Immigration News and Commentary

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

3 Mistakes That Can Lead to a Stokes Interview

So recently I’ve represented several clients at Stokes interviews that were scheduled as a direct result of lack of preparation and ignorance of immigration requirements and procedure on the part of the clients. Individuals who apply for a green card (permanent residence) through sponsorship by a U.S. citizen spouse must attend an interview with an immigration officer.  Stokes interviews are secondary green card interviews that are scheduled once an immigration officer has suspicions that a marriage is not legitimate or there is insufficient evidence to support the approval of the application.  At the Stokes interview the green card applicant and their U.S. citizen sponsor are subjected to an in-depth interview and also given an opportunity to provide additional evidence.

Many people chose to prepare their green card application and many commit the same mistakes that result in either an outright denial or a Stokes interview. I wanted to go over three common reasons that applicants end up being scheduled for Stokes interviews although they may have a strong case.  Lack of preparation is the main reason that most green card applications are not immediately approved, the applicant gets scheduled for a Stokes interview or eventually the immigration applications are denied.  Preparation, preparation, preparation is the key to obtaining positive results from the Immigration Service. Here are three common mistakes that green card applicants make that all stem from a failure to prepare:

1. Failure to understand immigration requirements and regulations

Whatever the application you are submitting to the Immigration Service, you must know the legal requirements that need to be met in order to obtain the immigration benefit.  Most applicants that represent themselves are not familiar with the immigration requirements; as such they cannot submit a strong application.  An experienced and qualified immigration attorney will be familiar with the immigration application requirements and laws and be able to easily navigate the immigration system.  If you choose to represent yourself, and many do, be certain that you know the requirements of the application you are submitting.  Be willing and able to put in the time and work necessary to research the requirements.

2. Failure to provide valid and/or sufficient evidence

So now you know what the immigration requirements are, now you need to prove, with evidence, that you satisfy the requirements.   It is not enough to know the rules you must prove to the Immigration Service that you qualify and you must do so clearly with sufficient evidence.  I have had many clients come to my office after receiving a denial letter from the Immigration Service that resulted from their failure to provide sufficient evidence or any evidence at all.  The Immigration Service will not prove your case for you, you have the burden and you must meet that burden by providing strong evidence. Here is where a qualified attorney comes in; they can help you build case with strong evidence using their knowledge of the immigration regulations and experience.

3. Failure to prepare for the interview

Applicants that fail to prepare for their green card interview usually end up with a Stokes interview appointment.  Nerves can create many problems for an applicant at a green card interview.  Being nervous at such an important interview is normal.  However, the way to reduce an applicant’s level of stress is to familiarize them with what to expect at the interview.  I find that after I prepare clients on what to expect at the green card interview, conduct a mock interview, and provide sample interview questions, they are much more comfortable at the interview and are usually successful.  In addition, I attend all of my clients’ green card interviews; as such, I am in the room with my clients which many clients find comforting.

For more information, call our office at 718-978-9000, and make an appointment today.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Love, Hip Hop… and Immigration Marriage Fraud?

Online media outlets are buzzing with rumors that reality television star Amina Buddafly was allegedly deported due to immigration marriage fraud. The rumors are likely stemming from the recent storyline on VH1’s popular reality series Love and Hip Hop New York.

Reality television fans are likely very familiar with the popular VH1 series Love and Hip Hop New York. However, for those of you that are not familiar with the show I will give a bit of background. The show features hip hop artists and their love interests, and chronicles their professional and personal lives with high dramatics, and some would argue, pre-scripted content. This season of Love and Hip Hop New York premiered with several new recurring characters, most relevant Amina Buddafly and Peter Gunz. In the early episodes of this season it is revealed that Amina Buddafly and Peter Gunz are in fact married, despite his longtime relationship with the mother of his children. According to Amina Buddafly's VH1 biography, she was born and raised in Hamburg, Germany. Even more interesting, the biography describes Amina Buddafly’s immigration to the United States saying “In 2002, Black Buddafly took a leap of faith and without a plan, packed their bags and flew to New York City with nothing but $$600 and a dream. Leaving everything behind in Germany, they had no ‘choyce’ but to make it in America.”

According to one online report, in 2011 Amina Buddafly allegedly posted on an immigration forum that she was refused entry into the United States for violating the terms of her entry on the Visa Waiver Program. The Visa Waiver Program allows nationals of designated countries, including Germany, to enter the United States without a visa for a period of 90 days for the purpose of business or pleasure. So given the Love and Hip Hop storyline and Amina Buddafly’s immigrant status, speculation is rampant regarding the reasons behind her marriage to Peter Gunz and whether the marriage was based on Amina Buddafly’s need to obtain a green card in the United States. In an interview with Power 105.1 Peter Gunz denied the allegations and claimed that he married Amina Buddafly for love.

Let’s make two things clear, first, Amina Buddafly’s immigration status has not been revealed; and second, there no confirmation that she has been deported for any reason. Nevertheless, this very salacious tale sheds light on an issue that is widely pervasive in the U.S. immigration - marriage fraud. Many immigrants are desperate to obtain legal immigration status in the United States and some do marry U.S. citizens for the sole purpose of obtaining permanent residence (i.e. a green card). However, there are serious civil and criminal consequences for engaging in immigration marriage fraud. By law persons who have entered into marriages, for the purpose of obtaining an immigration benefit, face fines of up to $250,000 and up to five years in prison.

It is also important to note that there are nonimmigrant visa categories that entertainers with demonstrated talent and international recognition can take advantage of, most notably the P-1 and O-1 visas. Moreover, the fact that Amina Buddafly is a talented musician who is a reoccurring cast member of a nationally syndicated television series leads me to question the rumors of her alleged deportation; as she may have been able to obtain legal status by obtaining a valid nonimmigrant visa. Nonetheless it remains to be seen if the rumors will be addressed in the dramatic Love and Hip Hop New York storyline or reunion show.


Monday, December 20, 2010

A Call for Change in the Political Dialogue on Immigration

This weekend I watched Karan Johar’s movie, "My Name is Khan", and the theme of the movie inspired me to comment on the political state of immigration the U.S. today.

 "My Name is Khan" follows a Muslim immigrant, Rizwan Khan, on his journey across the United States to meet the President on his press tour.  On Rizwan’s journey the audience learns of his life, the people in it, and how he began his quest to meet the President.  We find out that Rizvan has Aspergers Syndrome, a developmental disorder, and see the contrast of his life in San Francisco pre and post 9/11.  The movie chronicles how Muslims and those mistakenly perceived as Muslims were victimized after 9/11 because they were all stereotyped as terrorists.  Rizvan wanted to meet the President to simply tell him “My name is Khan and I am not a terrorist.”

The hostility faced by the immigrants in this movie reminded me of the hostility in the tone of the political conversation, or lack thereof, on immigration reform.  It is the general consensus that comprehensive immigration reform is necessary.  As we’ve heard it from the President, and many other commentators, “our immigration system is broken.”  Ok great, now we all agree, however, practical solutions to solve the actually problems in the system are seldom agreed upon.  In today’s political landscape any conversation about immigration reform that does not include deporting all undocumented persons is deemed amnesty and unacceptable.  For instance, the DREAM Act was passed by the House and came up for a vote in the Senate on December 18th, however, it failed since they could not get enough bi-partisan support to reach the 60 votes necessary.

Many who opposed the DREAM Act termed it “backdoor amnesty,” but we cannot fix the immigration system by deporting all undocumented persons.  Estimates show that there are approximately 11 million undocumented individuals currently in the U.S. The cost associated with finding and deporting all of those individuals would be astronomical and wholly inefficient.  However, politicians don’t seem to want to explore other options.  The DREAM Act would not have fixed the U.S. immigration system; however, it would have been a fair and just start.  It would have been a way to give immigration status to productive and intelligent young people whose parents chose to bring them to the U.S. illegally.  It would also have been a way to help reduce the U.S. deficit using the revenue gained from the penalties attached to the DREAM Act.

 Today’s political dialogue on immigration ignores the fact that America is a nation built by immigrants who bring much needed innovation to every aspect of American society.  For instance, Andrew Carnegie, a Scottish immigrant, created and operated the Carnegie Steel Company, one of the largest businesses in the world in the late 1800s and later founded Carnegie Mellon University and the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace; Jerry Yang the Taiwanese co-founder of Yahoo; Levi Strauss the German founder of Levi Strauss & Company; or Andrew Grove, the Hungarian founder of Intel Corp.  Let’s also not forget Albert Einstein a German-born immigrant recognized as a genius worldwide and winner of the Nobel Prize in Physics or Yo-Yo Ma, French immigrant and one of the most highly revered cellists of the 20th and 21st century.  The list of exceptional and innovative immigrants to the United States is long and can continue for pages. Politicians and the general public need to recognize that immigrants are the people who help to bring culture, innovation and economic growth to this country. Our politicians need to change the dialogue and our immigration system to open our doors to the talented and innovative immigrant pool rather than continue with the current hostile closed door immigration policy.

Monday, August 9, 2010

Graham goes too far pushing for repeal of ‘birthright citizenship’

The topic of “birthright citizenship” for children of undocumented persons was propelled into the immigration debate in recent weeks by Senator Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.).  Senator Graham announced on a Fox News program that he would introduce a bill that would amend the 14th amendment to take away “birthright citizenship” from children born in the United States to undocumented persons. Senator Graham elaborated on his reasoning saying:

“Birthright citizenship I think is a mistake ... People come here to have babies…That shouldn't be the case. That attracts people here for all the wrong reasons.”
The 14th Amendment was adopted on July 9, 1868 and it established that any person born in the United States, including African Americans, were citizens of the United States.  Section 1 of the 14th amendment specifically provides that:
“All persons born or naturalized in the United States and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” 
Senator Graham’s proposal has instigated much controversy but has garnered only limited support.  Senator McCain (R-Ariz.) and other Republicans have said they would support hearings on the issue, but have refrained from supporting the proposal outright.  In a surprising twist former CNN correspondent Lou Dobbs, a staunch supporter of immigration enforcement, has come out against proposal saying:
“The idea that anchor babies somehow require changing the 14th Amendment, I part ways with the Senators on that because I believe the 14th Amendment, particularly in its due process and equal protection clauses, is so important… It lays the foundation for the entire Bill of Rights being applied to the states.”
Amending the constitution to address an immigration issue is ineffective and simply ridiculous for many reasons. First, it attacks a fundamental principle that has long been upheld by the Supreme Court.  Second, instead of deterring persons from entering the U.S. without authorization it would only create a new class of undocumented persons.  Thus, creating an additional logistical nightmare for the Department of Homeland Security to deal with, when they can hardly deal with the logistics of our current undocumented immigrant population.  Further, the 14th amendment provides valuable rights to all U.S. citizens, if we start chipping away at it whenever we feel so inclined, which class of individuals will be next?
Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) summed it up nicely when commenting on Republican support for the repeal saying:
"They've either taken leave of their senses or their principles."

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Leaked USCIS Memo: No Back-door Amnesty Despite Republican Claims

Recently an internal United States and Citizenship Services (USCIS) draft memo was leaked to the public by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa).  The draft memo written by USCIS officials was addressed to USCIS Director Alejandro N. Mayorkas and outlined administrative alternatives to Comprehensive Immigration Reform.

Upon learning of the memo, Republicans voiced their opposition to the memo insisting that the Obama administration was attempting to circumvent Congress and grant amnesty to all undocumented persons in the U.S.  Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Finance Committee, said in a statement:

“The document provides an additional basis for our concerns that the administration will go to great lengths to circumvent Congress and unilaterally execute a back-door amnesty plan,”

In response to the Republican outrage to the USCIS memo, USCIS spokesperson Christopher Bentley issued a statement saying:

“As a matter of good government, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) will discuss just about every issue that comes within the purview of the immigration system…Internal memoranda help us do the thinking that leads to important changes; some of them are adopted and others are rejected. Our goal is to implement policies wisely and well to strengthen all aspects of our mission.

To be clear, DHS will not grant deferred action or humanitarian parole to the nation’s entire illegal immigrant population…”

Despite Republican claims to the contrary, the memo does not propose to grant amnesty to all undocumented persons.  Instead the memo proposes to:

  • Provide individuals with Temporary Protected Status (TPS) with a pathway to legal residency;
  • Expand the use of parole for humanitarian relief and public interest;
  • Decrease the stringent standards for extreme hardship;
  • Protected spouses and children of members of the military from being deported;
  • Possibly deferring the deportations of DREAM Act youth and long-time non-criminal residents of the United States; and
  • Several other measures aimed at helping skilled and educated nonimmigrants remain in the United States. 

These very specific measures would in reality only benefit very small subsets of the immigrant population.  In addition, the memo simply allows the USCIS to exercise its discretion as an administrative agency.  Moreover, USCIS, like other law enforcement agencies, is entitled to exercise prosecutorial discretion.  In fact, in a November 2000 memo, Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS) Commissioner Debra Meissner outlined INS’s authority to exercise prosecutorial discretion.  Therefore, USCIS and Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) are well within their discretion to decide whom they will deport/prosecute.

The leaked USCIS memo brings us back to the core problem; that is we need Congress to pass Comprehensive Immigration Reform.  According to the bipartisan National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL), 45 states introduced 1,180 bills and resolutions relating to immigrants and refugees in the first quarter of 2010 alone.  In fact, as of March 31, the NCSL estimated that 34 state legislatures had passed 71 laws and adopted 87 resolutions, and 37 bills were pending signatures on governors' desks.  Both the USCIS memo and these States’ legislation demonstrate a deep seated concern over the lack of Comprehensive Immigration Reform.  However, Congress has not acted and none of the Republicans protesting this leaked USCIS memo are taking any concrete steps to get Comprehensive Immigration Reform passed.



Friday, July 23, 2010

Arizona law begs the question, is racial profiling ever acceptable?

Recently U.S. District Court Judge Susan Bolton began hearing arguments in cases brought by the Department of Justice (DOJ) and other civil rights groups challenging the new Arizona immigration law.  At issue in the DOJ suit is whether the Arizona State law infringes upon the federal power to control immigration regulations?  However, another equally important issue is that the Arizona law essentially sanctions racial profiling.  So the question becomes is racial profiling ever acceptable?

To give some background, on April 23rd, 2010, Arizona Governor Brewer signed into effect a law that criminalized being present in Arizona without proper immigration paperwork.  Further, the new law authorizes Arizona State police officers to stop and check persons, who they reasonably suspect to be undocumented aliens, and ask for immigration paperwork.  Moreover, the law also bars individuals from hiring or soliciting day laborers from the street. The law is set to take effect on July 29, 2010 unless an injunction is issued by the district court to stop it. 
The Arizona law specifically provides that police officers are not permitted to use racial profiling.  However, from a common sense perspective, it’s unclear how Arizona police officers would be able to identify undocumented persons without using ethnicity or race as a main factor in their determination.  As such, this law would invariably lead to racial profiling of U.S. citizens and non-citizens.  In fact, this is the very argument made by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other civil rights groups in their law suits filed to stop the Arizona law.  In an ACLU press release issued on July 22, 2010, Omar Jadwat, staff attorney with the ACLU Immigrants' Rights Project commented on the discriminatory effects of the Arizona law saying:
"Any law that requires law enforcement to ask people they stop and suspect of being undocumented for their ‘papers' violates the U.S. Constitution and the American values of fairness and equality. This law is a clear invitation for racial profiling, and we're confident that the court will understand the importance of preventing it from ever taking effect."
Arizona Governor Brewer points to increased violence and the general the need for more enforcement to stop the flow of illegal immigration into Arizona as a basis for its new immigration law.  We all agree that there is a problem with immigration enforcement and our current immigration system; however, Arizona’s new law does not address these problems.  The Arizona law only creates new problems.
The United States is a country that was built by immigrants and it has a living constitution that we strive to enforce.  In times of crises we should seek to employ solutions that enhance and abide by our federal constitution rather than trample upon the principles it promulgates.  Under our constitution there should be equal treatment for all.  Therefore, racial profiling has no place in our society and should never be accepted.  I hope that Judge Susan Bolton’s ruling reflects that sentiment.

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