Jamaica Magazine

New Year, New President and Possibly New Immigration Reform?

Written by Safiya Byars, Esq

Happy New Year to everyone! I trust you all had a wonderful holiday. The year of 2008 was filled with countless historical milestones. On a personal note, my husband and I welcomed the birth of our first child, Olivia Simone Byars. However, the most historical milestone for the United States was the election of President-Elect, Barack Obama. President Barack Obama brings new hope for this country and also for immigration reform. At this moment, no one is sure when or how immigration reform will be enacted. However, we are all hopeful and in that spirit we must take steps to place ourselves in the best position to benefit from immigration reform when it arrives.   

            Presently, it appears that President Barack Obama’s immigration platform is very general. During his election campaign, President Barack Obama’s three key immigration principles were Secure Borders, Fix the Immigration System and a Pathway to Citizenship for undocumented individuals. However, the details of President Barack Obama’s immigration legislation may not be made known to the public for quite some time. Consequently, it is essential that all non-citizens take steps to protect their immigration rights so that they will be able to take advantage of any new immigration reform.

The first step is to know your rights under the current immigration laws. Many non-citizens get caught up with their busy lives that they rarely make the time to seek legal advice on their current immigration status. This is a mistake. Many immigration benefits are time-sensitive because most immigration benefits are tied to filing deadlines. Therefore, it is important to find out if you currently qualify for any relief under the current immigration law because new immigration reform may amend or eliminate previous eligibility requirements.

The second step is to assess your taxes. Historically, the United States has required that all non-citizens pay off all owed taxes to apply for certain immigration benefits.  Presently, under the current immigration laws, permanent residents are required to disclose if they owe any taxes during their citizenship interview. In addition, non-citizens who are applying for cancellation of removal before the Immigration Court must show proof that all taxes were paid if they wish to be considered for permanent residence.  If the Court finds that the non-citizen has failed to pay his/her taxes or he/she has received tax credits for which he/she were ineligible to receive then the non-citizen is deemed to lack good moral character which could render him/her ineligible for permanent residence.

The third step is to avoid incurring a criminal history. For non-citizens who do not have a current driver’s license this means they must not drive. It would be best to carpool or take public transportation to reach their destination. States are now enacting harsher penalties for non-citizens who routinely drive without a valid license or under the influence of alcohol. Recently, Georgia passed legislation that makes it a felony to drive without a license. If you already have a criminal history it would be beneficial to find out if your specific violation will have any adverse impact on your ability to acquire immigration benefits. Some minor criminal/traffic violations will not disqualify you from acquiring immigration benefits but you should seek legal counsel to ensure that your criminal history will not adversely affect your immigration status. Likewise, if you have been charged with a crime you should seek advice from an immigration attorney before you plead guilty or no contest to any charges. Typically, public defenders and some criminal defense attorneys are only competent to represent you in your criminal matters. Not all criminal defense attorneys are knowledgeable about the impact of your criminal conviction on your immigration status or your ability to acquire future immigration benefits.  Consequently, if you are charged with a crime it is important that you seek out immigration advice before you plead guilty or no contest to a crime.

The fourth step is to ensure that all information on your immigration applications is correct. If there is incorrect or incomplete information on your immigration applications, Immigration may deem your applications to be fraudulent. Always remember that your immigration applications, once filed, becomes a part of your permanent file. Consequently, it is important that you take proactive steps to ensure the accuracy of all applications.

The final step is to always remain informed. It is still unclear as to when our government will pass immigration reform. Therefore, our best course of action is to remain vigilant so that we can react quickly once immigration reform is enacted.  The year of 2009 holds great promise. Our economy may not be at its best however, we do have a new President that is unlike any other President.  Our country is now moving in a new direction and it is my hope that this new direction will change our immigration bureaucracy into a more humane and fair system.

Safiya Byars is a senior immigration attorney in Norcross, Georgia. She has over 7 years of immigration experience. She is a native of Jamaica and has personal experience with the difficulties of maneuvering the Immigration system. Her firm was established in 2009 and her cases involve all issues relating to Immigration, Family and Business Law. Prior to establishing her firm, Safiya Byars served as the senior immigration attorney with boutique immigration firms in both Alabama and Georgia. To discuss your case, please contact Attorney Byars at  404-992-6506  or via email.

About the author

Safiya Byars, Esq

Safiya Byars is the founder and senior partner of the Byars Firm. Attorney Byars serves as the Chair of the Family Immigration Continuing Learning Education and the Vice-Chair of the Immigration Law Section of the State Bar of Georgia. She is a native of Kingston, Jamaica. The Byars firm is located at 3720 Chamblee Dunwoody Road, Suite D2, Chamblee, Georgia 30341. The Byars Firm handles Immigration, Family, and Estate Planning matters. We can be reached at 678-736-5600 and email: [email protected]