US Immigration Process: Honesty is the Best Policy
It’s not unusual for someone to ask me if something they do will affect their US immigration process or status in the U.S. – my job is to advise my clients and assist them with these decisions. My clients run ideas by me all the time, so it’s not unusual for a client to approach me and ask how anyone (meaning anyone in the U.S. government) would find out if they did something that might hurt their chances to stay in the U.S. Often I am asked travel-related questions such as this: “If the U.S. Customs and Border Protection people don’t stamp my passport when I leave the country, how would anyone know when I left the U.S.?” Usually people ask me this because they’re thinking they might be able to list a different date on an application. In citizenship applications, most people must show that they’ve spent a certain amount of time in the U.S. If someone hasn’t spent enough time here, listing a different date that they left the U.S. might help them appear to qualify even if they don’t.
I understand that when people lie (or just try to withhold something that they think will be an issue in their case), they do so because they think the truth will never come out anyway. But I let my clients know that in the immigration context, any misrepresentation can come to light, even if it is brought up years later. It can still be a problem.
If You’re Asking How They’ll Know, You’re Asking the Wrong Question
I have said this before, and I’ll say it again here: If you’re asking how someone will know that something took place, you’re asking the wrong question. The question anyone going through a U.S. immigration process of any kind should ask is: How I can get through the process with my facts? When you look at your situation from the perspective of wanting to know how to get through a process knowing your facts, the focus is on disclosing what you are required to disclose and still working toward the results you want.
I don’t believe that a person who fails to disclose something on an immigration application (or verbally when asked by a government official) is a bad person. I have extensive experience representing people accused of lying in their immigration matters, in writing or when asked by someone. I like being able to work with people who need help getting back on the right track. That being said, it’s always best if I can stop people from going through the problems that misrepresentations cause.
As I mentioned above, I occasionally have permanent resident clients who think that since the United States does not stamp exit dates in passports as people leave the U.S., they can alter the dates of trips out of the United States to “look better” on a citizenship application (or prevent a finding of abandonment of U.S. residence). But U.S. Customs and Border Protection (CBP) has access to all flight manifests (which show who was on a flight and when it arrived in or left the United States). I have worked with people who lied about their entry and exit dates and were confronted by CBP when returning from a trip overseas. Renewing a passport to try to get rid of an old one with stamps showing entries into other countries will not stop CBP from checking the actual dates of departure and return. So when I work with permanent residents applying for citizenship, I focus on disclosing what we have to disclose (including travel dates within the last few years) and proving that the person is still eligible for the benefit they want (citizenship or anything else we’re working to obtain).
What is a Misrepresentation? What is Fraud?
A misrepresentation is an intentional or willing statement or omission that is material to a person’s situation. A misrepresentation can be made in writing or verbally. Some examples of contexts where misrepresentations occur include:
- A statement made to a Customs and Border Protection Officer at a land border, seaport, or airport;
- In writing in court filings;
- On an I-9 employment eligibility verification form when a person is hired to work
- On immigration applications
- At an Interview with U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services
A person can be found to commit fraud if he makes a misrepresentation in order to obtain a benefit, or can also be any action taken that with the intent to mislead the United States government. For example,marrying a person simply to get a greencard (entering into a “sham marriage”) is marriage fraud. If the Immigration Service determines that a person has committed marriage fraud, no petition for that person can be approved in the future. When someone meets with me hoping to marrying someone solely to get a greencard, I tell them that the fraudulent marriage will be discovered sooner or later, and will prevent the person from being able to stay in the United States at all in most cases. People ask, "how will they know?" I just tell them, "if you’re asking how they will find out, you’re making it clear that the actions you want to take are wrong. If you know this would be wrong, don't do it!"
Another example of fraud may be a company petitioning for work visas or permanent residence for "employees" who do not actually work at the company. This type of visa fraud often involves an arrangement by which the company, the "employees" and sometimes an unscrupulous attorney, all benefit. The company may receive payment in exchange for the filing the petitions for the "employees." Unfortunately, this type of arrangement also comes to light eventually. Attorneys who participate in this type of scheme and the companies involved are often charged with visa fraud, which is a federal crime. However, the sponsored "employees" are also accused of committing fraud, even if the fraud accusations do not surface for months or years. Even those who have already become permanent residents ultimately face scrutiny while traveling and are often placed in deportation proceedings, This type of situation is unfortunate as it sometimes involves people who applied for their visa or green card with a genuine intention to work in their sponsored role at the U.S. company if given the opportunity.
How Can Your Immigration Attorney Help You?
Some people who presume that they do not have a problem in their case and have already filed an application on their own without even speaking to an attorney. I often meet with these individuals after they are surprised to receive a Request for Evidence or Notice of Intent to Deny (NOID). My office often works with many people who experience problems in their cases after initially handling things on their own. Most would have benefited substantially from working with a top immigration lawyer from the start, since responding to an RFE or NOID can involve extra costs and fast-approaching deadlines. In some cases, people that we assist filed cases that a reputable attorney would have advised against filing. Others answer questions incorrectly, causing delays in their cases, denials, or even prompting USCIS to accuse them of lying when they simply made an honest mistake or misunderstood a question.
It is much better for a person to start out by meeting with an experienced immigration attorney to be sure about their case than to lose hundreds of dollars in government filing fees paid for an application that gets denied, or spend thousands of dollars for representation to handle an RFE or NOID response or otherwise resolve a problem that could have been avoided. While my office takes pride in assisting clients with difficult cases, we also love preventing problems from happening.
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