Thursday, June 25, 2009

The role of the Assistant Chief Counsel

The Assistant Chief Counsel ("ACC") is the attorney who represents the interests of the US government in removal proceedings. The correct role of the ACC is not to act as prosecutor but to see that the law is correctly applied and that relief from removal is given only to those who deserve relief. I have had the pleasure of working with many great ACCs during my years of practice, including current Immigration Judge James Grim, and ACCs John Seaman, Manuel Ramirez, Richard Jamadar, Ann Holbrooke, Yon Alberdi and Mark Martinez, to name but a few.

Why then, do some ACCs see their job as incomplete unless someone is deported? Some ACCs seem to view their job as prosecutor for the government. They will concede no relief to any applicant, even if the evidence is clear and the Immigration Judge indicates he will rule for the alien.

An ACC recently appealed a decision of the IJ in one of my cases, where my clients were appealing for relief based on extreme hardship. The wife of the family already has a green card, so if the husband and kids get green cards, the US gains a legal, tax paying family, and the US is not harmed because my clients are not law breakers or bad people. The ACC appealed the IJs ruling of relief in the case, saying that he misapplied the "extreme hardship" standard.

The practical effect of the appeal was that my clients had to hire me, again, to handle the appeal for them, but what does the ACC win if he wins his appeal? He wins a family torn apart, where the mother must remain in the US without her husband and kids, if she wishes to become a US citizen so that she can petition for them to return. He wins the return of the husband and kids to the hellhole they left at great risk 10 years ago to come to the US. He wins nothing.

I am sure the ACC in that case can assure himself that he bears no grudge against the alien, and he would tell me that he is just doing his job, and trying to make sure the law is properly applied. And I would say, "it may be legal, but that doesn't make it right."

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

There are still nice Immigration Officers

Had a great interview today with a nice Immigration Service Officer. There are those who work for CIS who think that their job it to be tough, and to deny applications that are not easily approvable. The love to cite "Matter of Brantigan" when denying cases that are not established to their satisfaction. While their denials may be proper, that does not mean that they are right.

The officer today went out of his way (again) to tell my clients, who were previously represented by an attorney in Miami, that they needed to prove that a waiver was justified in their case. He explained at length what the waiver was for, and explained that although they come from a poor and dangerous country, that is not enough, on its own, for a successful waiver application. Their previous attorney had submitted a one page letter by the wife, broken into three bulletpoints, about the hardship she, and her four children, would suffer were her husband denied his lawful permanent residence. The letter from the wife (written by the lawyer, I imagine) even misspelled the name of the husband.

This one letter, by itself, constitutes a terrible application for a waiver that must be denied, regardless of the hardship one could properly assume for one from a country so poor and dangerous.

This nice Immigration Service Officer was entitled to deny the waiver and send these people on their way (see "Matter of Brantigan"), but he decided to bring the people back in so that he could explain the waiver requirements to them again. Uncalled for, incredibly nice, above and beyond the call of duty, and a credit to this officer and his office.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Green Card delays

Bad news for new lawful permanent residents as green cards, which used to come a mere three to four weeks following approval -- will now take some time longer as CIS "improves" the green card making process. How come all of their improvements do not improve anything?


Permanent Resident Card Production Delays

USCIS is announcing that applicants may experience up to an eight week delay in the delivery of their permanent resident card while we are in the process of upgrading our card production equipment. USCIS Field Offices will be issuing temporary evidence of permanent residence in the form of an I-551 stamp to applicants approved for permanent residence at the time of their interview. You will need to take your passport to your appointment. If you do not have a passport, you must bring a passport style photo and government issued photo identification to receive temporary evidence of permanent residence.

If the application is approved subsequent to your interview or by a Service Center or the National Benefit Center, the applicant should bring the above documents to an INFOPASS appointment to be issued temporary evidence of permanent residence in the form of an I-551 stamp.

Monday, June 22, 2009

The greatest part of the job

I enjoy the fact that by doing my job well I reunite families and help people live in the greatest country in the world. What I really enjoy, though, with a kind of oversuperior relish, is helping people who have already been told by other immigration attorneys that they have "no chance" at relief from deportation. There is nothing better than to take a frightenened and tormented individual and tell them they have nothing to worry about, because the immigration law provides relief for them. I am not able to do this in every case, but I am able to do it often.

In one of my favorite cases, my client came to see me after she saw a well known Tampa immigration attorney. She was in deportation proceedings because she lied about being unmarried at the time she got her green card (she was married, and not eligble for the green card). The other attorney told her there was nothing she could do, and he encouraged her to make plans to leave the country. When my client got home from the consultation with this lawyer, she got a phone call from a realtor, who wanted to know if she needed help selling her home. She believes that the realtor was told of her situation by the lawyer she met, which would be a shocking violation of attorney-client priviledge.

My client came to see me for a second opinion (thank God!) and I was able to tell her that she was going nowhere, she did not have to make plans to leave, and that I would help her regain her lawful permanent residence. My client is again a permanent resident, waiting for citizenship, and she and her family never had to move. I love this job!

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Marriage Interviews at Tampa USCIS

One who has applied for adjustment of status ("AOS") as the spouse of a US citizen will be invited to what is called an AOS interview at their local USCIS Office. In Tampa the alien files are screened for fraud indicators, i.e., evidence or material in the file that could show the presence of marital fraud, and then the officer conducts the interview. USCIS will also review public records evidence, to see if it tells them something different than the applicants are saying.

In some cases the officer will see each spouse separately, and will ask questions designed to discover if the marriage is real or is one entered into solely for immigration benefits. Some sample questions are:
  1. where do you shop for groceries?
  2. what is trash day in your neighborhood?
  3. who sleeps on which side of the bed?
  4. who got up first this morning?
  5. what did you do last weekend?
  6. how did you celebrate your husband's birthday?

The questioning can last a significant time. So long as the Immigration Service Officer ("ISO") is reassured that the marriage is real, the interview will continue. In some cases, the ISO is not reassured, and the case and the people are turned over to the fraud specialists at USCIS.

That is where an interview can get uncomfortable. It would not be unusual for fraud detection officers to use police-like techniques on applicants and their spouse to determine if the marriage is real or not. Tampa USCIS is very good at finding fraud, and if you commit fraud and are caught you will never get a green card here in the US.

Without a finding of fraud, the applicant and spouse will then provide documentary evidence that their marriage is real. This evidence may consist of:

  1. Photos from vacations, holiday gatherings, and from visits with friends and family;
  2. Envelopes showing that both receive mail at the marital address;
  3. Driver’s license showing the same address;
  4. Statements from joint credit accounts;
  5. Statement from joint bank accounts, with canceled checks signed by the both spouses, evidencing an active account;
  6. Joint tenancy in the marital home, shown by lease or mortgage documents (i.e, deed, mortgage, note, title policy, homeowner’s insurance)
  7. Cable, phone, water and electricity bills mailed to the home address which show "Mr. & Mrs."
  8. Joint tax returns (if applicable);
  9. Joint health insurance;
  10. Joint car insurance (copy of most recent policy showing both drivers)
  11. Evidence showing that spouses have named each other as beneficiaries of life insurance policies;
  12. Evidence showing that spouses have named each other as the person to contact in case of emergency at your place of business;
  13. Affidavits from friends, neighbors, and relatives showing that they know of the good marriage and how they know about it (i.e. "We play bridge every Thursday night at their home"). The writers should also state how long they have known about the relationship. The affiants will have to include their signature, address, printed name, and phone number. If possible, the affidavits should be notarized.
  14. Copy(s) of birth certificate(s) for all children born to this marriage

If you are prepared for your interview with ample evidence, and your marriage is real, you should not have too much difficulty. If you want to be sure that you will be treated fairly and that you will have your best chance of success you will hire a competent immigration lawyer to represent you at the interview.

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Americans and Immigration

From what I have seen, those who do not like immigrants do not know any immigrants. Everyone I meet dislikes immigrants in the abstract, but beleive that their friend "Jose" from Mexico should be allowed to stay here with his family and kids because he is a good guy.

Shocker! They are mostly good guys and good girls and all they want is a chance to make a nice life for themselves and their families in the US. If you could see the places they come from and where they lived, slept, and where they got their drinking water from you would understand their desire to climb any obstacle, and endure any hardship to live where their children will have a chance at a decent life.

If you are a US citizen upset about these people coming over here and "stealing your job," I have to tell you something. If you and an illegal immigrant are trying to get the same job, and you, with your US education and legal work papers and ability to read and write English cannot beat out the alien for the job -- you have bigger problems than immigration to worry about.

Our great country was founded as a melting pot of different peoples coming together to form one country. Aliens are not a threat to us, our way of life, or to your job. Let's make legal the aliens who are here and go forward with our lives.

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

General Information about local immigration

The main Citizenship and Immigration Services ("CIS") office is located at 5524 West Cypress Street, Tampa, FL 33607. There is no phone number for the public. You may make an appointment to speak with an immigration information officer by going to and utlizing the Infopass system. This CIS office handles the following counties: Citrus, Charlotte, Desoto, Hardee, Hernando, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, and Sarasota.

Typically appointments are made at this office for people having interviews for purposes of attaining lawful permanent residence or citizenship. There is an office of Customs and Border Protection located at the same office, and I encourage people who are illegally present or who have been ordered deported in the past to NOT got to the office for any reason.

Few applications are filed at the local office anymore, but applicants may make appointments there to check on the status of their filed and pending cases.

Remember that the Immigration Officers you see are human, and that they are unlikely to respond well if you treat them poorly. It is in your best interest to dress well, smell good, and to treat the Immigration Officer well at any appointment you have.

The main benefit a competent immigration lawyer will bring to your interview is that you will be prepared in advance for questions you will get, and that the lawyer will be there to keep a record of the entire interview. A competent lawyer will also never let you file an application that will result in your arrest and possible deportation.

Neil F. Lewis -- Tampa Immigration Attorney since 1997

I have been an immigration attorney since 1997, and have only focused on immigration law since I started my own practice. I am a graduate of the University of South Carolina, where I got my B.A. on Journalism, and then I went on to the College of William and Mary for law school, graduating in 1996. I moved to Tampa and had a job with a local attorney for a short time before opening my own practice in 1997.

I love practicing immigration law, because it is one of the few fields in the law where I can help people without hurting other people. When most lawyers win, someone else loses. When my clients win, they win and the US wins as well.

I am active in the American Immigration Lawyers Association, and held a variety of leadership posts back in 2000 - 2003. I have three lawyers at my law firm, and we primarly handle removal/deportation, family immigration and adjustment of status, complicated waiver issues and applying for people to return after deportation, and we handle all business immigration issues.

I offer a free initial consultation, and I like to only be hired when I can do something for my clients. Regrettably I cannot win every case I take, but I pride myself on giving my clients a realistic expectation of their chance for success when they hire me for a case.