Immigration court matters arguably present some of the most challenging areas to understand. This is especially so with respect to detention issues, where an individual's liberty is restrained, sometimes indefinitely. In a recent Third Circuit case, Guerrero-Sanchez v. Warden, York County Prison, 2018 WL 4608970 (3d Cir. 2018), a person was held in ICE detention for a staggering 637 days before finally securing release (and only after protracted litigation involving several motions). This case is particularly important for non-US citizens residing in the Third Circuit who are at risk of lengthy detention.
USCIS recently announced plans to update Form I-539, Application to Extend/Change Nonimmigrant Status. This change is particularly important to any foreign national currently here on a temporary basis who is intending on changing or extending his/her status. Apparently, the form has already been revised but will not be released until the same day the changes become effective, which is March 11, 2019. As of that date, any applications to change/extend non-immigrant status must be filed on the latest version. USCIS will not accept previous editions of Form I-539 and accordingly reject applications with the older version or applications that are missing required signatures or filing fees.
The Board of Immigration Appeals recently issued a sobering decision that underscores the importance of understanding your own immigration case and knowing what you are filing. In Matter of Valdez, 27 I&N Dec. 496 (BIA 2018), the Board discounted the appellant's claim that they should not be held accountable for false statements contained in their applications because they were not fully aware of what the preparer was asserting on their behalf. In the case of the Valdezes, their green card applications were approved on the basis of Mr. Valdez serving as a religious worker. However, Mr. Valdez never worked as a minister with the church that sponsored him. His defense in court was that English was not his native language and he did not understand or appreciate that his application contained false information. Neither the immigration court nor the BIA gave much credence to this argument. The BIA essentially held that ignorance of the contents of an application prepared by someone else does not absolve the applicant. When an individual has signed an immigration application, there is a strong presumption that the signer knows and understands what he/she is signing off on. In fact, "given the nature and significance of immigration documents...it is reasonable to expect that aliens will take steps to ascertain the accuracy of documents they sign and obtain a translation, if necessary." Eschewing reading or translation of an application's contents does not constitute a legitimate excuse. Of course, there are genuine instances where applicants were deceived and truly unaware of what was being filed for them. However, in order to overcome this strong presumption of knowledge, the onus is on the applicant to demonstrate fraud, deceit, or malfeasance.
In recent years, many of the most commonly filed immigration forms underwent substantial revisions. These include the I-130 Petition for Alien Relative; I-129F Petition for Fiance; I-485 Application to Adjust Status; and N-400, Application for Naturalization. Rather than simplifying what is often an arcane process, the forms arguably obfuscate and complicate things even more. Soon, it is very likely that the N-400 will be changing again. Unfortunately, some of the proposed revisions and requirements will make the process more onerous and confusing, especially to a layperson who might be attempting to file pro-se.