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June 2013

Vol. 2, Issue 4
Assisting immigration clients around the world

 Ida Keir Law 


Green Card &
 Immigration Updates

As we write, the full Senate is considering S. 744, the immigration reform bill - (C-SPAN often carries live video coverage).  The Senate Judiciary Committee amended and passed it with a strong 13-5 bipartisan vote, but many Senators oppose its passage.  The House of Representatives is currently also negotiating a bipartisan bill, which will go through a similar process.  


The bill expands enforcement, revamps the legal immigration system, and provides a lengthy process to legalize those living in the U.S. without valid visas.

For details, see our website and our last newsletter which summarized the bill.  The American Immigration Council recently published an excellent guide and summary of the bill, including information on a cost-benefit analysis and the economics of immigration reform.


There are no guarantees that anything will pass
It's so important that "we the people" let our representatives know our opinions, and not just leave it to others, and to special interests.  If you have questions just contact us for more information.
In This Issue
Update on Immigration Reform
I-94 is Now Electronic
Siblings and Adult Children
Same-Sex Marriage and Immigration
Deported for Possessing 2 Joints?
2011.11.18 IK headshot more light big

What can you do to support immigration reform?


1. Focus on facts, not fiction.  Find out for yourself what's in the bill; don't rely on what "opinionators" and talking heads say.

2. Contact your Senators and let them know your views.  Act now; it matters and doesn't take long. Call 202-224-3121 to connect to your Senators' offices, or go to  to contact them online - see upper right corner to find your Senator.

3. Contact your Congressman/woman to let them know your opinion. There's not yet a bill, but you can express your views at (again, upper right corner to find your Representative).

4. Let people know there's no new law yet.  We keep repeating this, but scammers are busy. Help immigrants you know understand there's nothing to apply for yet.


US flag and people    

I-94 is Now Electronic
When a non-citizen enters the U.S., she used to get a paper I-94 form at the border to show when and where she entered, and in which visa category (visitor, student, etc.). This has now changed for anyone who arrives by air or sea.  You will no longer complete a paper form, but instead can retrieve and print your entry information online.  You'll also receive a stamp in your passport or other travel document.

Sponsoring Siblings and Adult Children to Immigrate
The United States immigration system has emphasized family reunification for many decades. Currently, U.S. citizens - but not green card holders - can sponsor their foreign brothers and sisters, and their adult chldren, of any age.  There are long waits for these visas, usually 10-20 years. 
How will the Senate's immigration reform bill change this?
The Senate has proposed eliminating visas for siblings and over-31 adult children of U.S. citizens.  Instead, merit-based and employment visas will increase, and relatives can still apply, but a number of factors will be taken into account, such as education and skills.
What should you do now?
While we're warning against falling prey to scammers, it probably does make sense to apply for visas for your adult siblings and children, if you're a U.S. citizen already, because those categories are likely to disappear.  Applications submitted before the bill is passed should be honored.

Same-Sex Marriage and Immigration Law

Immigration law is federal, not state, and the federal government does not recognize or provide benefits to same-sex spouses.  This is because the 1996 Defense Thais Kathy Jamesof Marriage Act or DOMA, states that marriage is "...a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word `spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex...''  As a result, legally married U.S. citizens or LPRs (green card holders) cannot sponsor their same-sex spouses to immigrate.   


In the meantime, before the end of June the Supreme Court will issue its rulings in two cases involving same-sex marriages.  In one, Windsor v. United States, the Court will decide whether DOMA is unconstitutional, as a lower court held.  If DOMA is struck down, it's likely that same-sex spouses will be eligible for immigration benefits.   

One of the strongest arguments in the case is a states' rights defense.  With few exceptions, states decide who can marry in their jurisdictions.  So if a state says that 17-year-olds can marry without restrictions, but the federal government passes a law saying you must be 21 to marry, the federal government could deny all benefits to married 17-20-year-olds.  Most Americans would be shocked at this.  Similarly, in twelve+ U.S. states, same-sex marriage is legal, but the federal government does not recognize those marriages.  


Will the proposed immigration reform bill change this?  Not as it currently stands.  Senators - including those who support gay marriage - have decided not to include any provisions for same-sex spouses, for fear it will destroy passage of the entire bill. 


For more information, see Immigration Equality which has a wealth of information about lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender immigration issues.

Can You Be Deported for Possessing Two Joints of Marijuana?
Yes, butMarijuana plant not as easily as before April, when the Supreme Court issued its 7-2 decision in Moncrieffe v. Holder.  Those living legally in the U.S. with temporary visas or even with green cards, can be deported if convicted of a crime while here.  There's discretion for some crimes, but no discretion at all if convicted of what's called an "aggravated felony."  That term suggests a heinous offense, such as murder, rape, or kidnapping - and it certainly includes those - but the definition is complicated and has been used to deport all sorts of folks with much less serious convictions.

In this case, Adrian Moncrieffe had lived legally in the U.S. since the age of 3 and had two children. He was convicted of his first offense as an adult in Georgia, where he was stopped in 2007 for a traffic violation. The police found 1.3 grams of marijuana in his car, enough for two-three joints.  He pled guilty to a state offense of possession with intent to distribute marijuana. The court viewed him as a social sharer, not a drug trafficker, and gave him probation.

The federal government then sought to deport him and said this was an aggravated felony.  He was mandatorily detained in prison while awaiting his immigration hearing, and was deported, as the court had no other options.  He appealed and in April the Supreme Court decided in his favor; the immigration court will now rehear his case.

The court said a state conviction must necessarily match the federal felony in question.  Here, the state law could have matched up with either a federal felony or misdemeanor so it could not be an aggravated felony.  Moncrieffe can still be deported for a controlled substance conviction, but this isn't automatic, and the immigration court can consider whether he might be eligible to remain here, e.g. his "removal" can be cancelled if he meets certain requirements, including long-term residence and U.S. relatives.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor delivered the opinion and concluded: "This is the third time in seven years that we have considered whether the Government has properly characterized a low-level drug offense as 'illicit trafficking in a controlled substance,' and thus an 'aggravated felony.' ...the Government's approach defies 'the 'commonsense conception' of these terms..."
I hope you're enjoying summer, wherever you may be.  Please take time to keep up with what's going on in Washington, and I hope you'll support reform however you can.

Ida Keir, Esq.