Legal Aid helps clients get more stable immigration status in the United States and secure safety for them and their families. Legal Aid serves:
- Lawful permanent residents
- Domestic violence survivors
- Victims of trafficking and other serious crimes
- Persons who are detained
- Asylees and refugees
Examples of immigration cases Legal Aid handles include:
- Language access problems for both immigrants and non-immigrants
- U Visas for victims of serious crimes
- T Visas for victims of human trafficking
- Violence Against Women Act petitions for survivors of domestic violence
- Family Petitions
- Visa Processing
Beyond immigration, Legal Aid helps immigrants with other civil legal issues which impact shelter, safety, and economic stability.
Tax Help for H2A Workers
Farmers may apply with the U.S. government to hire workers from other countries on temporary work visas called H2A visas. Not all work visas are H2A visas. If you are not sure what kind of visa you have, check your passport or other immigration documents.
H2A workers with questions about taxes or getting an ITIN for a dependent should call The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland. Legal Aid has a Low Income Taxpayer Clinic (LITC) that may be able to help. Please call Legal Aid at 1.888.817.3777.
More information is available in this bilingual brochure published by Legal Aid: Tax Help for H2A Workers / Ayuda con los Impuestos para Trabajadores/as H2A
Legal Help for Immigrant Victims of Crime
If you are an immigrant and have been a victim of crime, Legal Aid may be able to assist you with asserting your rights under immigration laws. This brochure outlines U-Visas for victims of Crime, Special Immigrant Juvenile Status, and T-Visas for human trafficking. This brochure also discusses how immigrants can assert their rights under the Violence Against Women Act.
More information is available in multiple languages in this brochure published by Legal Aid: Legal Help for Immigrant Victims of Crime
A Spanish version of this brochure is available by clicking here: Spanish Version – Legal Help for Immigrant Victims of Crime
Legal Assistance for Immigrants
This brochure outlines what Legal Aid can do for Immigrants in Northeast Ohio. Legal Aid can assist many immigrants to the U.S., not just citizens or permanent residents, and works on cases such as detainee and deportation, and naturalization and citizenship. This brochure explains what Legal Aid can assist immigrants and their families with.
More information is available in multiple languages in this brochure published by Legal Aid: Legal Assistance for Immigrants
Notice to Immigration Detainees in Northeast Ohio
Legal Aid may be able to help you with your immigration situation if you cannot afford an attorney. This brochure outlines the rights immigration detainees have, including the right to speak with an attorney about their cases, the right to request release from custody on bond, the right to contact their country’s Consulate or Embassy, and the right to contact family members. Also included are important contact numbers that may help in resolving your immigration issue.
This brochure is available in both English and Spanish at: Notice for Immigration Detainees in Northeast Ohio/ Aviso a los Detenidos de Inmigración en el Nordeste de Ohio.
What does the “Immigration Ban” mean?
What is it?
The Executive Orders issued this year related to immigration and the court cases that followed them have created a new maze of regulations for people entering the United States. Most recently, Executive Order 13780 (EO-2) barred the entry of nationals of Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, and Yemen from entering the United States for 90 days. It also barred all refugees form entering the U.S. for 120 days, and barred Syrian refugees indefinitely.1 EO-2 does not apply to the following groups of people:
- Lawful permanent residents,
- Dual nationals traveling on a passport issued by a non-designed country,
- Individuals admitted to United States on or after June 29, 2017 (effective date of EO-2),
- Diplomatic visas holders,
- Asylees/refugees already admitted into the U.S., and
- Those granted withholding of removal, and protection under the Convention Against Torture or advance parole.2
EO-2 did not reference individuals seeking to enter the U.S. to apply for asylum. Two federal district courts delayed implementation of EO-2 when they issued injunctions. Then, on June 26, 2017, the United States Supreme Court partially lifted the injunctions on the ban. The Court limited the ban so that nationals from the affected countries who have a credible claim of a “bona fide relationship” with a U.S. person or entity may still enter.3
What Constitutes a “Bona fide” Relationship?
The Court did not define “bona fide relationship” but required a “close familial” relationship with respect to persons. The Department of State interpreted “close familial,” to include:
- Mothers- and fathers-in-law,
- Adult sons, daughters and siblings and
Initially, grandparents, grand-children, aunts, uncles, nephews, cousins, brothers- and sisters-in-law and any other family member were not considered to be “close” family members.4 However, on July 20, 2017, the Court denied the government’s motion seeking clarification and failed to overrule a Hawaii District Court decision, suggesting such people are considered as having a “close familial relationship.”
The Court also provided that one’s relationship to a U.S. entity must be formal, documented, and formed in the “ordinary course” – not with the purpose of evading EO-2.5 In addition to close family connections, other “bona fide” relationships that exempt a person from the ban exist for workers who have been offered employment with a U.S. company, students accepted into a U.S. university, and, academic lecturers from the affected countries invited to speak at a U.S. institution as long they provide documents to prove the relationships.
This article was written by Tom Monah and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!
Are there protections for people who have overstayed their visa while seeking a green card?
Even green card-seekers who already have an approved alien relative petition may still have an immigration problem if they have overstayed their visas or illegally entered the United States before or while waiting for a green card. This situation is also known as “unlawful presence,” and it makes the application process more difficult and more likely to be denied.
Immigrants in this situation may want to apply for a waiver to excuse the unlawful presence. In the past, immigrants first had to interview at the consulate or U.S. embassy in their home countries for the green card application. In the case of an unlawful presence, the immigration officer would deny the application. These immigrants would be allowed to apply for the waiver.
This process could take weeks or months and if the waiver was denied, could result in being banned from entering the U.S. for 3 or 10 years.
Since August 2016, some people may be eligible for a provisional waiver. The person applying for the waiver must be the spouse or child of a citizen or green card holder and at least 17 years old. They cannot be in removal proceedings. The only reason for denying their green card application is the unlawful presence. Finally, the applicant must prove that it would be an extreme hardship for the citizen or green card holder to live without the applicant or to relocate with the applicant.
Immigrants may apply for the waiver while in the U.S., even if they are unsure all the requirements are met. This way, they will know if their waiver applications are approved before needing to leave the country. If a waiver is approved, the process for getting a green card is much easier. However, it still requires returning to a person’s home country and interviewing with the consulate. Although the U.S. will initially deny the application, the waiver will allow the person to receive a green card.
This article was written by Cory Stevenson and appeared in The Alert: Volume 33, Issue 2. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!
What are my Rights during Contact with Police or Immigration Agent?
Everyone in the United States, regardless of immigration status, has certain rights when interacting with the police and immigration agents. The rights include the right to remain silent, the right NOT to answer questions about immigration status, the right to refuse to sign any papers without first consulting an attorney, and the right to seek help from a lawyer.
EXCEPT: All persons (citizens and noncitizens) have limited rights when crossing the border and can be subject to questioning and searches. See further guidance at https://help.cbp.gov/app/answers/detail/a_id/176/~/cbp-search-authority.
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) has put together an explanation of these rights and others related to what to do if contacted by a police officer or immigration agent. The information published by the ACLU is available in several languages and is available by clicking here.
Update as of 2/9/2017: Federal Appeals Court, Executive Order on Immigration
A federal court of appeals decided on February 9, 2017 that President Trump’s executive orders restricting travel and immigration will remain suspended. Therefore, the rules described here are not currently in effect. This means that anyone from the seven affected countries who has been granted permission to enter the United States may do so.
The administration could now decide between a variety of next-steps: one of which includes a possible appeal to the United States Supreme Court. Since there is still uncertainty about the final outcome of these orders, if you are a citizen of or a lawful permanent resident (LPR) from any of the affected countries, contact an attorney to discuss your ability to re-enter before considering any travel outside of the United States.
Legal Aid may be able to assist low income U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, refugees, asylees, and non-citizen victims of crime, including domestic violence and human trafficking.
Continue to check Legal Aid’s website for future updates. If you have questions about a particular issue, click here to learn more about how to contact Legal Aid.
I am not fluent in English – do I have right to interpreter?
People who are not fluent in English have a right to an interpreter in many places, and options to enforce those rights.
Some common places that are required by law to provide interpreters are hospitals, public and charter schools, courts, public housing agencies, Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service, Veterans Administration, Unemployment Compensation, Bureau of Motor Vehicles, and the county Department of Job and Family Services.
A person not fluent in English should ask for an interpreter when going to these agencies. If they do not provide an interpreter, ask for a supervisor or for a customer service representative. If they still do not provide an interpreter, a person has the right to file a complaint with the U.S. Department of Justice. For more information, go to: https://www.justice.gov/crt/filing-complaint or call: (888) 848-5306 – English and Spanish (ingles y español); (202) 307-2222 (voice); (202) 307-2678 (TDD).
The police are also required to provide interpreters for people who are not fluent in English. In the City of Cleveland, if a law enforcement officer does not provide an interpreter while communicating with a constituent who is not fluent in English, that person can file a report with the Cleveland Police’s Office of Professional Standards and Civilian Police Review Board (OPS/CPRB). For more information go to: http://www.city.cleveland.oh.us/CityofCleveland/Home/Government/CityAgencies/PublicSafety/OPS_PoliceReview or call: 216.664.2944. In addition to filing a complaint with OPS, a person also has the option to file a complaint with the DOJ for the denial of an interpreter by the police (see above DOJ contact info.). If the police force that denied service is one other than the City of Cleveland, the person can file their complaint with DOJ or check and see if there is a local option like in Cleveland.
What are the immigration consequences of old criminal convictions?
Legal permanent residents (LPRs) who are not citizens in the United States face serious immigration problems in addition to criminal penalties when charged with a crime. Any criminal conviction has serious consequences on a person’s immigration status. A person’s application for a visa may be denied or a person with legal status can lose it and be deported.
The immigration issues resulting from criminal convictions impact a person’s family and community. For example, a legal permanent resident (LPR) lived in the U.S. since 1974. In 1989, at the age of 18, he was convicted of possessing marijuana and placed on probation for two years. Due to his status as a LPR, he was notified in 2011 – nearly 27 years after his conviction – that he was being removed because he is an alien convicted of a violation of the law relating to a controlled substance.
Having entered the U.S. over forty years ago, the man has become a husband, a father, and a valued and contributing member to his church community. If he were deported, it would create significant hardship for himself, his family and his community.
In some instances, a person can avoid deportation through a process called “Cancellation of Removal.” To qualify for cancellation of removal, a person must establish at a hearing in immigration court that:
1. He has been a legal permanent resident for at least five 5 years;
2. Prior to committing the offense, he had at least 7 years of continuous residence in the U.S. after having been lawfully admitted in any status; and
3. He has not been convicted of an aggravated felony.
Non-citizens are always subject to removal. The best way to avoid any risk of deportation is to naturalize. For information about immigration legal assistance available at Legal Aid, see https://lasclev.org/category/brochures/immigration-brochures/ or call 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help.
By Samerra Allooh and Luis Martinez
I know or am an immigrant suffering from domestic violence. Can I get help?
Anyone can be a victim of domestic violence, including immigrants. In fact, abusers often try to use a person’s immigration status as a method to control or abuse an immigrant victim. For example, a U.S. citizen husband who constantly threatens to call the immigration authorities on his undocumented immigrant wife and have her deported is abusing her.
The government recognizes that immigrants who are victims of domestic violence can be particularly vulnerable. There are special immigration laws that help protect immigrant victims of domestic violence. One allows immigrant spouses of US citizens (USC) or lawful permanent residents (LPR) who have a green card to file a petition for themselves to remove conditions of residency. A second allows victims who do not have a green card to file a self-petition if they meet certain criteria under the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA). A third option allows victims of violent crimes, including domestic violence, to apply for a U-Visa if they can demonstrate cooperation with law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime.
Option 1: Self-petition to remove conditions of residency
When a USC or LPR applies for permanent residency status for their immigrant spouse, the immigrant spouse is granted a green card with conditional residency for two years. Before the end of the 2 years, the immigrant spouse typically must file a joint petition, with their spouse, to remove the conditions. However, in abusive relationships, the USC or LPR spouse often refuses to file the joint petition. Abused immigrant spouses may file to remove the conditions on their residency by themselves if they can prove that they got married “in good faith” (not for immigration purposes), but during the marriage their spouse abused them. If the immigrant spouse is successful in their self-petition, they then receive permanent residency status and a 10 year green card.
Option 2: Violence Against Women Act Self-Petition
The VAWA self-petition is for immigrants who do not have a “green card, but who meet one of five categories:
1) they are married to an abusive USC or LPR spouse;
2) their USC/LPR spouse is abusing their child;
3) they were married to an abusive USC or LPR (as long as the divorce was within the last 2 years or the spouse lost their immigration status in the last 2 years);
4) they are the child of an abusive USC or LPR; or
5) they are a parent who is abused by their USC adult child.
Immigrants who complete a VAWA self-petition must show that they married their spouse in good faith, and if they were deported it would cause extreme hardship to themselves or their child. If the self-petition is approved, the immigrant victim gets a work permit and can apply for a green card.
Option 3: U-Visas for victims of crimes
A U-visa is a type of visa available to immigrants who are victims of certain crimes, including domestic violence. Other eligible crimes include rape, sexual assault, and sexual exploitation. The immigrant victim must show that they were helpful to law enforcement in the investigation or prosecution of the crime. If a U-visa application is approved, the applicant gets a work permit valid for four years. Also, after having U-visa status for 3 years, an immigrant can apply for a green card.
More information about the immigration benefits available to domestic violence victims is available at www.uscis.gov. Legal Aid provides assistance to immigrant victims in some cases. Call Legal Aid at 1-888-817-3777 to apply for help. Legal Aid is not a government agency and does not share information with Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).
This article was written by Legal Aid Staff Attorney Katie Laskey-Donovan and appeared in The Alert: Volume 31, Issue 1. Click here to read a full PDF of this issue!
My child is learning English – what are his/her rights under federal law?
English learner students have a right to equal access to high-quality education and the opportunity to achieve full academic potential. New guidance issued in January by the U.S. Departments of Education and Justice remind states, districts, and schools of their obligations under federal law. Fact Sheets published in English and other languages help inform the community about these rights and responsibilities. Follow the links below for more information and please share widely.
US Department of Education press release
“Dear Colleague Letter” providing joint guidance to states, districts and schools in meeting their obligation to ensure English learner students can participate meaningfully and equally in educational programs and services.
- A fact sheet in English and in other languages about schools’ obligations under federal law to ensure that English learner students can participate meaningfully and equally in school.
- A fact sheet in English and in other languages about schools’ obligations under federal law to communicate information to limited English proficient parents in a language they can understand.
- A toolkit to help school districts identify English learner students, prepared by the Education Department’s Office of English Language Acquisition. This is the first chapter in a series of chapters to help state education agencies and school districts meet their obligations to English learner students.
I am an H-2A worker. May I claim my spouse and/or children as dependents on my tax return?
Workers with dependents who live in Mexico, Canada or the United States may claim exemption deductions for their dependents. The worker’s spouse and dependents need a Social Security Number or an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) to claim exemptions. If a dependent is not eligible for a Social Security Number, the dependents may apply to the IRS for an Individual Tax Identification Number (ITIN) when the tax return is filed.
I employ H-2A workers. Should I withhold taxes from their pay?
While withholding is not required by law, withholding may benefit both H-2A employers and H-2A workers. Withholding creates an incentive for H-2A workers to file a tax return. When workers file tax returns, the IRS does not have to initiate collection efforts, and employers do not have to deal with hassles such as wage garnishment. If an H-2A employer does not withhold income, the worker should make estimated payments to avoid owing a lot of taxes at the end of the year.
I need an interpreter for Court, what do I do?
In Ohio courts, you have the right to an interpreter in your native language if you have Limited English Proficiency, which means that you are not fluent in English. If you are Limited English Proficient and you have not been provided with an interpreter or have been denied an interpreter in any court in the State of Ohio, you may report the problem to the Ohio Supreme Court, Language Services Program. This program is responsible for making sure that Limited English Proficient individuals have access to courts.
For information in multiple languages about how to contact the Language Services Program to report the denial of an interpreter, click here: Complaint Resolution Poster.
If you decide to file a complaint because you were not provided with an interpreter in court, you may do so on a form provided by the Ohio Supreme Court. The form is available in many languages. Click on the links below to open the form in each of the following languages:
- የቅሬታ ማቅረቢያ ቅጽ
- إستمارة شكوى
- ទរម្ង់ពាកយប ណ្តឹង
- Đơn Khiếu nại
- Lefol Woytaare
For information about what will happen after you file a complaint because a court did not provide an interpreter for you, read about the Complaint Resolution Process. Posters explaining the process are available in multiple languages. Click on the links below to read about the process in each of the following languages:
You should be contacted by someone from the Language Services Program at the Ohio Supreme Court after you have filed a complaint. If 10 days have passed and you have not heard from them, contact the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland at 1-888-817-3777 to request additional assistance.
For more information related to rights to interpreters, also see:
- Information from Legal Aid: https://lasclev.org/category/faqs/language-access-faqs/
- Information from the Ohio Supreme Court: http://www.sconet.state.oh.us/JCS/interpreterSvcs/forms/default.asp
Still have questions? Check out these links for other helpful resources from Legal Aid:
- Language Access FAQ’s: https://lasclev.org/category/faqs/language-access-faqs/
- Language Access Brochures: https://lasclev.org/category/brochures/limited-english-proficiency-brochures/
- Language Access Success Stories: https://lasclev.org/category/success-stories/get-help-success-stories/limited-english-proficiency-success-stories/
Do you need to file papers in court but cannot afford the fees?
You might be able to reduce or avoid paying the filing fees up front with a “poverty affidavit” (or “affidavit of indigency”). Courts generally require a fee whenever a person files a new case or asks the court to do something by filing a “motion” in a pending case or files a “counterclaim” in a pending case.
But if you have a low income, you might be able to file your documents in court without the payment or with a lower payment if you first file a “poverty affidavit.” A poverty affidavit is a written, sworn statement that you have a low income and do not have enough money to pay fees.
To see a sample poverty affidavit and instructions on how to fill it out, click here.
Once you fill out the poverty affidavit, you must have your signature notarized and file the completed affidavit in the court where your case is being heard.
After you file a poverty affidavit in a case, the clerk will either not charge you any money or will charge you much less to file other documents in the same case. Even though you do not have to pay the fees up front, you may still be responsible for the fees at the end of the case.
Most Ohio courts have their own affidavit forms for you to fill out. You can request these from the clerk at your local court. Here are links to poverty affidavits forms for the courts that post the form online:
- Cuyahoga County Court of Common Pleas: http://coc.cuyahogacounty.us/pdf_coc/en-US/affidavit_of_indigence.pdf
- Cuyahoga County Domestic Relations Court: http://domestic.cuyahogacounty.us/pdf_domestic/en-US/Misc/Affidavit%20Waive%20Cost%20with%20Chart.pdf
- Cuyahoga County Juvenile Court: http://juvenile.cuyahogacounty.us/pdf/miscellaneous%20forms/2013-Forms/PovertyAffidavit-JuvCrt-form2013.pdf
- East Cleveland Municipal Court: http://www.eccourt.com/pdf/poverty_aff.pdf
- Ashtabula County Court of Common Pleas: http://courts.co.ashtabula.oh.us/forms/COC/PA.pdf
Some courts, for example Cleveland Municipal Court, will accept a generic poverty affidavit. You can download a blank poverty affidavit form here:
For additional information related to using a poverty affidavit to access the court system, click here to read an article from Legal Aid.
This information and the information provided on any court’s website cannot take the place of individual advice from a lawyer. Each person’s situation is different. You should contact a lawyer if you need legal representation or if you have questions about your legal rights and responsibilities.
If you need further help, and plan to visit a Legal Aid Brief Advice Clinic – click here for upcoming clinic dates. Remember to bring all the documents with you. Attorneys will need the documents in order to advise you.
If I need an interpreter, how do I request one?
Who Must Provide You With An Interpreter?
• Most hospitals
• Legal Aid and Public Defender
• Public and Charter Schools (but not Catholic or other private schools)
• Public Housing Agencies
• All Federal agencies like Social Security, Veterans Administration, Internal Revenue Service
• State agencies like Unemployment Compensation and the BMV
• County agencies that handle public assistance and Medicaid benefits
Asking For An Interpreter
Ask an employee of the court, agency or organization for an interpreter.
If a court does not provide you with an interpreter, click here for information on your rights and how to file a complaint.
If another organization or agency does not provide you with an interpreter, try asking to speak with a supervisor, customer service person or ombudsman (person who hears complaints).
If they say no, ask a supervisor, customer service person, or ombudsman (person who hears complaints) for an interpreter.
If they still do not provide an interpreter, you may file a complaint against them with the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ). You may either send a letter or use DOJ’s complaint form, in English or your first language. You should explain when and how they did not speak to you in your language or provide you an interpreter. Keep a copy of the complaint for your records. Send the letter or form to:
Office for Civil Rights
Office of Justice Programs
U.S. Department of Justice
810 7th Street, NW
Washington, DC 20531
DOJ will respond with a letter or phone call.
How do I get a copy of my file with Immigration?
You may use Form G-639, a Freedom of Information Act Request, to ask for a copy of your Immigration file.
You may also ask for a copy of your FBI file by sending the Federal Bureau of Investigations your fingerprints.
Attend a brief advice clinic.
Spanish-Speaking Attorneys Help Domestic Violence Survivor Feel Safe After Distressing Experience
Isabel Ramirez Blancas left her home in Mexico for a new life in the United States, where she thought her U.S. citizen husband would petition for her residency status. But instead, he gave her a false ID card and forced her to work.
Compounding her disappointment, Ms. Ramirez suffered domestic violence at home. She never reported her situation because she was afraid to go to the police. Instead, Ms. Ramirez endured her husband’s abuse until the day she came home to find he had taken his own life.
With no husband, no income to support the couple’s young son, no documented status, and little English language ability, Ms. Ramirez was emotionally distraught. Her provider at MetroHealth’s McCafferty Clinic referred her to Legal Aid, where she met a Spanish-speaking staff attorney.
“I was very happy to come across a lawyer that spoke Spanish,” Ms. Ramirez said. “It made me feel I could trust her and the organization to do good work on my behalf.”
The Legal Aid attorney found that Ms. Ramirez was eligible to self-petition for legal permanent residency under the Violence Against Women Act, and helped her begin the process.
Immigration cases often span many years, and Ms. Ramirez’s was no exception. Initially, the petition was denied in 2013 because her abuser was no longer living, but Legal Aid helped her appeal the decision. After the appeal was granted on the self-petition, Legal Aid attorney Agustin Ponce de León filed for Ms. Ramirez’s adjustment of status and work authorization.
Three years after Ms. Ramirez first filed, the government approved all her petitions, giving her lawful permanent residency and work authorization. Mr. Ponce de León personally delivered her green card to her door.
As for Ms. Ramirez, she is working on her English via a course, and she and her son are setting down roots in the only hometown her son has ever known.