The “CARES Act” is mis-named for immigrant tax-payers and their families. Here’s what you can do about it.

Looking forward to your $1200 check from the IRS? Read this:

You probably know that on March 30, Congress passed the CARES Act to provide relief for Americans struggling through this pandemic. The CARES Act says that most U.S. Citizen adults will receive $1200 each; U.S. citizen and permanent resident children under 16 are supposed to receive $500 each.

But get this: The language of the CARES Act seems to say that if anyone in your family files taxes with an Individual Tax-payer ID Number or ITIN, then your whole family is excluded from receiving the benefit. So, for example, if you are a U.S. Citizen and you file jointly with your spouse who files and pays taxes with an ITIN, then neither you nor your children will get a benefit payment. I’ve spent several hours researching this question, and this is what I’ve read in three different articles, which you can see herehere, and here.

If I’m reading this correctly, this means that Congress and the president acted together to pass a bill that not only excludes undocumented people for filing and paying taxes with their ITIN, but goes even further to also punish their U.S. Citizen and Lawful Permanent Resident spouses and children for living with them, depending on them, and filing taxes with them. The people who allowed this to happen need to hear from us NOW.

Two things you can do about this unfair exclusion:

  1. Call our elected officials.They are supposed to work for us. Punishing U.S. citizen spouses and children of immigrant tax payers in this way is unacceptable. The next Coronavirus relief package needs to ensure – at a minimum – that every single U.S. citizen and lawful permanent resident is provided with benefits, regardless of the immigration status of anyone in their family or household. (An easy way to stay in touch with our representatives in D.C. is by using “Resistbot.” Just text the word “Resist” to 50409 and you will be connected easily and automatically to our elected officials. I use Resistbot all the time and LOVE it.)
  2. If you haven’t filed 2019 taxes yet, ask about filing status “Married, filing separately.” Consider this status for 2020 as well. Everyone who knows me can tell you with 100% certainty that I am no tax expert. But the language of the CARES Act and the articles about it suggest that, if you’re married, then filing separately from a spouse who uses an ITIN may permit you to receive the benefit. It will be important to ask a reputable, knowledgeable tax preparer about this. What I can tell you is that, if you’re married, then filing taxes separately from your spouse is not going to cause problems for your or your spouse’s immigration case. The problem on the immigration side comes from filing as “Head of Household” when you’re married – “Head of Household” status is supposed to be reserved for unmarried people.

I hope I’m wrong about the CARES Act

I have made several angry calls to my representative’s and senators’ offices about this exclusion of families of immigrant tax payers. One of the staffers in Senator John Cornyn’s office was “very surprised” by my complaint; she did not believe what I was telling her about the CARES Act and said she thinks it’s not true. At the time I am writing this email, I am waiting for a call back from Cornyn’s tax expert who is supposed to clarify the language of the law.

I really hope I’m misreading the language of the bill and the articles I’ve found. If it turns out I am, I will post a very happy “I was wrong” message next week.

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.

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!

Forget “Freedom of Speech”! Be careful with your social media posts!

Many people have a poor understanding of what is meant by “freedom of speech” in the United States. There are many legal limitations that apply to “freedom of speech” and this is especially true for non-citizens. Therefore, if you have an immigration case, please know that the government will be scouring your social media pages, including Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, What’sApp, and many others. PLEASE do not post anything online that could put your case at risk, such as comments about drugs, crime, or violence, or even jokes that could be seen as degrading toward any group such as women, members of a particular religion, or minorities. And for heaven’s sake, DO NOT post pictures of yourself engaging in illegal activity! After you become a citizen, you can exercise freedom of speech more fully, but until then, please follow the “Grandma Rule”* with your social media activity (*if your grandmother would like it, it’s probably o.k.)!

If you need more information or are concerned about your social media presence, email us or call us at 512-633-1785 to make an appointment.

Expedited Removal: What you need to know

The term “Expedited Removal” defines a process whereby undocumented immigrants can be deported from the United States by agents of the Department of Homeland Security, instead of by an immigration judge, and without the right to apply for relief from deportation. On July 22, 2019, the Trump administration announced that it would begin applying the rules of “expedited removal” to undocumented immigrants across the United States. Previously, this process was applicable only to individuals found within 100 miles of a border or port of entry to the USA, who did not have a visa, or who committed fraud or misrepresentation, and who could not show at least 14 days of physical presence.

People who claim fear of persecution in their home country, or who can provide evidence of at least two years of presence in the USA are not subject to expedited removal. Therefore, if you are undocumented, it is critical to prepare and carry copies of documentation evidencing your time in the United States. For example, copies of official documents such as birth certificates of U.S. born children, marriage certificates issued in the USA, bills, insurance records, receipts, vehicle transfers and titles, and tax returns are good evidence of physical presence in the United States. It is important to not carry false social security numbers or other false identification, and it is best to leave at home any and all identification issued by a foreign government. For a specific plan and documentary packet, please contact Walker Gates Vela PLLC at (512) 633-1785 for a consultation.

Questions and Answers on the New DHS Public Charge Rules

  1. What does “Public Charge” mean? The term “public charge” is not specifically defined in the law, but it has been interpreted to mean someone who relies mostly on government assistance for their basic needs. Since 1996, the immigration laws have restricted eligibility for people who were found “likely to become a public charge.”
  2. What is the new “Public Charge” rule? The Trump administration has published a new version of this rule which, if it takes effect, will make the term “public charge” applicable to many more people. The new rule will include any prospective immigrant who has used public benefits for any period longer than 12 months in any 36-month period. The new rule also greatly expands the list of benefits which will trigger a “public charge” finding, and makes it harder for some immigrants to overcome a finding of “public charge.”
  3. When does the new rule take effect? Officially, the new rule will apply only to applications filed on or after October 15, 2019. Several lawsuits have already been filed seeking to stop the new rule from taking effect, so it remains to be seen whether the rule will be fully implemented or not.In practice, many immigration officers and consular officers are already restricting admissions of immigrants for being a “public charge.” WGV is working with clients affected by these changes to find creative ways to overcome “public charge” determinations on an individualized basis.
  4. Who does the new rule effect? The new rule will affect immigrants seeking to gain temporary employment or visitors visas, as well as persons who seek to become residents through family members such as U.S. citizen spouses, adult children, and siblings.The new rule does not affect people applying for residency under the Violence Against Women Act, U visa recipients, or asylum seekers.The rule does not apply to people who are already lawful permanent residents, and will NOT be a factor for applicants for naturalization to U.S. citizenship.
  5. What benefits are included in the new rule, and which are not included? Any use of public benefits by an applicant for lawful immigration status may be problematic under the new rules, though some are clearly more problematic than others. The benefits specifically named on the list in the new rules will be considered a “heavily weighted negative factor,” meaning their use will be hard to overcome for purposes of a public charge determination.

 

  Negative Factor for “Public Charge” Determinations:   Not considered  for “Public Charge” Determinations:
Social Security Income x  
Temporary Aid for Needy Families x  
Medicaid for adults x  
SNAP (Food stamps) x  
Section 8 Housing Vouchers x  
Section 8 Rental Assistance x  
Public Housing x  
Emergency Medicaid    
Special education services & Head Start    
Medicaid for children    
Medicaid for pregnant women until 60 days post-partum    
Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP)    
Disaster Relief    

 

  1. What should I do if my family is using public benefits? Whether or not to access public benefits for your family may now be a more complicated decision than it was in the past. The new “public charge” rules claim to not penalize immigrants whose children use public benefits. However, in reality, the spirit of the new rules includes the intent to force immigrants to choose between
  2. What other factors are important for the “Public Charge” determination?
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