his/her spouse. The SCOTUS decision is expected by 30 June 2013.

If you have questions about non-traditional families, same-sex marriage, and immigration, please contact my office to set up a consultation. --jcf

April 11, 2013

Uruguay Legislature Approves Same-Sex Marriage. Now what, America?

uruguay-gay-flag-360x222.pngA large majority of the Uruguay Legislature today approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. The bill has the support of the country's president, José Mujica, who has said that he will sign the bill in the next two weeks. Uruguay is the second country in Latin America (the other is Argentina) to legalize same-sex marriage, the third to do so in the Western Hemisphere (the other is Canada), and the twelfth nation to do so in the world. By some reports, marriages could begin as soon as July 2013.

Which brings us to the question: when will the USA take this step?

In our Federal system, states have determined individually the rules regarding the issuance of marriage licenses. Nine states, plus the District of Columbia, current permit same-sex marriage. The recently-argued case of Hollingsworth v. Perry places the question squarely before the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). However, it is not clear to me that SCOTUS will make a broad ruling legalizing same-sex marriage nationwide. It seems more likely that SCOTUS will simply take the view the each state is entitled to determine the issue for itself. In other words, SCOTUS will probably not announce a broad, universal right to same-sex marriage throughout the USA. They could, but I view the prospect as unllikely. Finally, SCOTUS could avoid the question entirely by saying that the Hollingsworth case should not have been brought to the Supreme Court in the first place. A decision is expected before 30 June 2013.

If you have question related to same-sex marriage and immigration, please feel free to contact my office for a consultation. --jcf

April 3, 2013

Criminal Defense Attorney working with Immigration Attorney

This morning, the Immigration Judge granted a motion to terminate the removal proceedings against one of my clients. How did we pull it off? My client is a lawful permanent resident. At the time his family contacted me, he was in state custody with multiple criminal charges pending. I told his family to have his public defender contact me so that we could discuss a strategy.

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February 14, 2013

A Green Card for the Rainbow? Not yet!!

rainbow_flag.gifIn the past few days, my phones in both Los Angeles and Palm Springs have been ringing; everyone wants to know if it is now possible for gay or lesbian US Citizens to successfully petition a green card for their foreign spouses. As an advocate for nontraditional families for over 30 years, I am hopeful that the time is coming soon. BUT NOT YET.

The reason for the excitement is understandable. Recently, the French government has moved to legalize same-sex marriage very soon. Her Majesty's government in the United Kingdom is likely to legalize very soon, also. Most important for us as Americans, comprehensive reform of the US immigration law may also have a provision that will allow recognition of same-sex couples for US immigration purposes. Right now, it is too early to know what Comprehensive Immigration Reform will look like.

There is NO PROCESS to get a green card for a same-sex married couple at this time. Applications will likely be held in abeyance; in the worst case, the foreigner may be thrown into deportation proceedings. In my view, it's too risky right now, unless there are some exceptional circumstances.

Finally, and most unpredictably, the Supreme Court of the United States will be deciding the case of US v. Windsor which may also provide a mechanism for US citizens to petition their same-sex spouses. I'll be writing more about the Supreme Court cases in another blog.

If you'd like to discuss an immigration matter for your family, please contact me. --jcf

February 12, 2013

French Assemblée Nationale Approves Same-Sex Marriage

Eiffel Rainbow.jpgClose on the heels of similar actions last week in the British Parliament, the French National Assembly yesterday approved a bill to legalize same-sex marriage throughout France. The initial vote was 329-229, in favor of legalization. The bill must still be approved by the French Senate, although most people believe that approval is likely in the Senate as well.

Because of my 30 years of advocacy here in Los Angeles and Palm Springs as an US immigration attorney on behalf of nontraditional families, I receive a lot of inquiries from gay and lesbian US citizens who wish to marry partners from the UK or France. These upcoming changes are good news for couples, but only to a point.

Gay and lesbian Americans who may wish to marry a French or UK citizen must remember that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is still the law in the USA. Even though French government may allow same-sex marriages sometime soon, the US does not currently provide any immigration benefits based on a same-sex marriage. We must wait to see whether any upcoming changes in US immigration law will provide benefits to same-sex couples.

If you or your partner or spouse would like to discuss immigration options, I look forward to talking with you. --jcf

February 6, 2013

UK Commons Moves to Approve Same-Sex Marriage

UK SSM.pngThe UK parliament yesterday approved a bill legalizing same-sex marriage. The legislative process is not yet complete, but the 400-175 vote in favor of the bill is a strong indication that the next vote in the Commons, and a vote in the House of Lords, will be a favorable one for gay men and lesbians who wish to marry in the UK.

Gay and lesbian Americans who may wish to marry a UK citizen must remember that the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) is still the law in the USA. This means that even though Her Majesty's government may soon allow same-sex marriages, the US does not provide any benefits or recognition under US law based on a same-sex marriage. And that includes immigration benefits. As an immigration lawyer who has counseled members of the gay and lesbian community for many years, I wish I could say that our families are recognized by the US government, but for the moment, we must wait to see whether any upcoming changes in US immigration law will provide benefits to same-sex couples.

If you or your partner or spouse would like to discuss immigration options, I look forward to talking with you. --jcf

February 4, 2013

Same-Sex Marriage and Comprehensive Immigration Reform

rainbow rings.jpgIn my 30 years as an immigration lawyer in the gay and lesbian community, the question I am asked most is, "why can't I bring my foreign partner to the USA? Straight people can get married and bring their spouses! We should have the same rights!" This question has resonated here in my offices in Los Angeles and in Palm Springs. I have been asked the question when I practiced in San Francisco and Chicago. I even get asked the question in Paris and London. The over-simplified answer is the word "marriage."

Under the US Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), the US gives US citizens a "benefit," allowing the spouse of a US citizen to apply for a legal permanent resident card (LPR -- otherwise called "the green card"). Until recently, same-sex marriage (SSM) was quite rare, so the US could hide behind the idea that LPR is only extended to someone married to a US citizen.

Then some enlightened countries began letting same-sex couples get married, and the US was faced with a dilemma: do we apply the law equally and allow these same-sex couples the same rights as other Americans, or do we try to stop them. The result was the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).

DOMA is not a part of the immigration law. DOMA simply says that the US government will not provide any benefits based on marriage if the couple is a same-sex couple. And a green card based on marriage is a "benefit."

President Obama has said that his proposal for CIR will allow an American to petition for a same-sex partner. However, Senator John McCain (R-AZ) and Senator Lindsay Graham (R-SC) have already said that they oppose including same-sex couples in CIR.

The US Congress cannot even decide when to have lunch, so the future of CIR is unclear. However, the move to pass CIR is strong in the immigrant community. The gay and lesbian community has never been very skillful in its outreach to communities of color. If ever there was a time for productive dialogue and political-partnering between two groups, this is it.

If you have questions about options legally to immigrate a same-sex partner to the United States, I would be happy to chat with you. --jcf