Stephanie Corcoran 0000-00-00 00:00:00
Please Arrest Me...I Want A Green Card As an immigration attorney, I meet immigrants on a daily basis who want to know how they can work legally in the United States and ultimately obtain legal permanent residence. Many of the immigrants I work with are parents of U.S. born children with special needs, severe illnesses, or disabilities. The majority of the time, they have no options to obtain legal status, unless that is, they are arrested. That's right, when an immigrant is stopped by local law enforcement or Immigration Customs Enforcement ("ICE"), getting arrested and placed in removal proceedings before an immigration judge may be an immigrant's only chance to obtain legal residency. For some people, like my clients, it may be the best thing that could ever happen to them. Becoming a legal permanent resident of the United States, or a "green card holder" is not an easy feat for most. Even though a person may have children, parents, a spouse and/or siblings that are United States citizens, they may not be able to obtain legal status for many years or possibly ever. For example, the current wait time for the adult son of a United States citizen born in Mexico to become a lawful permanent resident is approximately 19 years! As you can imagine, most people are unable to endure family separation for this long, and end up coming to the United States without permission, and thus jeopardize their chances of ever obtaining legal status. It is extremely important for immigrants to know their rights. When an immigrant is arrested for a criminal violation often an ICE detainer is placed on the person so that even if the criminal charge is dropped or when a criminal sentence is finished, this is reported to ICE, who in turn has 48 hours to pick up the immigrant and begin removal proceedings. At this point, ICE normally offers the immigrant an "easy out", a chance to leave the United States quickly without further time in jail through a process called voluntary departure. In order to accept voluntary departure, an immigrant must waive their right to see an immigration judge and all possibilities for relief from removal. Generally, the best thing an immigrant with no deportation history can do is refuse to sign any document giving up their rights and instead request to see an immigration judge. At this point, ICE has the discretion to determine whether or not the agency will detain an immigrant further in an immigration detention facility or allow the immigrant to be released on their own recognizance to appear in immigration court at a later date. As you can imagine, immigrants who do not know their rights often voluntarily depart the United States after being arrested, fearing they will be incarcerated for long periods of time. What many do not know is that there is a special form of relief from removal only available before an immigration judge for immigrants who have resided in the United States for at least 10 years, have demonstrated good moral character during that time, have no serious criminal convictions, and have at least one "qualifying relative", who is a United States citizen or lawful permanent resident spouse, parent, or child. If an immigrant meets the above requirements, he/she can fight for their residency in immigration court. However in order for an immigration judge to cancel someone's removal and grant lawful permanent resident status, an immigrant must also demonstrate that one or more of the qualifying relatives would suffer exceptional and extremely unusual hardship if the immigrant is removed from the country. Congress set this standard extremely high and thus not every immigrant who meets the basic requirements can demonstrate their qualifying relative's hardship would rise to the level in order to be eligible to obtain lawful permanent resident status. One of the main cases by the Board of Immigration Appeals regarding this hardship standard describes exceptional and extremely unusual hardship as substantially beyond that which would ordinarily be expected to result from the immigrant's deportation, but that an immigrant need not show that such hardship would be unconscionable. Matter of Monreal-Aguinaga, 23 I&N Dec. 56 (BIA 2001); 8 U.S.C. § 1229b(b). Other factors such as age of the qualifying relative, the length of years in the United States, the medical and educational needs of the qualifying relative and family ties in the United States are to be considered as well. Immigrants who are otherwise eligible and who are parents of a special needs or severely ill United States children generally can demonstrate that their child needs services and/or care here in the United States, and thus getting arrested can facilitate a good possibility of obtaining legal residency. Here in Phoenix an immigrant could wait 2-4 years to receive a final decision from an immigration judge. In the meantime, immigrants who are applying for this type of relief can obtain employment authorization, a social security number, and a drivers license until there is a final administrative decision. So even if an immigrant does not have family members with severe illnesses or special needs and their case may not be clear cut or seemingly winnable on the day of their arrest, immigrants are still entitled to their day in court and may be able to demonstrate the necessary hardship by the time their case is heard. Thus, if an immigrant is arrested, has no serious criminal convictions, has never been deported from the United States, and does not agree to leave on the next bus to Nogales, they might have a chance to become a lawful permanent resident and eventually a United States citizen. So, for many immigrants, as scary as the process may seem, getting arrested can be a blessing in disguise.
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