Cancellation of Removal

Immigrant Doctors in Houston Are Given 24 Hours to Leave, Then Reprieved

By Peek & Toland on August 2, 2017

Immigrant doctors have been caught up in the ongoing immigration crackdown and moves to impose travel bans across the United States.

In Texas, a husband and wife team of doctors from Houston came close to deportation, even though they were legally in the United States.

The New York Daily News reported on the ordeal faced by Dr. Pankaj Satija and his wife Dr. Monika Ummat.

immigrant doctors from Houston were told the leave the country

Immigrant doctors from Houston were threatened with deportation

Satija is a highly qualified neurologist. He’s also the founder of the Pain and Headache Centers of Texas. He is reported to perform about 200 operations per month.

Ummat is also a leading neurologist. She treats epileptic boys and girls at the Texas Children’s Hospital. They have children aged seven and 4. The children are U.S. citizens by birth.

The doctors are living and working legally in the United States. They arrived in Texas in 2002 to do research and complete medical residencies as well as fellowships at leading American universities.

Satija’s employer sponsored him for permanent residency a decade ago. The New York Daily News said the massive backlog which is particularly large for Indians means they were granted provisional status. They renew it every two years.

The doctors’ achievements cut little ice with immigration officials. In the spring, they were told they had 24 hours to pull their children out of school and leave the United States for India.

They were informed a new policy would prevent them for extending their temporary permission as they awaited permanent residency status.

Their doctors’ problems started when they took a trip back to India in October to visit a sick family member

When they returned to the United States, U.S. Customs and Border Protection apprehended them at Bush Intercontinental Airport, because their travel documents had expired.

They were allowed to enter the United States temporarily. However, immigration officials told them they had a week to get out of the country in March.

Immigrant Doctors Fight Against Removal

The doctors managed to fight the removal. The Houston Chronicle reported they were lucky to have good connections including skilled immigration lawyers, support from the local medical community and access to the local media. They were assisted by the offices of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, and U.S. Rep. John Culberson, R-Houston.

Many of those caught up in the present immigration clampdown are doctors. Overseas doctors make up as much as 50 percent of physicians in some specialties. If you are facing removal from the United States, our Texas cancellation of removal lawyers can help you. Please contact us here.

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Texas Counties Seek to Cash In Through Immigrant Jails

By Peek & Toland on July 28, 2017

There has been much publicity about sanctuary cities in recent months. These are locations that won’t cooperate with federal agents who want them to detail people thought to be illegal immigrants. However, some Texas counties want to cash in on immigrant jails to help their coffers.

A report on CBS stated several counties in Texas are struggling with debt because their jails have few or no prisoners. They hope to fill up those empty cells with immigrants who entered the country illegally.

The CBS report referred to historic debts that stretch back to the 1990s and early in the 2000s, a time when many rural counties in Texas were suffering from depopulation.  They built correctional centers to attract money and jobs. Some of these facilities were intended to house hundreds or even thousands of immigrants. Politicians in these cash-strapped counties hoped to bring in inmates from neighboring counties as well as prisoners for the state and federal governments.

Counties in Texas see immigrant jails as a money maker

Some Texas counties are making money from immigrant jails

The CBS story noted the strategy worked in the short-term in many of these counties. However, a fall in crime and a shift away from incarceration in Texas left thousands of empty jail cells.

These spiraling debts are leaving many facilities looking to cash in on an anticipated spike in arrests of undocumented immigrants by the Trump administration.

Trump signaled his crackdown on undocumented immigrants with criminal records in January. Since then Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) mounted a series of raids in Austin and elsewhere in Texas.

By entering federal contracts to house some of these immigrants, the rural counties can make money. Alternatively, they can sell vacant detention centers to private companies that will enter contracts with the federal government.

In January, the Department of Justice announced it’s seeking more jail space to house undocumented immigrants.

The CBS story confirmed three Texas detention centers that lay vacant were recently sold to private prison companies.

The station contacted officials in Jones and Marverick counties who confirmed their empty correctional centers were in the process of being bought by a private prison company known as the GEO Group Inc., This group controls the most immigrant jails of any private company operating in the State of Texas.

This is an uncertain and difficult time to be an undocumented immigrant in Texas. In some cases, immigrants who have minor criminal offenses on their record have been deported. If you are seeking cancellation of removal, read our resources here. Please call our Austin family immigration attorneys at (512) 474-4445.

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Jeff Sessions Announces Expedited Removal of Illegal Immigrants Who Committed Crimes

By Peek & Toland on July 25, 2017

Earlier this year, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced a new process to speed up the deportation of incarcerated undocumented immigrants who committed crimes. While the federal government is trumpeting the changes as a way of saving money for the taxpayer, expedited removal has alarmed some commentators.

Sessions sold the change as an “expansion and modernization” of the Institutional Hearing Program (IHP).

The revised IHP identifies undocumented immigrants who are inmates in federal correctional facilities. It will allow immigration removal proceedings to be carried out via video teleconference and removes the undocumented immigrant on completion of sentence, rather than releasing them to an ICE detention facility or into the community for an adjudication of status.

Expedited removal of immigrants may be controversial

Attorney General details expedited removal

Sessions proposes bringing an Immigration Judge to the inmate to determine removability, rather than bringing the inmate before a judge. He said the change will save resources and speed up hearings.

Sessions said:

“We owe it to the American people to ensure that illegal aliens who have been convicted of crimes and are serving time in our federal prisons are expeditiously removed from our country as the law requires. This expansion and modernization of the Institutional Hearing Program gives us the tools to continue making Americans safe again in their communities.”

A uniform intake policy was scheduled to be put in place by April 6. The number of facilities taking part in the expedited removal program will be expanded.

What Increased Expedited Removal Will Mean for Immigrants

A report in The Hill said new processes are likely to be used by the Trump administration to speed up its deportation program.

Trump has pledged to deport as many as 2-3 million undocumented immigrants with criminal records. However, the fact each person earmarked for deportation has a statutory right to a hearing, would make that aim almost impossible.

The Hill article said the backlog for hearings keeps on growing. At the end of January, it was 542,411 cases and the average waiting time to appear before an immigration judge was almost 700 days. If no new cases were presented, it would take more than two-and-a-half years to catch up with the backlog. Texas has the largest backlog in the country, we noted in a recent blog.

Even if the immigration judges did not receive any additional cases, it would take them more than two-and-a-half years to catch up.

However, Trump authorized an expedited removal provision in his executive order on immigration signed in January.

Expedited removal proceedings can be conducted by immigration officers. An immigrant without the proper documentation or one who has committed fraud or willful misrepresentation to get into the country may be removed without a hearing before an immigration judge under the order.

Undocumented immigrants subject to the expedited process must be detained until they are removed. Typically, they may only be released due to a medical emergency.

According to Omar Jadwat, director of the Immigrants’ Rights Project at the American Civil Liberties Union, the policy will face a legal challenge. He claimed the Trump administration is willing to “trample on due process” and even circumvent protections for vulnerable children.

Expedited removal is very significant. It is not clear how widely it will be used. The fact that the federal government is speeding up the deportation process means it’s vital to hire an experienced Austin immigration lawyer if you are facing deportation. Please call Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445.

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Texas Department of Public Safety to Recruit 250 More Troopers

By Peek & Toland on July 12, 2017

The elevated climate of border security sweeping the United States may result in Texas hiring as many as 250 more troopers under a Texas Department of Public Safety request.

In an article in March, The Statesman reported many state agencies are facing a potential cut in a climate of austerity.

Texas lawmakers are debating whether to reduce border security spending because the Trump administration is boosting U.S. Border Patrol and preparing to build a wall between the United States and Mexico.

The Texas Department of Public Safety has other ideas, according to The Statesman. It receives the bulk of the state’s existing border package worth $800,000 million. The agency was directed to hire 250 new troopers.

Texas Department of Public Safety proposes more troopers

DPS Director Steve McCraw told lawmakers the department should not rely on the feds in the short-term. He said the federal government will take a considerable time to bolster staffing on the border.

McCraw said even when that happens the DPS requires much of the equipment and troopers for other enforcement purposes as the population of the state swells.

In recent years DPS has overseen a massive increase in manpower at the border with Mexico.

How The Texas Department of Public Safety Boosted the Border Patrol

A concerted border security campaign started in Texas in 2014. Former governor Rick Perry sent DPS troopers and Texas National Guard troops to the Mexican border. The move was a response to a new wave of Central American migrants fleeing violence in their home lands. Many were unaccompanied children.

The Texas legislature approved another $800 million the next year for border security spending. The bulk of the spending was shifted from the National Guard to the DPS.

A spending package last year gave the DPS $87 million to hire 250 new troopers and another $8.8 million to set up a new Texas Rangers company. It allocated $7.5 million for a new surveillance airplane and more than $142 million so as the DPS could move to a 10-hour workday to meet the increased demands.

The increase in border security has contributed to a climate in which undocumented immigrants are more likely to be apprehended. In January, President Donald Trump pledged to hire another 5,000 federal border officers.

The increases in manpower are likely to ramp up deportations. It remains to be seen if the courts can deal with another increase in workload.

At Peek & Toland , we have represented numerous clients in cancellation of removal cases. Read about our success stories here. Please contact our Texas family immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

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Police Chiefs Object to Trump’s Plan to Enlist Officers in Deportation Actions

By Peek & Toland on July 11, 2017

The vigorous approach of the Trump administration in deporting undocumented immigrants is under fire from an unlikely source. A group of police chiefs is objecting to Trump’s plan to enlist their officers in deportation actions.

An article in The Guardian referred to a joint letter signed by more than 60 police chiefs. It appeals to Trump to retreat on his pledge enlist police officers to deport millions of unlawful immigrants.

The police chiefs of four major Texas cities – Austin, Houston, San Antonio, and Dallas are among the signatories.

The officers warn helping to enforce immigration law threatens to harm locally-based, community-oriented policing.

Police have reservations about helping Trump's deportation actions

Police chiefs raise concerns at Trump’s deportation actions

The letter was signed by 61 current and former local police chiefs and sheriffs. Many of them come from southern Republican states including Texas, Alabama, Arizona, South Carolina and Florida.

The letter was penned under the auspices of the Law Enforcement Immigration Task Force. It’s a coalition of senior law enforcement experts gathered together by the National Immigration Forum.

President Trump is not mentioned by name but the letter references his administration’s policies of forcing police to play a more central role in deportation actions.

One of Trump’s first executive orders saw the overturning of the Priority Enforcement Program (PEP), which was put in place by his predecessor Barack Obama, reported the Guardian.

The PEP entailed the creation of customized agreements between the federal government and local law enforcement jurisdictions related to joint working. Immigration agents focused on rounding up and deporting undocumented immigrants who committed serious violent crimes.

It replaced a previous policy that also targeted those with minor offenses or no criminal records at all.

Some police chiefs like Charlie Beck, who has led the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) since 2009, have flatly opposed Trump’s moves to use local police forces as adjuncts to federal immigration agents

Austin in Texas has been leading the fight against immigration holds. When Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officers believe a defendant in a jail may be an undocumented immigrant a detainer request is made to local authorities to hold the individual. Austin is opposing these hold requests unless the immigrant has committed a serious crime like a homicide.

Nationally, 16 states including Texas declined 206 detainer requests from Jan. 28 and Feb. 3, stated the DHS’ Declined Detainer Outcome Report.

A report in Courthouse News said Travis County, which includes Austin, accounted for more than two-thirds of the refusals: 142 in total.

Deportation actions are often emotive and break up families. If they lose a breadwinner, they may no longer be able to function as a family unit.

At Peek & Toland , we are committed to keeping families together and have fought numerous cancellation of removal actions. Call us at (512) 474-4445.


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Sheriffs Who Flout Immigration Rules in Texas Will Commit a Crime

By Peek & Toland on July 3, 2017

Texas has upped the stakes in the immigration battle raging across the nation related to the holding of undocumented migrants who commit a crime. A new law passed in April means sheriffs who flout immigration rules will commit a crime.

The bill which is the first of its kind in the country passed in April after 16 hours of debate.

Texas is first state to pass legislation that creates criminal penalties for law enforcement officers who do not honor Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) “detainer’ requests to hold people in local jails in Texas. Senate Bill 4 was passed on party lines.

Sheriffs who flout immigration rules may be charged with a crime

Sheriffs who flout immigration rules in Texas face sanctions

The law renders the failure to comply with ICE “detainer requests,” a criminal offense where people suspected of being undocumented immigrants can be held for up to 48 hours in local facilities so as ICE officers can collect them, reported Vice News.

Sheriffs Who Flout Immigration Rules Are Targeted by Texas Governor

In Texas, the bill was rushed through the legislature after Gov. Greg Abbott stated the elimination of sanctuary cities was a priority. He highlighted it as an emergency item in his State of the State address in late January.

We previously noted how Travis County Sheriff Sally Hernandez and Abbott were on a collision course over the sheriff’s refusal to honor ICE detainer requests in Austin.

Hernandez who was elected last November said her office would only cooperate with detainer requests for people arrested for serious felonies. Abbott took aim at her. He said:

“Elected officials don’t get to pick and choose which laws they obey. To protect Texans from deadly danger, we must insist that laws be followed.”

Under the bill, Hernandez and other sheriffs who flout immigration rules over ICE detainer requests would be charged with a Class A misdemeanor. It’s the most serious misdemeanor category in Texas. The law applies to other law enforcement officials and administrators.

There is some disagreement about whether the Texas law is enforceable and it might be subject to a legal challenge.

Is Texas Sanctuary City Measure Lawful?

In 2014, the Third Circuit Court of Appeals held ICE detainers are mere requests. In other words, they are voluntary and not enforceable. However, Texas is in the Fifth Circuit.

Texas Senator Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), who carried the bill through the Senate said Texas is not bound by that court’s ruling.

However, Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez, spoke against the bill at a rally.

He said the measure is not something Texas should aspire to be. Representatives from the Dallas and Bexar County Sheriff’s Departments were also at a rally in April to protest the measure.

The legislation puts Texas at the forefront of the immigration debate. It remains to be seen if it’s legal.

If you are impacted by an immigration matter in Texas, please call our experienced immigration team at (512) 474-4445.

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Father from El Salvador with No Criminal Record is Deported from Houston

By Peek & Toland on June 29, 2017

The Trump administration promised to prioritize the deportation of unlawful immigrants with criminal records. However, a father from Houston with no criminal convictions was among those deported.

Just says after President Donald Trump pledged to remove gang members and drug dealers in his speech to Congress in February, immigration agents deported a 31-year-old father of two American children from Houston. Jose Escobar lived in the United States since he was 15. He previously gained a temporary reprieve from deportation, reported the Houston Chronicle.

Escobar who was born in El Salvador, was arrested on Feb. 22 when he attended the Houston immigration office for his annual check-in. Escobar benefitted from a provisional stay of deportation. He had a work permit since 2012, when he was released from immigration custody following a high-profile congressional and media campaign.

Jose Escobar was deported to El Salvador

Cesar Espinosa, whose advocacy organization FIEL Houston lobbied in Escobar’s case, said he was deported so quickly it did not have the chance to make its case.

President Trump pledged to deport undocumented immigrants with criminal records, especially those with violent offenses to their name.

Escobar did not commit any crimes. He ended up deportation proceedings due to a paperwork mistake.

When he was 15, his mother who was living in the United States sent for him. He qualified for temporary protected status under a clause applying to people escaping disasters in certain countries. Escobar’s mother thought his permit would automatically renew when she reapplied for hers. She was incorrect.

The family moved and they did not receive paperwork informing Escobar he had missed the deadline.

When he finally worked out a glitch occurred, he attempted to reapply for the permit but was too late. The U.S. government started deportation proceedings. Escobar’s wife said an attorney told him he should not attend the court hearing for fear of being deported. The judge ordered him removed from the United States in 2006.

The order was not enforced at the time. The family lived quietly in New Orleans and Texas. However, immigration agents arrested Escobar on June 6, 2011. His wife consulted immigration lawyers, a petition was started and the family enlisted the help of U.S. Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee.

Jose Escobar is Back in El Salvador After Being Deported

After spending seven months in detention, Escobar was released in January 2012 on an order of supervision. It was in effect a provisional stay of deportation. Escobar was required to check in with immigration agents annually and given a temporary work permit.

His time in the United States abruptly ended when he reported in this year. He is now in back in El Salvador.

Although the Trump administration has put the emphasis on the deportation of undocumented immigrants with a criminal record, Escobar was the victim of a paperwork mistake years ago. His arrest sends an alarming message to those immigrants who start families and make a valuable contribution to the United States.

If you or a family member is threatened with deportation, you should contact an experienced Texas cancellation of removal attorney as soon as possible. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

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Controversial Texas Alien Smuggling Law is Reinstated

By Peek & Toland on June 26, 2017

A controversial alien smuggling law that brings harsh penalties against people who harbor undocumented immigrants has been reinstated by the courts.

Earlier this year, the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals overturned an injunction by a lower court. The decision reinstated Texas’ unlawful immigrant harboring law, reported Breitbart.

A three-judge panel rejected the claims of the plaintiffs. Landlords said renting out houses or providing social services to undocumented immigrants could put them at risk of action. By not suffering a detriment, they lose legal standing to bring a court action.

A court has reinstated Texas' alien smuggling law

Texas alien smuggling law is reinstated in court

U.S. Circuit Judge Jerry E. Smith said there was no reasonable interpretation to claim the act of renting housing or providing social services to an unlawful immigrants constituted harboring them from detection.

The case was brought by two Texas landlords. The judge ruled they lacked standing because they were not able to show how the law put them at risk of prosecution, Courthouse News Service reported.

Texas House Bill 11 enacted in 2015 made it a third-degree felony to “harbor” an immigrant. The offense is punishable by two to 10 years in prison and a $10,000 fine.

The landlords from San Antonio claimed the Texas law was unreasonable and unconstitutional. They rely on rental property income to pay the mortgages on the properties and support themselves.

They were joined in opposing the legislation by Jonathan Ryan who heads up the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES).

The center provides affordable and free services to refugees. It also provides short-term shelters for refugees on bond from immigration detention centers.

Concerns over the Alien Smuggling Provisions

The plaintiffs filed an action in San Antonio federal court last January stating they feared criminal prosecution under Texas’ harboring law. A year ago, a federal judge allowed their motion for a preliminary injunction.

The Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which also sued to challenge the harboring provision, took some solace in the judge’s comments.

Nina Perales, MALDEF vice president for litigation, said the court ruled the landlords were not harboring undocumented immigrants under the terms of the statute.

In the wake of the U.S. Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals hearing, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton said the ruling will allow the state to enforce the alien smuggling law and fight the smuggling of “illegal contraband.”

The Texas immigrant harboring legislation is controversial. Opponents claims it infringes on the U.S. Constitution’s Supremacy Clause because enforcement of immigration is a federal area of responsibility. It also raises concerns that family members may who take in undocumented immigrants could be accused of alien smuggling and hit with heavy sentences.

If you are accused of violating immigration or criminal laws, please contact our Austin family immigration attorneys here.

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ICE Agents Detain Immigrant Moments After She Spoke of Deportation Fears

By Peek & Toland on June 19, 2017

The case of Daniela Vargas, a young immigrant detained by ICE agents moments after criticizing immigration raids, made headlines across the country.

Attorneys for the 22-year-old Dreamer filed a petition in federal court asking for her immediate release.

A CNN report stated Vargas was arrested in March, shortly after sharing her family’s immigration story at a news conference in Jackson, Mississippi. She detailed the arrests of her father and brother by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents.

ICE agents picked up Daniela Vargas

ICE agents detained Daniela Vargas

Vargas is an Argentinian citizen. She came to the United States with her family at the age of 7. She is an undocumented immigrant but was later granted DACA status. Beneficiaries of President Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals action are often called “Dreamers” but the DREAM Act never became law.

What Was The DREAM Act?

The Development, Relief, and Education for Alien Minors Act, or “DREAM Act,” was first introduced in Congress in 2001. Despite a big push in 2010, the federal DREAM Act never became law. The DREAM Act would have allowed certain illegal immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and who are now in college or the military, to attain legal status and qualify for citizenship.

Obama’s DACA program protected about 800,000 young people from deportation and made them eligible to work. An extension was opposed and foundered last year when the U.S. Supreme Court split.

The CNN report said Vargas’ DACA status expired last November. She delayed reapplying until February because she could not afford the minimum $495 renewal application fee. The government recommends recipients of the DACA program apply for renewal approximately 120 to 150 days before their status expires.

Immigration Lawyers Said Vargas Was Arrested for Exercising First Amendment Rights

Lawyers acting for Vargas contested her arrest. They said the ICE agents arrested Vargas because she exercised her First Amendment rights, according to a habeas petition filed in US District Court in Alexandria, Louisiana.

Her attorneys said her Fifth and First Amendment rights were violated by the actions of the ICE agents.

On March 10, attorneys for the Argentinian said she was to be released from the ICE detention center in Louisiana. They expressed concern the deportation order against her was not rescinded.

These are difficult times to be an undocumented immigrant. If you or a family member is facing deportation in Texas, please call our immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

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Raids Spur Undocumented Immigrants to Seek U.S. Passports for their Children

By Peek & Toland on June 13, 2017

As ICE raids intensified in Texas in recent months, the lines at passport offices filled up with immigrants seeking to get U.S. passports for their American-born children.

The surge of undocumented immigrants at passport offices in Texas and elsewhere was noted by the Texas Tribune.

The rush to get U.S. passports comes on the back of Immigrations and Customs Enforcement (ICE) raids in Texas. Although they have targeted undocumented immigrants with criminal records, others have been caught up and deported.

The arrests of 51 people in the Austin area in February, sparked an outcry, The Statesman reported. It was part of a national operation that led to the arrests of 680 immigrants who the federal agency deemed threats to public safety.

How immigrants are seeking U.S. passports for children

Migrants seek U.S. passports for their children

The arrests marked a shift from previous policy.  ICE agents picked up more undocumented immigrants without criminal records than in raids under the Obama administration. USA Today reported about 74 percent of people arrested had committed crimes, compared with a figure of 90 percent under raids during the latter stages of the Obama administration.

Immigration officials said Operation Cross Check led to the arrest of 23 people with criminal convictions and some violent offenders.

The Tribune article noted an increase in applications for U.S. passports across Texas.

At Dallas’s Salvadoran consulate, Consul General Jose Mario Mejía Barrera reported a 25 percent increase in applications for U.S. passports and child registries in February alone. The consulate serves approximately 150,000 Salvadorans in North Texas, Arkansas, and Oklahoma. Barrera said:

“There’s uncertainty and worry among the community. People are realizing they have to file the right paperwork. Children who are born here, with Salvadoran moms or dads, are being registered so they have dual citizenship.”

A similar trend was noted at the Mexican consulate in Austin. Carlos Gonzalez Gutiérrez, the Consul General, reported an increase in applications for U.S. passports and birth certificates since Donald Trump won the presidential election in November. He said the recent round-ups of undocumented immigrants in Austin alarmed immigrants and more non-criminal immigrants were detained ICE agents than previously.

The consulate organized its first custody session to help undocumented Mexicans to understand guardianship. Many are contemplating leaving children with documented immigrants if they are deported. Immigrants have also asked about property rights because they are concerned about their houses being taken away.

If you or a family member is facing deportation, our Austin cancellation of removal lawyers can help you. See our resources here. We can also provide advice on documentation for citizenship applications. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

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