Articles Posted in Immigration legislation & policy

fingers crossed.jpegPresident Obama’s executive order to provide relief to undocumented immigrants opens up a new opportunity for many who had no options. However, whenever the immigration laws change, it also creates a chance for unlicensed notaries public, unscrupulous “immigration advisors,” and others who see an opportunity to cheat hard-working people. In my offices in Pasadena and Palm Springs, I hear stories all the time about how a notary charged a fortune and did nothing. Even more disturbing, people in the C oachella Valley seeking visa and immigration service and assistance have told me of persons who have provided harmful, incorrect information.

In many of these cases, the agency or advisor may be “accredited” by the Board of Immigration Appeals, but in fact, the consultant’s lack of knowledge about immigration law is staggering. Several clients have come to me with cases that have been MADE WORSE.

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Obama PrezOrder.jpegWith President Obama’s announcement of executive action on immigration issues, the phone has been ringing constantly at both the Pasadena and Palm Springs offices. Fong & Aquino has fielded over 50 telephone inquiries this morning alone.

Although the President announced the executive action yesterday, immigration lawyers are still studying the EXACT requirements and details of the presidential order. It is a very complex, wide-ranging set of orders. I will be posting more information in the coming days.

This is a hopeful development, but it is new. DO NOT try to travel outside the USA at this time. CHECK WITH AN ATTORNEY before filing any papers with the immigration authorities. Remember that many unlicensed paralegals will try to encourage you to sign up with them: PLEASE BE CAREFUL. If you have any questions about your eligibility, or if you’re interested in applying for a benefit under the executive order, please contact a competent immigration attorney.

Some highlights of the President’s order:

(a) Work permits for certain highly-skilled workers and their spouses, as well as students studying science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM).

(b) Clarify and improve the ability to travel for those who are waiting for Legal Permanent Resident (LPR) status, including those who are here on Temporary Protected Status (TPS).

(c) Legal status for the spouses and children of US armed forces service members.

(d) Implement new priorities to deport or remove criminal immigrants, while minimizing deportation of non-criminal family members.

(e) Strengthen border security and safety, and increase and reallocate resources for border interdiction.

(f) Expand the eligibility for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), to permit more young undocumented high school graduates to get work permits. New DACA work permits will be valid for 3 years, instead of the current 2 years.

(g) Create a Deferred Action program for Parents of US citizens and LPRs who have been in the USA for more than five years. To qualify, applicants will need to register with the government, pay back taxes, undergo fingerprinting and a background check, and pay application fees.

Please check back here in the coming days, for more information, as we learn the details of the new program. If you would like to set up an appointment, feel free to contact the office. –j

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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