Although legislation to legalize marijuana abruptly stalled late last month, it is only a matter of time before the issue is revived, perhaps as early as June of this year. In spite of this, legalization of cannabis remains a hot legislative priority for a growing number of states around the country. Perhaps with that in mind, USCIS recently issued a policy alert regarding controlled substance activity and good moral character determinations. The thrust of the bulletin essentially highlights what is often misunderstood by the public: marijuana is classified as a Schedule I controlled substances and under federal law, manufacture, cultivation, possession or distribution is prohibited. Even if possession of marijuana is legal in a state jurisdiction, this does not nullify federal immigration consequences for foreign nationals since our immigration law is federal in nature.
One disturbing trend that we have noticed recently is an inexplicable delay in USCIS issuing I751 notices acknowledging receipt of the application and extending an individual's green card. Ordinarily, a receipt notice is typically issued within four to six weeks after receipt. However, in some cases, it has been more than three months and the applicant still has not received the receipt/extension notice. In some cases, individuals have received the biometrics/fingerprint notice but not the extension notice, an interesting scenario which have led some to posit that USCIS may want to investigate/ascertain an individual's criminal history before issuing the receipt notice. Given the administration's emphasis on enforcement, there may possibly be some validity to this. On the other hand, the delay may arise not so much out of nefarious motives but simple government bureaucracy and inefficiency. In any case, regardless of the reasons, the consequences can be severe, especially for those who have waited to the last second to file or worse, attempt to file out of time. Legally, even if the government has terminated or revoked a conditional resident's status due to failure to file, that individual has a right to appear before the Immigration Court where an Immigration Judge will render a final determination. Practically speaking, however, the absence of a receipt notice can cause a great deal of confusion and havoc. For one thing, the individual has no proof verifying that an application to remove conditions has been filed. Without a receipt notice, the individual is ill equipped to prove that he or she is still legally in status (unless that person has some proof of delivery and is able to secure an I-551 stamp from USCIS). This can lead to a person losing his/her job, driving privileges, as well as inability to travel outside the country-even if an application was in fact filed-because the immigrant has no proof that his/his permanent residence has been extended while the case is being considered. Given all these horrible ramifications, it would be especially prudent for conditional residents to consider filing the I-751 as soon as practicable. For joint I-751s filed by a married couple, this usually means ninety days before the 2nd anniversary of the grant of permanent residence. For those who are eligible to file an I-751 waiver, they may even be able to file earlier. For example, those asking for a waiver of the joint requirement due to abuse may file at anytime and do not need to wait until the ninety days prior to the expiration of the card. The same goes for those who entered into the marriage in good faith that has been subsequently terminated. If an application is filed at the earliest possible stage, there may be enough time to secure the receipt notice (or alternative proof that the case is received and pending) prior to the card expiring.
All too often these days, unfortunately, foreign nationals are picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement and detained for crimes for which they were convicted of years ago. Under Section 236c of the Immigration and Nationality Act, the government is allowed to hold individuals without affording them an opportunity for bond or release. Otherwise known as mandatory detention, 236c applies to the following classes of individuals:
Individuals who acquire lawful permanent residence through marriage are often concerned about their foreign-born children residing abroad. One common misconception is that someone who has a conditional green card must first obtain a permanent green card before filing for one's children. This is not necessarily true, and in some cases, waiting too long to file can considerably affect how long it takes for a child to immigrate here. While a conditional permanent resident is obligated to file the I-751 to remove the conditions on his/her green card, he/she is nevertheless a permanent resident and accorded all the rights and privileges of a green card holder, including but not limited to working, traveling, and filing for one's unmarried children. Depending on how old the child is, he/she will fall under preference category F2A (for unmarried children under 21) or F2B (unmarried children 21 or older). Currently, F2A cases are taking approximately 2 years to process, while F2B cases are taking approximately seven to eight years, which is appreciably longer. If a child is nearing twenty, a permanent resident may want to strongly consider filing the I-130 immediately in the hopes of getting the child here before he/she reaches 21.
This is a very common question that we deal with in the ordinary course of our business. Unfortunately, it is also one that is extremely complex and heavily dependent on a number of factors, including but not limited to the nature of the offense; one's immigration history; as well as one's criminal history. In general, in this climate, any arrest-even for offenses which may not be deportable-can potentially have an impact on one's immigration stay here.