Articles Posted in Entry & Exit Issues

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.
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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

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

USDOS issued a reminder that visa fees changed last Friday, April 13. For those of you who have paid an immigrant visa fee before April 13, the fee is likely to have decreased. But you won’t get a refund for it!

IF you have paid a visa fee prior to April 13 and the visa fee has now increased, you won’t have to pay the difference as long as the visa interview takes place BEFORE June 12, 2012.

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Time to apply? Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for Syrians in the US! The USCIS has just announced that Syria will now be a designated country for temporary protected status. Due to the political instability in Syria, Syrians who are now in the United States will soon be able to apply for TPS which will allow them to be granted employment authorization and for extensions of the TPS designation is extended for Syria. The initial TPS designation will be for 18 months. USCIS has instructed applicants NOT to submit applications yet but applications may be prepared now in anticipation of more guidance next week. Remember that TPS is not automatic and applicants will have to show their eligibility, and background checks will still be conducted of all applicants. Those who will be found ineligible are those who have multiple convictions or other factors but certain noncriminal and non-security grounds can be waived. If you are interested in applying for TPS, call Fong & Aquino for a consultation. —ecf

Yes No.jpgImmigration law clients of Fong & Aquino have been calling us at both our Los Angeles and Palm Springs offices to inquire whether they can travel in and out of the USA using documents scanned onto their iPads, iPhones, and other smart devices.

In the first week of January, articles appeared on NBC, ABCNews, and DigitalJournal, and other sites about a Canadian man who was attempting to cross the land border to deliver Christmas gifts to family and friends in Vermont, USA. He had apparently forgotten his passport at his home in Montréal, Québec. When he got to the US Port of Entry (POE), so goes the story, he pulled out his iPad and showed the border guard his scanned Canadian Passport. (The man carries scanned documents, in case he should lose his documents while traveling.) According to the story, the border guard considered the matter and finally let the man cross the border.

It would be nice to think that border crossing cards, passports, visas, and other paperwork can now be scanned and put on our smart devices in lieu of carrying them. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Right on the heels of these articles, United States Customs and Border Protection (CBP) issued a statement that scanned documents are NOT permitted for purposes of POE entry. This CBP statement was carried by Yahoo!News, The Globe and Mail (Canada), Straits Times (Singapore), The Telegraph (UK), among others.

The CBP says that it used the man’s secure Canadian driver license and birth certificate.
No foreigner may enter the USA without being able adequately to verify his/her identity. Apparently, the Canadian man had in his possession a secure Canadian driver license and an official copy of his birth certificate. These allowed the border guard to verify ID, and the man was allowed to enter.

The take-away lesson here is NOT that you should scan all your immigration papers in order to use them at a port-of-entry.

The lesson here is: Do not believe everything you read on the internet about what can or cannot be done. Even if this Canadian fellow “got away” with using his iPad-scanned documents, it is NEVER a good idea to depend on the tender mercies of US border guards. Questions about entry and exit issues? Contact a good immigration attorney. –jcf

stairway.jpgThe US Government recently announced that NSEERS registration is no longer necessary. Like many other immigration law firms, Fong & Aquino of Los Angeles has numerous clients from countries in which Islam is the predominant religion. The National Security Entry-Exit Registration System (NSEERS) was implemented in 2001. NSEERS required the citizens of certain Islamic countries who are visiting the USA to undergo special treatment and registration upon entry to and exit from the USA. Many Fong & Aquino clients in Beverly Hills, Hollywood, Palm Springs, and Las Vegas were especially impacted by NSEERS.

Persons born in or citizens of Afghanistan, Algeria, Bahrain, Bangladesh, Egypt, Eritrea, Indonesia, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Morocco, North Korea, Oman, Pakistan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, the United Arab Emirates, and Yemen were all subject to NSEERS arrival-departure control.

Implemented in the wake of the attacks of 9/11/2001, the NSEERS program was designed to record the arrival, stay, and departure of certain individuals from countries chosen based on an analysis of perceived national security threats. Because the US Department of Homeland Security (DHS) has now implemented automated systems that capture arrival and departure information for persons of all nationalities — that includes citizens of the Land of the Free and Home of the Brave (Americans) — the NSEERS registration is no longer required.

Quoting DHS, “the underlying NSEERS regulations will remain in place in the event a special registration program is again needed.” –jcf

plane+jetway.jpgRecently, I toured the Federal Inspections area at Los Angeles International Airport (LAX). As an attorney affiliated with Fong & Aquino in Los Angeles, I routinely get questions from clients about “what happens to me when I land after my international flight? What will the procedures be like for me?”

Although my visit was to LAX, it is fair to say that the same immigration procedures and data bases are in place at all international airports in the Southern California region: Orange County, San Diego, Ontario, Palm Springs, and other international airports nationwide.

Every day, thousands of people pass through the Tom Bradley International Terminal and the other international arrival terminals at LAX. After deplaning and waiting in the seemingly interminable queues, most passengers will only see one immigration officer. Then they will collect their luggage and see a customs officer. And then, they will go up a ramp where they are greeted by a smiling photo of Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa welcoming them to the United States.

I also talked to officers in an office in the corner of the terminal which handles “Admissibility Review,” also commonly known as “secondary inspection.” Because of the volume of international passengers that LAX handles, the primary inspection officer only has a few minutes — probably less than 5 — to determine whether to permit an individual to enter into the United States. Instead of tying up an officer’s station, questionable individuals will continue the process at the secondary inspection area.

Maybe there is an error on a visa. Or perhaps the name on the passport doesn’t match the visa. Or sometimes, an individual doesn’t realize that his or her green card expired during the trip abroad. According to Customs and Border Protection officials, most individuals — upwards of 90% — who are sent to secondary inspections are permitted eventually to enter the United States after CBP has asked a number of follow-up questions.

A word of caution about criminal convictions: the records of older criminal convictions have now been computerized and are now available to CBP inspectors. This includes criminal convictions in the 50 US states, as well as many countries which have made their criminal records available to the Department of Homeland Security.

In particular, if you are a lawful permanent resident who was convicted of a crime at some time in the past, your past ability to travel in and out of the United States was not because the government had forgotten about the conviction or forgiven you. It was because the CPB didn’t previously know about the conviction. In 2010, the Department of Homeland Security initiated removal proceedings based upon one of our client’s convictions that occurred in 1995.

The best way to avoid being escorted to secondary would be to steer clear of the following actions:

— misrepresentations about your identity — using fraudulent travel documents — using a passport that does not belong to you — using a passport that has been manipulated or tweaked — using a visa that is fraudulent — traveling when you have an outstanding warrant for your arrest — a LPR returning to the United States after being convicted of certain criminal offenses — a LPR returning to the United States who may have indicia of abandoning his or her permanent resident status
You should consult with experienced counsel before you seek to enter or re-enter the United States. Doing so may help you prevent any surprises in the immigration inspection area. –ra

Thumbprint.jpgLos Angeles-based immigration attorneys at Fong & Aquino have received a recent string of consultations from the Palm Springs and Inland Empire area involving the immigration consequences of drug convictions.

One individual is a Lawful Permanent Resident (LPR) who was convicted in 2000 for possession of drug paraphernalia. The conviction did not come to the government’s attention until the gentleman returned from a vacation abroad and he re-entered the United States. The Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”) has placed him into removal proceedings, charging that he had been convicted of a controlled substance offense.

Another man recently walked in with a Notice to Appear in which the DHS alleged that he entered the United States in 1965. “That’s wonderful!”, I thought, “I’ve got one of the few people in America that is eligible for registry.” My excitement waned when I discovered that the man had a conviction for possession of drugs in the 1980s.

The Immigration and Nationality Act does contain a “petty offense exception” which waives the consequences of a minor crime if the sentence of imprisonment did not exceed six months and the conviction carries a maximum sentence of one year or less. Unfortunately, neither of the above individuals can avail themselves of the exemption because it does not apply to drug convictions, no matter how minor.

There are other avenues of relief in the immigration court that we have been pursuing to help these two individuals. But the moral of the story is: if you are not a U.S. citizen, stay away from illegal drugs — probably good practice for U.S. citizens too. However, if you do have an old conviction on your record, you should consult with an immigration attorney before you leave the United States or before you file for any benefits from the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services. –ra

Bridge Cables.jpgImmigration lawyers at Los Angeles’ Fong & Aquino have learned that, in view of the massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the related devastation, clean-up, possible radiation concerns, US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) has temporarily suspended removal of Japanese citizens who may have been ordered deported.

It is expected that ICE will be deporting Japanese nationals again, as soon as conditions in Japan stabilize. Should you have questions about this, or any other immigration or nationality law concern, please do not hesitate to contact us. –jcf