By: Attorney Devin M. Connolly
President Trump addressed the nation from the oval office last week to discuss the current government shutdown and his request for a wall along the country’s southern border. He said there is a crisis along our border that can only be solved by a physical barrier. Democrats disagree, saying that funding a border wall would be a colossal waste of money. Caught in the middle are immigrants and federal workers who are missing paychecks as a result of the partial government shutdown.
Is there really a crisis? Are Democrats being unreasonable? These are the questions that millions of Americans are asking themselves as they try to make sense of this shutdown. Federal workers who are being forced to work without pay are getting a lot of attention, and rightfully so, as they are required to show up for work and they have no idea when they will receive their next paycheck. So unless they have a sufficient amount of savings, they are unsure if they are going to be able to pay their mortgage, put gas in their car, pay for medications, etc.
Another group of people who are left with uncertain futures are immigrants. Since immigration courts are closed due to the shutdown, when is their next deportation hearing? Would Trump be willing to exchange permanent resident status (and a path to citizenship) for the Dreamers in exchange for funding for his wall? Will this shutdown finally lead to comprehensive immigration reform? So many questions, so few answers. But what is known though is that, despite all the uncertainty, there are options that exist today for immigrants.
The starting point should be to meet with an experienced immigration attorney to discuss your options. One likely goal for the majority of people is to obtain work authorization. Not only does a work permit, officially referred to as an Employment Authorization Document, allow a person to be lawfully employed in the U.S., but it also carries with it many other benefits. These benefits include obtaining a social security number, a Driver’s License, etc.
Unfortunately, not everybody is eligible for a work permit. Eligibility for a work permit usually accompanies a pending application for a different immigration benefit. For instance, when a person files an application for asylum based on their fear of returning to their native country, they may be entitled to a work permit while their application is pending. This need to file a separate application so that they may obtain work authorization can be very tempting. After all, the work authorization can be relatively immediate, whereas any negative immigration consequences will not be for years . . . or so people mistakenly think. The truth is that filing an application for immigration benefits so that you become eligible for a work permit can have disastrous immigration consequences, including being ordered deported. Nothing is free; make sure you ask your immigration attorney about the risks.
While work permits are great, green cards (permanent resident status) are even better! There are so many different ways to get a green card, some of which are not widely known. We all know that marrying a U.S. citizen can lead to a green card, as can being petitioned by an employer. But most people are not aware of the many lesser-known ways of being eligible for permanent resident status. For example, did you know that a person could be eligible for a green card if they have been the victim of a crime and have cooperated with law enforcement? Or that a person could be eligible for a green card based on the hardship that a family member would suffer if they were forced to return to their native country. In short, an expert may be able to identify a way for you to obtain a green card when you did not know that such a way existed.
The reality is that it is a very difficult time for undocumented immigrants in the United States, especially when you consider that Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) is regularly conducting raids and deporting people. But doing nothing is not the answer – your problem is not going to go away. With a new year upon us, now is the perfect time to revisit your immigration case. Consult a knowledgeable and experienced immigration attorney today and ask what options are available to you.