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This sponsored column is by Law Office of James Montana PLLC. All questions about it should be directed to James Montana, Esq., Doran Shemin, Esq., and Laura Lorenzo, Esq., practicing attorneys at The Law Office of James Montana PLLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact us for an appointment.

Traveling to the U.S. for the holidays? Here’s the info on new COVID-19 requirements!

Citizens! Readers! Fellow disease vectors! We are approaching that time of the year when we travel to be with loved ones, eat overrated food and consider throwing a turkey drumstick at Uncle Billy. Last year, very few people traveled, but this year has looked a bit more “normal” according to the TSA checkpoint travel numbers.

What does the new normal look like for those traveling to the U.S.?

On October 25, 2021, President Biden issued Presidential Proclamation 10294 rescinding the geographic COVID-19 travel bans which restricted travel for those from China, Iran, the Schengen Area, UK and Ireland, Brazil, South Africa and India, and adopted COVID-19 vaccination requirements for all international air travelers to the United States (with few exceptions).

According to the new Presidential Proclamation, all international air travelers must be fully vaccinated to enter the United States. Air travelers are now required to provide proof of vaccination before boarding a plane to the United States; but beware, not all vaccines are accepted. The CDC has published a list of vaccines that are approved or authorized by the FDA or on the World Health Organization emergency use list. The following vaccines are accepted:

  • Janssen/Johnson & Johnson (Single Dose)
  • Pfizer-BioNTech
  • Moderna
  • AstraZeneca
  • Covishield
  • BIBP/Sinopharm
  • Sinovac
  • Covaxin

The Proclamation provides some exceptions to the vaccine requirement (spoiler alert: no religious or moral convictions exceptions are included). These are as follows:

  • Children under the age of 18
  • Those who have participated in clinical trials for covid-19 vaccination
  • Those for whom covid-19 vaccines are medically contraindicated
  • Those who are granted humanitarian and emergency exceptions by the Director of the CDC
  • Those citizens of a country with less than 10% of the population vaccinated
  • Members of the U.S. armed forces and their spouses and children
  • National interest exceptions
  • Diplomats or persons on official government travel
  • United Nations travel
  • Sea crew members
  • Airline crew members

It is important to note that anyone subject to these exceptions will have rigorous testing requirements upon arrival, and will have to self-quarantine for 7 days (even if the test results are negative), or self-isolate (in the case of a positive result). Moreover, if these individuals intend to stay for longer than 60 days, they may be required to become fully vaccinated within 60 days of arrival or as soon as medically appropriate.

For more detailed information about the requirements for proof of COVID-19 vaccination for air passengers, please visit this link.

As always, we are happy to answer any questions from our readers. Happy and healthy Thanksgiving!

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This sponsored column is by Law Office of James Montana PLLC. All questions about it should be directed to James Montana, Esq., Doran Shemin, Esq., and Laura Lorenzo, Esq., practicing attorneys at The Law Office of James Montana PLLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact us for an appointment.

If you are a loyal reader of our columns, you know that there are always new federal lawsuits popping up against various federal government agencies. Well, this week is no exception.

On November, 8, 2021, the American Immigration Lawyers Association, along with four other attorneys in private practice, filed a class action lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. There are 49 plaintiffs and four defendants: the Department of Homeland Security (“DHS”), Alejandro Mayorkas, the Secretary of DHS, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (“USCIS”), and Ur Jaddou, the Director of USCIS.

The lawsuit alleges that USCIS, a sub-agency within DHS, is failing to meet its obligation to issue employment authorization documents (AKA work permits) for certain immigrants who are entitled to them. In particular, the lawsuit alleges that USCIS is processing two categories of work permit applications too slowly: applications based on pending green card applications, and applications for immigrant investors known as E-2 non-immigrants. Notably, many applicants pay a processing fee to the government when they file their applications.

Previously, USCIS was required by regulation to adjudicate work permit applications within 90 days; if the agency took longer than 90 days, it was required to provide an interim employment authorization document valid for no longer than 240 days. In 2015, however, DHS published a new rule for public comment that proposed to eliminate the 90-day processing rule.

Many commenters suggested to DHS that the elimination of the 90-day processing timeline would result in lackadaisical processing of work permit applications and a large backlog. DHS publicly responded to these comments by stating that eliminating the 90-day rule would not lead to inflated processing times except in rare circumstances. The rule eliminating the 90-day processing requirement became final in 2017.

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This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq., Doran Shemin, Esq. and Laura Lorenzo, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

It’s election time again in Virginia! We are currently in the middle of early voting for Governor, Lieutenant Governor and various other positions within the Commonwealth’s government.

Now is a good time to provide you — our readers — with information on how elected officials, in particular at the state level, interact with immigrants who are victims of crime. Here at Statutes of Liberty, we don’t make political endorsements or take policy positions. We’re here to tell you about the U Visa — one of the most important ways that state government and immigrant communities interact.

First, some background. Congress created the U visa as part of the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act (2000). The U Visa itself benefits victims of certain qualifying crimes who assist in the investigation and prosecution of those crimes. Qualifying crimes include, among others, stalking, false imprisonment, felonious assault and domestic violence.

Congress intended, by creating the U Visa, to provide an incentive for undocumented immigrants to cooperate with the police, but the allowable relief is fairly limited in scope. Congress allocated only 10,000 U visas per fiscal year, meaning only 10,000 applicants may receive that visa each year. If an immigrant receives a U visa, it is valid for three years. After those three years, the immigrant may apply for a green card.

As part of the U visa process, the applicant must receive certification from a certifying official, affirming that the applicant was and continues to be helpful to law enforcement. Most police departments and prosecutor’s offices have certifying officials to review certification requests from applicants.

Unfortunately, it is not uncommon to wait many, many, months for the certifying official to make a decision about whether to certify the applicant’s request. Furthermore, the method of obtaining certification in a given jurisdiction is sometimes unclear. The Virginia legislature sought to fix this problem earlier this year.

On March 31, 2021, Governor Northam signed SB 1468 into law. The law went into effect on July 1, 2021. The law seeks to clarify and rein in the certification process. Now, law enforcement agencies are required to respond to certification requests in writing, either by certifying the request or providing the reasons the law enforcement agency will not certify.

Importantly, the law also created deadlines for a response to a certification request. Under normal circumstances, certifiers now have a 120-day deadline to issue a decision. For immigrants in deportation proceedings, law enforcement agencies must complete the certification within 21 business days.

If the principal applicant has children who will “age out” (turn 21 and no longer qualify to be a derivative on their parent’s application) without expedited processing, the certifier must make a decision within 30 days.

Finally, another important piece of the law allows for applicants to petition a Circuit Court to review the determination if the certifier does not make a decision within the statutory time frame or refuses to provide certification. This new law helps clarify the U visa process for applicants and also holds law enforcement agencies accountable, which further supports the policies regarding victim assistance and protecting public welfare.

The federal government also began a new program to assist immigrants seeking U visas. As previously mentioned, there are only 10,000 visas available per year. However, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) receives tens of thousands of applications each year. Therefore, there is a tremendous backlog of these cases, with many applicants waiting anywhere from five to seven years for a decision in their case.

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This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq., Doran Shemin, Esq. and Laura Lorenzo, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

At the Law Office of James Montana PLLC, we really love writing our bi-weekly ARLnow columns. However, this week, we are taking a small hiatus due to an increase in work recently. Plus, James is on his yearly vacation hiking the Appalachian Trail.

Laura and Doran have been hard at work maintaining the office and continuing to provide great service to all our clients.

In lieu of an article this week, please enjoy the below photograph from our recent office outing. We went go-kart racing at Autobahn in Sterling and then enjoyed refreshments at Rocket Frog Brewing Company (highly recommend).

In particular, we hope that you enjoy James’ suit — he received lots of compliments at the race track.

Stay tuned for our next column, in which we will describe both the federal and Virginia state governments’ efforts to help immigrants who are victims of crimes in the United States. Until next time!

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This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq., Doran Shemin, Esq. and Laura Lorenzo, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

The answer to the question “What is love?” was answered authoritatively by the philosophical collective known as Haddaway in 1993. Love is “Baby Don’t Hurt Me — Don’t Hurt Me — No More.” Marriage is different. Marriage is a legal matter. And in the world of immigration law, the question “what is marriage?” has a surprisingly complex answer.

Immigrant visa applicants, if the foreign spouse is abroad, and adjustment of status applicants, if the foreign spouse is in the United States, must prove, by submitting a valid certificate of marriage, that they are legally married to a United States citizen or a lawful permanent resident.

If the person has been married before, they need to prove that the previous marriage was properly terminated before getting married to their current spouse. Therefore, having a divorce decree from the proper authorities is extremely important.

To make our lives easier, the Department of State provides a list of civil documents it deems acceptable for every country in the world. However, real life situations won’t always fit the descriptions given in a list. Often, we encounter numerous obstacles when trying to prove a client is legally married or not.

Below are some examples of issues we frequently have to deal with:

  • Traditional/customary marriages: These marriages are usually legally binding in the countries where they are performed but because their registration is not required by law, they don’t leave a paper trail.
  • Religious marriages: In some countries, lovebirds can show up at a place of worship and be married by a minister of their faith. While they have a “certificate” issued by the minister or church, the question is whether that place of worship or its minister is properly authorized to celebrate marriages.
  • Proxy marriages: These are marriages where one member of the couple isn’t physically present for the marriage or where the couple is virtually present but in different places (think Zoom or any similar platform). The challenge with these marriages is that to prove their validity In the United States, one has to prove that the marriage was later consummated. (What sort of evidence would you ask for? — Ed.)
  • Polygamy: Polygamy is acceptable and legal in many countries and cultures, but it is flatly illegal in the United States. Therefore, those who are practicing polygamy will not be able to file a petition for their spouse(s) or, in the event that the polygamist is the immigrant, the immigrant will not be allowed to come to the United States.

In these cases, proving a marriage is valid (or not) requires intensive research and often a lot of back and forth with the government. This is all to say that if you are getting married, make sure you’re getting the real deal. If you are already married and trying to bring a loved one to the United States or seeking an immigration benefit and you are not sure about your marital status, consult with a trusted attorney.

As always, we’re glad to respond to questions from readers.

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This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq., Doran Shemin, Esq. and Laura Lorenzo, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

The COVID-19 pandemic has lasted a year and a half (so far!) which is just enough time for our immigration bureaucracy to take vigorous and decisive action. Beginning Oct. 1, 2021, the COVID-19 vaccine will be required for most green card applicants.

It’s a sensible policy, but we’re really tired of this pandemic.

Green card applicants have always had to undergo medical examinations as part of the application process — indeed, our current procedure is an outgrowth of the famous Ellis Island medical screenings. In its modern form, these examinations are conducted by specially certified doctors in the United States, called Designated Civil Surgeons. (Are you reading this just for the useful tips? Here’s the link to finding a Designated Civil Surgeon near you.) The Department of State likewise has selected a few doctors in each country to perform immigration-related medical examinations for applicants abroad.

These exams aim to confirm that the applicant does not have any communicable diseases like tuberculosis, drug or alcohol dependency issues, or mental illnesses that pose a danger to themselves or society at large.

The medical exams also include confirming that the applicant has had required U.S. vaccinations. If the applicant has not received those vaccinations, the applicant must receive the vaccines to receive his or her green card. These vaccines include the polio, varicella (chicken pox), mumps and influenza vaccines.

On Sept. 14, USCIS announced that green card applicants inside the United States must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 before the medical examiner can complete the required medical exam beginning on Oct. 1. Therefore, if an applicant intends on completing her medical exam after Oct. 1, she must show that she has been fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Likewise, the Department of State will begin requiring the COVID-19 vaccine beginning on Oct. 1. Importantly, there are various acceptable COVID-19 vaccines. The three “big” vaccines available in the United States are acceptable, along with vaccines approved for emergency use by the World Health Organization.

However, there are also exceptions to the vaccination requirement. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated the physician instructions to explain appropriate circumstances under which the applicant may be excused from receiving the vaccine or when the doctor should note that completing the vaccine requirement is impossible.

For example, the physician may note in the medical examination that the applicant cannot or should not receive the vaccine because it is not age appropriate, it is contraindicated for that individual, or an approved vaccine is not routinely available in the area.

Additionally, applicants may request a waiver based on religious or moral convictions. This waiver is not new; it has been available to applicants who object to other vaccinations as well. If the applicant simply refuses the vaccine and does not receive a waiver, the applicant will be deemed inadmissible (barred) from entering the United States.

As always, we’re glad to respond to questions from readers.

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This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq., Doran Shemin, Esq. and Laura Lorenzo, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

Whatever else one might say about it, the hurried evacuation of U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, contractors and Afghans was not orderly. A large number of Afghan civilians — no one really knows how many at this point — are coming to our shores. The purpose of this Statutes of Liberty is to explain what will happen to them, as a legal matter, after they arrive.

Photo via the United States Air Force

The refugee flow can be reasonably divided into three big categories — approved Special Immigrant Visa holders, approved refugees awaiting resettlement and parolees. We’ll take each in turn.

Afghans who hold Special Immigrant Visas (SIVs) received those visas in recognition of services rendered to the U.S. government during the war in Afghanistan and subsequent occupation. (Obtaining those visas is hugely complex with delays measured in years. We fielded panicked calls in the last days before the airport closed, asking for our help in getting SIV petitions filed — the timeline simply didn’t work.) Those who enter with SIVs will be treated in a matter similar to refugees and will be eligible for resettlement benefits for a limited period of time — up to eight months — after they arrive. And those who enter with approved SIVs will, with the help of law offices like ours, apply for green cards.

Approved refugees are already holding their resettlement papers before they arrive. Those resettlement papers are obtained by applying for refugee status abroad, receiving designation as a refugee, and then obtaining placement in the United States. Our educated guess is that there are very few of these folks in the initial wave of Afghans. But, given the outflows of refugees from Taliban-controlled Afghanistan, more will be coming. Given a few years, expect refugees in neighboring countries to apply for (and succeed in obtaining) refugee status. Many will resettle here.

The largest, and most legally challenging, group is the parolees. Parole, in the immigration context, means permission to enter the country legally without an ordinary visa. Many of the Afghans arriving in this country will arrive with this tenuous status. In the absence of legislation, the ordinary next move would be for them to apply for asylum protection. We expect that many will do so, and, given the situation in Afghanistan, many will receive asylum.

As always, we are happy to answer questions in the comments.

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This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq., Doran Shemin, Esq. and Laura Lorenzo, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

The Biden Administration has proposed a major reform to the U.S. asylum system. As always, here at Statutes of Liberty, we’re here to give you both sides of the question.

What’s the problem?

The problem has three parts:

  1. The U.S. Immigration Courts have a backlog of 1.3 million (million!) cases, approximately half of which are asylum claims. There are approximately 500 immigration judges, so the backlog is 2,600 cases per judge. (You have to do some math to see how truly awful that is. Let’s assume that a case takes eight hours of work to adjudicate. That’s 20,800 hours of work, per judge, to clear the backlog. There are 2,000 work hours per year. So, with the current IJ corps and the current backlog, it will take ten years to get to zero… assuming that no new cases come in the door.)
  2. Asylum applicants who seek asylum at the U.S. border are automatically referred to the U.S. Immigration Courts after passing a “credible fear interview.” This is a major source of input for new cases coming into the immigration courts.
  3. The U.S. maintains a parallel asylum adjudication system outside the Immigration Courts at Asylum Offices, which are staffed by asylum officers rather than judges. The backlog at asylum offices is bad — quite bad — but it isn’t close to as bad as at the immigration courts.

What’s the solution?

Faced with this Brobdingnagian backlog, the Biden Administration has proposed a new regulation that will grant additional powers to asylum officers and shift some cases from the Immigration Courts to the Asylum Offices. The cases in question are border asylum claims only. People who enter the United States with a visa, and then request asylum, would see no changes.

Currently, asylum officers only have two choices: Grant asylum or refer the case to an immigration judge for review. Review by the immigration judge is what lawyers call de novo review. In plain English, the immigration judge does the entire case over again, from scratch, without relying on the prior work done by the asylum officer.

Under the new regulation, asylum officers would be empowered to do a fuller review of border cases and have more choices about how to dispose of cases. These super-officers would be able to grant asylum, grant withholding of removal, grant protection under the Convention Against Torture, or refer the cases to the immigration courts for further review. Although the proposed rule says that the immigration courts would review the cases de novo, the proposed rule also says that the courts would rule “based on the record of the hearing before the Asylum Office plus any additional, non-duplicative evidence presented to the court that is necessary to reach a reasoned decision.” Note that asylum officers are, generally, non-lawyers, and so immigration judges would be conducting, in effect, appellate review of quasi-judicial decisions crafted by laymen.

What would the practical effects of this process be?

Much depends on the details. For example, if immigration judges conduct only rubber-stamp review of asylum officers’ decisions, many applicants are likely to be denied asylum under U.S. law without the reasoned judicial review required, in our view, by the Constitution. On the other hand, if the immigration judges conduct full fact-finding in referred cases, it’s difficult to see how the change will ameliorate the backlog problem — it would simply postpone it by shunting border asylum claims into the asylum offices pre-referral to the immigration courts.

As always, we welcome any thoughts or comments and will do our best to respond.

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Coffee solves everything. Well, almost everything.

This sponsored column is by a guest columnist. All questions about it should be directed to James Montana, Esq., Doran Shemin, Esq., and Laura Lorenzo, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

On Aug. 25, a group of 125 Indian and Chinese nationals filed suit against the Department of Homeland Security, arguing that USCIS is going to waste about a hundred thousand green cards. How? Therein lies a tale.

Our current immigration system relies on a taxonomy of categories and quotas. The taxonomy tells us what category you’re in (“Spouse of a U.S. citizen? This way!”) and the quota tells us how many green cards can be granted in that category per year. For most categories, there is more demand than the quota offers in supply — which means, in plain English, get in line.

How long are the lines?

Here is the August 2021 chart for family-based cases. The fastest cases (spouses and children of permanent residents, category F2A) have no line at all. The slowest cases (siblings of U.S. citizens) have been waiting in line since March 1, 2007, for most countries — and since January 22, 1999, for Mexico.

Here is the August 2021 chart for employment-based cases. Notice how many “C”s there are — that means more demand than supply with the notable exception of China and India.

So, how do you waste 100,000 green cards?

In some years, the full number of green cards available in a particular category are not issued. In 2020, thanks to the COVID pandemic, many green cards went unused — U.S. embassies were closed and not issuing immigrant visas. U.S. law allows these unused green cards to be transferred from oversupplied categories into undersupplied categories in the following fiscal year — sometimes! The process is complex and described in more detail here.

In 2021, unused green cards from the family category were “rolled over” into long-delayed employment-based categories, thereby allowing about one hundred thousand foreign workers — most of whom had already been living and working in the United States for many years — to apply for green cards.

The problem is that this roll-over only lasts until the end of the federal fiscal year. If the green cards are not issued by Oct. 1, the unused green cards will themselves be considered a surplus and will be rolled back into other categories in the following fiscal year. As of July, the State Department estimated that about 100,000 green cards would be left on the table.

A group of U.S. immigration lawyers led by Greg Siskind filed suit, seeking to either compel the government to adjudicate these pending green card applications before the end of the fiscal year or establish a process whereby the unused green cards would be reserved after the end of the fiscal year. The former solution would require more bureaucratic action than experience leads us to expect, and the latter solution does not dovetail easily with the law. According to the Wall Street Journal, “[s]ome officials hope the lawsuit filed this week succeeds in having a judge rule that the unused green cards can carry into the next fiscal year.”

Our immigration system is irrational, but it should at least be efficient in allocating visas authorized by Congress. We hope that USCIS will be able to adjudicate these applications fairly, accurately and quickly. And, if judicial intervention doesn’t provide a way for unused visas to be reallocated quickly and fairly, Congress could step in. There’s always hope.

As always, we welcome any thoughts or comments and will do our best to respond.

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This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq., Doran Shemin, Esq. and Laura Lorenzo, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

Litigation over the constitutionality of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (“DACA”) took a turn this week, courtesy of Federal District Court Judge Andrew Hanen. In this brief explainer, we will first provide the facts about what has happened to DACA, and then we will offer our prediction about the future of the program.

First, the facts. Judge Hanen’s injunction prevents the Department of Homeland Security from approving any “initial” DACA applications. What is an initial application? An initial application is an application for recognition under DACA by someone who has not had it before. Judge Hanen’s injunction leaves “renewal” applications for DACA completely untouched, via a peculiar two-step: the injunction enjoins the application of DACA in full, then temporarily stays the injunction for current recipients of DACA. Here is the relevant quotation from the injunction:

“With respect to DACA recipients who obtained that status on or before the date of this injunction and DACA renewal applications for these existing recipients (regardless of when the renewal applications are submitted) the order of immediate vacatur and the permanent injunction… are temporarily stayed until a further order of this Court, the Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals, or the United States Supreme Court.”

Why would Judge Hanen stay his own injunction? He recognized that a large class of stakeholders — including U.S. citizens and businesses — has come to depend on the DACA program, and it would be unjust to immediately terminate the program while litigation over its constitutionality remains pending. Again, the relevant quotation from the Order:

“Hundreds of thousands of individual DACA recipients, along with their employers, states, and loved ones, have come to rely on the DACA program. […] Given these interests, it is not equitable for a government program that has engendered such significant reliance to terminate suddenly.”

Here is our class-by-class summary of the state of play, as of July 22, 2021. (It is even more important than usual to emphasize that this is not legal advice to you as an individual. Talk to an attorney!)

  1. If you already have DACA, your DACA designation and work permit remain valid.
  2. If you have never had DACA and your first application is pending, the Department of Homeland Security cannot approve the application. The application will remain pending for the foreseeable future.
  3. If you have a DACA renewal pending, the Department of Homeland Security will adjudicate it as normal.
  4. If you are eligible to renew your DACA, you can submit your renewal application and it will be adjudicated as normal.
  5. If you are eligible to apply for DACA for the first time, you can submit your application but it will remain pending indefinitely.

Now, here is our (short) prediction about what comes next.

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This sponsored column is by James Montana, Esq., Doran Shemin, Esq. and Laura Lorenzo, Esq., practicing attorneys at Steelyard LLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Arlington, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact James for an appointment.

[Note from James: The name and identifying details of the client, as well as all other individuals, have been changed to protect their respective identities. Other than those changes and our copyedits, this is entirely her story. We are sharing it with you to give our readers an idea of what it is like to apply for asylum. For a sense of the lawyer’s point of view, see Part I.]
At left, James. At right, not our client. At center, the Arlington Asylum Office.

My name is Aryana H. I came to the U.S. with a tourist visa from Iran. I had to leave my country because of the government’s anti-democratic practices, which labeled me a terrorism supporter. As part of my work, I visited the United States for conferences.

When I came here, I knew I had the right to apply for asylum because I was working on human rights issues with international nonprofit organizations that work with immigrants, but I did not apply at the first opportunity because it was a radical decision for me.

I knew that if I applied for asylum, I could not see my country anymore, which means I could not see my family and friends. I felt like Tom Hanks’ character in “The Terminal,” stuck in the airport, neither able to go back home nor enter the U.S. I also had some hope that my home country would get better about human rights and democracy, yet it got worse. However, during my last trip back home, it became clear to me that I had to flee.

I decided to “enter” the U.S. with limited English. Everything was new and confusing for me. I searched for a lawyer who could look at my case not just from a lawyer’s perspective but also from a human rights perspective. My housemate, Karen’s friend, was working for a church, through whom a contact — Mrs. Amy — suggested Mr. James C. Montana to my housemate.

I met with Mr. Montana for a consultation. He was so kind and explained all the positive and negative possibilities as well as the process. Mr. Montana asked me to collect all the evidence that shows that I am a human rights activist; I was not involved in any terrorist events, and the Iranian regime took against me. I asked my lawyer in Iran to send copies of the indictment against me and the court records and to write a letter that explains what would happen to me if I returned to Iran. My family had to send me my birth certificate. I searched the internet to collect all news about my works and data about the government’s human rights abuse all over Iran.

All of the evidence was in Farsi. My friend Jasmine helped translate the documents into English. I also wrote my asylum statement in Farsi, and then had it translated into English, which was expensive. I then discussed my statement with Mr. Montana. He helped me to organize and edit it with further translation help. Drafting my statement took two months. Then, I applied for asylum. Three months after that, I received my work permit and Social Security card.

My application was pending for three years before I had an interview. During that time, I tried to keep communication alive with my lawyer. He followed my case very closely and gave me all the details whenever he acted. I knew that they have limited sources and the government policy was not welcome to newcomers. Everything would take a long time.

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