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Monthly Archives: August 2017

English Language Requirements for Naturalization

We have previously discussed a proposed immigration law that would favor English speaking immigrants seeking to immigrate to the United States over those who do not. This proposal has been met with resistance because there are many immigrants to the United States who bring value, but who may not be able to communicate fluently in English.

How important is the English requirement to an immigrant seeking admission to the United States? Currently, temporary visitors to the United States are not required to be fluent English speakers. On the other hand, when an immigrant applies for naturalization, then there is an English requirement to be met as part of the naturalization test.

There are two tests that a person wishing to become a United States citizen has to pass as part of the naturalization test – an English test and a civics test. Although the English test is mandatory for applicants under the age of 50, there are special accommodations that can be made for applicants who cannot speak English because of medical reasons or a disability. A person claiming a medical condition or disability exception to the rule has to prove the medical condition and disability.

For certain applicants over the age of 50, the English test is not mandatory. If an applicant is 50 or more years of age, has lived in the United States for 20 years or more as a permanent resident; or, if 55 years old and has lived in the country for 15 years as a permanent resident, the English test is not mandatory.

Because the English language is waived in these circumstances, applicants may take the civics test using an interpreter provided by the applicant. The interpreter is required to be fluent in both English and the native language of the applicant. This is one more useful accommodation that is designed to assist immigrants in becoming citizens.

Even with the English requirement, the government does not require fluency in order for an applicant to become a citizen. The applicant has to read, write, and understand English words in their ordinary conversational use. The English test is relatively straight forward in this regard.

There is no requirement for a person who is applying for asylum or lawful permanent residency to fluently speak English or pass an English test. There are interviews involved with making these applications, but interpreters may be used.

While it is important to learn English while living in an English speaking country such as the United States, not being able to speak the language fluently is not a barrier to seeking lawful permanent residence status or applying for citizenship. Therefore, if you meet the other legal requirements for changing your immigration status, you should make the appropriate application.

Contact an Experienced Immigration Attorney

If you are an immigrant who is eligible to apply for lawful permanent residence or citizenship, contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to an experienced immigration attorney from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP, in Pasadena, California. We can help you through the application process, especially if you have any potential immigration issues that may limit the success of your application.

Can Local Police Arrest Me for Being Undocumented?

Undocumented immigrants are often said to be breaking the law simply by being in the country. Therefore, some people wonder whether local police in their neighborhood have the authority to arrest and detain someone based solely on the person’s status as an undocumented immigrant. This is a question that is likely to come up more often now that the issue of sanctuary cities is in the spotlight across the country.

Immigration law is a federal matter, which means that state police and local city police officers do not necessarily go out of their way to enforce federal immigration law. Generally, only federal law enforcement officers can take someone into custody for violation of immigration laws. There are some situations under which a non-federal police officer can take a person into custody for suspicion of an immigration law. Federal law enforcement officers can also work with local police to take an undocumented immigrant into custody.

If local police officers were to enforce immigration laws, there is also a problem with how local police would determine which people were illegally in the country and which ones had the valid paperwork to be here. Police officers need reasonable suspicion to stop someone to investigate a crime, and need probable cause or a warrant to make an arrest. These restrictions should make it more difficult for police to target people for harassment or arrest simply because they look “foreign.”

All this does not mean that some police officers do not make up reasons to stop people based on racial profiling, and then look for a reason to arrest a person who may be in the country illegally. Police officers do have the right to stop a person briefly and inquire about their identification.

Once arrested on a criminal charge, for example, driving without a license or driving under the influence of alcohol, an undocumented immigrant can be picked up by federal law enforcement officials. A civil warrant for an undocumented immigrant based on a removal order is not in itself grounds for local police officers to arrest the undocumented immigrant, especially if there is no evidence of an independent criminal act.

Once an undocumented immigrant is arrested and jailed for a criminal offense, he or she is processed in the police system as part of the arrest. Once in the system, federal immigration officials can send a detainer request to the local police department asking that the immigrant be held for federal law enforcement officials to pick him or her up. This is the current issue with sanctuary cities: In those cities, officials have decided that police officers are not required to honor federal detainer requests.

Contact Us for More Information

If your relative or loved one was picked up by immigration enforcement officers after being arrested on a local charge, he or she may be facing deportation soon. A criminal conviction may affect the way the person is able to contest the deportation. For more information on how an experienced immigration attorney can help, contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to an experienced immigration attorney from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP today.

Non U.S. Citizen Immigrants and Public Assistance

Non U.S. citizens living in the United States are sometimes unsure of their rights when it comes to applying for and receiving public aid assistance. Part of the uncertainty comes from a fear that if a non U.S. citizen accepts public aid, it could affect the person’s chances at adjusting status later on and applying for citizenship. Others also fear being labeled a burden on the U.S. government.

When people talk about public assistance, they are usually referring to food assistance through either Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, which is also referred to as food stamps); public housing; and, medical insurance through the Medicaid program.

Not every non U.S. citizen living in the United States qualifies for public assistance. For example, undocumented immigrants are generally not eligible to receive public assistance. Immigrants who are in the United States on temporary visas, such as student visas or tourist visas, are also not eligible for assistance. Non U.S. citizens who hold these temporary visas should not accept public aid, even if it is offered by an organization. It could lead to a revocation of their visas.

U.S. citizen children of undocumented immigrants may be eligible for benefits even if their parents are not. When this happens, the parents may later be penalized for accepting public aid on behalf of their children if the parents try and legalize their status. Accepting public aid is seen as the parent’s inability to financially provide for the children.

In some states there are special programs that do allow public assistance for undocumented immigrants in certain cases. For example in California, undocumented immigrants under the age of nineteen are eligible for medical care under California’s full-scope Medi-Cal program. Under such programs, undocumented children can receive full medical care, and not just emergency medical care as it was in the past.

Legal permanent residents, immigrants who have been granted asylum, or others who have immigrant visas to the United States are generally eligible to receive aid regardless of age if they meet the other economic factors. Public aid programs usually cut off eligibility based on household size and income.

Recent media reporting on proposed rule changes that seek to change immigration in the United States have indicated that under the proposed system, immigrants currently in the United States who receive public assistance would be targeted for deportation. Because these changes are not yet law, if a non U.S. citizen qualifies for public aid and needs it because of financial hardship, he or she should still be able to apply for the assistance. However, it may be wise to consult an attorney as to the implications of the application, especially since there is some uncertainty now as to how that application may affect the person’s chances of permanent status later on.

Contact Us for Legal Assistance

For more information on what benefits you may be entitled to as an immigrant living in the United States, and how applying for those benefits can affect you later, contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to an experienced immigration attorney from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP, in Pasadena, California.

Proposed Legislation to Move to a Merit Based Immigration System

In a move to change the way the immigration system currently works in the United States, there is a proposed legislation that would move immigration towards a more merit or skill based immigration system. If this law were to pass, it would drastically change the way some family members are able to immigrate to the United States.

Under the current immigration system, a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident can apply for his or her family members to immigrate to the U.S. and live as permanent residents with a path to citizenship. U.S. citizens can sponsor certain family members that lawful permanent residents cannot. Under the current system, immediate and extended family members can immigrate to the U.S. as long as a qualifying family member who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident sponsors their applications.

Under the proposed legislation, immigration based on family ties would be sharply restricted, with only spouses and minor children being allowed to immigrate through an application based on their relationship to a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. This would mean that a U.S. resident’s parents, adult children, and siblings would be restricted to immigration through a merit based system.

A merit based system would focus on an immigrant’s ability to work in the U.S. and in skilled positions. Similar merit based systems are used in other countries, such as Canada and Australia; however, it is not clear how closely the proposed system will resemble the systems used in those countries.

One issue of major concern is the proposal to give English speakers preference in the merits based system. This could affect a lot of immigrants who may have otherwise been able to immigrate to the U.S., especially if this policy is used to restrict applicants who do not speak English fluently. A merit based system would also look at a person’s education and job experience and rank him or her based on that, giving preference to more educated professionals than people with less education or job experience.

The law would also eliminate the diversity visa lottery program and reduce the number of refugees the U.S. accepts annually.

The proposed law has already met criticism, including concerns that it could dramatically affect the country’s economy. The law would cut down immigration numbers by half, and because immigrants contribute significantly to the economy, there will definitely be an economic impact to the law’s passage.

The proposed legislation is in its early stages and is not yet the law. If you are a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident seeking to sponsor your parents or siblings for residency in the U.S., you can still do that under the current law. Unfortunately, applications for these groups of relatives may take a long time to be processed, and especially in the case of sibling applications, could take years to finalize.

Contact Us for Legal Assistance

If you are a U.S. resident and would like more information on how you can sponsor an application for a parent or a sibling or another eligible relative, contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to an experienced immigration attorney from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP, in Pasadena, California.