By: Irina Manelis, Esq.
As anyone following the world of current events and political punditry can attest, momentum for comprehensive immigration reform has been building, and is reaching a groundswell. Comprehensive immigration reform has been long overdue, and we hope that Congress and the President will finally take this timely opportunity to meaningfully tackle our broken immigration system.
A key aspect of any meaningful comprehensive immigration reform will have to address the pressing situation of the many millions of immigrants who have long called the United States their home, but who are currently conscripted to the shadows because they are undocumented or have fallen out of status. If you, or someone you know, are in this situation, what can you do now to prepare for reform? Although no one knows exactly what form potential comprehensive immigration reform may take, previous initiatives give us insight on what kind of evidence applicants might be required to produce to apply for benefits under any new laws. As we eagerly await comprehensive immigration reform, below are some practical tips on what you can begin doing today:
- Obtain a current passport or other photo ID : you will need to have current photographic evidence of your identity. If you do not have such a document now, or it has expired, you can apply for a new passport or other identity document from the embassy of your country of origin.
- Gather your vital records: you will likely need to have your vital records, such as your birth certificate, and any relevant marriage certificate(s), divorce decree(s),or death certificate(s)to document your birth, your name and any name changes, and your marital status, including any divorce decrees or death certificates terminating previous marriages.
- Maintain and organize proof of your physical presence in the U.S.: you will need proof of your physical presence in the U.S. on a certain date, and dating back for a defined period of time. You can begin gathering documents which demonstrate your continued residence in the U.S., such as employment records, medical records, financial records, bills, copies of lease and mortgage records, school records, letters or notices received from the government, evidence of remittances sent from the U.S., and any other evidence of your physical presence here. Arrange these records in chronological order, and begin saving new proof, such as paystubs, bills, and bank statements, and/or other evidence of presence in the U.S. from this point forward.
- File and keep records of filing your taxes : if you have not been filing your taxes, you should begin doing so. However, do not use any false or fraudulently-obtained social security number. Instead, if you have not already done so, obtain a taxpayer identification number (a "TIN") through the IRS (using IRS Form W-7) to file and pay your taxes. If you have already been filing your taxes, maintain records of the taxes you have filed. If you are missing documentation of any tax years for which you filed, you can request tax transcripts from the IRS.
- Maintain and organize any immigration records : you will need to keep any immigration records you may have, including any records of your entry into the U.S., such as visas and I-94 cards, any filings you have previously made with Immigration, including any receipt, approval, or denial notices you have received, and any records of any previous apprehension, order of supervision, or removal/deportation proceedings. If you believe that there have been any previous filings made on your behalf by family members or employers, or that you may have been included as a dependant of a filing made for another family member, such as your parent or spouse, obtain and keep records of those immigration filings as well.
- Maintain good moral character and obtain certified dispositions of any criminal records : any new immigration reform will likely have requirements that applicants have good moral character, and it is vital to avoid engaging in activity, such as driving under the influence of alcohol or any other illegal activity, which may cause you to be convicted of a crime. If you have ever been arrested, charged with, or convicted of any crime or offense, you should also obtain certified dispositions from the court where you were charged or convicted. You should do this even for charges which were ultimately dismissed, or which have been expunged. It is particularly important to do this now for old records because by the time you will need them, they might be unavailable. For instance, Virginia General District Courts maintain many misdemeanor and traffic infraction records for only 10 years, and you may not be able to obtain certified dispositions of these old offenses once 10 years have passed.
- Look for an employer willing to sponsor you, or identify any U.S. citizen or Lawful Permanent Resident family members who may sponsor you : based on previous laws, there is a significant likelihood that new comprehensive reform may require that applicants be sponsored either by a qualifying family member or by an employer. It is never too early to begin speaking with family members, employers, and friends to see if there is any potential for family or employment sponsorship. If you have a U.S. citizen spouse, parent, sibling, or child over twenty-one, or a Lawful Permanent Resident ("green card") spouse or parent, you may qualify for family sponsorship. If your family member currently has a green card, but is eligible for citizenship, you can discuss his or her filing for naturalization so that he or she can become a U.S. citizen. If you have or know of an employer who might be willing to sponsor you as an employee, you can begin to have those conversations now, instead of waiting until reform is passed.
- Obtain evidence of your academic and professional experience : It is possible that new immigration reform initiatives may require proof of academic and/or professional experience. You should request and keep copies of any U.S. or foreign diploma(s), academic transcript(s), and letters and other proof of professional experience. If requesting a letter of experience from a current or former employer, make sure that the letter is printed on company letterhead, dated, signed, and contains your dates of employment for that employer and relevant work experience. This evidence will be very important if the new reform includes a requirement for employment sponsorship for which you will need to show that you meet the minimum qualifications for the position.
- Begin saving money, but be careful : any new immigration reform will likely be expensive and require that you begin saving now. There will be legal fees, filing fees, a possible "penalty" fee, and other potential expenses, such as those associated with the filing of back taxes. But be careful-although "notarios" may offer to provide services for a reduced fee, "notarios" are not licensed attorneys, and we have all too often seen the extensive damage they can cause to individuals and families because they lack the legal training and expertise to know who qualifies for relief, how to file applications correctly, and how to avoid potentially devastating immigration consequences. Sometimes, unscrupulous "notarios" and others may charge a person a lot of money to apply for a benefit which simply does not exist because the new laws have not been passed yet. Even worse, the filing may serve to place the client in peril, and may alert Immigration to their whereabouts and trigger removal proceedings against them, or result in inadmissibility for fraud or misrepresentation based on false information in the application. Pursuing immigration status through any immigration reform which may be passed in the future will have tremendous consequences for your life, and you should only entrust your case to competent, capable attorneys who understand the complicated immigration laws.
At Dyer Immigration Law Group, we are dedicated exclusively to the practice of immigration law and specialize in the full range of immigration issues. For over a decade, we have helped countless individuals and companies to achieve their immigration goals through innovative solutions and effective client-focused advocacy. We have the experience, the reputation, and the expertise to handle virtually any immigration issue for businesses, families, and individuals.