Seven Tips for the Undocumented and Visa Over-stayers
Tip #1: Prepare Now (it will be too late if you wait until ICE knocks on your door)
- Get your documents in order - birth certificates, marriage licenses, the education records of you and your kids, past taxes, and any and all immigration correspondence to or from the government. Have the originals safeguarded. Make a copy for a loved one to store at a different location in case your house burns down. Give copies of your attorney who can scan them and save them online for you.
- Find an immigration attorney that you trust now. If you wait until you are detained you may not find a good one in time. Pay for a consultation to see if there may be chance for you to fix your status.
Tip #2: Build Equity (Make the immigration judge or ICE prosecutor want to help you)
- You will need to show a judge/ICE prosecutor that you have good moral character. Documentation of what appears to be a person's plain and ordinary life can be great evidence of good moral character. For example, copies of paycheck stubs can show a steady, hardworking, productive member of society.
- You will also need to get many reputable references and letters from:
- work supervisors
- community group leaders
- volunteer supervisors
- your teachers & those of your kids teachers; and,
- local politicians if possible
- Be wholesome: remove tattoos, stop smoking and drinking (saves you money too);
- Take lots of pictures with your family that would show a judge how close you all are and how you and the family are an integrated unit
- Take continuing education classes and obtain certificates in work fields
- Take parenting classes
- Pay your income taxes and keep those records -- never throw any of them out -- ever. Your goal is to show taxed paid for every year you were here- or at least every year starting now.
- Volunteer for the PTA at your kid's school
- Volunteer for the group called Habitat for Humanity -- they build houses for low-income families; if you do construction or handyman work it builds you great equity, gives you valuable work experience and you may meet people who later will give you jobs.
- If you have a DUI on your record, volunteer at a rehab center for at least five years.
- if you have child payments make sure they are current.
Tip #3: Become American (assimilation, not naturalization)
- Master the English language - watch NBC, not Univision.
- Mainstream your children into English classes to show that they are integrating into United States society. Unfortunately, if your children are bilingual this will count against you because the government will argue that the kids will adjust fine in your home country.
- Fly the American flag in front of your house on July 4th. Have your family's picture taken in front of it.
- Root for the Lakers & Dodgers, not just Comunicaciones or Cruz Azul.
- Go to Starbucks to celebrate, not to a bar.
Tip #4: Know Your Rights (Attend one of our trainings or get training materials from us.)
Tip #5: Have a back-up plan for emergencies:
- Prepare your family for the possibility that you may be detained for a few days at best or detained until your deportation date at worse.
- Create a checklist of what needs to be done if you are suddenly absent. Does your spouse have Power-of-Attorney authority over your bank account, credit cards, rental agreement or mortgage? Does the school know who to call to pick up your kids if you are suddenly taken away?
- If you don't want to return to your home country, is there another country you can legally go to like Canada or Costa Rica?
Tip #6: Understand your true immigration status and options
- Do not leave the U.S. again. If an alien was in the country unlawfully for one year or more, leaves the country and reenters or attempts to illegally reenter, they will be barred for 10 years.
- Learn the name of the documents and immigration processes. For instance, you need to know the difference between a visa and and an I-94; you need to understand how you were legally entitled to a work permit ten years ago and why you stopped receiving them; you need to know the exact name/number of the petition you parent filed for you.
- You may have previously been given incorrect information by someone regarding your immigration options. Many people will rely on incorrect information and lose out on a chance for a green card or working permit. This will cost them tens of thousands of dollars in potential income. Don't let this happen to you-- don't accept your situation unless you have been told by a trusted immigration attorney that you have no options.
Tip #7: Act now to improve your future
- Get your documents in order, make copies as I mentioned earlier.
- Get a full case analysis from an Immigration attorney. Don't pay more than $100-$1000 (depending on whether the attorney must go to immigration court to get your documents etc...) for this and make sure that the attorney will allow you to count this toward any other services you get in the future. The attorney should give you a written opinion on what your options are, discuss them with you at length, educate you on the law and help guide you on what you need to do now and in the future to improve your situation.
- When you pick an attorney, make sure they are asking you every possible question. If the claim they can take your case but only ask you twenty questions, be careful. They can put you and your family in jeopardy by not having asked you for an important piece of information that can make a difference in your case and thus in your life. See our blog entry on "QUESTIONS TO ASK ANY IMMIGRATION PROFESSIONAL before hiring them!" at: http://goo.gl/GbEBV.