Immigrants Seeking Citizenship Facing Increased Wait Times

By Peek & Toland on October 28, 2018

There has been a backlog of immigrants seeking citizenship for years, but since the 2016 election, that wait time has increased dramatically. In the past, it typically took four to six months to process citizenship applications. According to a recent National Public Radio article, however, that wait time now has grown to ten months to one year. Plus, for bigger cities with a larger immigrant population, the wait can be substantially longer. In both New York City and Atlanta, the wait can be as long as 21 or 22 months.


Immigrants Seeking Citizenships Facing Increased Wait Times

There are now over 750,000 pending applications for citizenship, a number that has doubled since 2014, and increased almost 20 percent since the 2016 election. Several factors may contribute to this increased backlog. According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS), the average number of citizenship applications has increased by 20% during the last two fiscal years. However, immigration advocates also point out that during the Obama administration, the lengthy of the citizenship application form doubled to 21 pages, and during the Trump administration, the interview process has become far more rigorous and time-consuming. Some advocates are referring to the massive slowdown in the processing of naturalization applications as a “second wall,” meant to suppress minority voters and curtail legal immigration.

These delays are only one indication that legal immigration has slowed down precipitously since the 2016. For example, as of October 1, 2017, a personal interview with USCIS for workers seeking green cards became a requirement; in the past, interviews were requested on a case-by-case basis, and interviews were waived most of the time. The interview requirement, predictably, has slowed down the green card process.

No matter the type of immigration issue you are facing, the skilled and knowledgeable immigration lawyers of Peek & Toland are here to assist you. We handle many different types of immigration cases on a daily basis and have the kind of strategic experience and skills that are necessary to reach the desired outcome. By calling our office as quickly as possible after your legal issue arises, we will have the best opportunity to successfully resolve your immigration law case.

Posted in Citizenship

How to File a Waiver when a Marriage Between a U.S. Citizen and an Immigrant Ends in Divorce

By Peek & Toland on May 30, 2018

If you have received a two-year conditional permanent resident card based on the condition that you married a U.S. citizen, you must remove the conditions on the green card before the expiration date. If the marriage between a U.S. citizen and an immigrant has ended in divorce, you may seek a waiver.

In order to remove the conditions, you must apply for a Form I-751 Application for Removal of Conditions.

You will usually file this petition jointly with your spouse but you may seek a “waiver” of the requirement to jointly file if you are no longer married to the US Citizen spouse who you obtained conditional permanent residence through.

In cases where immigrants are no longer married to the US Citizen spouse through which they originally gained conditional permanent resident status, it’s more difficult to prove you entered the marriage in good faith.

How you file a waiver

How to file a waiver after a divorce

These applications are known as I-751 Waivers. The applicant must request a waiver of the joint-filing requirement.

It stands to reason that immigration officials will more carefully scrutinize I-751 waiver applications than if they are filed jointly with your spouse. They will look for evidence that the original marriage was not bona fide.

You should not assume your application will be refused. However, it’s imperative to prepare a strong application with numerous documents proving that you entered your marriage in good faith even though it failed.

Relevant documents include photographs with your former spouse, evidence of continuous cohabitation with your former spouse, evidence of joint finances, as well as liabilities and other shared assets.

If you fail to satisfy the immigration officer with the supporting documentation, or you claimed abuse during the marriage, you may be scheduled for an interview.

In the case of I-751 waiver, preparation is vital. A strong application backed with plenty of supporting documentation will help your case. An experienced Austin permanent residency lawyer will help your case by advising you on the appropriate documentation you will need.

The typical processing time for these waiver applications ranges from six months to a year, depending on the complexity of your case. In some cases, I-751 waiver applications may take longer than 12 months to be decided.

For a consultation contact our Austin family immigration lawyers here or call us today at (512) 474-4445.

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Royal Bride Meghan Markle Faces a Major Tax Bill if She drops U.S. Citizenship

By Peek & Toland on May 28, 2018

Every year thousands of people become U.S. citizens. However, some people seek to relinquish citizenship. It’s a move that can carry a hefty price tag.

The United States is one of the only countries to tax based on citizenship. Even if you are living abroad you must pay taxes.

The issue was recently highlighted in relation to Meghan Markle, an American citizen who is engaged to marry Britain’s Prince Harry.

A CNBC report noted it’s tempting for expats to renounce their U.S. citizenship so as they don’t pay taxes. However, it’s a move that comes at a heavy price.

Americans living abroad must pay U.S. taxes. That can make it tempting for expatriates to renounce their citizenship and skip U.S. tax rules. Doing so comes at a price.

According to Joshua Ashman, a co-founder and partner at Expat Tax Professionals, there are some very complex tax considerations.

Royal Bride to Drop U.S. Citizenship

Royal Bride Faces Tax Bill for Dropping U.S. Citizenship

Ashman provides professional tax services to U.S. expatriates. He pointed out people who want to renounce their citizenship must make an appointment at a U.S. embassy, sign the relevant forms and take the Oath of Renunciation.

They must also pay a hefty $2,350 administrative processing fee. Once an application is approved, a process that can take several months, you receive a Certificate of Loss of Nationality.

Ashman pointed to a further issue. When you give up your citizenship, you must notify the Internal Revenue Service via Form 8854 that you have expatriated. You may then be liable to pay exit tax. The exit tax looks at the asset’s value and assesses taxes as if it were sold.

The high cost of giving up U.S. Citizenship has not prevented a record number of Americans giving it up, according to the U.S. Treasury Department. In 2016 alone more than 5,400 Americans either gave up citizenship or terminated long-term residency. The figure was a 26 percent increase on 2015.

Although more people are giving up U.S. citizenship, far more immigrants are seeking it.

There are numerous benefits of citizenship. It often makes sense to hire an attorney to help you with the process.

At Peek & Toland , an Austin citizenship attorney can take over the whole complex and bureaucratic process for you and help you embark on a secure life in a new country. Call us today at (512) 474-4445.

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Countries Where It’s Easiest for Americans to Get Dual Citizenship

By Peek & Toland on April 19, 2018

It’s no secret that the United States has onerous citizenship rules. People who are seeking citizenship here must be a green card holder for at least five years and go through a 10-step naturalization process. The process is not as difficult in all counties, prompting some Americans to seek dual citizenship.

An article in Business Insider noted how Ireland, for example, has very different citizenship laws than those of the United States.

Ireland considers “jus sanguinis,” or “right of blood” in applications. This means citizenship of the Emerald Isle may be available not just to the children of Irish citizens who were born in Ireland, but also to their grandchildren.

Compared to becoming a U.S. citizen, becoming an Irish citizen is a fairly straightforward process.

Dual citizenship countries

Countries where it’s easy to get dual citizenship

Many Americans have Irish roots and dual citizenship has proved popular to some of them. You need to provide documentation and apply for the Foreign Births Register.

The Business Insider article listed other countries that offer a simplified or brief application process to attract entrepreneurs.


You may be able to apply for citizenship of this eastern European country of you can speak Hungarian and prove your Hungarian ancestry. The country has a process called  “simplified naturalization.”

The Consulate General of Hungary states it takes officials in the capital of Budapest about six to nine months to determine whether an applicant qualifies. Hungary’s borders shifted a lot in the 20th Century and there were some caveats based on historical changes.


Israel has a law of return that makes it fairly straightforward for ethnic and religious Jews, as well as their spouses and grandchildren to gain Israeli citizenship.

You can gain citizenship in a matter of months and have a passport within the year. For more information see the Israeli Ministry of Foreign Affairs.


You can become a Peruvian citizen in two years if you pay a $25,000 fast-track fee. It takes approximately three months to secure approval for residency.

Once you have lived in Peru for two years, you can apply for citizenship. You must be able to pass tests on Peruvian history and culture and know the Spanish language.


You can actually inherit Italian citizenship from your great-great-grandfather.

However, as noted on Italy also has a large number of caveats.

From the outset, you’ll need to find documentation that proves an Italian ancestor lived after Italy’s 1861 unification and did not naturalize elsewhere before July 1, 1912. None of the ascendants in your direct line must have ever renounced Italian citizenship.

If you have Italian ancestors, they can pass on citizenship to children born after January 1, 1948.

There are advantages and disadvantages of dual citizenship. Even if you have a second citizenship and live abroad, the US government expects you to pay taxes.

US citizens living overseas, earning an income and paying to a foreign government are still subject to US income tax, as well as the same onerous tax filing requirements that apply to US citizens resident in the United States.

You can find out more about citizenship by reading the U.S. citizenship resources on our website. Call us at (512) 474-4445.

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Woman Sues to Remove Religious Language from Citizenship Oath

By Peek & Toland on April 18, 2018

Religious language in the Citizenship Oath is being challenged in a court case by a green card holder who is seeking to become a citizen.

Olga Paule Perrier-Bilbo, a French national and green card holder who has lived in Scituate in Massachusetts since 2000 has been trying to become an American citizen for years.

She claims her Citizenship dream has been derailed by the words “So help me God,” in the Citizenship Oath.

Perrier-Bilbo is an atheist. She filed a federal lawsuit claiming the inclusion of the phrase in the oath is an unconstitutional violation of her religious freedom. She has filed a lawsuit. It states:

“Accordingly, the current oath violates the first 10 words of the Bill of Rights, and to participate in a ceremony which violates that key portion of the United States Constitution is not supporting of defending the constitution as the oath demands.”

Challenge over Citizenship Oath

Religious language in Citizenship Oath is challenged

Perrier-Bilbo has brought the lawsuit even though she was offered a modified oath or allowed to attend a private citizenship ceremony, reported

Perrier-Bilbo claims the four words “so help me God” constitute an unconstitutional government endorsement of a particular religion. The lawsuit states the alternatives offered to Perrier-Bilbo by the government put an illegal burden on her for her beliefs.

The suit claims the religious statement to which Perrier-Bilbo does not agree with makes her feel less than a new citizen.

There is a long list of cases which test the First Amendment’s clauses regarding freedom of religion.

The amendment says Congress “shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

Many of these cases have gone as far as the U.S. Supreme Court cases, as citizens, states, and the federal government have been pitted against one another.

Initially many of these rulings in the early 20th Century protected people of faith from laws that disadvantage them. However, government agencies were prevented from policies that imposed one religion.

In the 1960s, three rulings outlawed mandatory bible readings and prayers in schools.

In the important 1968 case of Epperson v Arkansas a public school teacher brought an action challenging the constitutionality of Arkansas’ “anti-evolution” statute. That law made it unlawful for a teacher in any state-supported school or university to use or teach from a textbook that covered the theory of evolution.

The U.S. Supreme Court decided the statute violated the Fourteenth Amendment, which enshrines the First Amendment’s prohibition of state laws respecting an establishment of religion.

If you need help and advice in seeking citizenship, please call Peek & Toland at (512) 474-4445.

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Sponsoring a Brother or a Sister to Come to the United States

By Peek & Toland on February 9, 2018

If you are a naturalized U.S. citizen you may be able to sponsor your brothers or sisters to come to the United States as permanent residents.

However, U.S. immigration laws don’t permit green card holders to sponsor their brothers or sisters.

According to U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) to petition your siblings to live in the United States as a green card holder, you must be a U.S. citizen and be at least 21 years old.

To sponsor a sibling, the U.S. citizen must file Form I-130, Petition for Alien Relative.

sponsoring a sibling

Sponsoring a brother or a sister

Required Documentation to Sponsor a Sibling

  • You must complete Form I-130. You are not required to file a separate Form I-130 for your sibling’s spouse or for unmarried children under 21 years of age.
  • A copy of your own birth certificate as well as a copy of your sibling’s birth certificate proving that you have at least one common parent.
  • Evidence of your U.S. citizenship such as
    • A copy of a valid U.S. passport,
    • A copy of a U.S. birth certificate, or
    • A copy of Consular Report of Birth Abroad, or
    • A copy of your naturalization certificate, or
    • A copy of your certificate of citizenship.

USCIS points out additional documentation is required for siblings who were adopted, have step parents or are half brothers and sisters.

If you and your sibling are related through adoption, you are also required to submit a copy of an adoption decree or decrees that prove the adoption took place before you or your sibling became 16 years old.

If you and your sibling are related via a step-parent, you must also submit:

  • Copies of documentation proving any prior marriages of the natural parent and/or a step-parent were legally terminated. You will also need.
  • A copy of the marriage certificate of the step-parent to the sibling’s natural parent. The age restrictions related to the definition of a stepchild apply.
  • If you and your sibling share a biological father but have different mothers you should submit:
  • Copies of the marriage certificates of the father to each mother.
  • Copies of documentation proving any previous marriages of either your father or mothers were legally terminated.

Brother and sisters of U.S. citizens do not have the right to immigrate immediately like the U.S. citizen’s husband or wife.

Siblings belong the fourth preference category. This means wait times can be extremely long depending on their country of birth. Some siblings have to wait 10 years or more to move to the United States.

The approval of Form I-130 does not confer a right of beneficiary.

The sibling will have to wait until his or her priority date becomes current to apply for an immigrant visa at a U.S. Embassy or Consulate in his or her home country.

If the sibling is in the United States, they will have to wait until their priority date becomes current to apply for adjustment of status.

Only immediate relatives of U.S. citizens can file to adjust their status at the same time as Form I-130 is filed.

Find out more about the green card laws here on our website or call us for a consultation at (512) 474-4445.

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New Americans Avoid Uncertainty Through Citizenship

By Peek & Toland on February 7, 2018

In uncertain times for immigrants, citizenship is becoming increasingly popular. New Americans feel they can finally be safe from deportation when they have attended a naturalization ceremony.

An article in the San Angelo Standard-Times noted fear of deportation is spurring many permanent residents to seek citizenship.

It’s a move that lifts the uncertainty. Green card holders can be deported if they commit a criminal offense.

The Standard-Times spoke to new Americans in the Texas town. They included Jose Luis Santillan, who took the oath at the age of 65. He was one of 32 people who attended a naturalization ceremony in San Angelo over the summer.

New Americans in drive for citizenship

New Americans flock for Citizenship

Santillan from Acuna in Mexico has been in the United States for 45 years. He’s the last member of his family to become a U.S. citizen. He has owned a cabinet-making business in San Angelo for years and had a visa that allowed him to live and work legally in the U.S.

Santillan said he is concerned about the current anti-immigration climate in the United States and wanted citizenship to be able to vote. He said he believes immigrants are being treated badly.

Santillan was angered by President Donald Trump’s recent decision to phase out the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals Program. DACA allowed people who came to the United States as children to work here and protected them from deportation.

The fear of deportation is driving many more people to seek citizenship, according to several of the new Americans.

Those at the citizenship ceremony in San Angelo possessed green cards or visas that allowed them to legally live in the United States. The renewal of these visas is not guaranteed.

One of the new Americans, Maria N. Guerra, said she was nervous at the start of the naturalization ceremony but would not be nervous again.

There are a number of ways to gain U.S. Citizenship, as we explain here on our website.

Typically, naturalization requires the immigrant to be 18 or older, a permanent U.S. resident, a person of good morals, and familiar with basic information related to United States history and government.

Our Austin immigration attorneys can advise and help you with every stage of the process to become a citizen. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

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Homeland Security Secretary Floats Citizenship for People Shielded from Deportation

By Peek & Toland on January 5, 2018

The Trump administration announced the end of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program, which provides a level of amnesty to some undocumented immigrants, last year. In the following months, the question of what should happen to those temporarily shielded from deportation has been discussed.

This month, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen floated the idea of citizenship for people who were temporarily shielded from deportation.

The Homeland Security Secretary’s comments came as the future of so-called “Dreamers” was discussed.

Nielsen said the Trump administration would consider immigration legislation that might include a pathway to citizenship for hundreds of thousands of young people.

However, Nielsen stressed no decision has been made on the issue of Dreamers and a border wall remains a priority. The so-called ‘wait and see’ policy as reported in VOANews represents little change in the official stance.

Help for people shielded from deportation

The White House is considering options for people shielded for deportation

 Almost 790,000 young people, many who came to America as children, gained the right to work, live and seek education under DACA. It gave them breathing space from deportation proceedings.

President Donald Trump has called for Congress to address the issue after his executive order ended DACA.

However, discussions in Congress were complicated by issues like the wall and wider immigration reforms.

In an interview, Nielsen said Congress is considering three options which include citizenship or permanent legal status for people who were shielded from deportation.

She said details on how these people would qualify for citizenship, including how many years they should wait and other pertinent requirements, would have to be addressed.

Nielsen said the president is open to different scenarios including citizenship but the White House had not made any decisions. Nielson indicated any protections for Dreamers should be limited to those who benefitted from the program that is being phased out rather than new recipients.

In September, Trump stated he would not consider citizenship for DACA recipients. Trump gave Congress until March to deliver a legislative fix.

Options being considered by Congress include permanent residency, defined as residency for a certain time period such as three or four years, subject to renewal, as well as citizenship, Nielsen said.

“It will be interesting to see where (Congress) can get comfortable with what they mean by what is a permanent fix but the idea would be that you move away from a temporary status.”

However, the Homeland Security Secretary maintained she is hopeful the White House and Congress can reach a deal including a border wall and immigration enforcement measures.

The wall between the United States and Mexico remains a contentious issue for Democrats and some Republicans in Congress. Nielsen said building a wall was “first and foremost.”

The administration has also targeted so-called “loopholes” on issues including the handling of asylum claims and local police co-operating with immigration authorities.

Nielsen and other senior officials in the Trump administration will discuss a potential deal with members of Congress this week. Trump met with senators working on a legislative fix over Dreamers on Jan. 4.

Trump had earlier attacked Democrats for doing nothing to protect DACA recipients. Nielsen said the president is also set to request $1.6 billion for the border barrier, as well as a similar amount to build or replace 74 miles of barriers in California and Texas. Barriers currently cover about a third of the border, just over 650 miles.

If you are impacted by immigration changes at this difficult time, please contact our Austin immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Cancellation of Removal, Citizenship, Deferred Action, Immigration

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US Citizen Held by ICE for Three Years is Denied Compensation

By Peek & Toland on January 2, 2018

It seems unbelievable that someone who is a U.S. citizen can be held by immigration authorities for three years. But this happened to a citizen held by ICE who failed to secure legal representation.

A report on NPR noted Davino Watson was also denied compensation for his three-year ordeal.

Watson told immigration officers that he was a U.S. citizen. He said the same thing to jail officials and a judge.

Watson lacked an immigration lawyer of his own in the proceedings. There is no right to receive a court-appointed attorney in the immigration court.

Watson was just 23. He lacked a high school diploma when he entered ICE custody. NPR noted he wrote a letter to immigration officers. He also attached his father’s naturalization certificate. He repeatedly told officials he was a U.S. citizen.

citizen held by ICE fights for his rights

Citizen held by ICE is denied compensation

It was not enough to prevent Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) officials from detaining Watson as a deportable alien for nearly 3 1/2 years.

He was from New York. According to reports, he was released in rural Alabama with no explanation or cash. The deportation proceedings continued for another year.

The authorities later established Watson was a U.S. citizen. After his release, he filed a complaint. In 2016, a district judge in New York awarded him $82,500 in damages. He admitted to failures on behalf of the government.

However, this summer an appeals court ruled Watson is not eligible for compensation. The statute of limitations to make a claim expired while he was in ICE custody without an attorney.

The court concluded:

“There is no doubt that the government botched the investigation into Watson’s assertion of citizenship, and that as a result a U.S. citizen was held for years in immigration detention and was nearly deported. Nonetheless, we must conclude that Watson is not entitled to damages from the government.”

This sad case reinforces the importance of hiring an immigration attorney. Jamaican-born Watson moved in with his father in the United States as a teenager.

He was naturalized at the age of 17 in 2002, becoming a U.S. citizen.

Five years later in 2007, Watson admitted selling cocaine. When his sentence ended in May 2008, he was picked up by ICE officers who took him into custody.

Watson gave officials the name of his father and stepmother as well as a phone number to call and confirm.

But ICE officers never called the number. They tried to look up his father, Hopeton Ulando Watson, but they confused him someone else named Hopeton Livingston Watson who was not a U.S. citizen and didn’t have a son named Davino.

The officers failed to correct their mistakes, according to reports.  Based on an incorrect file, they concluded Watson was not a citizen and he was marked for deportation.

If you are threatened with deportation, the authorities may not have got their facts right. It’s vital to call an experienced Austin immigration lawyer at (512) 474-4445.

Posted in Citizenship, Immigration

Supreme Court Decision Means Fewer Children of Immigrants Will Gain Citizenship

By Peek & Toland on December 20, 2017

A U.S. Supreme Court decision in June may mean fewer children of U.S. citizens are likely to gain citizenship themselves in the future.

The decision in Sessions v. Morales-Santana was criticized in some sections of the media and the immigrant community.

An article in Think Progress blasted it as an “unfortunate case.”  The justices concluded U.S. federal citizenship law gives preferential treatment to the children of unwed U.S. citizen mothers. However, the children of unwed citizen fathers are at a disadvantage.

The article said the consequence of the high court decision in Morales-Santana is that fewer sons and daughters of U.S. citizens will gain citizenship themselves, and more people will be subject to deportation.

The man who brought the case, Luis Ramón Morales-Santana, faces deportation to a nation he has not lived in since 1975.

The case sheds light on quirks in the citizenship laws in the United States.

Court hearing impacts children of U.S. citizens

Children of U.S. citizens are less likely to gain citizenship

If you are born to a U.S. citizen, you do not automatically become a citizen yourself. At the time of Morales-Santana’s birth, the child of a non-citizen and a citizen born overseas was only granted citizenship if their parent had been physically present in the United States.

The parent should have been physically present in the country or its outlying possessions for periods of not less than 10 years in total. At least five years must have been after attaining the age of 14 years.

This residency requirement has been changed since. It is now cut down to five years, and two after age 14.

Under federal law, an exception is granted for unwed mothers who are U.S. citizens. They are able to transmit their citizenship to their children after just a year of continuous physical presence in the country.

Morales-Santana fell foul of these complex rules. His father is a U.S. citizen who was born in the U.S. and lived here until 20 days before his 19th birthday.

His father just missed meeting the requirement that allowed him to pass his citizenship to his children.

The gender inequality is highlighted by the fact that had Morales-Santana been born to a U.S. citizen mother who had lived in the United States for the same amount of time as his father, he would be a citizen.

The justices concluded the gender line drawn by Congress in the Immigration and Nationality Act is incompatible with the Fifth Amendment’s requirement that the government accord to all persons “the equal protection of the laws.”

However, the justices decided the Supreme Court is not equipped to convert change the statute and it falls to Congress to pass a law with no gender bias.

An article in Slate alluded to the paradoxical nature of the decision. On the one hand, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s opinion in the case struck a fatal blow against sex discrimination, it stated.

However, the court struck down the special rule for unwed mothers, applying a five-year residence requirement to all parents.

Is stripped Morales-Santana of the citizenship he was granted by the 2nd Circuit. Individuals in his position face the threat of deportation until the law is changed.

The court’s solution stands to exacerbate the problem of statelessness by making it more difficult for the children of unwed mothers living abroad to gain American citizenship, Slate concluded.

Acquisition of citizenship through your parents is one of the most complicated areas of the law. To find more talk to our Austin citizenship lawyers at (512) 474-4445 or see our resources on citizenship here.

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