How to Prepare for an ICE Raid

UPDATE: On June 22, 2019, President Trump announced that he will “hold off” on the massive deportations for two weeks.

President Trump has promised “massive” ICE raids beginning June 23, 2019, apparently focused on persons who have final orders of removal.  It generally happens, however, that whenever ICE officers go into a community searching for specific persons, ICE often arrests other persons who they find.

Here are some things to keep in mind to prepare for an ICE raid:

  • You have the right to remain silent, if you wish
  • Record details of your encounter with ICE
  • Record names of officers, if you are able to
  • Do NOT run away from ICE officers
  • Do NOT sign any document that you do not understand and that you do not wish to sign
  • Tell the ICE officer that you want to speak to an attorney
  • If you do speak to ICE, tell the truth.

If ICE comes to the door of your home:

  • Do NOT open the door
  • ICE is ONLY allowed to enter if they have a valid search or arrest warrant with the correct name and address, signed by a judge
  • Ask the ICE officer to slip the warrant under the door or to hold it up to a window so that you can read it.
  • If ICE shows you a warrant of deportation or removal, and if that document is NOT signed by a judge, then you do NOT need to open the door.
  • If ICE does not show you a warrant signed by a judge, then politely tell ICE that you are not required to open the door.

If ICE enters your home:

  • Remain calm
  • Call an attorney immediately
  • You do not need to say anything. Instead you can say that you have the right to remain silent
  • Do NOT sign any document that you do not understand and that you do not wish to sign.

Increased Scrutiny of Social Media

Freedom of speech has long been a beloved and protected value of the American people.  With the rise of social media, U.S. citizens have fostered new, online spaces where they can continue to voice their opinions, stories, and feelings freely and without fear of persecution.  However, for immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants outside of the U.S., their voices on social media may be their demise.

As of May 31, 2019, the Department of State’s electronic visa applications now require that applicants provide their usernames from the past five years for a variety of social media websites and applications such as Instagram, Facebook, Tumblr, and Flickr to name a few.  Even if their social media accounts have been deleted, applicants are required to disclose them if the accounts existed in the past five years.  In addition to sharing their social media information, visa applicants must provide all of their email addresses and phone numbers from the past five years, as opposed to the previous norm of only providing their current contact information.  These new requirements fulfill President Donald Trump’s promises to more thoroughly screen foreigners applying to enter the U.S.

Prior to this new policy, social media vetting of visa applicants existed but on a smaller scale.  The only visa applicants required to release their social media usernames on visa applications were those who were identified for extra scrutiny, for example, people who had traveled through areas controlled by terrorist organizations.  This group of people amounted to roughly 65,000 immigrant and non-immigrant visa applicants.  The new policy will require social media information from approximately 710,000 immigrant visa applicants and 14 million non-immigrant visa applicants.  Even applicants for student and business visas will be required to provide their social media, email, and phone history.  (https://www.forbes.com/sites/lealane/2019/06/03/social-media-info-now-required-by-state-department-for-most-u-s-visa-applicants/#335703f24d31).  It is not known exactly how the Department of State will choose to utilize this information, nor is it known whether or not this extra vetting will slow down immigrant and non-immigrant visa processing times.

The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has been openly opposed to social media inspection of visa applicants on behalf of the Department of State.  In March of 2018, Hina Shamsi, director of the ACLU’s National Security Project stated that the new policy “will infringe on the rights of immigrants and U.S. citizens by chilling freedom of speech and association, particularly because people will now have to wonder if what they say online will be misconstrued or misunderstood by a government official.” (https://www.aclu.org/press-releases/aclu-comment-state-department-notices-requiring-social-media-information-visa).

Unfortunately, for visa applicants, the ACLU’s fears of the suppression of freedom of speech are becoming a reality.  It is recommended that anyone considering applying for a visa or anyone who has close family members or friends applying for visas be extremely mindful of what they post on their social media accounts.  Anything a visa applicant or even an applicant’s friend or follower says online can be used against the applicant in a consulate, an embassy, or even at the airport.

Contrary to President Trump’s rhetoric citing foreigners as criminals and terrorists, there is no evidence to support his claims.  Even studies done on populations with higher percentages of documented and undocumented immigrants show no causal affect between immigration and crime. (https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/13/upshot/illegal-immigration-crime-rates-research.html).  When it comes to terrorism, mass shooters in the U.S. are most commonly white men who were born in the U.S., not foreigners.  Visa applicants wait months and sometimes years so they can legally enter the country, yet the U.S. government insists on monitoring them like criminals, along with asylum seekers and other immigrants attempting to gain lawful status in the U.S.  In the administration’s attempt to save American lives and preserve our values, the White House is slandering one of the nation’s most crucial values of all: The First Amendment, freedom of expression.

Abandonment of Permanent Residence

Lawful permanent residence is not always “permanent.” Lawful permanent residents (LPRs) are subject to grounds of deportability that may lead to removal from the United States. One reason for deportability is something called “abandonment” of lawful permanent residence status. The issue of abandonment of lawful permanent residence arises in various situations.

An LPR may be found to have abandoned lawful permanent residence status by moving to another country, remaining outside the U.S. for a long period of time, failing to file income tax returns while outside the U.S., and/or declaring oneself a nonimmigrant on U.S. tax returns.

Many lawful permanent residents travel outside the U.S., whether for leisure, business, or visiting family and friends. Upon re-entry to the U.S., a lawful permanent resident may be stopped by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) if CBP believes them to have abandoned their residence. If this is the case, CBP may issue a Notice to Appear (NTA) for the LPR to appear in immigration court, or they may try to get the individual to sign a statement, an I-407, indicating that they have abandoned their residence and leave the U.S.  If an LPR faces this situation and hopes to maintain their residence, it is best not to sign the I-407 but ask to be issued an NTA so that their case can be reviewed by an immigration judge.

Even if an LPR signs an I-407, they are not precluded from having their case heard before the immigration judge, but it may be harder for them to prove that they have not abandoned residence. Only an immigration judge can make a finding of abandonment. In removal proceedings, the government has the burden to prove by “clear, unequivocal, and convincing evidence” that the LPR abandoned residence.

Many LPRs believe that if their trips outside the U.S. always last less than 6 months, they will not face any issues upon their return, or that if their trip is longer than one year, they will definitely lose their lawful permanent residence status. Those beliefs are not always accurate. Each situation is evaluated on a case-by-case basis, and many factors are considered while making the determination that an LPR has abandoned residence. The main finding must be whether the LPR had an objective intention to return to the U.S. after their trip abroad.

An immigration judge can consider many factors in making his finding including whether or not the immigrant has family ties to the U.S., whether the LPR has a job in the U.S. or is working outside the U.S., whether the LPR is filing income tax returns in the U.S., whether the LPR has community ties to the U.S., whether the LPR owns property in the U.S., whether the LPR was taking care of sick family members in the U.S., or if certain situations in their country precluded them from returning to the U.S. If the immigration judge decides that the immigrant has abandoned residence, a removal order will be issued.

In addition to reentry to the United States, the issue of abandonment of lawful permanent residence can come up throughout the naturalization process. When most LPRs apply for naturalization, they must disclose all of their addresses for the last five years, employers for the last five years, trips over 24 hours for the last five years, and whether or not the LPR has ever failed to file income taxes or filed taxes as a nonresident. If an immigration officer reviewing the naturalization application believes the immigrant abandoned residence, they can issue a Notice to Appear so that the immigrant is placed in removal proceedings.

LPRs who plan to be out of the country for a long period of time such as one year or more can apply for a reentry permit. They can apply for this permit before leaving the U.S. The reentry permit along with the lawful permanent resident card should allow them to reenter the U.S. following an absence of more than one year. Obtaining a reentry permit, however, does not mean that an immigrant cannot be found to have abandoned residence. The reentry permit provides that the LPR cannot be found to have abandoned residence solely based on the time they were outside the U.S., but other factors such as those described above may be taken into consideration.

One advantage of becoming a U.S. citizen is that you do not have to worry about abandoning lawful permanent residence or being subject to any other deportability grounds. You can travel outside the country for as long as you want and not have any issue upon reentry.

If you are a lawful permanent resident who is planning to be outside the U.S. for a long period of time, call our office to speak with an attorney about maintaining your lawful permanent residence during your absence.

Federal Court Actions for Immigration Cases

There are a number of different ways in which you might need to have a federal court action in order to resolve your immigration matter.

Three Branches of Government

Many of us are probably familiar with the three branches of the federal government, as described in the Constitution.  The three branches are the Legislative (Congress), Executive (President), and Judicial (federal courts).

If you have a case in Immigration Court, you might guess that the Immigration Court is part of the Judicial branch.  After all, the judicial branch is about courts, right?

But actually, the Immigration Court system is entirely under the Executive Branch of the federal government.  If you want to appeal a decision from the Immigration Court, the appeal goes to the Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA), based in Falls Church, Virginia.  The BIA, like the Immigration Courts, is part of the Executive Branch of the federal government.

Getting from the Executive Branch to the Judicial Branch

If you wish to appeal a decision of the BIA, the appeal is called a “petition for review,” and that petition is filed with a U.S. Court of Appeals for the district in which your Immigration Court hearing took place.  For example, if your Immigration Court hearing was in the Immigration Court in Detroit, Michigan, then your petition for review of the BIA’s decision would go to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, based in Cincinnati, Ohio.  The Sixth Circuit has jurisdiction over cases that arise in the states of Michigan, Ohio, Kentucky, and Tennessee.  The Sixth Circuit, and all of the federal circuit courts of appeals, are in the Judicial Branch of the federal government.

So, as you can see, if your case is in Immigration Court, in order to get your case heard by judges in the Judicial Branch, you first need to go through two levels of process in the Executive Branch.

By the way, if you wish to appeal the decision of a U.S. circuit court of appeals, you may file a petition with the U.S. Supreme Court.  It’s quite difficult to convince the U.S. Supreme Court to agree to hear a case.  Our office was fortunate to be involved in the case of Esquivel-Quintana v. Sessions, a case in which the U.S. Supreme Court agreed with our position and ruled in our favor, by a vote of 8-0.

Other Types of Federal Court Actions

In some situations, the procedural process is different.  Perhaps you are being held in jail by U.S. immigration officials, and you believe that federal officials do not have the legal authority to keep you in jail.  You may file a petition in a U.S. district court to seek to be released from jail.  This type of petition is called a “writ of habeas corpus.”  You file this petition in a federal district court, which is part of the Judicial Branch of the federal government.

Perhaps you have filed an application with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) for permanent residence, or for naturalization.  And, perhaps USCIS is taking a really long time to make a decision about your case.  You may file a petition in a U.S. district court (part of the Judicial Branch of the federal government) to ask the court to order USCIS to make a decision on your case.  This type of petition is called a “writ of mandamus.”  If the federal court agrees with you, then the court will order USCIS to make a decision.  Please note that the federal court will not dictate what the decision of USCIS will be.  The federal court would simply order USCIS to issue a decision.  That decision could be an approval of your application, but it could also be a denial.

Obtain Good Legal Assistance

Whatever is happening with your own immigration matter, it’s probably the most important thing that is going on in your life at this time.  It is crucially important that you find an immigration lawyer whom you trust and who has a thorough knowledge of the legal issues and the ability to represent you in a way that maximizes your chance of success.

The U Visa for Victims of Crimes

Immigrants who find themselves the victims of crime often deal with long-lasting physical and mental trauma. If you are an undocumented immigrant who has been the victim of a crime, you may be eligible for a U visa. The U visa is a nonimmigrant visa available to victims of certain crimes who have suffered mental or physical abuse and who help law enforcement in the investigation and/or prosecution of the crime.

In order to be eligible for a U visa, you need to have been a victim of a qualifying crime. In addition, you need to have suffered substantial physical or mental abuse as a result of being the victim.  You also need to have information on the criminal act and have been, be, or are likely to be helpful to law enforcement during the investigation and/or prosecution.  If you are under the age of 16, or if you have a disability that affects your ability to contribute to the case, a parent, guardian, or friend who speaks on your behalf but is not part of the case can help with the investigation or prosecution on your behalf.  Being eligible for the U visa also requires that the crime of which you were a victim either happened in the U.S. or violated U.S. laws.  Lastly, you must be admissible to the U.S., meaning you are permitted by law to remain in the country.  If you are inadmissible, there is a waiver that you can apply for with the help of an immigration attorney at the same time you apply for the U visa.

If you meet the requirements described above, you can apply for the U visa both inside and outside of the U.S.  Many people apply for the U visa, but only 10,000 people are allowed to receive it each year.  If 10,000 people receive their U visas before the year is over, USCIS will place the remaining applicants on a wait list for the next year.

As a result of the limited amount of U visas available and the high number of applicants, there is a large backlog of cases.  After filing a U visa application, it currently takes about 4 years or longer to hear if you have even made the waitlist.  If you make the waitlist, you may have to wait several more years to finally receive your U visa.

There are also certain risks that U visa applicants face in light of this current administration.  In the past, U visa applicants were rarely detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), and if you were denied the U visa, you were usually not at risk of deportation.  However, since the 2016 election, this has been changing rapidly.

There have been incidents of ICE detaining immigrants that they knew were victims of crime before the immigrants even had the chance to apply for a U visa.  Moreover, by applying for a U visa, immigrants are informing the U.S. government of their unlawful presence in the country.  In April of 2018, ICE reported that around 122,000 U visa applications were pending.  All of these people are at risk for being placed in deportation proceedings.  If your application is pending and you are in proceedings, it is at the discretion of the immigration judge to decide whether or not he or she will delay your removal proceedings while the U visa application is pending.  Also, if you are not put into proceedings while your application is pending, you will likely be placed in proceedings if your application is denied.  This was rare in the past, but with the current administration, more and more denied applicants are being placed in removal proceedings.  If you are wondering whether applying for the U visa is worth the risk, contact an immigration attorney.  The attorney will review your case and advise you in the right direction.

If an immigrant is successful in obtaining a U visa, there are many benefits. First, if you are the victim of a crime applying for a U visa, you can petition for some of your family members to get U visas as well.  If you are under 21 years old and have a U visa, you can petition for your spouse, children, parents, and single siblings who are under 18.  If you are at least 21 years old, you can petition for your spouse and children.  Second, having a U visa is beneficial because it gives you and the family members you petition for the authorization to work in the U.S.  If you are put on the waiting list due to the 10,000 visa per year cap, you will be able to apply for your work authorization while you wait for your visa to become available.  The third reason having a U visa is an option worth considering is that after you hold your U visa for at least three years, you may become eligible to apply for a green card.

Contact our office if you have been a victim of a crime and want to know if you qualify for the U visa.  If you qualify, then our attorneys will work with you to prepare the application to show the U.S. government that you deserve a U visa.

Provisional Waivers of Unlawful Presence

If you entered the United States without inspection and have become eligible for a family-based permanent resident (green card) status, you might need to leave the United States and go to your home country for an interview at the consulate or embassy.   There are some exceptions to the requirement to leave the United States.  The officer who conducts the interview can order you to stay in your country for 3 years (if you have been in the U.S. without authorization for more than 180 days but less than a year), or 10 years (if you have been in the U.S. without authorization for more than a year).  These penalties are known as 3-year and 10-year unlawful presence bars.  If you are found inadmissible to return to the U.S., you can apply for a waiver, which is like asking for legal forgiveness.  If your application is approved, your 3-year or 10-year bar will be waived.

The law allows you to apply for a waiver after your I-130 petition is approved and before you go overseas for an interview in your home country.  Getting waivers approved is complicated, and we recommend that you have the assistance of an experienced immigration attorney to help you through the process.  If your waiver is approved, you can leave the U.S., go to the interview, and if the consular officer approves your immigrant visa, you can return to the U.S. and become a lawful permanent resident.

Now, the question is, are you eligible for a provisional unlawful presence waiver?

  • Are you at least 18 years old?
  • Are you physically present in the U.S.?
  • Do you have a qualifying immediate relative to petition for you? This would be a U.S. citizen or permanent resident who is either your spouse, your parent if you are unmarried and under 21, or your child if he or she is 21 or older.
  • Can you prove that your permanent resident or U.S. citizen spouse or parents will suffer extreme hardship if you are inadmissible to return to the U.S.?
  • Are you inadmissible on criminal, fraud, or other grounds?

If you answered yes to the first four questions and no to the last one, you probably may apply for a waiver.  If you are in removal proceedings, you can apply for the waiver only if your case has been administratively closed.  We advise you to apply as soon as possible before your case is re-calendared.

Please note that, in order to be eligible for this type of waiver, you must have a spouse or parent who is a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder).

The most important aspect of the waiver is to demonstrate that your qualifying relative or relatives will suffer extreme hardship if they remain in the U.S. without you or if they follow you to your home country for the duration of the 3-year or 10-year bar.  The relative who will suffer extreme hardship does not need to be the same one who petitions for you.

The following are some examples of hardship your qualifying relative might experience if he or she stays in the U.S. without you during the 3-year or 10-year bar: He or she depends economically on your income and will not be able to provide for the household if you are overseas, he or she has a medical condition and depends on your care, he or she cares for a family member and will be unable to continue caring for that person without your support, or you are the caregiver of your qualifying relative’s child or children, and your relative cannot afford childcare if you are overseas.

In the case that your relative follows you to your country, you will need to show, for example, that your relative’s medical condition will be poorly treated or too expensive to treat in your country, your relative does not know the language of your home country, he or she is the primary caretaker of a sick family member within the U.S., your relative will not be able to work or will likely receive minimum wage in your country, he or she will be unable to continue his or her education in your country, he or she has children from a previous relationship who will not be allowed to live with you or visit due to custody issues, he or she has debt in the U.S. that cannot be paid from your country, or, last but not least, your country has a high rate of violence or is at war.  You may think of other types of financial, medical, emotional, or security-related hardship for your waiver application.

To date, our office has obtained 47 waiver approvals, including 3 applications that USCIS initially denied, but later approved on appeal.  All 47 clients received waiver approvals.  Although we cannot predict whether USCIS will approve a waiver application, we have a strong record of success.

Another New Policy: Indefinite Detention for Some Asylum Seekers

Attorney General William Barr recently issued a decision that overturns a policy that is at least 14 years old, and which threatens to keep many asylum applicants in jail while their cases are pending for months or years.

In Matter of M-S-, issued on April 16, 2019, the Attorney General decided that for persons who enter the United States without permission and who are encountered by U.S. immigration officials shortly after their entry, and who seek asylum, these persons are not eligible for bonds to be released from detention.  The only options for these persons are to remain in detention until the completion of their cases in Immigration Court (which could last for months or years), or to be released from jail on parole from U.S. immigration officials.

The Attorney General’s decision overturns a decision of the Board of Immigration Appeals from 2005.

Because the Attorney General’s decision has the potential to require the detention of so many persons, the Department of Homeland Security requested that the Attorney General delay the effective date of the decision.  The Attorney General agreed, and has delayed the effective date of the decision for 90 days, so that U.S. immigration officials may acquire more facilities to detain asylum applicants.  It appears that the new policy will go into effect on or around July 15, 2019.

The Attorney General’s decision appears to be yet another policy shift by the Trump Administration to try to discourage persons from applying for asylum and to make it as difficult as possible for those asylum applicants to navigate the legal system.  Winning asylum in the United States is difficult even under the most favorable conditions.  Those persons seeking asylum while in jail face many more obstacles.  It is much more difficult to meet with attorneys and others who wish to help the persons prepare their cases.  There is much less time to prepare cases, because detained persons are typically on court schedules that progress much more quickly that those who are not in jail.  It is much more difficult for jailed persons to communicate with family and friends to help to prepare the case and obtain documents in their home countries to help prove their asylum claims.

The Trump Administration will also further burden U.S. taxpayers by spending more money on detaining asylum applicants for months or years at a time.

As with other new policies, the Attorney General’s decision in Matter of M-S- will very likely be appealed in court.  The final outcome of the new policy is uncertain.

“Remain in Mexico” Policy: Devastating for Asylum Seekers

By federal law, an immigrant may seek asylum at any port of entry or from anywhere inside the United States.   Immigrants seeking asylum have been allowed to remain in the United States, pending a decision on their case.  A new Trump Administration policy threatens this process.

On January 24, 2019, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) began carrying out the “Remain in Mexico” policy, formally known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, at the San Ysidro port of entry.  This policy forces immigrants seeking asylum at the southern border to wait in Mexico until an asylum hearing is scheduled before an Immigration Judge.

There are few exceptions to the policy.  Unaccompanied minors, citizens and nationals of Mexico, and anyone who fears persecution in Mexico may remain in the United States.  However, the burden is on the asylum seekers to establish that they are “more likely than not” to face persecution on the account of a protected ground in Mexico if they wish to remain in the United States.

In addition to imposing a more stringent standard for asylum seekers, the “Remain in Mexico” policy jeopardizes an asylum seeker’s access to legal counsel.  United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) has stated that they are unable to provide access to immigration attorneys during the assessment of an asylum claim between the asylum seeker and a USCIS officer.  An asylum seeker may not apply for appeal or reconsideration of the assessment made by USCIS.

Asylum seekers awaiting their hearing in Mexico will face difficulties in finding a U.S. based immigration attorney to guide them and prepare them for their hearing.  The “Remain in Mexico” policy also imposes increased burdens on U.S. based immigration attorneys who wish to represent asylum seekers who are forced to remain in Mexico.  Finding a means of communication between clients and attorneys will prove difficult across international borders.

The “Remain in Mexico” policy jeopardizes the safety of asylum seekers while they remain in Mexico.  It is likely that they will face exposure to kidnapping, murder, assault, and other types of harm based on the current country conditions in Mexico.  While the Mexican government has announced that it will give protection to asylum seekers affected by the policy, no additional details have been given including where asylum seekers will live or in what type of housing.

On April 8, 2019, a federal judge in San Francisco halted the “Remain in Mexico” policy, following a legal suit brought by asylum seekers and other organizations represented by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU).  The judge issued a preliminary injunction, ruling that the plaintiffs were likely to show that the policy violated federal regulatory law.

The Ninth Circuit appeals court reinstated the policy on April 12, 2019.  This reinstatement will remain in force while the parties submit arguments to the court addressing the government’s desire that the policy remain in place throughout the whole appeals process.  Whether the government at this time will continue returning asylum seekers to Mexico remains to be seen.

The process of seeking asylum in the United States already imposes a high burden on asylum seekers who seek refuge in this country.  The “Remain in Mexico” policy places additional hurdles that jeopardize the safety of asylum seekers as well as their access to legal counsel.  This policy sets forth a more stringent standard that asylum seekers must face in order to establish their fear of return.  Whether this policy will eventually be struck down by the federal courts hangs in the balance.

Citizenship for Children and Stepchildren

If you are in the process of becoming a U.S. citizen, also called naturalizing, and you have children and/or stepchildren, you are probably wondering what your naturalization will mean for your kids if they are not already U.S. citizens.  It is possible for your children or stepchildren to become U.S. citizens automatically when you do, but your family has to meet specific criteria in order for this to happen.  The criteria for a biological child to automatically become a citizen when you do also apply to your stepchild, but there are a few extra requirements for stepchildren.

Biological Children: In order for your biological child to automatically gain citizenship when you do, the following conditions must apply:

  1. The child must have one parent who is a U.S. citizen, so that would be you once you are sworn in at your naturalization ceremony.
  2. The child must be under the age of 18 when you naturalize.
  3. The child must be a lawful permanent resident, meaning the child is a green card holder.
  4. The child must be residing in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent. That means that you, the parent applying for citizenship, need to be the legal guardian of your child. Additionally, the child needs to be living with you.

If your biological child meets all four of these criteria, the child will become a U.S. citizen when you do and can receive a certificate of citizenship and a U.S. passport.  However, if the child is missing just one of the above requirements, he or she needs to apply for citizenship on his or her own after being a permanent resident for 5 years, or 3 years if he or she has been married to a U.S. citizen and been a permanent resident for 3 years.

Stepchildren: As stated above, in order to get automatic citizenship when you naturalize, your stepchild will need to meet all of the same criteria as your biological child, plus a few more.  The only way for your stepchild to gain citizenship automatically when you do is if your family meets all of the following requirements:

  1. The child must have been in the legal and physical custody of the permanent resident stepparent for at least 2 years. This means you need to have legally adopted your stepchild over 2 years ago and lived in the same home as him or her for at least 2 years.
  2. The child must have been under the age of 16 when legally adopted by you.
  3. The child’s legal parent-child relationship with his or her previous parent needs to be terminated. For example, if you are married to the child’s mother, you would need to make sure the child is no longer in the legal custody of the father.
  4. The child must have one parent who is a U.S. citizen, so that would be you once you are sworn in at your naturalization ceremony.
  5. The child must be under the age of 18 when you naturalize.
  6. The child must be a lawful permanent resident, meaning the child is a green card holder.
  7. The child must be residing in the U.S. in the legal and physical custody of the U.S. citizen parent. That means that you, the parent applying for citizenship, need to be the legal guardian of the child. You would, of course, already be the legal guardian if you adopted your stepchild.  Additionally, the child needs to be living with you.

The main difference between getting your biological child and getting your stepchild citizenship automatically when you do is that you need to have legally adopted your stepchild at least 2 years ago, and you need to have lived with him or her for at least 2 years as well.  Only if you meet all seven of the criteria can your stepchild automatically become a U.S. citizen when you naturalize.

What if your stepchild doesn’t meet all of the above requirements?  You can still petition for your stepchild to become a permanent resident, even if you haven’t legally adopted or lived with him or her.  You can do this if they are inside or outside of the country.  An immigration attorney can help you through this process to get your stepchild permanent resident status, so he or she can one day apply for citizenship.

See our recent blog post, “The Benefits of Citizenship,” if you want to learn about the advantages your children and/or stepchildren will have if they too become citizens.

The Benefits of Citizenship

If you have been a permanent resident for over five years, or three years if you are married to a U.S. citizen, you should consider citizenship.  Some of the advantages of becoming a U.S. citizen are the right to vote, run for elected office, work for the government, and even change your name. Becoming a citizen, also known as naturalization, can also protect you from deportation, of which even permanent residents are at risk.

Maybe the most important benefit of becoming a U.S. citizen is the right to vote to elect representatives.  When the people have the right to choose who will represent them, they are participating actively in the development of their communities.  When voters make a conscious vote in their local elections, years later they might be able to vote for the same person in state or federal elections.  In the 2018 midterm election more women were elected than ever before.  This is a clear example of how conscious voters influence the future of the country.  New citizens can also participate as candidates in elections!

Another crucial reason to naturalize is that U.S. citizens convicted of crimes do not face deportation consequences.  However, non-citizens, even permanent residents, can be deported for a variety of convictions such as violating drug laws, domestic violence, shoplifting, and other crimes, major and minor.  Even if the crime was committed decades ago, legal grounds for deportation exist for non-citizens.  Becoming a U.S. citizen will give you the peace of mind that any crimes from your past or future will not lead to a deportation order in the present.

Also, a requirement for some government jobs is to be a U.S. citizen.  Even if your education or work experience is high, you will not be able to obtain certain jobs in the government or for contractors of the government if that job requires that the applicant is a U.S. citizen.  If you become a U.S. citizen, you will have more options to apply for jobs.

Finally, if you dislike your middle name or have had a lot of problems because your name or last name(s) are constantly misspelled or pronounced incorrectly, you will have the opportunity to change it when you apply for your naturalization.  The best part is that you won’t need to pay an extra fee for that.  You can even choose to change to a totally different name.

Do not procrastinate the application for naturalization.  Even if you have had encounters with the law different from traffic tickets, you might be eligible for naturalization.  Depending on the country of your nationality, you may be able to have dual citizenship.  An immigration attorney can help you to apply for naturalization, so you can protect yourself from deportation and have the advantages that U.S. citizenship will offer you.