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Sponsorship for Unaccompanied Minors

Thousands of children come into the United States each year as unaccompanied minors, often undocumented and seeking asylum or other status that may permit them to stay in the United States. When these children are apprehended at the border, they are taken into the custody of a federal agency known as the Office of Refugee Resettlement.

Once the minors are in the custody of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, they are often released to sponsors in the United States while immigration proceedings are pending. The sponsors are usually related to the unaccompanied minors, although they do not have to be immediate family members, such as parents.

Before the minors can be released to sponsors, the sponsors have to undergo background checks and register with the Office of Refugee Resettlement. Under the law, in order for a person to qualify as a sponsor, he or she does not have to be in the country legally. Therefore a parent can act as a sponsor to an unaccompanied minor even if the parent is undocumented. Interviews of potential sponsors are also conducted to ensure that they are suitable to care for the unaccompanied minors.

When unaccompanied minors are released to sponsors, they can go to school like other children in their community. Public schools provide educational services to children without considering their immigration status.

There is always the risk that an unaccompanied minor may be deported back to the country he or she fled. However, if the minor satisfies the criteria for asylum or refugee status, he or she can stay in the United States and receive additional benefits. The status of the sponsor does not generally affect the minor’s ability receive asylum or other legal status in the United States.

In the past, the parents or other relatives stepping forward to act as sponsors did not have to worry about being targeted for deportation. Unfortunately, parents and other relatives of unaccompanied minors are worried about the effects of coming forward to act as sponsors for their children under the current administration. Media reports have indicated that Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials plan to arrest and deport undocumented parents and relatives who step up to act as sponsors for their children. This is supposed to discourage unaccompanied minors from coming to the United States, which in turn may discourage their parents from staying if they are already in the country.

If unaccompanied minors cannot find sponsors who are related to the children, they may have to be placed in government run facilitated or group homes. In some cases, the minors may be placed in foster homes until the immigration hearings are held.

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If a parent of an unaccompanied minor has a way to gain legal status in the United States, he or she should pursue this before applying to act as a sponsor. If you would like to be the sponsor for an unaccompanied minor but are worried about the effect this would have on your own immigration status, contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to an experienced immigration attorney from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP.

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.

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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.

The Responsibility of Sponsorship

United States citizens with family members who want to emigrate from another country sometimes make the decision to support an application for an immigrant visa or for legal permanent residency. In supporting such an application, the U.S. citizen has to attest that he or she will support the applicant financially. Most people who are supporting a family member’s application do not necessarily think of the implications of the promise to support the application, but the promise is legally enforceable.

The document that the U.S. citizen signs to support a person applying for permanent residence is known as an affidavit of support. The affidavit of support requires the U.S. citizen, who is referred to as a sponsor for purposes of the affidavit, to promise that he or she will support the person making the application for a period of time. This time period can be 10 years or longer. The affidavit of support is legally enforceable and is relied on when the government makes the decision on the application.

The sponsor is required to provide a copy of his or her tax return and proof of income when filing the affidavit of support. The spouse has to show that he or she has income that is equal to 125% of the U.S. poverty level for his household size. If the sponsor does not have the required income, he or she can count the value of assets, and the income of others in his household. If the sponsor does not meet the income and assets requirements, it is possible that the application will be denied unless there is a co-sponsor.

If the applicant is granted legal permanent residence or an immigrant visa that allows him or her to live and work in the U.S., the sponsor does not really provide the person’s day-to-day support. The legal permanent resident works towards supporting him or herself, and at the same time accumulates work credits. When enough work credits are earned, the sponsor is released from the obligation to support the person.

The sponsor is also released from the obligation when the sponsored person leaves the country or becomes a U.S. citizen. However, divorce does not mean that the sponsor is no longer financially responsible. A sponsor can still be held financially responsible for a former spouse.

However, if the legal permanent resident falls on hard times and has to apply for means tested public assistance, the sponsor can be asked to repay any benefits paid to the legal permanent resident. In some cases, the government agency that paid out the benefits may sue the sponsor to recover the benefits.

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If you are considering acting as a sponsor for a relative, it is important to understand the obligation of sponsorship. However, in many cases, the sponsored applicant who receives the opportunity to work in the U.S. can provide this or her own support and even provide support to the sponsor. For more information on how to sponsor a relative’s application for an immigrant visa or for legal permanent residence, you should contact our multi-lingual staff to speak to an experienced immigration attorney from Strassburg, Gilmore & Wei, LLP, in Pasadena, California.