Articles Posted in Immigration

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Attorney Matthew R. Arnold answering the question: “What happens when a person’s income is not guaranteed and fluctuates from year to year?”

A recent divorce case in Texas has highlighted a little-known aspect of immigration law that might impact the divorces of recently immigrated individuals across the country in ways they never imagined.

Statue of Liberty Charlotte North Carolina Family Law Divorce Alimony Child Custody Child Support Attorney Lawyer.jpgThe case, discussed in a Fox News article, concerns Steve Summers, an American citizen, who brought his Mexican-born bride to the U.S. on a fiancé visa. Summers decided to do what millions of other Americans do in similar situations and signed an affidavit that said he would support his wife so that she would not become a “public charge.” Public charge affidavits refer to someone who relies on government assistance to pay for food and meet their basic needs.

Everything was fine while the couple was married, but eventually trouble in the marriage led to divorce. Now Summers says the affidavit he signed is being used against him by his ex-wife who is pushing for alimony. His ex, Evangelina Zapata, is now suing Summers in federal court claiming that he broke his contract to support her at least 125 percent of the federal poverty level.

The case highlights the I-864 affidavit, a common part of immigration procedure that is rarely ever brought up in divorce cases. Experts on immigration law say that many people sign the affidavits without a second thought, usually because they contracts are rarely if ever enforced. However, this rarity does not mean they affidavits are not serious and the fact remains that they contain strict obligations for American citizens who sign them.

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According to the Charlotte Observer, Mecklenburg County Commissioners are currently in discussions over whether to accept a proposal that will require the reporting of undocumented family members of American-born children receiving public benefits. Commissioner Bill James is asking the Mecklenburg County Department of Social Services to ignore state and federal regulations and alert immigration officials or the sheriff’s office when it suspects that an illegal immigrant has applied for welfare or food stamps for his or her U.S.-born children. James believes that the state is handing out benefits by using so-called “anchor babies” as a cover for its actions. Under the 14th Amendment, citizenship is automatically granted to any child who is born in the United States.

A recent study released by the Pew Hispanic Center revealed that the number of children in this country with at least one undocumented parent increased from 2.7 million in 2003 to 4 million in 2008. Furthermore, more than 70 percent of all children of illegal immigrants are United States citizens.

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Elian Gonzalez, the Cuban child who became the star of an international custody battle a decade ago, released his first comments on the incident on the recent 10th anniversary of his return to his father in Cuba. He reported that he is happy to be in Cuba, and extended his gratitude to “a large part of the American public” for reuniting him with his father.

Gonzalez was only five years old when a fisherman found him floating off the coast of Florida in an inner tube on Thanksgiving Day of 1999. His mother and others fleeing Cuba drowned trying to reach American soil, while his father remained on the island. Gonzalez’s relatives in Miami refused to give him up after he was found, and Fidel Castro led marches in Cuba calling for his return home. U.S. immigration officials ruled that Gonzalez should be returned to Cuba, which created an outrage among Cuban-Americans. Armed federal agents raided the home of Gonzalez’s uncle in April of 2000 and seized Gonzalez from a closet to return him to Cuba.

Several American parents have waged notorious international custody battles in the years following Gonzalez’s ordeal. David Goldman of New Jersey very recently ended a highly publicized five-year child custody battle for his son, who was taken to his mother’s native Brazil for vacation and was never returned. Instead, Goldman’s wife divorced him and remarried a Brazilian man. When she died in 2009, her Brazilian husb\and moved to adopt the child. After five years of fighting, Goldman was permitted to return his son to American soil on Christmas Eve of 2009.

International custody battles are fairly common, and were supposed to be simplified by the signing of The Hague Convention agreement in 1980, which preserves whatever status quo child custody arrangement existed immediately prior to an alleged wrongful removal of a child under the age of 16. However, conflicting court systems and accounts of parent-child relationships can sometimes trump international law.

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US_Immigration_and_Customs_Enforcement_SWAT.jpgIn Manhattan, the home of federal immigration headquarters, the future of many couples depends upon whether they can prove to the government that they did not marry solely to acquire a green card for one spouse. If a couple can successfully pass their interviews with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services, the foreign spouse will become eligible for a green card; however, the actual receipt of a green card requires a separate application and security clearance.

According to an agency worksheet, red flags for immigration interviewers include: unusual cultural differences, a large age discrepancy between spouses, an unusual number of children, and a U.S. citizen spouse with little means. Interviewers also seek evidence of a legitimate marriage, such as the commingling of assets and other joint documentation, and a mental and emotional connection as the result of shared life experiences.

The actual number of green card petitions denied on the basis of fraud is quite small: only 506 of the 241,154 petitions filed by citizens last year were denied. The criminal penalties for perpetrating a marriage fraud are up to five years in prison and a $250,000 fine.

Could your marriage survive the interviews? Check out these sample questions compiled by immigration attorneys who often sit in on their clients’ interviews.