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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., Janice Chen, Esq., and Austen Soare, Esq., practicing attorneys at The Law Office of James Montana PLLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Falls Church, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact us for an appointment.

The costs and benefits of unauthorized migration are unevenly distributed. Border states, and especially the border communities within them, have a different perspective on migrant flows than East Coast urbanites, because border communities are simply hit much harder.

States that depend heavily on agriculture sit somewhere in the middle — skeptical of immigration as a policy matter, but heavily dependent on unauthorized migrants in fact. That, at least, was how things used to be. In the new world of nationalized politics, Iowa is the new Texas. Iowa has enacted a law which makes it a state crime to have violated federal immigration law.

This is the State Flag of Iowa. Strong sans-culotte vibes!

Whether the new Iowa law will stand — and whether others like it, in Texas and Louisiana, will survive judicial review — is an open question. Our federal system allows both the national government and the state governments to operate parallel systems of criminal justice, but federal law preempts state law when Congress either explicitly says so or when the intent of Congress to preempt state law is clearly implied. Implied preemption is most common in certain domains — like, say, nuclear safety regulation — where the federal interest in uniformity clearly outweighs the particular interests of states and localities. (For a useful backgrounder on preemption doctrine, see here.)

From our perspective, there are two oddities about the new wave of state attempts to regulate immigration policy.

The first oddity is that we’ve been here before, and recently. In the 2010 case of Arizona v. United States, the Supreme Court considered the question of whether Arizona could make it a state-level misdemeanor to have violated federal immigration law, and ruled against Arizona, holding that federal law wholly preempted Arizona’s attempt to concurrently criminalize unauthorized migration. The new state laws are likely to slam directly into this precedent — indeed, Texas’s attempt has already been enjoined on those grounds.

The second oddity is geographical. Iowa is not a border state, and Iowa has a relatively low number of immigrants — 94% of the population is native-born. (Fun fact: Arlington’s native-born comprise about 78% of the population, which almost precisely mirrors the proportion for Switzerland.)

The nationalization of our politics explains both of these apparent oddities. Iowa’s governor, Kim Reynolds, knows quite well that the new law is likely to be enjoined, but she also knows that taking aggressive positions on immigration matters is popular with Republican primary voters all over the country. An expected injunction insulates the governor from any potential economic fallout, but she still reaps the political benefits.

As always, we welcome your comments and will do our best to respond.

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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., Janice Chen, Esq., and Austen Soare, Esq., practicing attorneys at The Law Office of James Montana PLLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Falls Church, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact us for an appointment.

USCIS’s fees for most applications are increasing on Monday, April 1st.

This article is a PSA on how not to pay more for the same service. Green card application fees are increasing from $1,760, for an ordinary marriage-based case, to $3,005! We addressed this in additional detail in February, but today, we’re here to talk mechanics.

1. Don’t file if you aren’t eligible…

If you file for a benefit, and you don’t qualify, you’ll eventually find yourself in immigration court facing deportation. That will cost you many, many thousands of dollars, and several years of sleepless nights. So, if you aren’t sure that you’re eligible, don’t file!

2. If you are eligible, file at the right address

It isn’t obvious where to file these things! If you’re filing a green card application, start here, and work your way through the options to find the correct address for you.

3. Enclose a check or money order…

Make your check or money order out to “U.S. Department of Homeland Security.” Don’t make it out to “DHS” or “USCIS” or anything else. (Here are detailed instructions on how to make out your check)

Can you pay by credit card instead? Yes, using Form G-1450. We don’t generally recommend that.

4. In the correct amount…

The correct amount depends on the application. The current fee schedule (valid through March 31st) is eleven pages long. The new fee schedule, valid from April 1, 2024 on, is forty-five pages long.

5. And get a postmark!

USCIS says: “We will use the postmark date of a filing to determine which form version and fees are correct, but will use the received date for purposes of any regulatory or statutory filing deadlines.” Okay! Go to a U.S. post office, as late as Saturday morning, and ask for a physical postmark. Pay for a service, like Ground Advantage or Priority Mail, which allows for tracking of your package.

As always, we welcome your comments and will do our best to respond.

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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., Janice Chen, Esq., and Austen Soare, Esq., practicing attorneys at The Law Office of James Montana PLLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Falls Church, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact us for an appointment.

Our little law office is hiring for two positions: Attorney and Legal Intern (Fall Semester). The details and tips on how to apply are below, in Q&A style.

Do you want to send out lots of wax-sealed letters to clients? Apply now!

Q: Hiring, eh? How much cash on the barrel?

A: Depends on the position. The Attorney position comes with a starting salary of $70,000, with a small bonus at the end of the year. The Legal Intern position is paid hourly, and the amount depends on your background. (Certain local law schools won’t give you class credit if we pay you. We prefer to pay you, but we can forgo paying you if that’s what you need.)

Q: What? I thought that lawyers dove into piles of gold coins all day, like Scrooge McDuck!

A: It depends. On Wall Street, we are reliably informed that big law firm partners can make more than $15,000,000 per year — more than the bankers who pay them! Immigration lawyers are much more modestly compensated.

Q: Why should I work for you? The salary is competitive with local nonprofits, and many local for-profits pay more.

A: I’m glad you asked. Here are the reasons to work here, one paragraph at a time.

Generous Benefits

We offer extremely generous benefits — better than every local nonprofit, including paid parental leave, 70% of health insurance vision/dental covered from your first day on, FSA, retirement plan with a generous match — you name it, we offer it!

Easy Commute

Commuting into D.C. is for masochists. Working here isn’t. Our beautiful old office, built in 1870, is in the heart of Falls Church. We have plenty of free parking and a verdant, wooded landscape around our building.

Helping People in Need 

Our clients come from all walks of life. Some come from vulnerable circumstances. You’ll work with them, and you’ll make a huge difference for them.

Collegial Environment

We pride ourselves on not running a high-volume operation. You won’t be forced to take cases. Instead, you’ll evaluate cases on your own, and build your own docket within the firm based on your own capacity and interests. We offer both independence and mentorship for new lawyers.

Q: Do you offer Work from Home?

A: No. Why? Because, as noted, we work with many people who come from vulnerable circumstances. These clients are best served by meeting with you in person. We are unwilling to compromise on this point, because, shorn of the verbiage, WFH means telling poor people to go pound sand.

Q: You don’t sound fun.

A: But in reality, I’m actually very fun, relaxed, and easy-going.

Q: How do I apply?

A: Email James at [email protected]. Send a CV and a cover letter.

Q: What are the requirements for each position?

A: For Attorney, we require a bar license and a JD. We’re happy to hire new lawyers. Spanish fluency is a big plus. Immigration experience is, of course, a plus too.

A(2): For Legal Intern, we require that you be enrolled at a local law school. That’s it! We’re here to help with your education and pay you a decent wage.

Questions about the jobs? Ask in the comments. We’ll respond, just like

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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., Janice Chen, Esq., and Austen Soare, Esq., practicing attorneys at The Law Office of James Montana PLLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Falls Church, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact us for an appointment.

[This is the fourth installment in our new series here at Statutes of Liberty, in which we interview professionals in our field to provide our readers with varying perspectives on what it is like to work in the immigration system.]

Anna Gallagher, Executive Director of CLINIC, tells it like it is.

Q: As always, we start with the same question: Who are you, and what do you do?

A: My name is Anna Gallagher. I’m the Executive Director of CLINIC — the Catholic Legal Immigration Network. I like to say that we’re the biggest immigration firm for poor people in America.

Q: What does that mean, in practice? Do you have franchises all over?

A: We don’t have franchises. We have affiliates. About one-third of our affiliates are part of Catholic Charities USA — like your former employer, Catholic Charities Immigration Legal Services of the Archdiocese of Washington.

Q: What about the other affiliates? Are they non-Catholic?

A: Of course. Two-thirds of our affiliates are part of another religious tradition or are secular in orientation. A good example of a non-Catholic affiliate is HIAS, in Silver Spring — the oldest refugee agency in the world, which is Jewish in origin and, like CLINIC, ecumenical in action.

Q: What do the affiliates do?

A: The affiliates offer low-bono — “cheap,” in plain English — legal services to poor immigrants. Affiliates range in size from two lawyers to two hundred and fifty legal practitioners and support staff.

Q: When you say “legal practitioners,” what do you mean?

A: You don’t have to have a law degree to help immigrants. BIA-accredited representatives are — let me be frank here — a wonderful thing. In the 1940s, the Department of Justice established a pathway to accredit appropriately trained people at recognized nonprofits…

Q: Paralegals?

A: You don’t have to be a paralegal to be a BIA-accredited representative, though many BIA reps are paralegals. It’s a skills-based assessment. You have to learn the hard facts of immigration law and have an accredited nonprofit organization to support you.

Q: Can BIA-accredited reps go to immigration court?

A: Yes, they can. Fully-accredited representatives can represent immigrants in immigration court, before USCIS, and before the Board of Immigration Appeals itself, just like lawyers can.

Q: So, if the affiliates employ the legal practitioners, and the practitioners represent the poor people, what does CLINIC itself do?

A: We help affiliates get accredited, so they can get representatives into the trenches. The paperwork can be a real obstacle for small nonprofits; we walk them through it so they can focus on their mission.

Q: Do you do this for free?

A: Yes.

Q: Why?

A: There aren’t enough lawyers in this country to meet the demand. Most immigrants facing deportation can’t find a lawyer at a price they can afford. We try to fill the gap.

Q: Other than fill out forms — nothing against that, that what all immigration lawyers do! — what else does CLINIC do?

A: We provide practice guides, trainings, updates on the law, and backgrounders for immigration lawyers both in and out of our affiliate network.

Q: Are those resources open to non-affiliates? Like, our readers?

A: Yes, some of them. We offer trainings conducted by top-notch immigration lawyers on important topics, and lots of them are open to the public. For example, we did a recent webinar on how Afghan allies of the United States can try to apply for adjustment of status. It’s on our website for free. Have at it! I want everyone to know this information.

Q: Do you do legislative advocacy work?

A: No, not at all. We focus on technical assistance and partnership with our affiliates. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops does the advocacy work in Washington — our role is not to lobby Congress, but to serve as independent experts about the facts on the ground. That’s why we’re trusted both by the USCCB and by the government. We have great relationships with DOJ and DHS…

Q: DHS?

A: Yes! They like us, because our organization makes the work of government easier. Our affiliates, through careful and zealous representation of their clients, make it much easier to reach a just result under the law. And that’s a good thing.

Q: Does CLINIC accept donations from the general public?

A: We accept donations, and they’re fully tax-deductible. [James notes: Here is a link.]

Q: What if one of our readers is a lawyer who wants a pro bono case? Where should they go?

A: They can email me directly. We love pro bono attorneys, and I promise you that we have plenty of deserving cases to go around. My email is [email protected].

Q: Wow.

As always, we welcome your comments and will do our best to respond.

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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., Janice Chen, Esq., and Austen Soare, Esq., practicing attorneys at The Law Office of James Montana PLLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Falls Church, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact us for an appointment.

USCIS recently put out a press release written by the same comms professionals who brought you The Deeds of the Divine Augustus and Dirt Off Your Shoulder.

In a word, they’re very proud of themselves. “Completing an Unprecedented 10 Million Immigration Cases in Fiscal Year 2023, USCIS Reduced Its Backlog for the First Time in Over a Decade” is a strutting, fist-pumping shout of victory.

But is it justified by the facts? We report, you decide!

First, here’s USCIS’s version of events.

  1. In FY2023, USCIS received almost eleven million applications and adjudicated more than ten million cases, thereby reducing the backlog for the first time in over a decade.
  2. USCIS naturalized 875,000 new US citizens, including 12,000 members of the U.S. military; in the course of eliminating the naturalization backlog, USCIS decreased the processing time for a naturalization application from 10.5 months to about six months.
  3. USCIS broke new ground in humanitarian relief cases. USCIS’s asylum directorate completed 52,000 asylum cases, created a sixth Service Center to process humanitarian relief cases more efficiently, and expanded both the U4U (Uniting for Ukraine) and CHNV (Cuba-Honduras-Nicaragua-Venezuela) parole processes in support of the Biden Administration’s efforts to regularize migration at the border.
  4. USCIS improved its systems for making appointments at local field offices, including encouraging applicants to change their appointments online

Now, here’s our take.

Look at this chart from USCIS’s press release:

USCIS wants you to see that the net backlog has declined from roughly 800,000  to roughly 750,000 between October 2022 and October 2023 — that’s the red-shaded area.

But the chart itself — and let’s give credit to USCIS for credible data disclosure here — offers a countervailing narrative. The ‘recent receipts’ area (grey-shaded) and the somewhat spikier ‘receipts’ line show that USCIS is receiving an enormous amount of new applications. That’s a very bad sign for the backlog. Unless USCIS can handle roughly 30% more applications this year than it handled last year, without the supplemental Congressional funding that sluiced through the system in FY2022, the backlog is going to skyrocket again. We predict that will happen.

Now, look at the chart that USCIS provides for its application cycle times:

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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., Janice Chen, Esq., and Austen Soare, Esq., practicing attorneys at The Law Office of James Montana PLLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Falls Church, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact us for an appointment.

Immigrating to the United States costs money. One has to pay for transportation and sometimes moving furniture and other personal items across vast lands and huge oceans.  But just getting the paperwork to immigrate in the first places costs money.

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is the sub-agency within the Department of Homeland Security that processes immigration benefit requests, like work permit applications, H-1B visa petitions, and petitions for family members. Historically, USCIS’ operations have been funded either fully or mostly through the filing fees applicants and petitioners pay to have their benefit processed.

A lot of those fees are about to change. USCIS published a final rule on January 31 that a change in the fee schedule will go into effect on April 1. Below we discuss some of the biggest changes and how we think it will impact the average client.

One of the biggest changes is the price difference USCIS has created for online vs. paper filing. For many common forms, like applications for renewing a green card, naturalization, and family petitions, there will be a $50.00 filing fee discount to file online. In our opinion, this is unfair and problematic.

First, there are many people who, for various reasons, are not tech-literate and will struggle to navigate the online filing system. Indeed, sometimes even we, as lawyers, struggle with it. Second, while online filing will, in theory, help USCIS reduce its workload, we see the $50.00 upcharge as a tax on those who may not have access to a computer.  In our opinion, the fees should be egalitarian and uniform regardless of the mode of filing.

So, what are the actual new fees? Here is a breakdown of changes in cost to some of the most common forms we file:

  • Form I-130, petition for a family member
    • Current fee: $535.00
    • New fee (online): $625.00
    • New fee (paper): $675.00
  • Form I-140, immigrant petition for a foreign national worker
    • Current fee: $700.00
    • New fee (paper only): $715.00
  • Form I-485, green card application (with fingerprinting fee included)
    • Current fee: $1,225.00
    • New fee (paper only): $1,440.00
  • Form I-765, work permit application (with fingerprinting fee included)
    • Current fee: $495.00
    • New fee (online): $470.00
    • New fee (paper): $520.00
  • Form N-400, application for naturalization (within fingerprinting fee included)
    • Current fee: $725.00
    • New fee (online): $710.00
    • New fee (paper): $760.00

As you can see, most fees went up if the applicant chooses to file on paper. However, sometimes the applicant will pay less than before if the application is filed online. For example, filing to renew a green card currently costs $455.00 no matter the mode of filing. After April 1, filing online will only cost $415.00.

The biggest change that we saw in the fee schedule was the H-1B lottery ticket entry fee. Currently, a ticket costs $10.00 per entry. After April 1, each ticket will cost $215.00, a 2,050% increase!

If you or someone you know is eligible to file a request for an immigration benefit, we recommend that the application be filed before April 1 to take advantage of the current fees. Based on past experience, we also anticipate some confusion at the beginning of April regarding whether fees are correct depending on when the application was received versus when it was actually processed.

As always, we welcome your comments and will do our best to respond.

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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., Janice Chen, Esq., and Austen Soare, Esq., practicing attorneys at The Law Office of James Montana PLLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Falls Church, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact us for an appointment.

Not All Crystal Balls Portend Good Things! (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

What’s going to happen in the world of immigration law this year? We’re here with our predictions — and here to eat humble pie about how wrong we were last year the last time we tried our hand at prognostication.

Without further ado, here are our predictions for this year.

Prediction 1: Congress will pass a Border/Ukraine stopgap bill which slightly, theoretically tightens the process for applying for asylum; the new law will have little practical effect.

According to well-sourced immigration reporters at The Washington Times and The New York Post, the framework currently under discussion includes the following provisions:

  • Capped border flows at a relatively high level (5,000 entrants per day = just under 2M per year), after which enhanced expulsion powers would come into effect.
  • Government-funded representation for unaccompanied minors in removal proceedings.
  • The “credible fear” standard for initial interviews of asylum seekers at the border will be replaced by a higher “reasonable possibility” standard.

We are extremely skeptical that such a bill will become law in its current form. Why?

  • When was the last time you saw a federally-funded expansion of the right to counsel — which, as we’ve previously pointed out, immigration court defendants currently do not have — for indigent defendants?
  • The proposed caps on border flows are remarkably high. The caps, as best we can tell, would only apply to those who approach border crossing points to seek a credible fear interview, and not to those who attempt to enter without inspection. (To be clear: this is speculation based on leaks: the text of the proposed legislation hasn’t been made public, and the drafters deny that it is accurate.)
  • In a sample month last year — September 2023 — only about 50,000 encounters happened at border crossing points; that’s less than 2,000 per day. If our interpretation of the data is correct, capping entries at 5,000 per day is like sensibly limiting yourself to eight drumsticks at Thanksgiving. Immigration hawks aren’t fools.

Instead, we predict that a much less ambitious bill will become law.

  • We predict that the “credible fear” standard will be replaced by the “reasonable possibility” standard. In theory, this would lead to asylum seekers being denied the right to a hearing if a border official finds that the asylum seeker has a 49% chance (or less) of prevailing on the merits. In practice… well, read on.
  • We predict that the President’s authority to exercise parole will be capped in some way — perhaps an annual cap on total admissions. The Biden Administration’s vigorous use of parole to admit nationals of particular countries would thereby be curtailed.
  • We predict that DHS will get more funding. DHS funding is the cowbell of immigration legislation. If the American voter wants more cowbell, we should probably give him more cowbell!

Prediction 2: Net flows will remain high.

If we’re right about the shape of proposed legislation, there should be very little change in actual flows. It’s one thing for Congress to make pronouncements about “reasonable possibility” rather than “credible fear,” but it’s quite another thing for actual human beings — in this case, CBP officials — to enforce the new policy. CBP is in the unenviable position of adjudicating thousands of asylum claims per day using non-attorney staff in a constantly shifting legal and physical landscape. It is unreasonable to expect technical changes at the top to filter down quickly or clearly.

Prediction 3: There is a Presidential Election in November.

After the compromise passes — as we hope it will, in some form, to support Ukraine’s fight for independence — there won’t be any serious changes to immigration policy until 2025, because there’s a presidential election in November, and that tends to freeze all serious discussion in Congress.

Should you trust our predictions? The evidence suggests… maybe!

In January 2022, we made three big predictions.

  • USCIS will raise its fees. Boy, were we wrong! USCIS didn’t raise its fees in 2022 or But this year — this year it’s going to happen!
  • Immigration Courts will be open for business post-COVID. We were right about that, but, in fairness to us, that was an easy call.
  • Asylum Backlogs will get worse. We were right about that, too — but that was an even easier call.

Don’t trust our political insight. Do trust our legal advice. If you need an immigration attorney, be in touch and we’ll do our very best for you!

As always, we welcome your comments and will do our best to respond.

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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., Janice Chen, Esq., and Austen Soare, Esq., practicing attorneys at The Law Office of James Montana PLLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Falls Church, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact us for an appointment.

We’ve previously addressed how to apply for a green card, and how it can take a very long time to get one. Most people permanently immigrate to the United States in one of two ways. The first way is by having a U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident (green card holder) relative. The second way is through a U.S. employer seeking to hire a foreign national.

For many people, getting a green card is a “hurry up and wait” situation. Why does it take so long? In this article, we’re here to explain why.

Justin Bieber has a shorter wait time for a green card than you do. The law really is silly sometimes.

In the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965, Congress created various categories of green cards for both family and employment green card cases. This classification system lives on, with modifications, to this day. In family cases, the categories are broken down by the U.S. citizen or lawful permanent resident’s familial relationship with the immigrant. In employment cases, the categories are broken down by employment type or qualifications required for the job.

In the family context, there are four categories: (1) unmarried adult children of U.S. citizens; (2) spouses and unmarried children (both adults and minors) of lawful permanent residents; (3) married adult children of U.S. citizens; and (4) siblings of U.S. citizens.

In the employment context, there are five categories: (1) priority workers who are of extraordinary ability, a.k.a. geniuses or movie stars; (2) members of a profession holding advanced degrees or persons of exceptional ability; (3) skilled workers, professionals, and other workers; (4) special immigrants, which includes religious workers, juveniles who have been abused, abandoned, or neglected by one or both parents, and international organization retirees; and finally (5) investors.

In both family and employment cases, there are only a certain number of visas available in each category every fiscal year. On top of that, those visas are further allocated depending on the immigrant’s country of birth. The countries are broken down as follows: (1) mainland-born Chinese (including Hong Kong); (2) India; (3) Mexico; (4) Philippines; and (5) all other countries.

Because Congress has not increased the number of visas available in any given category over 30 years, there is a horrendous backlog for both family and employment-based cases. Sometimes we hear that people should just “wait in line” to immigrate. But how long is the wait, exactly?

The wait time depends on your so-called “priority date.” When either an employment or family petition is filed on behalf of an immigrant, the immigrant receives a priority date. That is the date that the U.S. government received the petition or other relevant documents in that person’s case. The priority date saves the immigrant’s place in the line for a green card.

Once armed with the priority date, we can look at the Visa Bulletin. The Department of State issues the visa bulletin every month to advise prospective immigrants about where they are “in the line” for green cards in any given category. The visa bulletin is broken down into two charts: the dates for filing chart and the final action dates chart.

The dates for filing chart tells us when an immigrant can submit her green card application and accompanying documents. The visa bulletin must list a date that is the same or later than the immigrant’s priority date for the immigrant to be eligible to submit her application. The final action dates chart tells us which immigrants are actually eligible to have their application adjudicated and/or be issued a green card. Again, the priority date has to be the same or later than the immigrant’s priority date.

Let’s illustrate with an example using the January 2024 visa bulletin. Mary was born in the Philippines. She is 30 years of age and unmarried. Her mother is a lawful permanent resident. Mary’s mother filed a family petition on Mary’s behalf on September 18, 2019. Therefore, Mary’s priority date is September 18, 2019. Because Mary is the adult unmarried child of a permanent resident, she is waiting in line in the family-based second preference category, or F2B.

As of January 2024, only adult unmarried children of permanent residents who were born in the Philippines can file for their green card if their priority date is August 1, 2004 or earlier. Also, the Department of State is only adjudicating applications for people whose priority date is October 3, 2003 or earlier.

Therefore, Mary needs to wait approximately 16 years before she will even be eligible to file her green card application with the Department of State.

Let’s also give an employment-based example. Justin Bieber, who was born in Canada, filed an employment-based petition as an international pop star and requested a green card under the employment-based first category. He filed on March 21, 2023.

Great news, Beliebers! According to the January 2024 dates for filing chart, Justin can file his application now because the Department of State is “current,” or up-to-date, with first-preference cases for people who were born anywhere other than China, India, Mexico or the Philippines. The Department of State is also current when it comes to adjudications.

An important note for our readers: the above dates for filing/final action dates explanation is applicable to cases for immigrants who are applying for their green cards abroad at a U.S. embassy or consulate. If the immigrant is already in the United States, she should look and see which chart U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services is using each month so that she files her application at the appropriate time.

As always, we welcome your comments and will do our best to respond.

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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., Janice Chen, Esq., and Austen Soare, Esq., practicing attorneys at The Law Office of James Montana PLLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Falls Church, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact us for an appointment.

Attire Key: The Feast Day of St. Thomas More (as observed), Christmas, Boxing Day, National Reindeer Herdsmen’s Day, Kyrgyz Independence Day

Dear ARLnow Readers,

Every year, we are reminded — in our own particular ways, by our own particular traditions, and, if we’re fortunate, in the company of our own families — that there is more to life than the law.

So, in this last column before Christmas, we are not going to talk about the law.

Instead, we are going to share this heartwarming story of how Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Washington opened its doors to the neediest for Christmas dinner. May we all be animated by the spirit of charity and human kindness this holiday season.

Thank you for reading our advertorials over the course of this year, and for your thoughtful questions and comments.

As always, we welcome your comments and will do our best to respond.

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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., Janice Chen, Esq., and Austen Soare, Esq., practicing attorneys at The Law Office of James Montana PLLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Falls Church, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact us for an appointment.

Anyone who has ever had to file paperwork with a state or federal agency knows that it can be confusing. Where am I sending this application? Who has the power to approve my request? Why does this office handle my application and not the other office?

Immigration is no different. Various federal agencies come into play when it comes to immigration petitions and applications. As always, we are here to help! Here is a breakdown and brief explanation of the agencies (and sub-agencies! And then sub-offices!) that immigration lawyers and immigrants interact with.

First, there is the Department of Homeland Security. The three major sub-agencies within the Department of Homeland Security that we deal with are (1) U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services; (2) Immigration and Customs Enforcement; and (3) Customs and Border Protection.

(1) S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, or USCIS, is a benefit-processing sub-agency. USCIS accepts and adjudicates all types of immigration applications, including work permit applications, green card applications, and naturalization applications. USCIS is not an enforcement agency. USCIS also houses asylum offices, which only adjudicate asylum applications. There are many field offices and asylum offices around the country that conduct applicant interviews. In Virginia, we have two field offices: the Washington Field Office in Fairfax and the Norfolk Field Office. Virginia also has one asylum office in Arlington. The other local USCIS field office close by is located in Baltimore.

(2) Immigration and Customs Enforcement, or ICE, is exactly what it says in the name — an enforcement branch of the Department of Homeland Security. We generally deal with two sub-offices within ICE. First, there is the Office of the Principal Legal Advisor, or OPLA. They are the immigration prosecutors that appear in court and represent the Department of Homeland Security’s position in removal or deportation proceedings.

Second, there is Enforcement and Removal Operations, or ERO. Again, the name basically explains it all. ERO is like the immigration police. They enforce deportation and removal orders and conduct check-ins with people who have been conditionally released from immigration detention. The Virginia ERO office is located in Chantilly. The Maryland ERO office is in Baltimore.

(3) Customs and Border Protection, or CBP, are the border police. They are the agents that review passports at ports of entry, like airports and seaports, to make sure that a person has the correct documents to enter the United States. They also can arrest people that have entered the United States unlawfully if those people are found within a certain distance from a land or sea border. Finally, they also review luggage and shipments to ensure that people are not bringing illegal or problematic items, like counterfeit goods, into the United States.

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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., Janice Chen, Esq., and Austen Soare, Esq., practicing attorneys at The Law Office of James Montana PLLC, an immigration-focused law firm located in Falls Church, Virginia. The legal information given here is general in nature. If you want legal advice, contact us for an appointment.

[This is the third installment in our new series here at Statutes of Liberty, in which we interview professionals in our field to provide our readers with varying perspectives on what it is like to work in the immigration system.]

Katie Fourmy never smiles in court, except when she wins. She smiles a lot in court.

Q: Who are you and where do you work?

A: My name is Katie Fourmy, and I work at Just Neighbors, a nonprofit that offers very low-cost legal services.

Q: Did you once work for James Montana as an intern?

A: What is the first rule of Fight Club?

Q: Touché. Next serious question: You work at an immigration nonprofit. You defend people and charge low fees. But ‘low’ is more than ‘free.’ Why don’t immigrants just go to the public defender?

A: I wish! Immigrants have a right to an immigration attorney in court, but that means that they have a right to hire one, not a right to have one if they can’t afford it. That means that they have to save up money and either hire someone from the private bar or a low-cost nonprofit provider like Just Neighbors.

Q: When you say low-cost, what do you mean? What does Just Neighbors charge?

A: We charge a one-time $100 fee.

Q: Say what?

A: Well, $100 for an individual, $200 for a family. That’s the fee for the whole case.

Q: [Sound of shattering glass, as your friendly local immigration lawyer contemplates financial dystopia.] How on earth does Just Neighbors stay afloat?

A: We are very fortunate to benefit from the generosity of faith communities, individuals, and local jurisdictions, which provide us with funding. We also receive support from foundations. We don’t have enough money, and indeed, we don’t have enough lawyers.

Q: How many lawyers are we talking about?

A: Ten lawyers, currently.

Q: What geographic range does Just Neighbors cover?

A: Maryland, D.C., Northern Virginia, and swaths of rural Virginia — that’s five attorneys covering Northern Virginia, including Prince William and Loudoun.

Q: Do you represent people in detention?

A: We do not. We refer them to CAIR Coalition. CAIR Coalition is the only nonprofit in the area that does detained immigrant defense. KIND and Ayuda will sometimes take cases for detained children.

Q: Children? That reminds me. Do children have the right to counsel in immigration court?

A: Nope, neither children nor adults have the right to appointed counsel.

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