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.

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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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U.S. Citizen Mistakenly Detained Sues Miami Authorities

By Peek & Toland on November 28, 2017

Detainer requests in which federal authorities ask local jurisdictions to hold inmates for longer terms while their immigration status is examined are controversial across the country.

In Miami, Florida, an 18-year-old U.S. citizen who was held for an extra night in a jail based on an incorrect and illegal request from immigration authorities, is suing the authorities.

The Miami-Herald reported Garland Creedle was arrested following an alleged domestic violence incident in Miami in March. He said he spent a night in a county jail. The teen posted bond. The lawsuit stated he was due to be released the next day on March 13.

However, a detention request was sent by the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. It led to Creedle being detained for another day, according to the federal suit filed in Miami.

Under the “detainer” request Creedle was declared to be a “removable alien.” It asked that he be jailed for another 48 hours.

The report stated Miami-Dade complied under the terms of a federal policy enacted in January.  President Donald Trump had threatened to withhold funding to authorities that declined requests to hold alleged immigration offenders.

Citizen sues after being mistakenly detained

Citizen mistakenly detained sues authorities

Credle was born in Honduras to a father who held U.S. Citizenship. He was the subject of a detainer request even though his citizenship was proved in court in 2015.

The Herald report said the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) is suing the Miami-Dade jail as well as the city mayor Carlos Gimenez, accusing them of “unlawfully detaining” Creedle against his will and without legal authority.

Creedle’s lawsuit says Miami city’s policy of honoring detainer requests from ICE is flawed because the requests themselves are not attached to arrest warrants and exist “outside the normal judicial process governing other charges.”

The Herald article stated Creedle was one of 376 people in Miami subjected to detainer requests since President Donald Trump issued a crackdown on undocumented immigration in January. The city turned over 143 former inmates to immigration authorities up until the summer.

Detainer requests are controversial in Austin where the sheriff has opposed them for all but the most serious offenders. However, legislation enacted in the state this year criminalizes law enforcement officers who fail to comply with them.

If you are fighting immigration enforcement action, call our Austin legal team today at (512) 474-4445.

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U.S. Supreme Court Decision Makes Citizenship-Stripping Tougher

By Peek & Toland on November 14, 2017

It’s a well-known fact that if you make a false statement during the process to become a U.S. citizen you can be stripped of your citizenship. However, a recent Supreme Court decision puts limits on the government’s citizenship-stripping abilities for untrue statements.

The decision is likely to complicate the efforts of the Trump administration to strip naturalized Americans of citizenship if they made false statements during the naturalization process.

In June, a six-justice majority of the high court ruled a naturalized citizen who lies on his or her application can only be subject to citizenship-stripping if the lie would have led officials to deny citizenship if uncovered or hid facts likely to lead to a denial.

The appeal related to a Bosnian woman who came to the United States as a refugee reported NPR.

Divna Maslenjak, an Ohio resident, lived in Bosnia during the 1990s during the bloody civil war. She was an ethnic Serb who applied for refugee status in the United States in 1998.

court decision restricts citizenship-stripping

U.S. Supreme Court puts restrictions on citizenship-stripping

Maslenjak claimed she was in fear of persecution along with her husband and her two children, because of their ethnicity.

She claimed they were targets because her husband avoided serving in the Bosnian army by taking refuge in Serbia. The family escaped to the U.S. Maslenjak became a U.S. citizen in 2007.

Two years later new and disturbing details emerged about Maslenjak’s husband. U.S. officials discovered he served for five years in a Bosnian militia brigade that was implicated in the massacre of about 8,000 Muslims in the town of Srebrenica.

Maslenjak testified on behalf of her husband at the hearing. She said she’d given false information about him when seeking refugee status for the family.  She answered no on her citizenship application form when asked if she’d ever given false information to gain entry to the U.S.

Her admission that she’d lied led to charges being brought against her.

The Bosnian woman was convicted, stripped of her citizenship and deported from the United States. She appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, claiming she was convicted because of an erroneous instruction.

Lawyers for Maslenjak said the judge, at the government’s request, instructed the jury it should convict her if it discovered any of her statements was false, even if the statement in question did not affect a decision to grant her citizenship.

The Supreme Court overturned the conviction against Maslenjak that led to citizenship-stripping.

Justice Elena Kagan wrote for her fellow justices.

“The Government must establish that an illegal act by the defendant played some role in her acquisition of citizenship.”

In other words, a lie must be pertinent to the decision to grant citizenship.

This is an important decision for citizenship in the United States. While applicants should never lie when applying for naturalization, it may not always be grounds to be stripped of citizenship.

An experienced Texas citizenship attorney can help you with your application and ensure no mistakes are made in the process. See our citizenship resources here or call us at (512) 474-4445.

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Tax Filing Requirements Prompt Americans Abroad to Ditch Citizenship

By Peek & Toland on October 30, 2017

Immigrants in the United States spend a lot of time and effort seeking to become American citizens. However, there’s considerable evidence that Americans living abroad are seeking to ditch theirs.

That’s because of the onerous tax filing requirements imposed by the United States on its residents who live abroad.

A recent article by CNBC looked at a survey of 2,100 U.S. expatriates. The survey was carried out by Greenback Expat Tax Services, which specializes in working with American taxpayers living overseas.

Just over 4 in 10 of the respondents to the survey said although they aren’t planning to renounce their U.S. citizenship, they wouldn’t rule it out. Almost 20 percent said they’re seriously considering it.

Americans abroad are ditching Citizenship

Tax filings lead Americans abroad to ditch Citizenship

Half of those who are either planning or considering giving up their citizenship say the primary reason is the massive burden of U.S. tax rules.

David McKeegan, co-founder of Greenback Expat Tax Services, bemoaned the onerous requirements of legislation like the Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act. He said:

“There’s nobody lobbying on the behalf of these people and fighting for your average American living overseas.”

Bloomberg reported the rise in Americans renouncing their citizenship goes back to the Civil War and a tax that was intended to deter potential draft dodgers.

It noted a new record of 5,411 Americans gave up their citizenship in 2016, up 26 percent from 2015.

The rules became considerably more onerous in 2010. The Foreign Account Tax Compliance Act (Fatca) was enacted. It said foreign institutions holding assets for U.S. citizens had a duty to report the accounts or withhold a 30 percent tax on the individuals if the information wasn’t provided.

The move resulted in some foreign banks declining to open accounts for expats.

At Peek & Toland , we help immigrants to become citizens of the United States. Although the number of people renouncing their citizenship overseas is rising, so too is demand for citizenship in the United States.

That reflects an uncertainty over the current immigration crackdown by Americans abroad and a concern by permanent residents that they may face deportation, even for minor infractions. See our recourses on citizenship here.

If you need advice on a citizenship matter, please call our Texas family immigration lawyers at (512) 474-4445.

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Texas May Require Students to Pass a Citizenship Test

By Peek & Toland on October 10, 2017

Anyone applying to be a citizen of the United States will be familiar with the citizenship process. However, all students in Texas may soon be required to pass a citizenship test.

Texas may soon require high school students take a version of the test all immigrants looking for U.S. citizenship must pass.

In May, the Texas House tentatively backed a bill that would replace the end of course U.S. history course currently taken in public schools with a version of the civics test that immigrants must take to become U.S. citizens.

Nationally, 15 states have passed similar legislation, stated the Arizona-based Civics Education Initiative.

Citizenship may be brought in in Texas schools

State Rep. Trent Ashby was one of the authors of House Bill 1776. He said the measure is intended to make sure public school students receive an education on the most important parts of U.S. civics and history. He said:

“Though elements of the current test have importance, this bill acknowledges that there are some things our students absolutely must understand and appreciate before they finish high school.”

Ashby said the knowledge contained in the test is important to becoming an engaged citizen in U.S. society, reported the Texas Tribune.

Supporters of the measure say civics is lacking in the current educational curriculum. The bill did not draw any opponents at a hearing.

If the bill is enacted, students will be able to take the civics exam any time after they enter the school’s ninth grade. It would be an online test in a multiple choice format.

People who take the naturalization test required to obtain citizenship are asked up to 10 questions from a list of 100. At least six questions must be answered correctly order to pass. Under HB 1776, a student would have to score at least 70 percent or better to fulfill the graduation requirement for U.S. history

The Citizenship Test – How Hard is It?

The Citizenship Test requires some studying for most immigrants but pass rates are typically high.

We noted some of the more difficult questions here on our blog. As of May 2016, the pass rate was 91.6 percent.

In excess of five million tests were taken from late 2009 to May 2016.

Usually, the test is given at the same time as the naturalization interview, U.S Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) says.

Candidates have two opportunities to take the English and civics tests. If you fail a test at your initial interview, you will be retested on the portion of the test that you failed 60 to 90 days from the date of your first interview.

Our experienced Austin Texas immigration attorneys can provide more information about the citizenship test. Please call us at (512) 474-4445.

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