My case is just like my friend’s……………No, no it isn’t. 5 immigration myths busted!

We see clients all day long, some have complicated problems, some are less difficult. Yet, what we see are that there are lots of myths about immigration processes. These common myths must be busted. While there are more than we can count, we thought we would start with 5.

  1. “Just explain it to me and I will explain it to them (whoever that is: friend, spouse, child)”In the game of telephone, you played as a child, by the time the message got to the last person, it was almost always distorted. The same is true with the law. It is not possible for you to ask questions about a case for someone else. This is because every person hears things a little differently and what makes sense to one person may not make sense to another. Immigration law is complicated.  It is also very much individualized. Every person must understand their role, the expectations and the issues in their case. Just like you could not go to the doctor for someone else’s ailments, you can’t get a legal solution for someone else either.
  2. “I took care of everything in my criminal case, so it doesn’t matter.”  We say this all the time, if you are not a citizen of the United States, it all matters. Although criminal cases are separate from immigration ones, the two are closely intertwined. What is done in one case will impact what occurs in the other. Always keep all criminal documents and papers; keep all immigration documents and papers as well. It does not matter if it was years ago, a month ago or just yesterday, it is very important for your immigration attorney to be fully aware of what occurred in your criminal case. If you paid a fine, were arrested, went to jail, paid a bond or simply got a ticket, always tell your immigration attorney of these things. They will want to know. 
  3. “My neighbor said they can help me fill out the forms, will you look at them for me?”  Remember when the teacher would not accept homework your best friend did for you? Most immigration attorneys will not simply review your forms.  They want to be able to review your case fully and not just review the documents. This is because attorneys don’t want to be responsible for someone else’s work especially when they have no control over it.  For example, if you leave their office and change something, there is no way for the attorney to make sure the change was correct. It’s just too risky and the only way to protect you and the attorney is simply for them not to review other people’s work. Think of it like this, would you ever let your friend, who is not even a doctor, operate on you? No? It is the same thing. 
  4. “According to the internet…” The internet can be a good thing.  It can help give you get quick general information. But, not everything you read on the internet is true. Think of all the allegations of “fake news” that have come up in the last few years. In the same way, unless the information is from a trusted source, it should not simply be accepted as true. 
  5. “My case is just like my friend’s”. This one is that comes up all the time. We can assure you that your case and your friend’s case is probably nothing alike. This is because while cases may look similar, a detailed look will reveal their differences. The problem, of course, is that the friend is not the one in the office. This means there is no way to get the required information necessary to help explain the differences in each case. Just like not each snowflake is unique, even though it is difficult to tell without a magnifying glass, each case is also one of a kind. 

If you are not making your Immigration case a priority, you aren’t paying attention

You count on us to tell you the truth and to level with you. You have come to rely on our straight talk and no-nonsense advice. And you know that we will tell you the truth even when the truth is difficult to hear. But it is necessary if you have any hope of conquering the complex road of the US immigration system. So you must hear what is about to be said.

It has been a long year. A very long year, indeed. And it isn’t even over yet. And even with the start of the next year, things are unlikely to get easier. This administration promised, ran on and delivered an anti-immigration agenda. The year has left immigration attorneys and civil rights advocates exhausted and outraged time after time. With a never-ending assault on the rule of law, the use of reason and the need for humanity in decision making, nearly a year later, the climate in the US has become increasingly charged.

Despite this as a backdrop, we continue to see people who are unwilling to face the reality or the gravity of the situation. This is a mistake.

As immigration attorneys, we can only do what the law allows, in a manner it allows. But, we cannot do it alone. All too often we see people who, despite being told what all they must do in order to succeed in their case, put other things as a priority over their case. The fact is, if you are not making your immigration case a priority, you aren’t paying attention. If you are not making your immigration case a priority, you are placing your ability to remain in the US in jeopardy. This is a dangerous way to approach your immigration case especially when it is your life.

During the course of the year, we have faced those who are angered by the need to make their immigration case a priority or are perplexed about why we push for evidence, push for cooperation or demand that keen attention is paid to information sought from them. But, these are all things that require careful attention. There is no time for delay.

It is certainly an overwhelming time. Each day the news is filled with yet another way the immigration system is being used to create a challenging environment for immigrants. The only way to find a path is through the noise that is the current climate. Stay attentive to your case and what needs to be done. This is not the time for procrastination. This is time to gather your evidence and your courage and help fight for your future in the United States.

When Opportunity Knocks, Answer the Door

For the last 10 years, the people have waited. Waited for Congress to provide a solution for the millions in need of immigration reform. Families have waited. Businesses have waited. And yet, still, nothing. It is unlikely that relief is coming any time soon.

The reality is that there is no simple solution to the immigration law controversy. The world is facing a refugee crisis that includes millions of people who cannot return home. Gangs, poverty, extremists and corruption become inescapable shadows for a people searching for a safe haven. Despite the humanitarian emergency, countries struggle to find answers.

In the US, immigration has always been an issue that is used by politicians to divide. Each generation of immigrants that arrives, rushes to try and pull the bridge up behind them. Despite being a nation of immigrants, the US is at constant war with its identity. The reasons behind this disharmony are deeply rooted and complicated.  And yet, when opportunity knocks, even ever so softly, so many fail to answer the door.

In 2012, frustrated with yet another stalled Immigration bill, the President mandated that certain people who were brought to the US as children, if they met the criteria, be shielded from the threat of deportation. This relief, commonly referred to “DACA”, guaranteed work authorization and an opportunity for a stable life. With the ability to obtain work, a social security card and a driver’s license, it gave DACA eligible individuals their identity.

Over half a million people came out of the shadows into the light. Contributing to the economy and their communities, they finally had a tangible glimmer of hope. And yet, so many, many more, simply did not apply. It makes little sense.

Sometimes opportunity only knocks once. The next election is about 13 months away and as the clock ticks down the Obama Presidency, the future has never been so uncertain. With so many unknowns, those who remain DACA eligible but still have not applied, need to act quickly. Those who remain unsure or unconvinced, need to seek out the help of an immigration lawyer or a competent immigration law firm and seek answers.  Time is running out.  When opportunity knocks, open the door. Opportunity may just be about to leave.

Immigration Courts in Kansas City, Nationally Ignore Best Interests of Citizen Children

The stories below are based off real client experiences. However, all names and specific details have been altered as a matter of privacy and confidentiality.

Whether they call it “anchor babies” or “birth tourism,” anti-immigrant groups are yet again attacking the right to U.S. citizenship by birth, which has been protected by the U.S. Constitution for almost 150 years. Earlier this month, conservative U.S. Senator David Vitter proposed an amendment to limit birthright citizenship to children of U.S. citizen or LPR parents.

Sen. Vitter and his followers are ignoring the interests of children who have no choice in where they are born, where they live and in to which family they are born. These children born to undocumented parents are already ignored under the unforgiving U.S. immigration legal system.

In family cases involving children, like adoption and custody, state courts have universally adopted a “best interests of the child” standard in making decisions that affect the child. This is not the case in immigration cases.

One of the most common forms of relief for undocumented parents is cancellation of removal. Under this relief, parents who are facing deportation may obtain permanent lawful status if, among other requirements, they can prove their children will suffer exceptional and extremely unusual hardship if they are deported.

Through its decisions, the immigration courts have interpreted this requirement strictly and ignored the best interests of the child. Unless the child has a learning or physical disability, the parent likely will not win the case. This has dramatic negative effects for hundreds of U.S. citizen children with good parents like John and Kelly

John and Kelly are undocumented parents of two U.S. citizen children, 5 and 10. Both children are healthy and well-behaved. They are active and do well academically. Their parents are very involved in their lives and raise their children under their strong Christian values.

John was recently arrested by immigration officials based on a twelve-year-old DUI and placed in removal proceedings. Under the current immigration system, John likely will not qualify for cancellation of removal. Under current immigration policy, their children are young and healthy and could more easily adjust to life in a new country if the family follows him to his home country, and if the children stay it is merely a parental choice. Unfortunately, these statements ignore the larger issues caused by the divide of a successful and tight-knit family.

In these cases, immigration courts do not look at the case from the perspective of the children to determine their best interests. Several scientific studies have shown that forcibly removing a parent like John from a cohesive family unit causes significant short-term and long-term emotional and physical hardship to the children. Unfortunately, immigration courts have not considered these studies or the children’s best interests. Until courts consider these interests, hundreds of children, who had no choice in where they were born or who their parents are, will face irreversible harm when their families are torn apart.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this blog should be construed as legal advice. If you are in removal proceedings or need legal advice on your immigration case, please contact an immigration attorney.

Mellouli, The Director’s Cut: How a Case About a Sock Found Its Way from Johnson County, Kansas to the Supreme Court

On Wednesday, the U.S. Supreme Court heard oral arguments for Mellouli v. Holder. The case centered on important legal issues concerning what crimes make a lawful permanent resident deportable and how a court should make that determination based on the conviction records. These arguments have been written about and discussed extensively.  But, how did the case make it from a small Johnson County courtroom to the marbled halls of the US Supreme Court?

Not all cases that seek out Supreme Court review are selected; in fact, very few make it.  Often times the cases that make the cut have been deliberately and methodically nurtured for the journey.  In the Mellouli case, this process started very early on. Moones Mellouli was facing criminal charges brought on after he was stopped for a DUI.  While he was being booked into the jail, police found four Adderall pills he that were located in his sock. He retained the service of a criminal defense attorney to assist him.  The criminal defense attorney, mindful that non-citizens face very different consequences than citizens when it comes to criminal charges, insisted that Mr. Mellouli seek out the assistance of an immigration attorney.  This is when we got involved.

Mr. Mellouli had no other criminal history other than the charges he faced from the DUI arrest.  He was a green card holder with a great education.  He was a productive member of society and had deep roots to the United States.  Yet, one simple interaction with police had the potential of unraveling his whole life in the US; a possibility that, as time would reveal, became a reality.  Working with defense counsel, we worked to craft a plea agreement that was just and fair given the conduct and other mitigating factors.  The prosecutor agreed.  Mr. Mellouli was convicted with a single count of possession of paraphernalia, namely, his sock.  The offense is a misdemeanor under Kansas law.

The Department of Homeland Security (DHS), based on this conviction, still believed that Mellouli was subject to deportation. To be a deportable offense, the conviction must relate to a controlled substance listed in the federal list of controlled substances.  But, the documents in Mr. Mellouli’s criminal case did not identify the type of drug that was involved and since Kansas has some substances on its list of controlled substance that are not on the federal list, we argued that Mellouli could not be deported and he should be able to stay in the United States as a permanent resident.  The immigration Court did not agree.

We lost. But we had built a strong record and we appealed to the Board of Immigration Appeals. We lost again. Undeterred, we appealed the case to the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals, which includes Missouri. The Eighth Circuit once again sided with DHS in saying that deportation was proper for someone who was only convicted of possessing a sock so long as the sock had anything to do with a controlled substance.  We did not think these decisions were correct because it did not seem right that something so simple should carry banishment from the US as a consequence.  We also believed that given the specific language of Mr. Mellouli’s conviction, DHS had not met its requirements under the law. So, we kept pushing forward.

A lot of cases make it to circuit courts of appeal. Very few cases make it to the Supreme Court. Only 1 percent of petitions filed with the Supreme Court are accepted for oral argument. From June 30, 2011 and July 2, 2012, 7654 petitions were filed with the Supreme Court; only 66 were accepted. Sometimes in order to overcome the odds, it helps to have a bigger team.  We enlisted the help of the Center for New Americans, a nonprofit organization with the University of Minnesota. The Center helped bring together even more resources and talent.  Everyone worked hard to try and narrow the arguments to present it in the most compelling way possible.  Lots of people from around the nation gave opinions, helped edit the legal briefs and played devil’s advocate.  With so many people working together, we were hopeful that the Supreme Court could be convinced to hear the case.  In order for the Supreme Court to accept a case, 4 of the 9 justices must agree to hear the case. The Supreme Court agreed to hear the case and on January 14, 2015, after months of briefing, the case was orally argued.

Watching the arguments unfold in the highest court in the nation is pure legal theater.  The room was filled with attorneys, media, and spectators who sit awestruck at the realization of the journey that very few cases make.  Getting this case from the Kansas City Immigration Court to the Supreme Court was difficult. It took vision and skill (to identify the compelling facts and legal issues), humility (to accept multiple loses and to keep trying), and luck (in finding the right people with the right resources to get the case before the Supreme Court). While the outlook of the case’s outcome is positive, the fact that the case made it all the way to the Supreme Court after so many defeats is a victory on its own.



Central American Migration Has Subsided, But Issues Remain: A Kansas City Immigration Attorney’s Take

The stories below are based off real client experiences. However, all names and specific details have been altered as a matter of privacy and confidentiality.

This summer was dominated by headlines of the increased migration of mostly women and children from Central America, namely Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador. Immigration opponents used fear to exaggerate the issue. Some called it an invasion. Some blamed the migration on President Obama’s DACA program. Those stories have mostly subsided. However, the issues that caused the migration from these Central American countries have not changed. Many of the women and children, like Linda and her children, came to the U.S. fleeing abusive and violent partners and a government unable to protect them.

Linda was born and raised in Honduras. From the age of 20 to 22, she lived in her own personal hell. She rarely left her home. She either was not allowed to or was too afraid to leave. Her boyfriend controlled her emotionally and physically. He often came home drunk or high and beat her with a chain or belt on the stomach or back (so clothes would cover the bruises). He also often beat her 5 year old daughter.

One night, while Linda’s boyfriend was passed out on the couch, she fled to a friend’s house in a neighboring town. Two days later, though, her boyfriend, with the help of his friends, found her and dragged her back to the home. He beat her again, held a gun to her head and threatened to kill her and her family if she ever left again.

Unfortunately, this type of violence is common in Honduras, El Salvador and Guatemala. Due to a culture dominated by masculinity and violence, this treatment is often unreported by the victims, either because they are afraid of what will happen if they report the violence or because the authorities would not help. The crime rate in the region is one of the highest in the world. The police forces in El Salvador, Guatemala and Honduras are inadequate and unable to stop gang violence, much less domestic violence.

Like many other women in the region, Linda’s only option was to flee. Eventually, with the help of her family, she was able to purchase a bus ticket to Mexico for her and her daughter and then crossed into the U.S.

In a recent case, the Board of Immigration Appeals recognized that women who suffer domestic abuse in their home country may be eligible for asylum. Asylum may be granted to individuals who can show a objective and subjective fear of harm on account of a protected characteristic, in this case the shared past experience as a victim of domestic abuse. After years of uncertainty, the Courts have finally recognized the cruelty in sending women like Linda and her children back to their countries and back to their abusers. Now it is time for the general public to understand this as well.

DISCLAIMER: Nothing in this blog should be construed as legal advice. If you are in removal proceedings or need legal advice on your immigration case, please contact an immigration attorney.


Piecemeal Immigration Reform is a Bad Idea

During a Fox News online telecast, Judiciary Chairman Robert W. Goodlatte stated that legislation must be passed to tackle the issues regarding millions of undocumented immigrants currently living in the U.S., the workforce’s demand for more high- and low-skilled labor and more. Continue reading “Piecemeal Immigration Reform is a Bad Idea”

Judge Sends a Message With Withholding of Removal Ruling

Sharma-Crawford, a firm specializing in immigration law, recently won a significant victory in a pro bono withholding of removal case. When the judge granted our client’s withholding of removal, he also sent a message to the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) that it should protect its named witnesses in federal criminal cases.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) operates like any other law enforcement agency in that it uses informants to substantiate cases. In exchange for their testimony, informants or witnesses are offered work cards in order to remain in the U.S. The relationship between informants and Immigration is much like at-will employment. The work cards represent the informant’s pay, and once their “job” of providing testimony is done, so is the benefit of their work card.

In this case, the client was a named witness for the DHS in a federal criminal case. Because he was a named witness, he received threats against this life and his family was victimized in their home country. In spite of these conditions and despite the fact they had promised the informant more work cards; DHS failed to act when the client attempted to reenter the U.S. with expired documents and was turned away.

Long story short, the judge was aghast at this lack of witness protection and sent a message via his withholding of removal. A withholding of removal is when an immigrant is ordered removed from the U.S. but that order is withheld because he or she would be persecuted in their home country. The message to DHS was that this client was their informant, he was in danger and they have a responsibility to protect him even after the federal case ended.

Our client is able to remain in the U.S. now with a work card, renewable annually. As his immigration lawyers, we were able to convince the judge that he fell into one of the five groups eligible for asylum (race, religion, nationality, political opinion and group membership) and his fear of persecution in his home country was reasonable. The client was considered part of a social group (informants) and in danger of persecution since he was a named witness.

This case was victorious and significant for two reasons. One, the judge did the “right” thing in withholding our client’s removal. More than likely, the ruling saved his life. Two, our client supplied his immigration lawyer with the relevant information we required to represent him. He did so simply, honestly and without exaggeration. His statements remained unchanged the first time and every time after that including at trial.

Considering the real risk for retaliation against witnesses, the judge’s response and actions are encouraging. DHS should heed this recent ruling by following through on its promises of work cards, and thus protection, since these immigrants have little else by way of defense.

ICE has never made an official admission of using undocumented immigrants as informants. Yet it’s common practice. These informants give authorities information they need to build and prosecute criminal cases from human and drug trafficking to arms smuggling and money laundering.

All the while immigrant informants are putting their lives at risk in hopes of being rewarded with legal status—that is rarely granted. The number of illegal informants is unknown, but believed far higher than the number of visas that lead to a green card. When law enforcement agencies are using undocumented immigrants to build their cases and make communities safer, shouldn’t those informants earn the right to live within them versus being sent back to their home countries where they’ll be in jeopardy?

Sharma-Crawford, Attorneys at Law is a firm deeply experienced in the complexities of immigration law. Whether you are facing criminal or civil litigation in state, federal or immigration court – the caring professionals at Sharma-Crawford can help you navigate through the complex legal system. For more information, please call (913) 385-9821 or visit The choice of a lawyer is an important decision and should not be based solely on advertisements. The information contained in this article is general information and should not be considered legal counsel.

Michael Sharma-Crawford Joins Panel of Public Policy Symposium

The Kansas Journal of Law and Public Policy Symposium, Perspectives on Immigration Reform will be held at the University of Kansas School of Law on February 22, 2013. Michael Sharma-Crawford, principal of the Sharma-Crawford Law Firm will join a distinguished panel of educators, policy scholars and thought-leaders as they tackle a number of current immigration reform topics.

Sharma-Crawford will join the Panel Discussion: Perspectives of Meaningful Immigration Reform. Other panel members include:

  • Archbishop Joseph Naumann, Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Kansas City
  • Michael O’Neal, President, Kansas Chamber of Commerce
  • Leon Versfeld, Immigration Law Practitioner, Versfeld & Hugo

Innumerable stakeholders want their voices heard in the immigration debate. This panel discussion will view the immigration debate through the lens of practitioners, advocacy groups and religious groups. Each participant will raise the immigration policy goals for his or her respective constituency to give attendees the opportunity to see both how these stakeholder goals work together and how they do not.

The Public Policy Symposium will be held on February 22, 2013 at Stinson Morrison Hecker LLP Lecture Hall | 104 Green Hall.

Click to learn more.