Have you been a legal permanent resident for at least five years? If so, why not take the next step and become a naturalized U.S. citizen? An applicant who wants to become an American citizen must, generally, meet the following requirements:

(1) Be at least 18 years of age;

(2) Be a lawful permanent resident (“green card” holder);

(3) Have continuously resided in the United States for the five years preceding the filing of the application, or three years if married to a U.S. citizen;

(4) Be physically present in the United States for at least half of the past five years, or half of the past three years if married to a U.S. citizen (here, knowing your complete travel history is critical);

(5) Be a person of good moral character (“GMC”) during the past five (or three) years (note that GMC does not mean perfection and you may still be eligible for naturalization despite minor criminal convictions);

(6) Pass an English and U.S. civics examination (there are some exceptions based on age, time as a permanent resident, or medical condition); and

(7) Be willing to take the full oath of allegiance. (8 C.F.R. §316.2).

In addition, the applicant must show residency within the district having jurisdiction over his/her place of residency for at least three months preceding the filing of the application, and pay a filing fee unless eligible for a fee waiver or applying based on service in the U.S. Armed Forces. Lastly, male applicants born after 1960 who became lawful permanent residents and lived in the United States between 18 and 25 are required to provide information confirming registration with Selective Service.

The benefits of becoming a U.S. citizen are many, including petitioning for other family members, having the right to vote, and being eligible for certain jobs with the federal government.

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¿Ha sido usted un residente permanente legal por lo menos cinco años? Si es así, ¿por qué no tomar el siguiente paso y convertirse en ciudadano? Un solicitante que quiere convertirse en ciudadano Americano debe, en general, cumplir con los siguientes requisitos:

(1) Tener por lo menos 18 años de edad;

(2) Ser residente permanente;

(3) Haber residido/vivido continuamente en los Estados Unidos durante los cinco años antes de la presentación de la solicitud, o tres años si está casado con un ciudadano de los Estados Unidos;

(4) Estar físicamente presente en los Estados Unidos durante por lo menos la mitad de los últimos cinco años, o la mitad de los últimos tres años si está casado con un ciudadano de los Estados Unidos (aquí, saber su historial de viaje es muy importante);

(5) Ser una persona de buen carácter moral durante los últimos cinco (o tres) años (tenga en cuenta que esto no significa perfección y usted puede ser elegible para naturalización a pesar de tener antecedentes por delitos menores);

(6) Pasar un examen de inglés y historia de los Estados Unidos (hay algunas excepciones basadas en edad, tiempo como residente permanente, o condición médica); y

(7) Estar dispuesto a tomar el juramento completo de lealtad a los Estados Unidos. (8 C.F.R. §316.2).

Además, el solicitante debe demostrar su residencia dentro del distrito que tiene jurisdicción sobre su solicitud por lo menos tres meses antes de la presentación de la solicitud. Tambien, debe pagar una cuota para procesar la solicitud al menos que sea elegible para una exención de cuota o su aplicación es basada en servicio en las Fuerzas Armadas de los Estados Unidos. Por último, los solicitantes varones nacidos después de 1960 que se convirtieron en residentes permanentes legales y vivíeron en los Estados Unidos entre los 18 y 25 años de edad deben proporcionar información que confirme la inscripción en el Servicio Selectivo.

Hay muchos beneficios de ser ciudadano de los Estados Unidos, incluyendo poder immigrar a otros miembros de la familia, tener el derecho de votar, y ser elegible para ciertos trabajos con el gobierno federal.

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On January 27, 2017, a mere two days after signing sweeping immigration Executive Orders, President Trump signed yet another Order entitled “Protecting the Nation from Foreign Terrorist Entry into the United States” (the “Order”) which was implemented immediately and caused chaos at airports and outrage throughout this country and the world.

The Order, commonly-known as a “Muslim-ban,” suspends the U.S. Refugee Admissions Program for 120 days, reduces the number of refugees to be admitted, bars indefinitely the admission of Syrian refugees, and bans the entry of individuals from the Muslim-majority countries of Iran, Iraq, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syrian, and Yemen, for at least 90 days. As a result, anyone from these countries who sought – or were already approved for, immigrant visas to permanently reside in the U.S. or non-immigrant visas for temporary travel to the U.S. were denied entry. Incredibly, the Order was also made applicable to Legal Permanent Residents (LPRs), who have already been vetted by the government, who were returning home from business trips or vacation. Since then, the Administration has provided a number of “updates” including a couple of updates to clarify the Order is not applicable to LPRs. These updates have led to confusion and as of the writing of this blog continue to change.

Since the implementation of the Order, at least thirteen (13) lawsuits were filed against the new Administration, including a class action lawsuit, alleging Constitutional violations of procedural and substantive due process rights under the Fifth Amendment, as well as the right to readmission as LPRs; discrimination based on country of origin substantially motived by animus toward Muslims in violation of the Equal Protection component of the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment; violations of the Establishment Clause of the First Amendment by giving preference to non-Muslims; and violations of the Administrative Procedure Act and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. (AILA Doc. No. 17013101).

The lawsuits yielded immediate results in the form of stays and, on February 3, 2017, U.S. District Judge James Robart in Seattle temporarily blocked the Order nationwide. The government quickly sought an emergency stay of Judge Robart’s order but the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals refused to immediately reinstate the ban. On February 7, 2017, the Ninth Circuit Court heard oral arguments on the government’s motion, and a decision is expected later this week. Once a decision is issued by the Ninth Circuit Court, either side could appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court but, as has been noted, it could prove difficult to find the required five votes given the Court has been missing its ninth justice for almost a year since Antonin Scalia’s death.

The last immigration case that reached the Justices was in 2016 when Texas and 25 other states sued the Obama Administration to prevent the implementation of deferred action for parents, which resulted in a 4-4 decision. (United States v Texas, 136 S. Ct. 2271 (2016)). The other issue is time. How and when the case will reach the U.S. Supreme Court is unknown. The “Muslim-ban” is for 90 days and the issue could be moot by the time a decision is reached by the Justices. Or, as we have seen with so many updates, the government could yet again change the Order.

It would be wise for anyone affected by this Executive Order, especially those who intend to travel, to seek the immediate assistance of immigration counsel.

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On January 25, 2017, President Trump signed two Executive Orders, which impacted immigrants nationwide. No doubt you have heard about the building of a physical wall on the border with Mexico and back and forth argument on who will bear the cost. The impact of the Executive Orders, however, is much more serious than who gets to pay for the wall or than what has been reported on the news. In an attempt to avoid information overload, this blog will focus only on the more problematic aspects of each Order.

The first Executive Order entitled “Border Security and immigration Enforcement” was signed on January 25, 2017 and it directs the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to allocate funds to construct a physical wall on the border with Mexico and detention facilities. In addition, the EO directs DHS to “empower [s]tate and local law enforcement agencies across the country to perform the functions of an immigration officer” (EO, Sec. 10) under section 287(g) of the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA). In other words, state and local law enforcement will have the authority to investigate, apprehend, or detain aliens. These types of agreements under INA 287(g) were reduced significantly during the Obama administration because they were problematic and led to racial profiling and due process violations. Even more troubling is that, in conjunction with 287(g) agreements, the EO expands “expedited removal” to allow the removal of undocumented individual – including those with U.S. citizen spouses and children, without ever seeing an immigration judge. (AILA Doc. No. 17012505). Needless to say, the cost involved in building a wall is minimal next to the due process violations that are likely to occur when empowering state and local authorities to act as immigration officers, and when removing individuals without a court hearing.

The second Executive Order entitled “Enhancing Public Safety in the Interior of the United States” was also signed on January 25, 2017 and it increases Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) resources by hiring additional officers. Troubling, however, is the new enforcement priorities which basically changes the definition of who is a “criminal” for immigration purposes. In essence, the EO makes every undocumented individual a priority for removal, including those who “have been charged with any criminal offense, where such charge has not been resolved,” those who “have committed acts that constitute a chargeable criminal offense,” and, broadly, those who “otherwise pose a risk to public safety or national security” (EO, Sec. 5). Under the language of the EO, priorities could also include those who have been charged with minor offenses such as jaywalking as well as those who have overstayed their visas. The EO raises serious due process concerns. For instance, anyone charged with a crime – but not yet convicted, could be subject of removal prior to resolution of their state case. In addition, the definition of who “pose[s] a risk to public safety or national security” is left to the discretion of the arresting Federal, state, or local agent. (AILA Doc. No. 17012506).

Needless to say, the implications of each Executive Order are many, and anyone who is impacted by the Orders should immediately seek the advice of competent counsel.

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Are You Eligible to Self-Petition Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)?

Domestic violence occurs in all communities irrespective of ethnic or socioeconomic backgrounds. Immigrant women and children, however, are particularly vulnerable since the U.S. citizen (USC) or lawful permanent resident (LPR) spouse is able to use immigration as yet another means of controlling the victim.

In 1994, Congress recognized the plight of abused immigrants and their children by enacting the Violence Against Women Act which amended the Immigration and Nationality Act (INA) to allow abused immigrant spouses and their children to obtain permanent residence by self-petitioning before the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS). “Self-petitioning” means to request status independently, without the involvement or knowledge of the abusive USC or LPR spouse. VAWA 1994 was subsequently amended by the Battered Immigrant Women Protection Act (VAWA 2000) and again by the Violence Against Women Reauthorization Act of 2005. It is important to note that, despite the name, relief under VAWA is available to abused spouses regardless of gender.

Currently, a self-petition under VAWA may be filed by (1) abused spouses of USCs or LPRs; (2) spouses of USCs or LPRs whose children have been abused by the USC or LPR spouse; (3) abused “intended spouses” of USCs or LPRs (an “intended spouse” is one who marries a USC or LPR in good faith but then learns that the marriage is not legitimate because the USC or LPR is still married to someone else (see INA §101(a)(50)); (4) abused children of USCs or LPRs; and (5) abused parents of USCs who qualify as immediate relatives (abusive USC must be at least 21 years old). (INA §201(a)(1)). In addition, other than the last category, applicants may include their children as derivative beneficiaries even if the children are not related to the abuser and even if the children have not been abused. (8 CFR §204.2(c)(4)).

The requirements for a self-petition vary slightly depending on whether the self-petitioner is a spouse, child, or parent. A spouse or “intended spouse” must show the following:

(1) Good Moral Character, generally for the last three years preceding the filing of the self-petition (8 CFR §204.2(c)(1)(vii)). Waivers may be available to those who meet eligibility requirements.

(2) Marriage to a USC or LPR. An abused spouse who has since divorce or whose spouse has died within the past two years may self-petition. (INA §§204(a)(1)(A)(iii)(II)(aa)(CC)(ccc), (A)(vi), (B)(ii)(II)(aa)(CC)(bbb)).

(3) Good faith marriage. A self-petitioning spouse must show by a preponderance of the evidence that the marriage or intended marriage was entered into in good faith.

(4) That during the marriage, the spouse was battered or subject of extreme cruelty committed by the USC or LPR spouse. (INA §204(a)(1)(A)(iii)(bb), (iv), (B)(ii)(I)(bb), (iii)). Abuse is defined as “any act or threatened act of violence, including any forceful detention, which results or threatens to result in physical or mental injury.” It includes psychological abuse, rape, incest, and forced prostitution. (8 CFR §§204.2(c)(1)(vi), (e)(2)(vi)).

(5) Residence, in the past or presently, with the USC or LPR spouse, and

(6) The abuse spouse’s current residence in the United States or, if living abroad, that the abusing spouse is an employee of the U.S. government, member of the uniformed services, or that the battery or extreme cruelty occurred in the United States. (INA §§201(a)(1)(A),(B)).

As you can see from this discussion, there are many nuances involved in the VAWA application process and every case requires a thorough analysis and assessment of the particular facts of each case.

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H-2B Visas for Temporary Non-Agricultural Workers

Employment-Based Immigration. My company is growing but I am unable to find qualified workers to keep up with business demands. Are foreign workers an option?

Yes, albeit a qualified yes, given the strict requirements imposed by Congress. Immigration law allows employers in various industries to bring in foreign workers to support their business needs when the employers are unable to find qualified U.S. workers. There are many employment-based visa classifications, including those for professional, skilled, or unskilled workers.

The H-2B classification permits U.S. employers who meet specific regulatory requirements to bring foreign workers from certain eligible countries (currently 58 countries) to the United States to fill temporary non-agricultural jobs. (The “other half” of the H-2 classification is the H-2A visa, which is reserved for agricultural workers, a topic to be discussed in a future article.) Examples of occupations sought for H-2B classification include, but are not limited to: (1) landscaping and groundskeeping workers; (2) maids and housekeeping cleaners; (3) amusement and recreation attendants; (4) meat, poultry, and fish cutters and trimmers; (5) constructions laborers; (6) production workers; (7) cooks; and (8) laborers and freight, stock, and materials movers. (U.S. Dept. of Labor, Office of Foreign Labor Certification, FY 2016 YTD.)

The process of bringing in foreign workers, however, is far from easy and it requires the petitioning employer, through the U.S. Department of Labor (DOL), to first test the labor market to make sure there are not enough qualified U.S. workers who are able, willing, qualified, and available to do the temporary work, and the employment of the temporary workers will not adversely affect wage rate and working conditions of similarly employed U.S. workers.

The employer, thus, must first apply for and obtain approval for a temporary labor certification from DOL, which includes advertising for the position in different forums. The employer then applies for and obtains approval for H-2B classification from U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), which works with a Congressionally-mandated cap or limit of 66,000 visas per fiscal year. Once USCIS issues approval, it is up to the foreign worker to apply for a visa with a U.S. embassy or consulate abroad and meet a host of other requirements. After obtaining his/her visa, the worker then applies for admission with U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP). Lastly, the foreign worker enters the U.S., starts working for the employer and, like a U.S. worker, is subject to taxation requirements.

The H-2B visa classification is authorized on a temporary basis, typically no more than one year. If the employer wishes to extend it, then the employer must again test the labor market before applying for an extension. Spouses and unmarried children under 21 years of age of the foreign worker may also seek admission, but these family members are not permitted to work.

For U.S. employers, planning is key given the complexity of this process, the cap on annual visas, and the strict deadlines that need to be adhered to in order to have an application processed and approved.

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I am a U.S. citizen, Can I Help My Relatives Obtain Their Permanent Residency (“Green Card”)?

A U.S. citizen may file an immigrant petition for (1) a spouse, (2) an unmarried child under 21 years of age, (3) an unmarried son/daughter over 21, (4) a married son/daughter regardless of age, (5) parents, or (6) siblings. The U.S. citizen must be at least 21 years of age, however, in order to file an immigrant petition on behalf of parents or siblings. Typically, the process is started by filing of a “petition for alien relative” on Form I-130. Depending on other eligibility requirements, once the petition is approved, your relative may apply to adjust his/her status/apply for permanent residency in the U.S. or process his application at a U.S. consulate or embassy abroad (more on this in a future blog).

Spouses, unmarried children under 21, and parents of U.S. citizen petitioners are considered “immediate relatives.” This means that, although immediate relatives are part of the overall annual cap of 480,000 immigrant visas set by Congress, immediate relatives are not subject to a numerical limit within the overall cap and your relatives under these categories do not need to wait for a visa number to become available before applying for permanent residency.

Unmarried sons/daughters over 21 (F1 category; limited to 23, 400 visas annually), married sons/daughters regardless of age (F3 category; limited to 23, 400 visas annually), and siblings (F4 category; limited to 65, 000 visas annually) of U.S. citizen petitioners are part of the “family preference” categories and subject to the cap. For these relatives, the high demand and the Congressional cap on the number of visas that are available for each category during a given year means that your relatives may have to wait several years in line while petitions that were filed before theirs are processed. Due to the number of petitions that are filed, the wait is substantially longer for nationals of Mexico and the Philippines. For instance, as of July 2016, visas for Mexican nationals under the F1 category, unmarried sons/daughters over 21 of U.S. citizens, were available to those beneficiaries under a Petition for Alien Relative filed on March 8, 1995. This means that if you were to file a petition for alien relative for your unmarried son/daughter over 21 today, the wait time is approximately 21 years! (U.S. Department of State, Bureau of Consular Affairs, July 2016 Visa Bulletin).

Often, there are other ways for your relative to immigrate to the United States. An immigration attorney can assist you by reviewing your relative’s complete immigration history and develop a plan for your relative’s immigration.

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Soy ciudadano de EE.UU., puedo ayudar a mis parientes a que obtengan su residencia permanente?

Un ciudadano estadounidense puede presentar una petición para inmigrar para (1) el cónyuge, (2) un hijo soltero menor de 21 años de edad, (3) un hijo soltero mayor de 21 años, (4) un hijo casado sin importar la edad, (5) sus padres (6) o hermanos. Sin embargo, el ciudadano estadounidense debe tener al menos 21 años de edad para poder presentar una petición de inmigrante en nombre de sus padres o hermanos. Por lo general, el proceso se inicia mediante la presentación de una “petición para pariente extranjero” usando el Formulario I-130. Dependiendo de otros requisitos de elegibilidad, una vez que la petición es aprobada, su pariente puede solicitar el ajuste/residencia permanente en los EE.UU. o procesar su solicitud en un consulado o embajada en el extranjero (más sobre esto en un futuro blog).

Cónyuges, hijos solteros menores de 21 años, y los padres del ciudadano estadounidense son considerados como “parientes inmediatos” (“immediate relatives”). Esto significa que, aunque continúan siendo parte del límite anual de 480,000 visas de inmigrantes establecidos por el Congreso, los parientes inmediatos no tienen que esperar un número de visa antes de solicitar la residencia permanente.

Hijos solteros mayores de 21 años (categoría F1, con límite de 23,400 visas anuales), hijos casados independientemente de su edad (categoría F3, con límite de 23,400 visas anuales), y hermanos (categoría F4, con límite de 65,000 visas anuales) del ciudadano estadounidense son parte de la categoría de familia de preferencia (“family preference”) y están sujetos a el límite de visas anuales establecido por el Congreso. Para estos parientes, la alta demanda de visa y el límite del número de visas significa que pueden tener que esperar varios años en línea para que un número de visa esté disponible. Debido al gran número de peticiones que se presentan cada año, la espera es aún más larga para los nacionales de México y las Filipinas. Por ejemplo, a partir de Julio de 2016, se están procesando peticiones con fecha del 8 de Marzo 1995 para ciudadanos mexicanos en la categoría F1, hijo solteras de más de 21 años de edad. Esto significa que si usted va a presentar una petición para su hijo soltero mayor de 21 años en este momento, la espera es de varios años! (Departamento de Estado de EE.UU., Oficina de Asuntos Consulares, Boletín de visas, Julio 2016).

Con frecuencia, hay otras maneras para que su pariente pueda inmigrar a los Estados Unidos. Un abogado de inmigración le puede ayudar en revisar el historial migratorio de su pariente y desarrollar un plan para inmigrar.

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Beneficios De Inmigración Bajo La Ley De Violencia Contra Las Mujeres

Por desgracia, es muy común que algunos inmigrantes que no son ciudadanos permanezcan en relaciones abusivas porque el miembro de la familia que es el abusador, como un cónyuge, padre o hijo, es la clave para arreglar su situación migratoria en los Estados Unidos. Estas personas tienen razón en temer la deportación porque la deportación puede suceder en cualquier momento hasta que el inmigrante ha obtenido estatus legal. Además, los inmigrantes indocumentados no son elegibles para algunos tipos de ayuda del gobierno, tales como cupones de alimentos, lo cual es asistencia fundamental para las víctimas de la violencia doméstica. Como resultado, el cónyuge abusivo utiliza el proceso de inmigración para controlar el cónyuge indocumentado, ya sea negándose a presentar una petición familiar, amenazando retirar una petición pendiente, o incluso llamando a las autoridades de inmigración para iniciar un proceso de deportación. El cónyuge abusado e indocumentado entonces no sale de la relación abusiva, no se opone a los abusos, y no llama a la policía para reportar el abuso.

En 1994, el Congreso de Estados Unidos tomó nota de este problema y promulgó la Ley de Violencia Contra las Mujeres (VAWA por sus siglas en Ingles), que fue modificada en 1996, 2000, 2006 y 2013. VAWA permite a las víctimas de violencia a obtener estatus migratorio legal por su propia cuenta, sin tener que depender de un cónyuge abusivo para iniciar y completar el proceso. A pesar del nombre, la protección bajo VAWA está disponible para los hombres y las mujeres.

VAWA, por lo tanto, permite que un cónyuge, hijo (menor de 21 años), padre de un niño maltratado (solteros y menores de 21), o un padre que sea maltratado físicamente y / o sometido a “crueldad extrema” por un ciudadano estadounidense o residente legal permanente, ya sea un cónyuge, padre, o hijo mayor de edad, haga una auto-petición para beneficios de inmigración. Por ejemplo, en el caso de una cónyuge maltratado, él / ella debe demostrar que (1) el / ella entró en el matrimonio de buena fe y que el matrimonio sigue siendo válido o se ha terminado menos de dos años antes de la presentación de la auto- petición (existe una excepción para los matrimonios en los que el abusador cometió bigamia sin el conocimiento de la auto-solicitante); (2) él / ella vivió con el abusador durante el matrimonio; (3) él / ella fue golpeado o sometido a crueldad extrema durante el matrimonio (tenga en cuenta que reportes de policía son buenos comprobantes pero no son requeridos por las razones descritas anteriormente); y (4) él / ella es una persona de buen carácter moral (no hay crímenes), aunque una renuncia/perdón puede estar disponible para ciertos delitos si están conectados a la historia de la violencia doméstica.

Teniendo en cuenta la limitación indicada anteriormente, todos aquellos que tienen un decreto final de divorcio deben apresurarse para empezar este proceso. Además, se requiere un historial de inmigración exhaustiva del inmigrante indocumentado para evaluar el caso y determinar la mejor manera de proceder.

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Immigration Benefits Under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA)

It is unfortunately all too common that some abused noncitizens stay in abusive relationships because an abusive family member, such as a spouse, parent, or child, holds a vital key to their immigration status in the United States. The abused noncitizens rightfully fear that they may be deported, which can happen at any time until the noncitizen has obtained legal immigrant status. In addition, undocumented noncitizens are not eligible for some types of government aid such as food stamps, which is critical assistance to victims of domestic violence. As a result, the abusive spouse uses the immigration process to control the undocumented spouse either by refusing to file a family petition, or by threatening to withdraw a pending petition, or even calling immigration authorities to start deportation proceedings. The abused undocumented spouse then does not leave the abusive relationship, does not object to the abuse, and does not call the police to report the abuse.

In 1994, Congress took note of this problem and enacted The Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), which was amended in 1996, 2000, 2006 and 2013. VAWA allows victims of abuse to gain lawful immigrant status on their own, or self-petition, without having to rely on an abusive relative to start and complete the process. Despite the name, protection under VAWA is available to both men and women.

VAWA, thus, allows a spouse, child (under 21), parent of an abused child (unmarried and under 21), or a parent who is physically battered and/or subjected to “extreme cruelty” by a U.S. citizen or legal permanent resident spouse, parent or adult U.S. citizen child, to self-petition for immigration benefits. In the case of an abused spouse, he/she must demonstrate that (1) he/she entered into the marriage in good faith and that the marriage is still valid, or was terminated less than two years prior to the filing of the self-petition (an exception exists for marriages where the abuser committed bigamy without the self-petitioner’s knowledge); (2) he/she resided with the abuser during the marriage; (3) he/she was battered or subjected to extreme cruelty during the marriage (note that police required are good evidence but not required for the reasons described above); (4) he/she is a person of good moral character (no crimes), although a waiver may be available for certain crimes if they are connected to the history of domestic violence.

Given the limitation noted above, time is of the essence for those who have a final decree of divorce. In addition, a thorough immigration history of the undocumented immigrant is required to assess the case and determine the best way to proceed.

Marie E. Wood is an Immigration Attorney in Riverside County. Let her help you achieve your immigration dreams!

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