What should immigrants pay attention to when applying for naturalization before new USCIS policies?
The process times, the negative benefits and greater limitations for the exemption of fees are three aspects that could affect immigrants when applying for their naturalization.
Although there has been no immigration reform in Congress, the Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) office is implementing some changes in the rules, confirmed José León, supervising attorney for the Naturalization Unit of Catholic Migration Services (CMS), which organizes its last workshop of the year to advise those who seek to be citizens of the United States.
“The officers are more strict when reviewing the requests … They are checking that the people made an appropriate request for their ‘green card’; they are trying to verify that there are no errors on the part of USCIS, “said León, who considered that this could be negative for some immigrants, although it was not their problem originally. “It’s not a USCIS problem, it’s an immigrant problem.”
He added that there are more references to immigration courts with the Appearance Notifications (NTA) policy, which allows immigration officials to initiate deportation proceedings to those who deny any benefit, but this will not necessarily affect Legal Permanent Residents.
“In the process of naturalization if someone is ineligible to be naturalized there could be a denial of the process,” he said. “It’s a bit different if you are deportable from the United States, because there has to be proof that you can not continue to hold a green card and you are definitely not available for naturalization, then there will be an elimination procedure.”
Some causes for that to happen are having committed a crime and not having reported it, not paying taxes or demonstrating that this obligation does not apply because of the low level of income, said Chloe Moore, CMS Naturalization Coordinator, and said that it is important that the interested persons inform in detail about their past in the USA.
“We asked them everything about their past, for example if they were married or divorced, we asked them about their children. We asked them everything that USCIS could ask them, since they arrived in the US until now, “explained Moore. “We asked about his criminal history; about their trips, how many times they have left the country … those are the three most important areas … another is the taxes “.
Annamaria Santamaria, of the New York Pro Bono Program for Public Interest Attorneys (NYLPI), explained that for this reason, those who wish to participate in the workshop that will help fill out and correctly submit Form N-400 must do an appointment by calling 212-225-4400, to have a prior interview and the lawyers decide if the case is viable or not.
“For this reason, we ask them to call the telephone line,” said Santamaria, who clarified that anyone attending the workshop on December 1 in Brooklyn will be able to request reports or request help, but it is better to call to make an appointment.
Moore acknowledged that applications could take up to 21 months to get an answer, although there are people who in a year achieve their naturalization document.
USCIS indicates that naturalization applications increased, as in fiscal year 2017, 970,000 were reported with 89.2% approval, while in 2018 it was 1,053,000 and 89.9% approval.
The problem of “public charge”
Although the public charge policy is not yet in force, since it is in the stage of receiving public comments -which ends on December 10-, lawyers must anticipate their possible implications.
In the case of naturalization, said the lawyer Leon to express question, the effects could be minimal, but there is one to highlight: the benefit for exemption from payment of the $ 725 dollars of the process, $ 640 for the application and $ 85 dollars for the photograph and fingerprints.
“The ‘public charge’ would not apply for naturalization, but they (USCIS) want to limit the exemption of payment for those people who receive public benefits,” said the expert, after explaining that there are two ways in which an immigrant can obtain said benefit. : when requesting the total exemption of the rates or a reduction of the payment.
“To understand that, we should explain what the fee exemption is … USCIS understands that some people can not cover the $ 725 dollars, so they give those options,” he said.
If someone seeks to reduce the cost, they must present evidence that their income is less than 50 or 60 percent of the poverty level, which can only be shown with tax reports, even if they have not been paid.
“When you want to become a citizen, USCIS wants to know all your tax history since you became a Permanent Resident … If you did not pay taxes, you must demonstrate with an IRS (Tax Collection Office) document,” said Moore, who explained that there is people whose income is so low that they can avoid paying taxes, but they must prove it to the authorities.
An effort of many
Helping immigrants achieve their dream of being US citizens is a complicated task and requires dozens of people, from volunteers in logistics issues to “pro bono” lawyers from recognized firms.
“There are definitely many people behind the scenes making this happen, even in the workshops … in the last, only in the workshop helped some 55 people,” said Santamaria in reference to the July event at LaGuardia Community College, in Queens, where attended to 65 immigrants.
“Of those people, 44 managed to fill out their forms … we had 28 people who asked for help for fee waivers … 24 lawyers helped us,” he said.
For the December 1 event there will be experts from Cleary Gottlieb Steen & Hamilton LLP; Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP, and volunteers from Goldman Sachs.
The above tips apply to immigrants from anywhere in the United States, but for those who live in the Big Apple and want to get help from Catholic Migration Services and NYLPI, they should:
Llamar al 212-225-4400. Tendrán una primera entrevista para definir si pueden aplicar. De aprobar ese primer paso serán inscritos en el taller correspondientes en una fecha y hora determinadas. El próximo taller es el sábado 1 de diciembre de las 9:00 a las 5:00 en Brooklyn.