It's a little-known fact, but for some individuals (including people granted DACA), a direct path to citizenship lies in joining the U.S. military. This is due to a recently revived recruiting program called Military Accessions Vital to the National Interest (MAVNI). It is open only to non-citizens who are here with authorization, such as asylees or people possessing TPS, DACA, or certain non-immigrant visas holders. It also requires that the applicant possess certain skills. Those who join will generally become U.S. citizens by the end of Basic Combat Training or when they accept a commission as Army . Currently, applicants must be licensed health care professionals or able to speak certain in-demand languages. Certain physicians, nurses, and psychiatrists will qualify. The languages in demand are from nations all over the world, though Spanish is not currently one of them -- a list is posted at the Army website.
In addition to the requirement of certain forms of legal status, applicants have to meet requirements regarding education and length of residence and presence in the U.S.
This controversial program offers a unique and life-changing opportunity to cut straight to U.S. citizenship, while experience self-growth and serving our country. If you or someone you know might qualify, consult an attorney to find out more particulars.
A USCIS officer has a great deal of power in making a decision at an immigration interview. Although there are some rules that determine what must happen, many issues are in the officer's discretion, which means that officers can use their best judgment. For this reason, it's very important to keep the officer from becoming frustrated during an interview. Here are a few tips on how to do this:
If you don't know the answer to a question, say so. Don't guess at the question either. If you didn't understand or fully hear the question, let the officer know. Officers become irritated -- or worse, suspicious -- when an applicant changes an answer after being caught in a contradiction and then blames it on misunderstanding.
Know Your Language Limitations.
If English isn't your first language, decide realistically if you will need an interpreter. If you do bring an interpreter, let the interpreter finish translating each question before answering, and stick to your best language instead of jumping back and forth between it and English.
Choose A Skilled Interpreter.
Know that some officers will let the person petitioning you do the translating, but others will insist that a person besides the petitioner or the attorney do it. That person can be a family member, a friend of the family, or a professional, but must be over 18 and with legal status. Above all, make sure your interpreter has experience and confidence. This job takes more than just speaking both languages fluently. It is difficult and demanding, and if the interpreter makes mistakes it could destroy the interview.
Answer Only What's Asked.
Officers have a lot of questions and don't like being slowed down by answers that are off the point. If you are asked when you came to the country, the answer is a date. Don't start talking about why you came. If you are asked if you ever worked in the U.S., say yes or no. Don't explain how you got the job. If the officer wants to know, those questions will come. The only exception to this rule might be when talking about how you met your spouse (if this is a marriage-based case). In that case, the officer is looking for a story and you should give one.
There may be exceptions, but most officers are not known for their sense of humor. Just as at airport security, save jokes for another time.
This is the second in a series of posts about the effects of turning 21 on immigration benefits. Previously, we talked about the possibilities and limits of 21-year-old citizens or Lawful Permanent Residents in petitioning for their parents.
Another aspect of turning 21 for an alien is that she is no longer a child for immigration purposes, and that means the end of certain possibilities for herself. For example, a “child” of a U.S. citizen parent is an immediate relative of that parent. When that parent’s petition for that child is approved, there is no waiting period for a visa to become available. She can apply for her green card immediately. In contrast, the adult child of a U.S. citizen is no longer considered an “immediate relative” for immigration purposes and has to enter a waiting list, often for years, for a visa to become available after a petition is approved.
What if an alien is 20 years old when her U.S. Citizen parent’s petition for her is filed, but she turns 21 before she applies for a green card? The Child Status Protection Act protects aliens in a variety of situations from the ill effects of turning 21. In the case of a U.S. citizen’s child, her age is frozen at the moment the petition is filed, which means she longer has to worry about turning 21 and losing the opportunity to apply for her green card.
For children of Lawful Permanent Residents, the protection is not as strong. The CSPA merely allows her to deduct from her age the number of days that the petition was pending. If she is under 21 by that calculation, her age will freeze there, but only if she seeks to acquire permanent resident status within one year of the visa becoming available. If this deduction is not enough to reduce her age under 21 when the visa becomes available, her age will not freeze and she will be treated as an adult. As the adult, unmarried son or daughter of a Lawful Permanent Resident, she will move to an even longer waiting list. The only benefit will be that she gets to keep the same priority date, meaning that she does not move to the back of this new line. Even that benefit does not apply to all aliens, thanks to complications in the law that have been the subject of many court battles over the past years. The bottom line is that the protection is much more likely to help for children of U.S. citizens.
Today, let’s consider Estella, a 20-year-old undocumented woman from Chile. She is already the beneficiary of a petition filed by her father, but her father is only a Lawful Permanent Resident, not a U.S. citizen. The petition took three months to be approved, and she is now at the beginning of a waiting list of approximately four years. All CSPA will do is let her deduct three months from her age. When she turns 21 and three months, she will no longer be a “child,” and will have to move to the longer waiting list which could add more than ten years to her wait. There is no way her visa will be available before she ages out.
But there is a way out of this mess. CSPA will save Estella if her father becomes a citizen before she turns 21. If he can finish all his processing and take the Oath of Citizenship even one day before Estella’s 21st birthday, the Child Status Protection Act will freeze her age at 20 as the daughter of a U.S. citizen. Then she can apply for her green card right away But if his citizenship comes after she ages out, it will have no effect on her situation.
Unfortunately, Estella’s father has not been active in procuring his citizenship. He is afraid that a criminal conviction in his past might result in his deportation. Although an attorney could help him assess the risk, he has procrastinated because he thinks it’s too expensive. But which is more expensive? The $680 to apply for naturalization plus a few thousand dollars to an attorney, or from several years to a lifetime of missed opportunities for Estella as she waits and waits for another chance at her green card? While she waits, she cannot work legally or travel abroad, and a problem that her green card could have protected her from could arise and cost far more to defend and deal with. Indeed, for aliens under 21 an important clock is counting down, and those are informed have the best advantage.
An attorney cannot push services on an unwilling client, which means that family members must be diligent in encouraging each other to take action on their rights.
For most Lawful Permanent Residents, the moment of applying for Naturalization and thereby becoming a full Citizen is one of excitement and fulfillment. As a Citizen, one gains access to the vote, the ability to immediately petition one's immediate relatives for residency, and the assurance that no future crime, mistake, or extended stay abroad can interfere with their right to return to their U.S. home. But there are some who have made missteps since becoming Permanent Residents, nothing significant enough to bring down immediate consequences, perhaps, but incidents that could result in their deportation should they come under the scrutiny of USCIS. And the Naturalization interview is just the place where such scrutiny might occur. For these people, the decision of whether to Naturalize is a high-stakes gamble that will end either in forgiveness and security or in exile.
Though criminals aren't usually a class that inspire much sympathy, it must be remembered that not everyone who has ended up on the wrong side of the law can be painted with the same brush. Some are unjustly accused. Others merely exercised poor judgment that, by a chain of events, resulted in criminal liability.
Gabriel was a gentleman no longer young who had enjoyed a comfortable life in the United States for all of his life excepting his first two years which he -- through an understandable lapse of foresight -- spent abroad. In his early 30's, ten years after becoming a Lawful Permanent Resident, he was driving a friend's van to help his grandfather move house. He did not realize that there was a rifle in the back of the van, a fact that came to light when he was pulled over by law enforcement for rolling through a Stop sign. When one thinks of "firearms offenses," the term conjures up images of reckless vigilantes spraying bullets into a crowded street or perhaps incorrigible gang members toting concealed pistols into a Chuck E. Cheese. But Gabriel's unlicensed "carrying" of a firearm was also a firearms offense, and at the time it seemed simple to take a plea that resulted in a small fine plus probation and a suspended sentence. Section 237(a)(2)(C) of the Immigration & Nationality Act provides that any "alien who at any time after admission is convicted under any law of . . . carrying, . . . any weapon. . . which is a firearm . . . is deportable." That's a lot of any's, and more than enough to spell trouble for Gabriel.
If all that meant was that Gabriel should retreat from his Naturalization application into anonymity and spend the rest of his life as a Permanent Resident, at least the decision would be easy. It would mean a certain amount of living in fear of the immigration authorities, and a permanent inability to travel for fear of being investigated, detained, and expelled at the border. But at least the decision would be made for him. The fact, however, is that Gabriel has at least one avenue of relief available to him.
The most obvious option that happened to be open to Gabriel was to apply, hope for the best, and ask for Cancellation of Removal in the event his deportability was discovered. Cancellation of Removal for certain Permanent Residents is a form of relief that, if granted, preserves Permanent Resident status and effectively forgives the crimes at issue. Eligibility requirements are (1) has been an alien lawfully admitted for permanent residence for not less than 5 years, (2) has resided in the U.S. continuously for 7 years after having been admitted in any status, and (3) has not been convicted of any aggravated felony. However, this is not a guaranteed relief, and the possibility existed that he could be denied and left with no choice but to leave the United States.
It almost does sound like a game, but not the kind that can be started over fresh if a bad outcome results.
It should be noted that Gabriel was lucky to even have an option open to him. Not everyone does, and what worked for him or even had a chance to work for him may not work for someone with a different history. It's always necessary to explore immigration options with an experienced attorney.