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?

Filing Taxes? Five Tips for Non-Citizen Filers

Whether you are petitioning for a family member, applying for naturalization, defending yourself against deportation, or serving as a co-sponsor for another immigrant, there are many circumstances that require the Department of Homeland Security to scrutinize your tax records.

Here at WGV, we have seen many tax documents with errors and omissions, some of which have cost our clients many thousands of dollars to rectify, plus subjected them to fines, penalties, and findings that they lack good moral character. With tax season now in full swing, here are five tips to keep in mind if you or a loved one are an immigrant tax filer in the United States.

You do not need to have a social security number to file taxes

All workers in the United States – whether authorized or not – are able to file tax documents with the IRS. If you do not have a valid social security number, you may apply for an “ITIN” or “Individual Tax-Payer Identification Number” when you file your return. The ITIN will substitute for a social security number on your taxes, though including it may render you or your spouse ineligible for certain benefits.

You should not file as “Head of Household” if you live with your spouse

Many spouses of undocumented individuals file as “Head of Household” even though they are married and living with their spouse. While there are many tax benefits granted to persons filing as “Head of Household,” this filing status is essentially a declaration that you are either single or residing separately from a spouse. If you need to convince the immigration service that you are residing with your spouse in a good faith marriage, having tax returns filed as “Head of Household” works against you and could even be considered fraudulent.

Do not declare Dependents unless you have paid at least 50% (half) of that person’s living expenses

In order to legitimately claim a dependent on your tax return, you need to be able to prove that you have provided, during the tax year, at least 50% of that person’s living expenses. Naming relatives on your tax return as dependents in order to maximize a tax refund is illegal and a bad idea for anyone trying to avoid problems with the IRS or DHS.

Do not declare children for the Child Tax Credit unless they are living with you

To properly claim a child for the Child Tax Credit, the child must physically reside with you, be younger than 17 years, unmarried, and dependent on you for care. Do not claim your children if they are living outside your home.

Beware of tax preparers who promise big refunds

At WGV, we have seen that some tax preparers routinely file returns for clients with the objective of maximizing the tax refund. In order to do so, the preparer often includes questionable dependent information, designates an improper filing status (e.g. “single,” “head of household,” etc.), or includes children that do not reside with the filer.

This approach often leaves clients vulnerable to fines, penalties, and even potential criminal charges, while the preparer him or herself faces little to no liability. Beware of tax preparers who do not conduct a complete interview each year to see how your circumstances may have changed, or who encourage you to claim dependents or children that are not legitimately yours to claim. You should NEVER sign a blank tax return – always insist on seeing the tax preparer’s work. Also be wary of tax preparers who offer to prepare and file immigration documents for clients, as doing this is a crime unless the person is an attorney or accredited by the government for non-profit work.

WGV encourages clients to work with well-established, accredited, and reputable tax preparers. For a listing of tax preparers and their credentials in your area, visit https://irs.treasury.gov/rpo/rpo.jsf.


 

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