Committing immigration fraud
Dear Mrs Walker-Huntington,
I am seeking your advice on a very complicated matter. I have a friend who is currently residing in New Jersey and recently had her husband file for a status change. There are several things that occurred prior to the submission of the 'change of status' documents. She had asked a friend to assist with the filling out of the application and the friend advised her not to include her child, who is an American citizen, on the documents as her husband's salary was insufficient. The friend, however, sent in the documents along with a copy of the child's birth certificate (to this day, I am still convinced that it was done deliberately) even though the document states that she has no children.
She and her husband went for the interview and were questioned about the child. My friend confessed to the immigration officer about her child. At a later date, they received a letter of denial. My friend's world has turned upside down as she is uncertain if she will be receiving a letter from immigration stating that she has to leave the country. My friend has sought the advice of an attorney. However, currently she is unable to pay the entire required legal cost. To add to the matter, she and her husband are now having marital problems (due to him being unfaithful) and he is not willing to continue the process.
I am seeking any advice that you can provide in order for her to get her status changed to that of a legal resident of the United States of America.
Thanking you in advance.
This is truly a sad story but one that is a good teaching tool. Never, ever lie to US Immigration. I know several people who read this column will debunk my advice and have stories of how they or others were successful on lies. For many of them, it is only a matter of time before their lies come back to haunt them with devastating consequences.
Unfortunately for your friend, she followed advice to lie on an immigration document in the hope of gaining an immigration benefit, i.e., she did not disclose the child as the number of the household would be increased by one and her husband's salary was insufficient to meet the guidelines for the affidavit of support. This is fraud under the immigration laws. If your sponsor's income is less than the guidelines for the number of persons in the household, you can use assets to make up the deficiency or get a joint sponsor.
The denial notice should give her a heads up as to what is to come. If United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) denied her because of fraud she can expect a Notice to Appear (NTA), or USCIS may charge her as an overstay. The NTA is a charging document that will outline under what section of the Immigration & Nationality Act the government will seek to remove her. At this stage of the game, she absolutely needs the services of an immigration lawyer. Here the cost of hiring an immigration lawyer is going to exceed what she would have paid him/her to prepare the adjustment of status application and accompany her and her husband to the interview. She may also be able to request prosecutorial discretion and have the judge terminate her case - this will not give her any status but at least she would not be deported.
Reduced cost legal assistance
If her husband is no longer willing to assist her and she is having problems in her marriage she might be able to get free or reduced cost legal assistance from an immigration clinic. Such immigration clinics are limited but are usually found in areas where there is a high concentration of immigrants, e.g., Miami and New York. If she is the subject of domestic violence there is a provision for her to self-petition for permanent residency and she may also qualify for a waiver under certain circumstances.
If she is sent an NTA and given a date to appear in court she must appear in court. Also, if she changes her address she must notify USICS. Failure to appear in court will result in an in abstentia order of deportation - deportation without her presence. At the initial court hearing if she does not have a lawyer she can ask the judge for more time to secure the services of an attorney and she can also ask the judge for the names of pro bono (free) legal services in the jurisdiction.
In the meantime, I suggest that she begin to secure funds to hire her own attorney as the immigration clinics do not take every case that is presented to them and sometimes they just have more cases than they have the capacity to assist.
Dahlia A. Walker-Huntington is a Jamaican-American attorney who practises immigration law in the United States; and family, criminal & personal injury law in Florida. She is a mediator, arbitrator and special magistrate in Broward County, Florida. Email: email@example.com