If you are living in the US without legal immigration status, you’re not alone. The US Department of Homeland Security estimates that there are over 11 million undocumented immigrants in the US. You work hard, raise your families, and pay your taxes and are waiting for an opportunity to get in line for a visa or green card.
The following 7 tips will help those here without legal status make the best of their situation now while planning for the hope of future immigration reform.
1. Keep copies of your identity documents and immigration papers (including alien number and attorney phone number) where your family can access them. Find out if you or your close family members (current/former spouse, parent, child, sibling) have ever had paperwork filed with Immigration or the Department of Labor before. If you have been a victim of a crime, collect the police reports for those incidents. If you have been arrested, collect the certified final dispositions and proof of payment of fines for those incidents.
2. Make an appointment with a qualified immigration attorney to check if you have options for a current or future path to legal status based upon family, your job, your age when you entered the US, being a victim abuse or another crime, being in deportation proceedings, being afraid of persecution in your home country or other humanitarian grounds. Be honest with the attorney about your entries into the US, any arrests/deportations, and any false documents.
3. If you are arrested, hire a criminal defense attorney with immigration expertise or one that will consult with an immigration attorney with deportation experience. This arrest could impact your ability to stay in the US, even if the offense is minor, so you must hire the right expert to minimize the criminal and immigration impact.
4. If you are picked up by immigration, do not sign any papers without speaking with a lawyer. Do not lie or provide false documents. Have your family take your documents and see a qualified immigration attorney. Attend all court and ICE appointments on time.
5. Keep records of your presence in the US (taxes, bills, receipts, leases, insurance, medical and school records). Many immigration options (current and potential new ones) require proof of residence and paying taxes. Keep handy the contact information for US citizens and legal residents who know about your character, work ethic and family life.
6. Make sure you file tax returns and pay taxes even if you do not have a valid social security number or are working with a false number. Make sure you:
- Do not lie in the tax documents
- Do not underestimate your income, overestimate your expenses or claim dependents that you are not eligible for.
- Tell your tax preparer that the taxes may be reviewed by federal immigration authorities and therefore must adhere to the law.
- Keep copies of the taxes you file and pay.
7. If your lawyer or another person is preparing documents for you, be sure to read them before signing or have an interpreter read them to you before signing. Only use an attorney or BIA accredited representative for immigration help. You should be provided a copy of all filings and mail from the government. Do not use a notario for immigration help. Although in Latin America a notario may be an attorney, in the US notarios have no license, do not know the law and have landed people into big trouble by either misfiling or filing for benefits the applicant was not eligible for. If you have concerns or have any doubts, do not hesitate to get a second opinion from a qualified immigration attorney.
Antonini & Cohen is a law firm dedicated to immigration law
US immigration law offers only a few options to go from being an undocumented immigrant to permanent resident. Contact the experienced immigration attorneys at Antonini & Cohen for help understanding all your options for a current of future path to legal status.