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Accessing immigration files

The Freedom of Information Act allows you to request access to copies of your immigration records.

Amber Lea Weeks | Jan 10, 2016

Top 6 Areas of Possible Relief for Clients Facing Reentry Charges After Deportation

Did errors result in your order of deportation or removal? The first step in investigating relief after a person has already been deported or removed is to investigate whether there is a basis for reopening the prior deportation, removal, voluntary departure, or expedited removal order. A person's immigration file may be requested through Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests to all of the involved agencies and reviewed by a qualified immigration attorney to determine if there are errors or new relief that would support reopening of the case. Are you a U.S. Citizen (even without realizing it)? Even if you have been previously removed for allegedly being unlawfully present in the United States, you still may be a U.S. Citizen without even realizing it. If you have one or more U.S. Citizen parents or grandparents, it is important to consult with an immigration attorney to determine if you have acquired or derived citizenship through them. If you are able to prove that you are a U.S. Citizen, you may not be removed from the United States or convicted of the crime of reentry. Have you been a victim of crime? Victims of certain qualifying crimes, such as domestic violence, false imprisonment, or felonious assault, who assist in the investigation or prosecution of the crime may be eligible for a U-Visa. If you have been a victim of a crime and reported the crime or assisted with the investigation or prosecution of the crime, it is important to consult with an immigration attorney to see if you may be eligible for a U-Visa. Even if you were a victim of a crime that you have not reported, you may be able to still report the crime. Are you eligible for Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)? DACA has the following requirements: (1) Under age 31 as of June 15, 2012; (2) came to the United States prior to a person's 16th birthday; (3) continuously resided in the United States from June 15, 2007, to the present; (4) was physically present in the United States on June 15, 2012; (5) is currently in school, graduated from high school, obtained a GED, or is an honorably discharged veteran of the Coast Guard or Armed Forces; and (6) has not been convicted of a felony, a significant misdemeanor, or three or more other misdemeanors. If you were removed or deported prior to June 15, 2007, and then reentered the United States after June 15, 2007, there may be an issue with continuous presence. However, you may still want to consult with an immigration attorney, because if you are able to successfully reopen the prior removal proceedings, the prior order of removal may be null and void in certain cases, restoring you to the position you were in just prior to the entry of the order. See Matter of Bulnes-Nolasco, 25 I&N Dec. 57 (BIA 2009). Are you eligible for withholding of removal or Convention Against Torture (CAT)? If you have fear of returning to your home country, it is important to consult with an immigration attorney regarding whether you may be eligible for withholding of removal under 8 U.S.C. 1231(b)(3) or CAT. Note that asylum may also be a possibility for persons only charged with illegal entry under 8 U.S.C. 1325. Do you have humanitarian equities to support a stay of deportation? Particularly if you have little or no criminal history, an application for an I-246 stay of deportation may be a possibility. Stays of deportation may be granted in the discretion of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and consider such factors as humanitarian issues, including health issues of the applicant or applicant's family; the applicant's criminal and immigration history; the applicant's length of time in the United States; and the applicant's family and community ties in the United States. However, stays of deportation are temporary and do not lead to lawful permanent residency or citizenship in the United States. If a stay of deportation is granted, it would be necessary to apply for an extension of the stay of deportation before your current stay of deportation expires.

Thomas Esparza Jr. | Oct 25, 2011

Thomas Esparza & Jacqueline Watson, Immigration Specialists - Freedom of Information Act

Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) USCIS Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) and Privacy Act (PA) Contact: U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services National Records Center, FOIA/PA Office P. O. Box 648010 Lee’s Summit, MO 64064-8010 Live Assistance: 1-800-375-5283 Fax (816) 350-5785 [email protected] Making a FOIA or PA request: 1. To Request USCIS Records: Unless otherwise noted below, mail or fax all requests for USCIS records, including alien files and procurement information, to the National Records Center at the address listed above. ALL FOIA REQUESTS MUST BE SUBMITTED IN WRITING. Form G-639 (available from this website under Immigration Forms) may be used for this purpose, but is not required. Please see the Freedom of Information Request Guide for detailed information necessary to process your request. If you are able to scan the subject of record’s notarized signature or signature made under penalty of perjury, we will accept your FOIA request as an attachment to an e-mail at [email protected] 2. Personnel-related FOIA requests: Effective October 1, 2009, please send personnel-related FOIA requests to the address above. 3. To Request Certifications: Certification of Nonexistence of a Record involves an agency decision. The USCIS Office of Records Management prepares this documentation. Requests for this service should be addressed to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, ATTN: Records Service Branch, 1200 First Street, NE, 2nd Floor, Washington, D.C. 20529-2204. 4. To Request Customs and Border Protection records: Mail all requests for non-Alien file Customs and Border Protection records to: U.S. Customs and Border Protection FOIA Division 799 9th Street NW, Mint Annex Washington, DC 20229-1177 The phone number for the CBP FOIA office is (202) 325-0150. 5. USCIS does not collect Social Security Numbers in connection with FOIA or PA requests. When forwarding any documents to USCIS related to a FOIA or PA request, please ensure all Social Security Numbers are blanked out or removed. Check The Status of Your Request Online: The National Records Center has created an electronic FOIA/PA status check that allows requesters the ability to obtain the status of pending requests online. To check the status of your request, just click on “FOIA Request Status Check" located under “Related Links" and provide the control number assigned to your request by the National Records Center.

C. C. Abbott | Jul 31, 2011

Dangers in Using Unauthorized Representatives (Notarios) When Preparing Immigration Documents

Definition of Authorized Legal Representative An authorized legal representative is a person who is permitted by law to provide legal assistance to concerning immigration law and procedure. Attorneys licensed in the United States can provide immigration advice so long as they are permitted to practice within the jurisdiction they are licensed. Law students and graduates may be allowed to be a representative if he or she is permitted by the state or agency to appear on behalf of the immigrant. A third category of people who can be authorized legal representatives are individuals from an agency such as a church, charity, social service, or non-profit group who have been approved by the Board of Immigration Appeals. All authorized legal representatives should be willing to provide original documentation to prove they are permitted by law to provide immigration assistance. If a person refuses to provide this documentation, it should be a red flag that the person may be not authorized to provide legal assistance. Types of Assistance Included Within Legal Representation Representatives are asked to provide different types of assistance to immigrants. Legal advice includes informing an immigrant if she qualifies for a particular program (i.e. TPS) or stats (i.e continued presence), what documents need to be filed with US Citizenship & Immigration Services (USCIS) (i.e. I-130, I-485, or I-90, what needs to be included in the documents filed (i.e. photographs, approval documents, or waiver requests), and what needs to be done after the documents have been filed. (i.e. supplemental evidence, country reports, or new criminal charges). Other assistance may not necessarily be considered as legal representation. When a person provides advice on choice of banking, career counseling, obtaining insurance, and other tasks to become established in the United States are not usually classified as legal assistance. Special Concern When Completing Documents for Submission to USCIS Most immigrant documents have a section for the legal representative to sign indicating they assisted. This section usually is found at the end of the document. If the representative refuses to sign the document ask why. If the representative still refuses then refrain from using his or her services. Also, if the representative refuses to sign the document with the same name as it appears on the original document that was as it appears on the document he used to prove he was an authorized legal representative, don't use his assistance. Also, if the representative refuses to sign or refuses to complete all sections of the G-28 - Notice of Entry of Appearance as Attorney or Personal Representative, then seek other assistance. Without a G-28, USCIS will not discuss the case with the representative. Discovering that An Unauthorized Representative Was Used The use of an unauthorized representative does not necessarily mean all hope is lost. The first thing to do would be to contact the state attorney licensing authority to determine if any relief can be provided. It may be possible to make an Unauthorized Practice of Law (UPL) complaint that can result in the unauthorized representative facing court sanctions. The next thing to do would be to contact an immigration attorney who can make a Freedom of Information and Privacy Act (FOIA) request to USCIS for copies of all filed documents. Then the attorney can provide advice as to the options available to the immigrant. Words to Live By! One of the most difficult things to do is to correct a mistake once it has been made. A wrong number or incorrect information on an immigration form can result in months of delays or even denial of approval. The immigration laws of the United States are unlike the laws of any other country and are subject to change based on the enactment of new laws, changes to regulations, BIA and Court decisions, and USCIS interpretations. Ask for references from agencies such as churches, charitable organizations, or prior clients before providing money, documents, or information.

Thomas Esparza Jr. | Oct 21, 2010

Lawless Courts by Jacqueline Stevens | Part 4presented by Thomas Esparza, Immigration Specialist

Published on The Nation ( Courts?Jacqueline Stevens | October 20, 2010 And the decades-old pattern of wrongful deportations is continuing under the Obama administration.??Among those stuck in immigration jails today are people with no criminal history and, crucially, no lawyers to demand bond hearings. People who should be free may languish for months. When I met Clifford Bryan in Stewart, he was crying and contemplating suicide, largely because the adjudicators refused to grant a bond hearing and he feared being stuck there forever. "I filled out the paper [requesting a bond hearing] and sent it two times. They didn't send it back to me," he said. He was held for almost four months in Georgia before Cassidy finally set a $1,500 bond, the lowest amount possible, and Bryan was free to return to his wife in Michigan. Meanwhile, taxpayers had paid about $8,000 to the Corrections Corporation of America for his incarceration. In October the DHS issued welcome new rules resulting in ICE freeing hundreds nationwide, but many more who meet the criteria for release remain locked up, including Pedro Guzman.??The public's ignorance of the idiocies endemic to the EOIR's business as usual and the calamities these entail is no accident. The agency deliberately withholds basic information from the media and researchers, and its top officials routinely decline requests for interviews, as acting director Thomas Snow and others did twice for this article. (Snow is "acting," so he won't lose his civil-service job in the EOIR.)??According to David Burnham, a former New York Times reporter and co-director of the Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse, the staff in the EOIR public affairs office have a "bizarre conception of their role. We ask simple administrative questions and they say, Oh, you have to submit a FOIA request." Lauren Alder Reid, the agency's public affairs legal counsel, sent numerous e-mails along these lines to me but, along with top agency officials, is not responding to document requests from the agency's FOIA office as required by law.??The EOIR obscures its operations as well by admonishing immigration judges not to speak with the media, in contrast with other adjudicative agencies and the judiciary. When alerted to this, Charles Geyh, a law professor at the University of Indiana and a reporter for the American Bar Association's Model Code of Judicial Conduct, sounded taken aback. With the exception of prohibiting judges from commenting on pending cases, "it's not just that the rules say that you can do it, but they actively encourage it. Banning it makes the process seem less transparent and doesn't promote the confidence in the courts we're trying to encourage. Not conveying to the public the work they do and why they do it and how they do it is nonsense."

Thomas Esparza Jr. | Sep 27, 2010

Western Hemisphere Priority Dates presented by Thomas Esparza, Immigration Specialist

Many visa applicants may have access to a way to expedite the immigration process without even knowing that the shortcut exists. If an applicant has a Western Hemisphere Priority Date, that applicant may be able to jump ahead in line and immigrate to the United States sooner. This article details who may have Western Hemisphere Priority Dates available and how those individuals might be able to use the priority dates to move to the front of the line. 1. What is a priority date? As part of the immigration paperwork process, individual applicants receive priority dates. These dates indicate the applicant's place in line, which determines when they are eligible to enter the United States. In most circumstances, the priority date is the filing date of the petition or labor certification application. 2. What is a Western Hemisphere Priority Date (WHPD)? A Western Hemisphere Priority Date is a type of priority date that was part of a savings clause in a 1976 law that preserved the old priority dates for aliens who qualified and registered for immigration before January 1, 1977. As part of this savings clause, certain Western Hemisphere aliens are allowed early immigration. 3. How can I use it now? The old priority date can be used with any properly approved visa petition filed for the alien. The new petition filed is deemed to have been filed on the previously obtained Western Hemisphere date, thus moving the applicant to the front of the line. 4. Who is included in WHPD? Western Hemisphere Priority Dates apply to those immigration applicants who are natives of a Western Hemisphere country. The included countries include those in North and South America, as well as the Caribbean Islands. Also, the applicant must have been eligible to immigrate before January 1, 1977. This means that you have a WHPD if you were a principal applicant of a petition before 1977. However, this also includes children and spouses of that principal applicant, regardless of divorce or aging-out. So if your parent or spouse immigrated or was eligible to immigrate before 1977, you may benefit. The spouse automatically received the same priority date as the immigrant visa petition if the couple was married at the time the priority date was established. Two situations arise if a person marries after receiving a WHPD. First, if the person marries a non-citizen in the United States, the immigrating spouse is not eligible for a WHPD. Secondly, if the person temporarily went to another country to get married, the date of marriage may be the WHPD for the immigrating spouse. Whenever the principal applicant applied, his children already in existence are entitled to the parent's original priority date as long as the children are under 21 and unmarried at the time the principal applicant established a priority date. Also, if at the time the priority date was established, there was already a marriage in existence and a child was born of that marriage afterward, that later-born child can still use the priority date. 5. How do I know if I might have a WHPD? There are three questions that an applicant can ask to determine if they hold a WHPD. 1. Did you ever register to immigrate or apply to immigrate before 1977? 2. Did your parents ever register to immigrate or apply to immigrate before 1977? 3. If you are married, do any of these questions apply to your spouse? If the answer to ANY of these questions is YES, the applicant likely has a WHPD. However, if the answer to ALL of these questions is NO, then the applicant likely does not have a WHPD and the attorney must begin to look at alternative avenues for immigration. 5. When does a WHPD expire? A priority date remains effective until it is used. Any unused priority date can still be used by an applicant and does not expire until the applicant has done so. For example, if a person immigrates before 1977, but then changes their mind and returns to their native country, they cannot now reapply using the same priority date. However, if a person receives a priority date before 1977, but never immigrated, that priority date is still effective. 6. How will this help speed up the immigration process? If the applicant has a WHPD, the applicant can likely immediately immigrate to the United States. An attorney can take the priority date and use it for any visa petition in any category that is being filed presently. Any backlog category applicant will be allowed to jump forward in line by using the early priority date. 7. Are there still WHPDs that have not been used? There are still many people who have not yet used their WHPD. Many may have decided not to immigrate because of different reasons, such as delays in processing. 8. How can I find out if I have a WHPD? Appropriate documentation will determine if an applicant has a WHPD. Applicants should look for any consular or immigration documents that they or their parents might have. Some items to look for include: old consular registration documents, Forms I-151 or other types of "green cards," national passports with stamps showing admission for permanent residence, or any other document that might show immigration-type activity, such as I-130 refusals. However, one of the problems with the WHPD is getting the proper documentation to demonstrate that the applicant has an available WHPD. If the applicant does not have the documentation on hand, the attorney can do a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request to determine if they have a WHPD. A FOIA request to the Bureau of Citizenship and Immigration Services (BCIS) for the immigrant's file could reveal an old Form I-550 showing an attempt to immigrate family members. The alien's file might also contain the old immigrant visa showing the date of application for the visa and date of admission to the U.S. In addition to requesting information from the BCIS, it is also helpful to make a FOIA request to the Department of State. The State Department or U.S. consular officers may have old records. In these requests, include all the information that the client knows concerning a possible WHPD. The more information that is available for the services, the more likely it is that the service will find the necessary