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.

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].

Have you been waiting years for your U visa? We finally have a solution.

Since 2014, applicants for U visas have been forced to wait several years for their cases to be reviewed. Before then, U visas took about nine months for processing. But as the numbers of U visa applications exploded, USCIS did nothing to deal with all of the new cases, and the wait times for U visa processing became ridiculous.

Applicants for U visas are supposed to get a work permit while they’re waiting for the final decision on their case. But USCIS isn’t even conducting the preliminary review of cases for several years. Right now, WGV has more than 80 clients waiting for work permits for their U visas, and most of them have been waiting more than three years. We have been working with other attorneys from around the country to pressure USCIS to retool their U visa processing system but haven’t seen any real progress. Until now.

In late 2019, WGV filed a lawsuit in the Federal Court in Austin on behalf of two of our U visa clients, and we asked the judge to order USCIS to process our clients’ work permits. We didn’t know what would happen. The government fought back and asked the judge to dismiss our case. In January, the judge ruled that the government needed to provide a valid reason why their processing times were taking so long. The judge did not dismiss our case. In fact, he gave us permission to investigate USCIS to find out the reason they were taking so long. Instead of dealing with our investigation, however, USCIS offered to immediately issue our client’s work permit if we would drop the lawsuit. Which is what we wanted all along.

If you have a U visa case and have been waiting more than a year, we want to help. We are inviting U visa clients who have been waiting for more than one year to file lawsuits against USCIS for their U visa work permits. Also, before we file a lawsuit, we want to make sure you:

1.    Have no significant criminal record;
2.    Have had no past deportations;
3.    Have no past fraud or misrepresentation problems.

But if you are like most of our U visa clients, you have a clean criminal history and a great opportunity to expedite the processing of your case if you join us in suing the government.

If you would like to discuss the possibility, please call us at (512) 633-1785 or email us at [email protected] to schedule an appointment.

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.

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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