Articles Posted in Citizenship and Naturalization

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The Washington Post has an interesting look at famous people who have given up US citizenship. Rock ‘n roll icon Tina Turner recently gave up her citizenship at the US Embassy in Bern, Switzerland.

A recent Wall Street Journal article stated that in 2013, 2369 US citizens expatriated according to figures released from the US Department of Treasury. Intentional renunciation of citizenship is a solemn process that must be voluntarily and knowingly made before a US consular officer. The US State Department administers “Statements of Voluntary Relinquishment of U.S. Citizenship” under Section 349 (a)(1) of the Immigration and Nationality Act. The application can take several months and the consular officer may request several interviews to make sure the person has given a good deal of thought to their decision. Of paramount concern is that the individual be doing so voluntarily and with sound mind.

Perhaps less known is that once a US citizen renounces citizenship, he or she becomes an “alien” and is subject to the usual visa and green card requirements as well as grounds of inadmissibility and removeability if coming to the US in the future. There is a specific ground of inadmissibility if one renounced US citizenship for the purpose of avoiding US taxes under Immigration and Nationality Act section 212(a)(10)(e):

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A colleague of mine who adopted a foreign born child who is a US citizen reports problems signing up for health care under the Washington Health Care Exchange. The problem is that the system does not seem to recognize the Social Security Numbers of individuals with Certificates of Citizenship or Certificates of Naturalization. She has reported this to the powers that be at the Exchange. But it is representative of a larger issue we immigration lawyers frequently see.

We don’t just represent foreign born immigrants. We also represent US citizens in a world of ever increasing need to document citizenship status, whether in those states now requiring proof of citizenship status in order to vote, to sign up for Medicare or Medicaid, to get US passports or enhanced drivers licenses in order to come back into the USA, to get security clearances, and for a myriad of benefits and services requiring proof of citizenship status. The makers of these verification rules and technology don’t have a good grasp on the different ways people can become US citizens: 1) by being born in the USA; 2) by being born abroad to one or more US citizens or acquiring citizenship through the generations; 3) through naturalization; 4) through adoption; 5) through military service, and more. Consequently, unless you were born in the US and received a Social Security Number at birth, it is recommended that when you obtain a new status or even a name change, that you update Social Security with your new status. Social Security in turns shares that data with a myriad of systems at other agencies such as E-Verify, used by employers to verify work authorization in the US, and now the federal and state Healthcare exchanges, among others. You can do a quick self-test here at E-Verify (it checks both immigration and citizenship status and Social Security numbers.) If you get a bounce, check the way you entered your name. If it is not the same as on your Social Security number, I suggest making an appointment with Social Security to get your records updated.

Although a whole other topic about which immigrants can or cannot receive Obamacare, see the National Immigration Law Center.

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Following up to my July 4th post, On Becoming a U.S. Citizen, lo and behold, to my surprise, my husband bought me “Citizen U.S.A.: A 50 State Road Trip” by Alexandra Pelosi, the book accompanying the HBO documentary produced by Ms. Pelosi and mentioned in my earlier post. The book is an excerpt of interviews in which Ms. Pelosi asked new Americans around the country:

  • What are you bringing to this country?
  • What do Americans take for granted?
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I am sipping an early morning Starbucks bold Italian brew on this gorgeous Seattle Fourth of July and reflecting on what it means to be a U.S. citizen. Today, across the country, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services will be holding large-group naturalization ceremonies in stadiums, concert halls and other big venues to coincide with our country’s independence day. The ceremonies will be solemn on the one hand, and full of pomp and circumstance on the other, as those taking the oath of allegiance celebrate their new citizenship status on one of the most patriotic days of the year. Having been born in the U.S. myself, I can’t possibly imagine what it must feel like to achieve the lifelong dream of U.S. citizenship from the perspective of someone born abroad. However, I have been to a few of these ceremonies in the past to see my clients take the oath of allegiance, and I always get goosebumps. The room is always full of people from many different lands, who came here for such diverse reasons as job opportunities, falling in love, uniting with family, escaping economic or environmental hardship, or fleeing physical abuse or oppression. Some were even brought here as children and always thought they were U.S. citizens until as adults they learned they were not automatic citizens. Naturalization ceremonies are one of the happiest services provided by USCIS and the courts. And, to their credit, they always do a nice job making the ceremony a pleasant and meaningful experience.

When I ask my clients why they want to apply for naturalization, the most common reason given is the “desire to participate in our system” or to vote. Another common reason for some who have had green cards for many years, is because their native country finally allows their nationals to have dual citizenship or because long time permanent residents finally “feel American.” Other reasons include not wanting to jeopardize having a green card taken away due to a criminal or legal mishap or abandonment of residence. Still other reasons are to qualify for scholarships, or to obtain top level security clearances or employment opportunities for certain military, government and private sector jobs. Ability to sponsor relatives is sometimes given as a reason to become American. Others have spent years learning English and studying for the test or have worked two jobs to raise the high filing fees and now feel ready to apply and be successful. Still others have served our country through military service. Whatever the reasons, new Americans undertake this solemn oath of allegiance with dedication and excitement. Many of these reasons and others are shown in a new film by Alexandra Pelosi, the daughter of Nancy Pelosi in her new documentary film, “Citizen USA: A 50 State Road Trip” in which Ms. Pelosi interviews new Americans around the country. The film airs tonight on HBO at 9pm.

Being American As a State of Mind

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Earthquakes, tsunamis, radiation, mass protests and civil unrest, and now the U.S. bombing yet another country, this time Libya. How can Americans traveling abroad protect themselves? The U.S. State Department has three programs every American should be aware of before going abroad, if you don’t mind having your personal information in a government database: STEP, ACS and Task Force Alert. I mentioned STEP and Task Force Alert briefly in my prior post, State Department Information on Japan Earthquake and Tsunami. All three programs are described in more detail below.

Besides individual travelers around the world visiting, studying and conducting business, plus millions of U.S citizens living abroad more permanently, we also have many members of the military, media, and humanitarian relief workers stationed in hot spots all over the world. IF you want to be able to get emergency information or relief from the U.S. government, these three programs could possibly help you. (Notice I use qualifiers like “may”, “could”, and “if”. Many people would not depend on the U.S. government to assist them under any circumstance either due to distrust or political reasons. Others try but get mired in bureaucracy. However, many humanitarian relief and military operations are coordinated with the State Department as well as with private business. Be sure to check out the privacy statement for each program described below to determine your comfort level in disclosing your personal data.) By contrast, I suggest also reading the State Department’s Twitter and Facebook pages as well as some interesting blogs and chat groups about the great work foreign service officers perform and the variety of help they provide to Americans abroad. (See also ConsularCorner on Facebook.)

Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP)

STEP, formerly known as Registration with Embassies, allows travelers to receive State Department “Travel Warnings” and “Warden Messages” as well as other country condition updates while traveling. It also enables the local U.S. Embassy to quickly contact Americans in case of a crisis so they can find safety, be evacuated or receive other expedited assistance. It also enables family and friends to request Embassy assistance finding you if for some reason they were waiting to hear from you and did not. Travelers sign up once and then can change travel plan information online as needed. Other reasons for this service are to obtain Embassy assistance if you need serious legal, medical or financial assistance while traveling.

American Citizen Services and Crisis Management (ACS)

The State Department runs another program called ACS that “supports the work of …overseas embassies and consulates in providing emergency services to Americans traveling or living abroad. [They]… also assist in non-emergency matters of birth, identity, passport, citizenship, registration, judicial assistance, and estates. ACS can facilitate the transfer of funds overseas to assist U.S. citizens in need, repatriate the remains of loved ones who have died overseas, assist victims of crime, and help U.S. citizens who are detained in foreign prisons….ACS also administers a repatriation loan program to bring home destitute Americans. [There are]….24-hour Duty Officers on Program and Crisis Response Teams who work on task forces convened to deal with natural or man-made disasters.”

Contact information for this program is:
From within the U.S. 1-888-407-4747 From outside the U.S. 1-202-501-4444
ACS does not handle any of the following activities:
Act as your lawyer, translator, interpreter, personal assistant, travel agent, investigator, law enforcement agent or real estate agent;
Provide you or your family with physical protection;
Arrange release from U.S. military service obligations;
Pay your debts or fines, sort out property disputes; or interfere in judicial proceedings;
Find you employment, residence, or schools;
Search for missing luggage;
Settle disputes with hotel managers and landlords; or Discuss visa cases.

Task Force Alert

Task Force Alert goes into service when there is an actual countrywide crisis such as currently exists in Japan. With this program, the traveler can enter information about oneself as well as loved ones so that the State Department can find out or transmit information about each person and between them. You can provide information about special needs of the traveler (e.g., elderly, needs medication, unaccompanied minor), and emergency contact information. You can also upload a photograph and provide the person’s last known location as well as biographical and last known location information. Right now, the program is set up for the crisis in Japan.
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USCIS has posted a Q&A on its website covering several immigration scenarios that Japanese nationals in the U.S. and abroad may be facing as a result of the earthquake and tsunami devastation and nuclear radiation evacuations. There are materials on their website in both English and Japanese.

Tourists in the U.S.
There are two kinds of tourists in the U.S. The first group involves those who entered without a visa through the visa waiver program. By using this program, tourists typically give up rights to extensions, change of status, and defense in an immigration court. However, USCIS is allowing Japanese nationals on visa waivers to apply for a 30-day period of “satisfactory departure.” This has to be done at an airport by visiting a CBP office or in person at a local USCIS office (for example, in Tukwila serving the Western Washington area). I would expect the situation for visa waiver tourists to be fluid over the next few weeks as the situation in Japan develops, given that there are radiation evacuations underway, and supplies and recovery efforts for those stranded by the disaster have been slow to reach the victims. Stay tuned for further announcements.

Japanese nationals in the U.S. on a tourist or other nonimmigrant visa may apply for an extension of stay by filing form I539 and the $290 filing fee with USCIS. Up to six additional months may be given. Even if applications are filed late, they will be accepted up to May 11, 2011. However, the applicant has to show he or she is affected by the March 11 earthquake or related events. Tourists may not work in the U.S. Extension requests made after May 11, 2011 will be reviewed case by case.

Parole/Advance Parole
Parolees whose parole status expired on or after March 11, 2011 and up to May 11, 2011 may apply to have parole extended (or “re-parole” given) and seek work authorization. One must make an INFOPASS appointment to appear in person at a local USCIS office and must show how he or she is affected by the March 11 events. Work authorization requests are made on form I765.
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I just returned from Vancouver, Washington where together with fellow immigration attorneys, we helped legal immigrants with green cards apply for U.S. citizenship. The Washington Chapter of the American Immigration Lawyers Association (AILA) provides pro bono services three days a year at nine sites throughout Washington State at locations traditionally under-served by the availability of affordable lawyers. Citizenship Day programs were also held this weekend in Des Moines and Mt. Vernon, Washington where larger crowds were expected. AILA partners with One America, an immigrant advocacy and outreach organization that provides logistical and PR support for the program called Washington New Americans. Local community colleges and nonprofit organizations provide space and other support.

Originally started by an AILA Washington member as a once-a-year project, the program expanded nationally to every April sponsored by the national AILA office. However, our chapter, which I currently chair, expanded our program three years ago to multiple days and sites when we began our partnership with One America. Aside from lawyers who work pro bono, we also have volunteer translators, BIA accredited representatives, paralegals and other local citizens who help make the program successful. The Vancouver based newspaper, The Columbian, covered the event.

As a Seattle immigration lawyer, I don’t mind donating a few days of my time to the community along with other pro bono projects that I’m involved with for other organizations. Aside from being a fun day and a chance to get out of town, I like spending the day with my colleagues and the other volunteers, and counseling individuals who want a chance at participating more fully in their adopted homeland. Most people who apply for citizenship say they want the chance to vote and to participate politically, and I am inspired by their drive to be successful. Everyone served is appreciative of the service. On average, many of the clients who come to Citizenship Day have been permanent residents for many years. Often the steep filing fee of $680.00, not knowing where or how to get advice, and being ready to pass the civics and history or English test can be obstacles to applying. Those with difficult qualification issues who end up not filing that day are referred to other lawyers. Everyone is grateful for a chance to meet with a lawyer, learn more about the process and any issues they may have. Of those who clearly qualify, we help them prepare their applications so they are ready to be put into the mail. Most people we help are low income or of modest means who would ordinarily not be able to afford an attorney. With the State of Washington proposing to eliminate funding to nonprofits that traditionally provide pro bono or low cost citizenship help, AILA’s Citizenship Day is becoming even more important for the community, especially since immigration laws have become so complicated. And, with One America’s help, new citizens learn to become more engaged in their community.

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In a very important 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision, Dent v. Holder, No. 09-71987, November 9, 2010, the Court held that Mr. Dent was entitled to his immigration files in order to have a full and fair hearing under the Due Process Clause of the 5th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. Mr. Dent represented himself in an Immigration Court Proceedings. He was charged with being deportable because of an aggravated felony. However, he alleged that he had been adopted by a U.S. Citizen when he was eleven years old. The Immigration Judge gave him opportunities to produce his adoption papers and his adoptive mother’s U.S. citizenship status papers. Ms. Dent was born in 1904 when birth records were not kept, and she died while on an annual trip to Honduras from where she had originally met Mr. Dent and decided to adopt him. Mr. Dent claimed his adopted mother’s papers were in the government files because she had to present them in order to bring him to the U.S. Unbeknownst to Mr. Dent, for years there was a government file never turned over to him that contained his mother’s and his applications for naturalization. In what looks like an abhorrent set of circumstances, the government may have denied the mother’s naturalization 27 years after she filed it and long after the Immigration Judge denied his case and he appealed. The Court was concerned about the authenticity of the adjudication of the naturalization applications.

The Court held that Mr. Dent was entitled to copies of his A files so that he could challenge the deportation charges against him, particularly since he claimed to be a naturalized U.S. citizen. (Immigration application files are often referred to as “A files” because each immigrant is assigned a number starting with A followed by several digits.) The Court stated:

It would indeed be unconstitutional if the law entitled an alien in removal proceedings to his A-file, but denied him access to it until it was too late to use it. That would unreasonably impute to Congress and the agency a Kafkaesque sense of humor about aliens’ rights. Prejudice here is plain, because the A-file, when it is fully examined and this case adjudicated on all the facts, may show that Dent is a naturalized citizen of the United States.

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584383_united_states_passport.jpgImmigration enforcement legislation creates problems for U.S. citizens as well as for immigrants. Over the last few years, we have seen growth in our American citizen clientele because of new federal and state documentation burdens enacted under the guise of national security or to combat illegal immigration. The most common refrain we hear is: “I grew up in the U.S. I always thought I was an American but never had anything to show for it and I never needed the proof until now.” Ironically, we hear the same thing about the children of undocumented immigrants who have grown up in the U.S.; only now we are dealing with “undocumented Americans.”

Documentation burdens affecting American citizens include:

WHITI: WHITI stands for the Western Hemisphere International Travel Initiative. WHITI requires U.S. citizens to have one of these types of documents when returning from Canada, Mexico, the Caribbean or Bermuda: passports, enhanced drivers’ licenses, military cards with travel orders, Merchant Marine Cards, I872 American Indian or Enhanced Tribal cards, Trusted Traveler Cards (see below), or in the case of children under 16, original birth certificates, evidence of birth recorded abroad, or naturalization certificates.

The number of Americans holding U.S. passports has been fairly low compared to other countries, but filings have substantially increased in the last two to three years as WHITI was fazed in. Now, more Americans need passports or one of the documents listed above to re-enter the U.S. from travel destinations not far from the U.S. U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has a useful “Know Before You Go” brochure describing what documents are needed. Keep in mind that the cheaper Enhanced Drivers License only allows for reentry from specified countries, and only some states offer it. A U.S. Passport is more flexible and required for travel from other countries around the world. You can learn about Washington State’s Enhanced Drivers License here. To obtain a passport, see the U.S. Department of State’s website.
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