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.

Continue reading "Criminal Defense Attorney working with Immigration Attorney" »

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

February 4, 2013

National Visa Center I-601A Letter Misleads Many Immigrants

NVC ltr.JPGIn January 2013, the US Department of State's National Visa Center (NVC) began sending letters to many prospective immigrants about the "I-601A PROVISIONAL WAIVER OF UNLAWFUL PRESENCE." This letter is scaring the living daylights out of thousands of immigrants. At Fong & Aquino in Los Angeles and Palm Springs, I have fielded about one hundred inquiries about this letter.

The first and most important thing to remember is: this letter and the I-601A Provisional Waiver ONLY -- repeat ONLY -- apply to a future immigrant if s/he is currently in the USA unlawfully, or has been unlawfully present in the USA in the past. Someone is illegally present if s/he enters the USA without inspection at a border post or airport, or if the person enters legally and then overstays the time granted on their landing permit.

If the future immigrant has never -- ever -- been in the USA, this letter and the I-601A waiver does not apply to him/her.

For some people who do indeed need the waiver -- if they overstayed or entered without any papers -- they should take a look at my blog from earlier this month.

If you have questions about whether you or a relative might need an I-601 or an I-601A waiver, it is very important to consult with a competent immigration attorney. --jcf

February 1, 2013

DACA: Work Permits for Childhood Arrivals - Still Available

Last summer, President Obama created the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program which would allow some young people who were brought to the United States at a very young age to obtain an Employment Authorization Document (EAD - a work permit). With all the discussion of amnesty and Comprehensive Immigration Reform, I still get people asking me here at Fong & Aquino whether this DACA program still exists.

It does.

To qualify for the program, a successful applicant must show that s/he:
* arrived in the USA before age 16;
* has resided in the USA since 15 June 2007;
* is currently in school, has graduated from high school, has obtained a general education development certificate, or is honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
* has not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety; and
* is not over the age of thirty.

Needed documents include:
* birth certificate
* two passport-size photos
* high school and/or university transcript -- diplomas are helpful, too

If you have questions about the DACA program, please feel free to contact me at my office. --jcf

January 30, 2013

Major Overhaul to Immigration Law May be Coming

Nation of Imm.jpgFor over 10 years, immigrants and their families have come to Fong & Aquino and asked me about any possible changes to the immigration law that will help them. I hear, from clients in Los Angeles, Palm Springs, Canada, the United Kingdom, France, and many other places that they need some change in the immigration law to allow them to stay in this country and pursue their dreams, work productively, be free from persecution, and most importantly, to be united with their families.

For the first time since 1990, a major change in the immigration law may be coming.

You probably already know that the US Congress has been deadlocked for over 4 years, with the members (mostly) of one political party refusing to cooperate with the White House. As a result, a Comprehensive Immigration Reform (CIR) bill has never been seriously discussed. With the results of the recent re-election of President Barack Obama, and (many) members of the Republican party realizing that it is in their best interest to help immigrants, CIR may be on its way. What will it do?

No one knows!

So why am I writing this blog?

For the next few months, you will be reading many ideas, proposals, suggestions, conditions, demands, arguments, and so on about CIR. For right now, you need to know that NOTHING has been decided. Most immigration law observers believe that we will have some real, concrete details before the end of February. Some possibilities:

* A pathway to legalization, or an earned path to residency, for those undocumented people who are already here. This possibility is likely to have a requirement for paying back taxes, paying a fine, and learning English or taking a basic English test. We do not know any more right now.

* A category of immigration for the same-sex couples, where one partner is a US citizen and the other is a foreigner. This possibility is likely to require proof that the couple has been in an exclusive, emotionally inter-dependent relationship for a minimum period of time -- likely, two years. We do not know any more right now.

* A large database of all persons eligible to work in the USA. In order for ANYone get get a job, employers may be asked to register with or check this database to verify that employees are legally eligible to work in the USA. Will they do such checking for foreigners only, or will this include US citizens? We do not know any more right now.

* A big push for even stronger border control, both at the Southern Border with México, the Northern Border with Canada, and at all airports. This might include enhanced exit control, also, to record not only who enters the USA and when, but also who exits. We do not know any more right now.

Remember: nothing has been decided right now. There is no new law right now. You do not need to register. You do not need to sign up. You do not need to file any form right now.

There are many notarios and others who are not licensed to practice law. In order to get money from you, they will try to scare you into thinking that you might do something now in order to preserve an immigration benefit. Please remember: there is NO new law right now.

Good news is coming. Be patient.

If you have questions, if you would like to consult with me, please feel free to give me a call, and I would be happy to discuss your situation or that of your family. --jcf

January 7, 2013

Illegal Presence Waiver Can Now be Processed in USA

Alt Route Waver.jpgOver many years, Fong & Aquino has counseled many immigrants who have come to the USA without passport or visa, or who have come legally but overstayed. In many of these case, it has not been possible to process the paperwork for an immigrant visa (the green card) without first having the immigrant depart the USA to go back to the US Embassy in the home country for an interview. In some cases, this means that the immigrant must file an I-601 Waiver of Ground of Inadmissibility at the US Embassy and wait months for a decision. And if the I-601 is denied, the immigrant cannot be reunited with family in the USA for 3 or 10 years!

For this reason, many green-card eligible applicants are afraid to leave the USA for their interview; they are afraid that if their I-601 waiver is denied, they will not be able to return to their families for 10 years. The risk of NOT being granted the waiver is too great, so they have avoided legalizing altogether.

Until now.

In early January 2013, Department of Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano announced a new procedure. This new procedure -- called the I-601A Provisional Waiver -- still requires the immigrant-applicant to apply for the waiver, to seek a pardon for coming to the USA without papers, or for overstaying. However, this request for a waiver can now be filed before departure from the USA and before going to the interview at the American Embassy. In this way, the immigrant-applicant will know provisionally whether they will be able to return quickly after their Embassy interview or not -- before leaving the USA.

Continue reading "Illegal Presence Waiver Can Now be Processed in USA" »

January 1, 2013

Fong & Aquino

Changes Ahead2.jpgAfter practicing law together for almost one decade, Eileen Chun-Fruto and I have evolved into different forms of law practice. I will continue to practice immigration and nationality law, handle consultations, and do my blog here at my offices in Los Angeles and in Palm Springs. The firm name is now, "Fong & Aquino." You can reach me, as before, at Tel: +1.323.769.8187 -- this is the same phone number you have used in the past. My new e-mail address is: j@jfonglaw.com . My webpage is now: http://www.jfonglaw.com .

My practice will continue to focus on families, waivers, small business investors, intra-company transferees, and investor visas. Also, as I have been for all 30 years of my law work, I remain very devoted to counseling, advocating for, and working with non-traditional families.

Eileen Chun-Fruto now practices immigration law with a law firm in downtown Los Angeles. She can be reached at echun@fongandchun.com.

Law offices change forms for many reasons. Eileen and I have parted as friends and colleagues. If for any reason you have questions about your case with the former office of Fong & Chun, llp, you are free to contact either one of us. We are now -- as we always were before -- committed to high quality immigration law work, where each case is treated individually and with respect for your family, your business, and your concerns. --jcf

December 29, 2012

Immigration Fraud Is Bad. Very Bad.

I was dismayed (but not particularly shocked) to read about the arrests and indictments of persons involved in fraudulent schemes to obtain asylum for clients in New York City’s Chinatown and Flushing neighborhoods. You can read more about it in the New York Times or in the U.S. Attorney’s press release.

Continue reading "Immigration Fraud Is Bad. Very Bad." »

December 7, 2012

It's Elementary

I occasionally watch “Elementary” on CBS. My wife is a big fan. Since we only have one TV, let’s just say that if my wife is watching it, then I’m watching it.

Continue reading "It's Elementary" »

August 7, 2012

Border Guards Question US Citizens About Back Taxes

IRS.pngThe immigration lawyers at Fong & Aquino in Los Angeles and in Palm Springs have been hearing that US Customs & Border Protection (CBP) officers -- the border guards at the airports and other ports of entry (POE) -- have been asking arriving US citizens and residents about taxes owed to the IRS and the US Government.

CBP maintains a database called Treasury Enforcement Communications System (TECS). This lookout system is used for the screening of travelers at border inspection points and maintains data on people when some kind of enforcement action has been taken against or about that traveler. For example, if an traveler is sent to secondary screening, if a warrant for arrest has been issued, if there is a lookout posted for that traveler, or "where law enforcement or intelligence agencies have identified information or contexts that relate to a person."

Apparently, TECS is now being used to identify taxpayers with unpaid tax assessments who are traveling to the USA. If you live outside the USA or spend a great deal of time outside the USA, and if the IRS has been unable to contact the you, and if you are subject to a filed Notice of Federal Tax Lien, you may be pulled aside at the airport or POE by CBP.

Agents at the airport or POE may ask what assets you have in the USA, the purpose and duration of your trip, where you are staying, and similar information. They can also ask about your employment relationships in the USA, to establish wage garnishment possibilities.

Taxpayers who reside outside the USA are sometimes not aware that they have outstanding US tax liabilities, so whether or not a US citizen is required to file a tax return, it may be a good idea to keep IRS apprised of your current address -- in order to avoid any nasty surprises at a POE. If you have any questions about your tax liabilities, you should contact your tax preparer. If you have questions about your immigration status, contact the immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino. --jcf

June 29, 2012

Papers Needed for Deferred Action for Undocumented Young People

papers.jpgAt our offices in Los Angeles and in Palm Springs, the immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino have been receiving hundreds of phone calls about the President's recently-announced initiative to provide Deferred Action to certain undocumented young people, providing them with work permits (Employment Authorization Documents - EAD).

On 15 June 2012, President Obama announced that he was directing US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to provide EADs to undocumented young people who meet certain qualifications. A successful applicant must show that s/he:
* arrived in the USA before age 16;
* has resided in the USA since 15 June 2007;
* is currently in school, has graduated from high school, has obtained a general education development certificate, or is honorably discharged veterans of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces of the United States;
* has not been convicted of a felony offense, a significant misdemeanor offense, multiple misdemeanor offenses, or otherwise pose a threat to national security or public safety; and
* is not over the age of thirty.

It is not yet possible to submit an application for this Deferred Action EAD. We expect to have details and how and where to apply sometime before 15 August 2012.

Until then, what can a potential applicant do to get ready?
1. Get a certified copy of your birth certificate.
2. If you arrived in the USA with a passport, visa, or border crossing card, be sure to keep this document safe -- it will demonstrate when you arrived in the USA.
3. If you did not arrive in the USA with a passport or other travel document, then try to look for documents that show you were in the USA as of 15 June 2007. Such documents might include: school records, medical records, dental records, baptismal or other church records, and photos.
4. Get a certified copy of your complete school record.

We do NOT recommend that a potential applicant get a copy of his/her criminal record at this time.

Making an application for Deferred Action is a big step, and it can have good and bad consequences. It is critically important that you understand all the possibilities before making the application. If you would like to discuss Deferred Action for yourself, a family member, or a friend, contact the immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino: +1.323.769.8187 --jcf

June 21, 2012

Did my ears deceive me? Romney offers to "lift the cap?"

Question Sign.jpg
Did my ears deceive me this morning, or did the presumptive Republican presidential nominee say that he would "lift the cap" on spouses and children of Legal Permanent Residents? If so, this is a big deal for many, many immigrants waiting to come to or be legalized in the USA.

The immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino, both in our Los Angeles and Palm Springs offices often counsel Legal Permanent Residents (Green Card holders) about bringing spouse and children to the USA. Green Card holders have the privilege of petitioning these family members, but because of the way the US quotas are set up, and depending on the country of birth, these family members end up waiting between 3 years (in the best case) and a staggering 20 years (for persons born in countries with highest demand to come to the USA). The spouse and unmarried children of Green Card holders are in "Family-Based Priority 2" under the US Immigration and Nationality Act, and this category limits the number of green cards to be given out in any one year under this priority. This quota creates HUGE backlogs and wait lists.

In a speech today before the National Association of Latino Elected Officials (NALEO), republican Mitt Romney said that he would "left the cap" on these Priority 2 immigrants. The effect of this would be to cut short all the waiting and allow these ever-patient relatives to process their green cards right away.

Did Romney mean to say this?

It's not clear. The Immigration and Nationality Act is frighteningly complex. Many people do not clearly understand the immigration law, and that includes immigration officials as well as laypersons. They toss around words like "immigrant," and "citizen," and "legal," and "illegal," and "quota," and "lift the cap." Taking his words literally, it would seem that Romney has signaled one facet of his immigration policy. We can only wait to see if this was really what he had in mind. Keep your ears open! --jcf