Easing anxiety during Green Card interviews
Every year, thousands of immigrants from Northern California leave their spouses and children to make a trip back to their home countries – often for the first time since coming to the U.S. decades ago.
The purpose of these trips is not tourism or visiting family; its the often stressful and perilous end to a long bureaucratic process of seeking permanent residence for that immigrant. Our laws usually require that the immigrant go back to their home country for this last step, rather than allow him or her to do it here.
The final step takes place at a U.S. Consulate, where an official of the State Department questions them about their eligibility and makes the fateful ruling on their case: it’s literally deciding whether they can return home to the U.S. with a green card, or whether they will be forced to spend the indefinite future abroad. If denied by that consular official, they are usually separated from their spouse and children for 10 years or even permanently.
There are many Mexican citizens who regularly travel from Sonoma County to the U.S. Consulate in Ciudad Juarez – the central location in Mexico for these interviews.
If your family member or someone you care about is preparing to make such a journey, here are some important tips to know and consider before going abroad.
Grounds for denial at the Consular Interview
Many in the community think that success or failure at the Consulate is a question of luck. But the fact is that it’s possible to determine ahead of time if the immigrant will have a problem at the interview. Basic information ahead of time about the grounds for denial are very important for anyone going through this process.
The following are some of the reasons why an immigrant would be denied at the Consulate:
•Multiple entries: Most of those denied in Ciudad Juarez are rejected because of a 1997 law that punishes those who entered the U.S. illegally more than once. This is one of the many anti-Mexican aspects of our immigration laws. The law, known as the “Permanent Bar,” renders anyone ineligible who lived here without documents and then left to visit home-- even for the funeral of a parent or a family illness.
These rules are complicated; eligibility may depend upon the dates of exits and entries into the U.S. You need to discuss all entries into the U.S. carefully and honestly with a lawyer before leaving the U.S.
•“Alien smuggling.” Another inhumane aspect of our immigration laws: we punish those parents who crossed the border illegally with their children. It turns out traveling with your kids to the U.S. is “alien smuggling” and requires a pardon under our laws, This can strand the immigrant for months or even years away from their family, and many are not eligible for the pardon at all.
•Alcohol or drug abuse can be an impediment to consular processing. Each applicant will undergo a medical examination in their home country, and it is possible that the process will be delayed if the applicant has had drug or alcohol abuse problems.
•Prior contact with immigration authorities: Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) arrests or deportations within the United States or by Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) at the border of the country may cause an applicant to be ineligible for this process. It’s imperative that you consult with an attorney before leaving the country if you have had any prior deportations or encounters with ICE or CBP..
•Criminal Record: Any criminal arrest and / or conviction either within the United States or outside the country will come up at the interview, so make sure any problems with the law do not make you ineligible before going abroad.
•Gang Tattoos can cause obstacles to permanent residence: Any tattoo that can be interpreted as belonging to and / or affiliated with a gang could delay or even eliminate the possibility of obtaining residence.
The Consular Interview
Before the interview, there are many documents to be submitted including an “Affidavit of Support” with the National Visa Center, which will eventually send the case to the applicant's Embassy or Consulate.
Once the applicant arrives in their home country, there is a medical exam and the applicant’s fingerprints are also taken for an FBI review determines if they have a criminal record.
The immigrant’s official interview with the consul itself can be short or long, easy or difficult, often depending as much upon the officer as upon the facts of the case.
Normally, if no grounds for denial exist, and all the client’s documentation has been properly submitted, the applicant will be granted their permanent residence after approximately 10 days and the immigrant will be returning to his family and his life in the U.S.
With a simple change in the law, our government could eliminate much of the stress by allowing this process to occur in the U.S., which was the law before 1998. This would be an important reform for the Biden Administration to seek to implement in the next four years.
Ojalá – may it be so.
CHRISTOPHER A. KEROSKY of the law firm of KEROSKY PURVES & BOGUE has practiced law more than 25 years and has been recognized as one of the top immigration lawyers in Northern California for 12 years by“Super Lawyers” www.SuperLawyers.com He graduated from University of California, Berkeley Law School and was a former counsel for the U.S. Department of Justice in Washington D.C. His firm has offices in San Francisco, Los Angeles and six other locations in California.
WARNING: The foregoing is an article discussing legal issues. It is not intended to be a substitute for legal advice. We recommend that you get competent legal advice specific to your case.