Tips and Strategies for Managing a Financial Crisis

Walker Gates Vela logoThe COVID-19 meltdown has been reminding me a lot of the previous economic crisis we experienced back in 2008 – 2011. My husband, Andrew Gates, is a home-builder and he was our family’s main support back then when I was working at Catholic Charities, earning very little, and paying big law school debts. Suddenly, Andrew’s work just evaporated and he had no income. Our third child was a newborn. We thought we were going to lose our house, our cars, everything. We went through a lot of panic. We were sued by our credit card company. We made lots of mistakes. But we made it through to the other side.

I learned some valuable lessons from that experience about how to get through times like these, and I have compiled them into a list of tips, which I invite you to download here. I hope that my hard-earned lessons can make things at least a bit easier for you and your family during this crisis.

If you have a delayed application for Naturalization, we have a solution for you

According to the Immigration and Nationality Act (i.e. the immigration law), USCIS has 120 days after an applicant’s first interview and exam to make a determination on the application for naturalization. After 120 days have passed, the applicant may file his or her naturalization case in the Federal Court and ask a judge to decide whether he or she qualifies for U.S. citizenship.

There is no exception to the 120-day deadline. It doesn’t matter if USCIS has requested additional documents from you, scheduled an additional interview for you, or just stopped communicating with you. If you’ve had a first interview on your case more than 120 days ago and you still do not have a decision on your application, you can file a lawsuit.

WGV has helped many clients successfully conclude their applications for naturalization after long delays by filing cases in the federal courts. If you or someone you know needs help getting your naturalization case un-stuck at USCIS, please contact Jennifer Walker Gates or Jacqueline Watson at (512) 633-1785 or at [email protected].

U Visa Litigation Update

For our U visa clients who have been waiting many years to receive work permits while awaiting their U visa approvals, we have begun working through the federal court in Austin to push USCIS to make decisions on cases more expediently. To read more about those efforts, check out our blog post here.

Currently, we are concluding our first U visa delay lawsuit. Once that case is concluded, we intend to file for other clients who live in the Austin area, who have clean criminal and immigration records, and who have had their cases filed since at least 2017. Current processing times indicate that USCIS is adjudicating work permits for individuals who have had applications filed since September of 2015. We are arguing in our suit that five years waiting for a simple work permit is too long, and that this long wait time is frustrating the will of Congress, which is to provide legal status to cooperative victims of crime through the U visa program.

Last week, USCIS contacted us through their attorney and requested some clarification about our clients’ Form I-918B. The I-918B is the form that certifies that our clients were victims of a crime and cooperated with prosecutors in the investigation and prosecution of the perpetrator. In order for USCIS to approve our clients’ work permits, we need to coordinate with prosecutors at the Travis County District Attorney’s Office to clarify some of the information they included in the form. Once we do that, and submit the clarifications to USCIS, we anticipate that our clients’ work permits will be approved and issued within approximately 30 days.

If you have a U visa pending since at least 2017, have a clean criminal record, and live in the Central Texas area, you may be a good candidate to join our next lawsuit. For more information, please contact Jennifer Walker Gates at [email protected].

Resources for immigrants surviving the pandemic and quarantine

We at WGV want all of our friends and clients to know that using available resources to get through this time (including unemployment benefits) will NOT be counted against you for public charge purposes.

If you are undocumented, you probably do not qualify for unemployment benefits, but please know that in Texas evictions have been paused, as have many home foreclosures. Many utility companies (electric, gas, water, phone, and internet) are currently NOT disconnecting service for failure to pay are offering generous repayment schedules.

Regardless of your immigration status, it is safe to call 3-1-1 or visit the City of Austin’s Community Resources page to learn about resources available to you and your family for food, health care, utilities, housing, and transportation.

In addition, many private organizations have set up assistance funds for workers who have been laid off. For example, there are funds available for employees of hotels, restaurants and delivery drivers. These are privately funded assistance programs, and applying for them will NOT harm your immigration case.

Finally, emergency medical assistance will not be counted against anyone for public charge purposes. And as always, if your U.S. citizen spouse or children are receiving public benefits such as food assistance (a.k.a. food stamps), Medicaid, CHiP, or WIC, talk to a trusted immigration attorney before making any changes to those benefits.

If you have questions about your specific case and benefits you are considering, please reach out to us at [email protected]

How WGV is responding to the Coronavirus

First, we are remaining calm. Statistically speaking, we are all still much more vulnerable to the flu than to Coronavirus. However, since caution and good hygiene are never bad ideas, here are the steps we’re taking at WGV to minimize risk to ourselves, our clients, and other visitors to our office:

1. No more toys (for now). When flu and coronavirus seasons have passed, we’ll bring the toys back to the lobby (we always disinfect the toys daily). In the meantime, please either leave your child with a caregiver outside the office during your appointments, or bring toys to keep them occupied while here. Click here for our general policy on kids in the office.

2. Meet with us by phone or video call. When we were kids, video calls were Star Trek fantasy. But the future is now, baby, and video calls are easy! Just let us know if you’d like to meet on video, and we’ll send you a link by text or email that makes it very easy. And of course, old fashioned phone calls are often a great way to meet too. We ask that you please STAY HOME if you have flu or virus symptoms. We will be happy to meet with you by phone or video call if you’re feeling bad.

3. Scan, email, or fax your documents to us. It’s easy to send us your documents using nothing more than your smart phone. Click here for info on apps and tools you can use on your phone to make clear digital copies of your original documents. (This is a great idea for immigration emergency planning as well.)

Of course, don’t forget to wash your hands frequently. Stay safe, everyone!
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