In yet another ominous sign of the erosion of judicial independence, Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker recently certified a case to himself that may have a significant impact on foreign nationals charged with Drunk Driving or Driving Under The Influence. The case is Matter of Castillo-Perez, and this case is particularly important given the issues that the Attorney General will be deciding-possibly overruling previous BIA precedent. According to the certification, the Attorney General is directing the parties to address the following questions:
USCIS recently clarified that lawful permanent residents applying to naturalize on the basis of marriage to a US Citizen must not only demonstrate "living in marital union" with their spouse three years immediately prior to filing, but also that termination of the marriage at any time prior to the Oath of Allegiance renders an applicant ineligible under section INA 319(a). We have seen this second provision being strictly applied to deny naturalizations applications where the applicant divorces after passing the examination but prior to the oath ceremony. Practically speaking, this may not affect residents in states that administer the oath the same day as the interview, such as New Jersey. In general, however, most states regularly schedule the oath ceremony many months after the applicant has passed the examination. This gap can, in some cases, be quite long, especially if background checks are being conducted, an officer needs to look into something, or on occasion, neglects to finish reviewing the file. In the interim, an applicant's marital situation may rapidly deteriorate and the couple may seek a quick dissolution. Unfortunately, if this occurs prior to the oath, the applicant has technically fallen outside the boundaries of INA 319, the section of the law that allows green card holders to apply after only three years marriage to a US Citizen (versus the normal requirement of five years permanent residence prior to becoming eligible). This is one reason why applicants are expected to review and complete a questionnaire on the day of the oath verifying that certain information has not changed, ie., address; arrests; trips outside the US; and in this case, marital status.
On October 3, 2018, USCIS issued a public bulletin regarding the incorporation of digital tablets into the naturalization reading and writing process. Our office began seeing implementation of tablets a few months back, and this announcement not only confirms that this practice is here to stay but that technology will assume an even greater role in the process than ever before. Previously, citizen applicants were asked to review and digitally sign their applications on iPad or ipad-like devices. Now under this expansion, the use of pen and paper is essentially being phased out and discontinued. Pen and paper may be used "on a case-by-case basis," but by and large, both the reading and writing components of the N-400 examination will now be conducted on digital tablets:
Following up on the heels of our last post, the Third Circuit of Appeals issued two precedential decisions affirming a denial of US citizenship to two different parties who had acquired their permanent residency through false statements or fraud. The two cases were decided by two different panels but interestingly, arrived at the same conclusion. The two cases are Saliba v. Attorney General and Koszelnik v. Secretary of Homeland Security. Although the facts are different, the gist of both cases is that the immigrants in question secured their green cards by affirmatively providing false information on their permanent resident applications. One party represented that he was a citizen of Lebanon when he wasn't, and the other omitted the fact that he had an A number and had actually been in court proceedings when applying for their green cards. Both gentlemen's lies were not caught at the green card stage and they subsequently applied for naturalization more than five years later. In both cases, the Court denied their petitions, predicating their decisions largely on the notion that even though the applicants were permanent residents, they were nevertheless not "lawfully admitted" as permanent residents, as required by 8 U.S.C. 1429.
Every year there is a Presidential election, USCIS generally experiences a surge in N-400 applications for naturalization. 2016 will likely prove no different. If anything, there may be unprecedented numbers of lawful permanent residents applying to become US Citizens, especially given what is at stake for our country. For some, the prospect of Republican candidate Donald Trump in office has stirred up fears of anti-immigrant sentiment, increased enforcement and a moratorium on immigration. Others are motivated by the perennial, unfounded rumor that is easier to become a citizen during an election year. Whatever a person's reasons, there are certain deadlines that one needs to be mindful of if he/she wishes to vote this year. In New Jersey specifically:
Here's the transcript to our latest video on Youtube about what it means when an immigration officer tells you that your citizenship case is "pending review" even though you may have already passed the test.
This is a very common question that both prospective as well as current clients ask us in anticipation of their N-400 naturalization interview. While it never hurts to bring the tax returns, the issue is whether an officer will expect that they be furnished during the course of the examination. In some cases, an officer will ask to see them and in other cases, not always. If one has always filed taxes and complied with the IRS, then there should be little cause for concern. On the other hand, if one has not filed taxes when required to, or if there are inconsistencies on the returns, the application for naturalization may be jeopardized.
The concept of good moral character ("GMC") is one of the most important principles of immigration law and practice. Good moral character can arise in a number of scenarios, including applications for citizenship, permanent residence, as well as potential forms of relief. When GMC is a fundamental requirement, the failure to demonstrate it will likely be fatal to an application. Even when it is not strictly required, good moral character can nevertheless influence whether an application is approved or denied, especially where the adjudicator is vested with a large degree of discretion. For purposes of naturalization, we know that good moral character is a requirement that must be satisfied, especially GMC during the statutory period of five (or in some cases, three) years. However, there are some instances in which an applicant may never make a showing of good moral character and others where certain conduct may only pose a conditional bar, but not permanent bar, to good moral character.
In a recent podcast, we touched briefly on the English Waiver criteria that USCIS requires before exempting an applicant from the English portion of the Naturalization test. Unfortunately, this special exemption only benefits a relatively small population of permanent residents who have lived here for a considerable period of time, which means a minimum of fifteen years. What about the sizeable group of green card holders who earnestly want to become citizens but due to their personal circumstances and background lack the test-taking proficiency and requisite aptitude for civics that ordinary applicants are expected to have? This special set of applicants have studied very diligently but may not be able to learn, recognize and answer the questions as adroitly as a reasonably healthy and well-educated candidate with more opportunities in life. For example, it is not necessarily fair to expect an elderly person with no formal schooling to comprehend and answer questions as competently as a 25 year old college graduate with no issues. In all fairness, should they be held to the same standard? Fortunately, USCIS does carve out a little-known provision that allows USCIS officers discretion when administering the test for applicants whose circumstances deserve special consideration.
It is very common to confuse the physical presence requirement with the continuous residence requirement for naturalization. The two concepts, while related and seemingly similar, are actually different and must be independently satisfied in addition to the other eligibility requirements for US citizenship. Failure to meet both tests can, unfortunately, be fatal for an application and result in a denial as well as loss of filing fees.