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Updated as of 03/15/2017

What it means to be an American Citizen

By Julio C. Urdaneta*

There will be a barbecue with friends, fireworks, and a day off from work. But for me, this Independence Day will be far different from the ones I have celebrated since I moved to the United States 13 years ago.

It will be the first one I celebrate after becoming an American citizen. And I couldn’t be more proud.

As a young, idealistic journalist, I came to the United States from Latin America eager to find a new vision of the world, a new canvas where I could practice my craft. And I found much more than that: I found a vast nation with millions of people with interesting lives: Heroes, mavericks, entrepreneurs, eccentrics, dreamers, believers – all of them full of stories waiting to be told and shared with the world.

I was challenged, taunted, to get out my comfort zone and understand this new world that now I call home. The energy this country radiates forced me to grow, to question myself and to let go of many misconceptions and beliefs that shaped my life up to that point. I was born again here.

It takes brave men and women to envision and create a nation and make it prosper, just like our forefathers did. And as a testament of its strong foundation, one of the greatest things about the United States is that it continues to evolve, to grow, to discover itself. It is never static – it embraces the new, the bold, and the unique.

And we, Americans, old and new, reap the benefits of it. Here, we are free to thrive. We have the freedom to be who we are, and to expand ourselves to the infinite. The world is at our fingertips: We live and learn in one of the most diverse countries of the planet, where all cultures, faiths, and schools of thoughts coexist. We share strong values, an extraordinary work ethic, and a commitment to innovation.

The journey has not always been smooth. It has had its dark moments. Yet, the hope for a better future never dies. Solidarity is an intrinsic American value, as are inclusion and acceptance. 

For all of this I thank you, America. And for showing the world, for showing me, the real me. I am proud to be called your son, and here I am to honor you.

So, what is your story? What does it mean to you to be an American? Feel free to share it with USA.gov on Facebook, Twitter or Google+, using the hashtag #MyUSA.

* Julio writes for USA.gov and GobiernoUSA.gov

Information on Trump’s Immigration Executive Order

Release date: February 08, 2017

“Immigration law experts and borough advocacy rights groups said that while Queens immigrants are understandably alarmed about Trump’s executive orders, there are steps they can take to protect themselves.
Antonio Meloni, the executive director of Astoria’s Immigration Advocacy Services, said that the implementation of Trump’s executive orders— especially in terms of deporting immigrants living in the United States – would take a while to go into effect and likely face legal battles.

“We’re telling people to stay calm,” said Meloni, whose group assists immigrants in obtaining permanent residency and citizenship. “An executive order is not the law and one such as this will be challenged in court. The implementation of these orders will take a lot longer.”

Meloni said he’d advise borough immigrants without citizenship status, green cards or dual citizenship not to travel at this time.

“If you’re illegal and you travel, you’re self-deporting,” he said. “If you’re legally here but have had issues with the court, you should contact someone before traveling. But once you leave the country, you lose a lot of protections.”

Read the full article here: http://queenstribune.com/trumps-immigration-ban-shocks-queens-world/

A Muslim’s American Holiday

Release date: November 24, 2016

On this Thanksgiving, let us each remember that. At a time when our nation is divided and frightened, there is still nowhere as a Muslim I am not welcome. There is nowhere in the world where a Muslim is more religiously and democratically free. That is true even today, as many wring their hands about a resurgence of white nationalism and other forms of angry ethnic pride.

I suppose I actually absorbed this idea decades before Judge John Gleeson swore me in as a U.S. citizen at federal court in Brooklyn last year. But by the time I got my documents and squinted at them in the morning sun that December day, I realized, through all her mystery and all her magic, through all the goodness of dozens of American families, through the remarkably prescient imagination of Jefferson who more than 200 years ago had no less imagined me, I had been made a citizen not only of document but of substance: the values of Americans had become mine.” – NY Daily News

Read the full article here: http://www.nydailynews.com/opinion/muslim-american-holiday-thanksgivings-article-1.2885203


USCIS Announces fees to increase starting on December 23rd

Release date: October 24, 2016

“U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services today announced a final rule published in the Federal Registertoday adjusting the fees required for most immigration applications and petitions. The new fees will be effective Dec. 23.

Fees will increase for the first time in six years, by a weighted average of 21 percent for most applications and petitions.   This increase is necessary to recover the full cost of services provided by USCIS. These include the costs associated with fraud detection and national security, customer service and case processing, and providing services without charge to refugee and asylum applicants and to other customers eligible for fee waivers or exemptions.

The final rule contains a table summarizing current and new fees. The new fees will also be listed on the Our Fees page on our website.” – USCIS

Website: https://www.uscis.gov/news/news-releases/uscis-announces-final-rule-adjusting-immigration-benefit-application-and-petition-fees


DHS Announces Temporary Protected Status Designation for Nepal

Updated Release Date: October 26, 2016

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for eligible nationals of Nepal (and those without nationality who last habitually resided in Nepal) for an additional 18 months, effective Dec. 25, 2016, through June 24, 2018.

Current TPS Nepal beneficiaries who want to extend their TPS must re-register during the 60-day re-registration period that runs from October 26, 2016 through December 27, 2016. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) encourages beneficiaries to re-register as soon as possible once the 60-day re-registration period begins. (USCIS, Web.)

Website: https://www.uscis.gov/news/news-releases/temporary-protected-status-extended-nepal

We can help with Nepalese TPS (Temporary Protected Status). Feel free to contact us with any application questions or concerns. We offer Free Consultations either in person or by phone.


USCIS Allows Additional Applicants for Provisional Waiver Process

Release date: July 29, 2016

This final rule builds on a process established in 2013 to support family unity.  Under that process, certain immediate relatives of U.S. citizens can apply for provisional waivers of the unlawful presence ground of inadmissibility, based on the extreme hardship their U.S. citizen spouses or parents would suffer if the waiver were not granted.  The rule announced today, which goes into effect on Aug. 29, 2016, expands eligibility for the provisional waiver process to all individuals who are statutorily eligible for the waiver of the unlawful presence ground of inadmissibility. USCIS expects to update its Policy Manual to provide guidance on how USCIS makes “extreme hardship” determinations in the coming weeks. (USCIS)

Website: https://www.uscis.gov/news/news-releases/uscis-allow-additional-applicants-provisional-waiver-process


Temporary Protected Status Extended for El Salvador

Release date: July 08, 2016

Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson has extended Temporary Protected Status (TPS) for eligible nationals of El Salvador (and those without nationality who last habitually resided in El Salvador) for an additional 18 months, effective Sept. 10, 2016, through March 9, 2018.

Current TPS El Salvador beneficiaries who want to extend their TPS must re-register during the 60-day re-registration period that runs from July 8, 2016, through Sept. 6, 2016. U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) encourages beneficiaries to re-register as soon as possible once the 60-day re-registration period begins.

Website: https://www.uscis.gov/news/news-releases/temporary-protected-status-extended-el-salvador


USCIS’ Virtual Assistant Now Available in Spanish

Release Date: June 01, 2016

U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services today expanded the capabilities of “Emma,” a virtual assistant that allows customers to quickly find accurate immigration information. Now, Emma can answer questions and direct users to relevant USCIS web pages in Spanish as well as English.

You can find the new version on USCIS’ Spanish language site, uscis.gov/es, accessible from any device. As with the English version, launched in December 2015 on uscis.gov, you do not need to know official government terms to ask a question. Just select “Haga una pregunta” in the upper-right corner of the screen and type a question in your own words.

Website: https://www.uscis.gov/news/uscis-virtual-assistant-now-available-spanish


Important Information for Some DACA Recipients Who Received Three-Year* Work Authorization

Release date: August 3, 2015

If you are a DACA recipient who received a three-year Employment Authorization Document (EAD) after February 16, 2015, it was likely mistakenly issued and must be returned.

Approximately 2,100 DACA recipients were issued three-year Employment Authorization Documents, rather than two-year EADs, after the  February 16, 2015, court injunction was in place. USCIS has taken action to correct this issue for these individuals and has updated their records to reflect a two-year period of deferred action and employment authorization. USCIS has re-issued and mailed the corrected two-year EADs to these individuals. USCIS has also notified these individuals that the three-year EADs are no longer valid and must be immediately returned, along with any related approval notices. USCIS is carefully tracking the number of returns of these invalid EADs and continues to take steps to collect the remaining cards.

Separately, about 500 three-year EADs that were approved and issued before the February 16, 2015, injunction were returned to USCIS as undeliverable by the U.S. Postal Service. These cards were subsequently re-mailed to an updated address after the injunction. USCIS has also taken action to correct this issue for these individuals and has updated their records to reflect a two-year period of deferred action and employment authorization. USCIS is re-issuing corrected two-year EADs to these individuals.  USCIS has also notified these individuals that the three-year EADs are no longer valid and must be immediately returned, along with any related approval notices. USCIS is carefully tracking the number of returns of these invalid EADs and continues to take steps to collect the remaining cards.

Website: http://www.uscis.gov/humanitarian/consideration-deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-process/important-information-some-daca-recipients-who-received-three-year-work-authorization-fact-sheet


Monetary Crisis in Greece

Information for our Greek constituents. If you any questions about immigration for your family and friends please contact our office.

Website: http://money.cnn.com/2015/06/28/news/economy/greece-banks-ecb/index.html


Executive Action Clarification

Although President Obama’s much anticipated speech on Immigration last night shone a light on coming future changes in Immigration law and procedure, the first and foremost fact that we all need to understand is that whether through Executive Action or Congress passing new laws all of these proposed changes will not be truly implemented for months. Its good to gather information but do not apply for anything until you’ve gotten a number of opinions as to whether you qualify.

Here at Immigration Advocacy Services we have been guiding citizens and immigrants eager to help their families through the legal quagmire that is Immigration for 25 years, two years before President Reagan signed  the first ‘Legalization’ or Amnesty into law in 1986.  Since then there have been many new laws passed in the intervening years including 245i, IRCA, IraIrra and an assortment of other major immigration law changes.

Our best advice at this point:

One: Don’t be in a hurry; nothing in this new action will be law or even able to be applied for for  a minimum of 90 to 180 days.

Second, even then, we always advise our constituents to not be first on line for any new law; let the government practice on other people and when they’ve gotten over the inherent glitches in any new procedure we’ll gladly apply for you and guide you through the legal requirements.

Third: come by our office for a FREE consultation on your particular and individual case.  No two cases are ever alike and there will certainly be updates, changes and new facets as the law or action wends its way through our courts and inevitable challenges.

Fourth:  save everything that constitutes a paper trail and begin to look for pertinent documents to establish your initial entry, subsequent years since then and your relationship to any US Citizen or Resident. Come in for updated lists and instructions we may have.

Fifth: when looking for information, be very aware of attempts at fraud. Every shyster, Notario, fake attorney and unscrupulous lawyer will be looking to take advantage of this law and you. Remember that Homeland Security, USCIS and the Department of State have excellent websites but there are a ton of lookalikes that try to dupe you into believing they are Immigration.  The government sites all end in  .Gov and for this particular issue USCIS.GOV is the correct government website.

Website: https://www.uscis.gov/immigrationaction


Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA)

This week marks the third annual anniversary of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), the Department of Homeland Security’s initiative to grant consideration to individuals who entered the United States as children in deferring prosecutorial action as well as issuing work authorization if they meet certain criteria. While a permanent solution to the struggle of undocumented children in this country by the Federal government remains to be seen, DACA permits successful applicants to work, attend school, and serve in the military subject to renewal every two years. As a result, we have seen an increase in the number of applicants who now have the opportunity to continue their studies and seek employment without fear of immediate removal. In the meantime, Immigration Advocacy Services remains committed to monitoring DHS updates on how these requests will be treated and assisting childhood arrivals with the application process. As a reminder, it is not too late to submit initial applications and to renew an existing application. For those who have already applied and been approved, we recommend renewing as soon as possible within 4-5 months of expiration.

Website: https://www.uscis.gov/news/alerts/deferred-action-childhood-arrivals-still-available


Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA)

Since the landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that Sec. 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act (“DOMA”) is unconstitutional, our federal agencies are now required to treat same-sex couples who are legally married in the same manner as they would opposite-sex couples. In the immigration world, this means that USCIS must (and does) treat a same-sex spousal immigrant visa petition just as they would a petition filed by spouses of the opposite sex. As a result, we have now had the opportunity to assist many same-sex couples in the petitioning process and are pleased to be able to extend our services to a wider array of family-based immigration applications. As always, it is fulfilling to play an integral role in connecting the lives of loved ones who were previously unable to enjoy this special privilege.


The Value of Citizenship/Naturalization

As an organization dedicated to the cause of bringing families together across many boundaries, we continue to impress upon our clients and potential clients the value of citizenship in the United States. Naturalization is not only a singular opportunity to express one’s pride in one’s new homeland, it also carries with it many advantages that mere residency does not. For instance, while Congress has the sole power to change the rules as to who may emigrate and remain here at any time, U.S. citizens are not subject to any conditions and may not thereafter have their citizenship revoked at will. Therefore, naturalizing allows immigrants who have remained in the U.S. continuously for the preceding five years and who have not been absent longer than six months a legal security that permanent residents do not enjoy.
Similarly, U.S. citizens may travel freely within and outside the U.S. without running the risk of losing their status for prolonged stays outside of the country. As it currently stands, a Legal Permanent Resident who resides outside of the U.S for a year or more can lose their status as a Greencard holder and will experience difficulty re-entering the U.S. In addition, they may have to re-apply to obtain status in the U.S.
Another important benefit is the ability of citizens to petition for immediate relatives without being subject to the wait-list, called “priority dates,” that permanent residents must endure before a loved one can legally enter and remain in the U.S. In fact, there is no limit on the number of visas available for the immediate relatives of citizens.
Citizenship also affords the opportunity to participate more fully in American civic life in a way that residency does not. Naturalized citizens may vote in national, state, and local elections, serve on a jury, and otherwise reap the benefits of democracy. In addition, a citizen’s status cannot be changed or revoked based on a contact with the criminal justice system. Finally, citizenship in general represents the culmination of the immigrant experience. After having gone through the tedium of seemingly endless paperwork, the anxiety of a lengthy wait time, and ultimately the stress of adjusting to a new cultural environment, naturalizing affords a sense of accomplishment while rewarding the patience and dedication of immigrants who have endured the process.
For more information on applying for citizenship/naturalization, we offer free consultations. There is no appointment necessary, we welcome walk-ins.


Adjustment of Status

One of our most frequently used services is adjustment of status for the spouses, children, and parents of U.S. citizens who are present in the U.S. and seeking permanent residency. We are pleased to say that, for the most part, these applications are being processed very swiftly in New York. On average, it takes about 6-8 months for spousal cases and about 8-12 months for parental cases. This is a marked improvement over previous years where there was a significantly longer wait time. We encourage anyone one wanting more information on this process to come in for a free consultation with our staff. We are happy to review with you the steps that need to be taken and the documents necessary for your particular situation.