Immigration Applications and Documentation

By Bethany McAllister, Esq.

Paper is dangerous. Immigrants and their sponsors will suffer lethal consequences if they fail to respect paper.

Many immigrants and their sponsors erroneously assume that immigration applications and petitions are a mere formality and nothing more, perhaps believing they will automatically establish eligibility for benefits just by completing the forms and submitting it to the United States Citizenship & Immigration Services (“CIS”) with the proper documentation.

This casual approach to immigration law often leads to case delays, wasted money, or–worse– court. Unfortunately, some people learn to respect paper the hard way after the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) serves them with a Notice to Appear in court.

Immigrants find themselves in immigration court proceedings when they file for benefits to they are not entitled.

Instead of treating paper in a casual manner, an immigrant should ask himself the following: (1) whether he is entitled to a benefit; (2) whether he has the correct form; (3) whether he has the correct evidence; and (4) whether he is correctly filing the form and/or the evidence at the right place at the right time. This list appears to be very easy because it is. However, one simple mistake can lead to avoidable problems with irreversible consequences. The following scenarios will give immigrants and their sponsors a basic understanding about the importance of paper.

Filing The Wrong Form at the Wrong Time

For the most part, completing the wrong form will only result in a loss of money. For example, a person on a valid tourist visa who applies for work authorization will only receive a denial, because he is not eligible for work authorization. He will only lose his money and may be questioned about it at a later date the next time he visits the United States. He filed the wrong form because he was not entitled to those benefits.

In one very sad case, a young man who failed to comply with his work visa status applied to adjust his status (get a green card). He did not ask an attorney. He simply believed that CIS would grant him permanent resident status because he had a wish and a paper. However, because he was not eligible, CIS denied his case and referred his case to ICE. Ironically, his wife was in the position to sponsor him within a few years, if only he had waited.

Documentary Evidence Is Essential

Immigrants sometimes encounter avoidable difficulties because they do not recognize the importance of documentation. Many non-attorneys view documents in a very casual manner, believing that producing a document is an insignificant detail designed only to pad CIS files.

On the contrary, CIS officers are like detectives who examine evidence to find mistakes. Common mistakes that they find include: (1) failing to submit the correct documentation while submitting the applications and petitions; (2) failing to comply with a deadline established by CIS; (3) failing to mail the documents at the correct location; and (5) filing fraudulent supporting documentation.

Sometimes Legitimate Documents Appear Fraudulent

It is fairly easy to recognize a fraudulent document and CIS detectives do it all of the time. In many cases, the document itself has conflicting information. For example, a foreign birth certificate may be fraudulent if it states that the immigrant was born on January 1, 1976 and that it was actually registered on January 1, 2006.

Fortunately, CIS officers and attorneys recognize that certain foreign governments do not have strict policies for recording births and other public information, and therefore do not always construe documentation very strictly.

Document Fraud Is Lethal

Other kinds of document fraud are less obvious, and can be found when the attorney or officer compares information on the fraudulent document to the information written on the application.

For example, in one true case, the immigrant’s cousin prepared the Affidavit of Support as a co-sponsor. One question on the Affidavit asks for the co-sponsor’s place of birth. The co-sponsor wrote in his own hand that he was born in Country X. The co-sponsor’s American passport states that he was born in Country Y. Therefore, it is quite obvious that the co-sponsor acquired his passport through fraudulent means. The information that he wrote on the Affidavit was most likely true since he wrote it by hand. He wrote the correct information on the form because he forgot that he had lied on his citizenship application.

If a CIS employee discovers such a discrepancy, the co-sponsor may find himself under federal investigation. And once a person is under federal investigation, federal law enforcement will review each application and petition that he filed for himself or on another person’s behalf.

CIS will not care that the immigrant himself did not lie. Willful blindness or ignorance of fraud is no excuse. If the co-sponsor lied, the Affidavit of Support is not reliable. The immigrant will not establish eligibility if CIS does not give him the opportunity to locate an honest co-sponsor.

Another way to examine the authenticity of a document is to contact the person referenced in a letter or Affidavit. When an immigrant submits an Affidavit of Support, the sponsor must include a letter of employment. If the immigrant’s wife filed the Affidavit of Support with false employment information, the immigrant may not have a second chance to present his case.

Some immigrants attempt to submit fraudulently notarized documents. One true example involves a young man who married a U.S. citizen. He initiated his paperwork and needed his wife’s notarized signature to complete the paperwork. He had told his attorney on several occasions that his wife went to visit her family in Puerto Rico. He was impatient and did not want to wait for her to return to complete the paperwork, and produced an Affidavit of Support which was “notarized” in Chicago, Illinois at the same time that she was in Puerto Rico. Although the government would have no way of knowing this fact, the attorney had an obligation to withdraw from the case.

The Best Protection

Immigrants and their sponsors should consult with immigration attorneys to see whether they are eligible. They should also make sure that third parties, such as co-sponsors, are submitting correct information. Immigrants can also have the U.S. Embassy abroad “authenticate” their foreign records. This is not difficult. Although it may not be required by CIS, an adjudications officer will have greater faith that the document was in fact issued by the foreign government, and not created by a person with a good printer at home.

This article does not constitute legal advice and those with immigration problems should seek out the services of a competent immigration specialist.

Ms. McAllister is an attorney in private practice in Dearborn, MI. Please direct local immigration inquiries to Ms. McAllister by telephone at (866) 584-4411.


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