As a U.S. citizenship and naturalization lawyer, I have hand-picked true stories from around the internet illustrating pitfalls and traps, barriers and obstacles which immigrants encounter on their road to success and life in America.
True Citizenship And Naturalization Stories: Obstacles On The Road To Becoming A United States Citizen
Citizenship is the end goal of most immigrants who want to live in the U.S. In other words, naturalization is the American way for long-term legalization. It should remain that way.
The path to success is not always straight-forward. Various problems can and do arise before, during, and even after the citizenship application process.
In this immigration news roundup, you’ll learn about:
- No Shame: A Deportation Policy For Those Who Voluntarily Signed Up To Protect The Country
- A Military Service Path To U.S. Citizenship
- Women Stripped Of U.S. Citizenship Because Of Marriages To Immigrants
- USCIS Fear Of Middle Eastern Bogeyman Exposed By ACLU Report: Racial, Ethnic, And Religious Profiling
- Data Base Error: A 1, 273 Day Citizenship Verification Ordeal?
- Flaws In Donald Trump’s Attack On Birthright Citizenship
- Citizenship Denied Over 20 Years . . . On A Law Which Does Not Exist
- Citizenship After A Missed Generation
- A Really, Really Tough Question On Citizenship: Birth In Air Space
- A 97 Year Road To U.S. Citizenship
- Filing Fees For Citizenship: Too Much To Ask?
Military Naturalization Problems
No Shame: A Deportation Policy For Those Who
Voluntarily Signed Up To Protect The Country
The Pentagon is considering a plan to cancel enlistment contracts for 1,000 foreign-born recruits without permanent legal immigration status, exposing them to deportation, despite promises of expediting their path to becoming naturalized citizens.
I’m not the biggest fan of military service. After all, I’d prefer a world at peace.
But I understand reality. Part of that reality is that many innocent, good young men and women enter the armed service as a sense of loyalty to the country.
So when the government promises immigrants a path to citizenship if they sign up for the military and then change course on them after they have already joined, xenophobic politics have went too far.
A promise, after all, is a promise, right?
A Not So Safe Bet: A Military Service Path To U.S. Citizenship
As Buzz Feed reports in Army Expands Program That Expedites U.S. Citizenship For Recruits With Sought-After Skills, the maximum number of recruits for the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program increased from 1,500 to 3,000 for the 2015 fiscal year. Next year, the program is going to be expanded to up to 5,000 recruits.
Under the Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI) program, immigrants – not yet permanent residents but are legally entitled to temporarily live in the United States – with special medical and language skills are eligible to become naturalized citizens immediately after they complete basic training.
MANVI began as a pilot program in 2008 with a annual cap of 1,000 enrollees. Since that time, the Army has recruited about 4,000 soldiers through the MANVI program.
Recently, the government announced a new push focused on attracting young immigrants who arrived in the U.S. as children and qualify for work temporary work authorization and suspension of deportation under the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program.
According to Army spokesperson, Hank Minitrez, “The MAVNI program has been extremely successful in filling our ranks with highly qualified soldiers who fill critical shortages.”
Despite the obvious needs of the Army, several immigrant reform opponents have taken a strong stance against MAVNI. Most of these critics are also opposed to DACA and have blocked actions to enact the DREAM Act, for which military service has long been one of the options to earn legal residency status.
Several legalization advocates are likewise critical of the program. They cite false promises made to immigrants who served in war and combat.
At present, several hundred immigrant military veterans face deportation charges. They, too, had dreams of U.S. citizenship when they joined the armed services. Many started the paperwork. But their paperwork was not processed due to bureaucratic nightmares and errors.
What safeguards now exist to protect against similar outcomes for the immigrant youth of today?
What happens if the political winds shift?
Race And Gender Attacks On Citizenship
A Lesson In American Immigration History:
Women Stripped Of U.S. Citizenship Because Of Marriages To Immigrants
The history of immigration in the United States has many unflattering moments. This Code Switch article, That Time American Women Lost Their Citizenship Because They Married Foreigners, discusses one not commonly known to most of the American public.
It raises an issue, which is not how most people today think about immigration in America today.
In March of 1907, Congress passed The Expatriation Act, which decreed, among other things, that U.S. women who married non-citizens were no longer Americans. If their husband later became a naturalized citizen, they could go through the naturalization process to regain citizenship. These rules did not apply to American men when they chose a spouse.
Well, at least, I hope not.
However, given some of the proposals floated in Congress, I would not be surprised if there are xenophobic immigration opponents who would strip both males and females upon marrying a non-citizen lurking in the political shadows.
USCIS Fear Of Middle Eastern Bogeyman Exposed By ACLU Report:
Racial, Ethnic, And Religious Profiling
While some Congressional representatives are busy opposing what they term “special paths” to citizenship, immigration and law enforcement officials secretly closed off regular paths to legalization for certain immigrant groups.
In particular, the American Civil Liberties Union has uncovered Arab, Middle Eastern, Muslim, and South Asian immigrants were subjected to administrative blacklisting, as well as ethnic and religious profiling, when they sought immigration benefits.
According to the ACLU’s report, Muslims Need Not Apply, a secret program entitled the Controlled Application Review and Resolution Program (CARPP) made immigration authorities subservient to federal law enforcement agencies, like the FBI, in matters involving the targeted groups.
Being an immigration attorney, the news is not surprising. One of the reasons for the creation of the Department of Homeland Security was to fight international terrorism. This fight, in the government’s view, has always been seen as a battle against Muslims and Middle Easterns.
(And whenever bad news occurs, as in San Bernardino, where the couple responsible for the “terrorist” rampage were married after a Fiancé(e) visas, is sure to heighten DHS concerns.)
I suspected something was awry several years ago. All of my cases involving persons born in the Middle East began to take long periods to complete. Despite inquiry after inquiry after inquiry, I could not get clear, if any, answers from immigration authorities. After a few experiences, I sensed the delays were the norm, not the exception.
I began to advise my Middle Eastern clients to expect long waiting periods before their applications would be processed. They, too, sensed there was a government witch hunt taking place. Nonetheless, the frustration would sometimes build to a point where they were unsure if my office was advocating strong enough for them – questioning whether immigration lawyers were somehow in cahoots with government agencies.
Such responses are not irrational under the circumstances they were experiencing.
With the ACLU report, maybe our government will now stop the nonsensical approach to immigration cases involving Muslims and Middle Eastern immigrants.
It’s time for us to stop being afraid of our own shadows.
For more, continue here: Immigration Policy Based On Fear: The Erosion Of Due Process For MIddle Eastern Immigrants.
Misguided Legal Policies
Data Base Error: A 1, 273 Day Citizenship Verification Ordeal?
Let’s say you’re a U.S. citizen. ICE mistakenly takes you into custody, thinking you’re an immigrant. Okay, errors and miscues happen.
But you’re not released until 1,273 days later.
That’s the story of Davino Watson, a United States citizen, who was wrongfully held in immigration detention centers for more than three years while he sought to prove his citizenship.
How does this happen?
As Paige St. John and Joel Rubin report for the Los Angeles Times, these types of errors “reveal flaws in the way ICE identifies people for deportation, including its reliance on databases that are incomplete and plagued by mistakes.”
Essentially, the wrongful arrests also highlight a presumption pervasive among U.S. immigration agencies and courts that “those born outside the United States are not here legally unless electronic records show otherwise. And when mistakes are not quickly remedied, citizens are forced into an immigration court system where they must fight to prove they should not be removed from the country, often without the help of an attorney.”
So how often does this happen? The precise number is unknown. But, as the Times study shared, the number is larger than many might suspect.
In the seven and a half years ending in February, ICE reviewed 8,043 citizenship claims of people in custody, according to figures provided by the Department of Homeland Security. In 1,488 — nearly a fifth of those cases — ICE lawyers concluded the evidence “tended to show that the individual may, in fact, be a U.S. citizen.”
Department of Justice records also show that hundreds more people fighting deportation in immigration court have argued they are citizens. From 2008 to the start of 2018, judges terminated or suspended removal proceedings against 880 people whose citizenship claims warranted investigation.
Flaws In Donald Trump’s Attack On Birthright Citizenship
In the view of Presidential candidate Donald Trump, the 14th Amendment guarantee of birthright citizenship is the biggest magnet for undocumented immigrants, calling it the biggest driver of illegal immigration. However, as Cedar Attanasio recently noted in 15 Reasons Why Trump’s Plan To End Birthright Citizenship Is A Horrible Idea, many holes exist in Trump’s position.
Frankly, Attansasio is too nice. I don’t just think Trump’s notions are horrible. I think they’re fundamentally flawed and border on being a cartoonish type of political insanity.
Here are the main points raised by Attansasio, which I think are most critical in showing why the Trump Plan is off-base:
- The “magnet” argument has never been proven: there is no no empirical evidence that ending citizenship rights would act as a deterrent to unauthorized immigration.
- Repealing the 14th Amendment might disenfranchise second-generation immigrants, but it doesn’t mean they won’t be in the country; it’s no magic deportation wand.
- The undocumented population in the country would swell. The currently number of immigrants living in the shadows would grow to 16 million if the law were limited to children with two parents in the country illegally; if it included just one parent living here without permission, the number would be about 25 million.
- The economy suffers when immigrants must stay in the shadows. No matter what skills they have, the ones that are here generally do better and contribute more to society when they have the legal protection of citizenship or a visa.
- Anchor babies mythology. U.S. citizens children cannot sponsor parents until they are 21 years old, making anyone using the anchor baby scheme unlikely to succeed.
Many other GOP candidates for president have jumped in to support the misguided approach asserted by Trump, to one degree or another. All of them need to take a closer look at the legal reality facing undocumented immigrant parents of so-called anchor babies.
For more, continue here: Immigration Looney Tunes: The Anchor Babies Myth.
Citizenship Denied Over 20 Years On A Law Which Does Not Exist
This news story, Mexicans Denied U.S. Citizenship For Decades Under Clause That Doesn’t Exist, discusses an error of huge proportions.
An American citizen being deported four times.
Over and over again, his claims of citizenship fell on deaf ears.
For more than two decades, Sigifredo Saldana Iracheta insisted he was a U.S. citizen, repeatedly explaining to immigration officials that he was born to an American father and a Mexican mother in a city just south of the Texas border.
Worse, he was continuously deported based on a law that doesn’t exist.
Sadly, this is a true story.
How many others may have been deported based on the same law is unknown.
For more, continue here: Citizenship Denied Over 20 Years On A Law Which Does Not Exist
Citizenship Application Process Complexities
A Really, Really Tough Question On Citizenship: Birth In Air Space
A recent BBC news article, Baby Born On Board Long-Haul Flight, discussed the trauma surrounding a woman who gave birth during a Los Angeles-bound China Airlines flight after unexpectedly going into labor.
I don’t want to get too law schoolish on you but the news article does raise a lot of tough citizenship questions.
Here’s one: Is the child a U.S. citizen?
Before you answer, let’s image that the woman was a conditional lawful permanent resident, leaving to take a break from her U.S. husband. They never got back together.
She did not remove her conditions and did not become a regular lawful permanent resident.
She did not return to the U.S. and the father never held himself out as the father of the child.
When the child was born, the plane was not in U.S. air space.
Now, you’re the judge. And the answer . . . What Is The Citizenship Of A Baby Born In Airspace?
A 97 Year Road To U.S. Citizenship
Some people never quit. Here is an interesting story from the Valley Central about a woman who at the age of 99 finally became a U.S. citizen.
At times, people come into my office assuming the road to citizenship is an easy path.
They’ve been led to believe that since they have been permanent residents for over five years, the next step is automatic. It’s not.
Take Elia Guzman de Salinas.
An immigrant from Mexico, she entered the U.S. at the age of two. A few days ago, she became a naturalized citizen.
At the age of 99, surrounded by her children, grandchildren, great grandchildren and great great grandchildren, Elia raised her right hand and was sworn in.
“Before I died, I wanted to accomplish my dream of becoming a U.S. citizen, and thanks be to God I was able to reach that goal,” Elia said.
Elisa said she’s looking forward to enjoying the rights that many Americans take for granted, especially voting.
Elisa’s case demonstrates the road to naturalization is not simple.
On the other hand, to the best of my knowledge, Elisa’s 97 year journey must set the record for longest wait.
Increased Citizenship Filing Fees: Too Much To Ask?
A recent Time article, entitled Why It Costs Immigrants $680 To Apply For Naturalization, discusses the ins and out of immigration filing fees.
Fee critics assert the filing cost is a barrier for the working poor, relegating naturalization as a privilege only affordable by wealthy immigrants. They add that the increase from $225.00 at the beginning of the George W. Bush administration to $680.00 creates a systemic barrier to poorer and less educated immigrants.
So where does that total come from, and where does the money go? Are the fees set at an unreasonable level?
In my opinion, three reasons suggest they are not.
First, the immigrant view. Citizenship fees are an investment in one’s future, not a mere expense draining one’s bank account. A person’s future in the United States is more secure, allowing them more economic and social opportunities – than if that individual remains a lawful permanent resident.
This is especially true for those who one day slip up and commit an offense. Lawful permanent residents remain at constant danger of losing their immigration status.
Not so with naturalized citizens.
Second, the immigration advocate view. Filing fees for naturalization are significantly lower than filing fees to become a lawful permanent resident. Moreover, an immigrant does not go from undocumented status to citizenship. There is a stop-over at lawful permanent resident status for a minimum of 3 – 5 years.
During that period, the immigrant is able to legally work in the U.S. Their wages, in most instances, will be greater than those of undocumented immigrants filing for green cards. With a little planning, the $680 can be saved or borrowed, and there are organizations which will subsidize individuals who meet the financial guidelines.
Third, the government view. Someone one has to pay for the government machinery which processes the applications of would-be citizens. There is enough snide criticism made about immigrants already. Why give opponents more fuel for the fire? Why ask for government assistance at this stage, when full citizenship is only one step away?
(Presumably, the fees also help to underwrite the costs of creating a more efficient naturalization bureaucracy . . . and that’s definitely a good outcome.)
Now, what about when attorney fees are added? That’s another question.
Many lawyers will negotiate their fees as well as the terms for payment. Immigrants should not let attorney fees deter them. The “I cannot afford attorney fees” mantra is not an absolute truism, especially for immigrants with employment authorization.
Overall, since the value of citizenship in the long-term far exceeds the actual dollars to be spent on filing fees, I don’t feel the $680 fee is too high.