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Immigration and recovering from Northern California fires


As Northern Californians begin to recover from recent fires, many immigrants will face additional hurdles including losing important immigration documents and potentially missing vital appointments. While these problems may not be the same as the loss of life or a home, we have seen clients harmed tremendously by the loss of documents or failure to maintain a current address with immigration agencies. For immigrants who have lost their homes or been forced to relocate, here are some key things to know.

ICE has suspended regular enforcement activity

Immigration and Customs Enforcement has announced it is temporarily suspending regular enforcement activity in areas harmed by the fires, including shelters and evacuation centers. ICE made similar statements for areas impacted by recent hurricanes, and it appears it kept those commitments. Therefore, while we are generally skeptical of ICE, this announcement should be reliable.

Therefore, immigrants, even those who are undocumented, should reach out to local authorities or other resources for assistance in recovery efforts. This includes shelters for people who have been forced to evacuate.

Recovering lost documents

USCIS can replace most lost immigration documents. While most of the applications have filing fees, some applicants may qualify for a fee waiver. Forms to replace key immigration documents include:

- Naturalization Certificate- N-556

- Lawful Permanent Resident or "Green" Card- I-90

- Work Permit- I-765

- Fee Waiver- I-912

Copies of immigration files

In addition to getting new original documents, people can request copies of their immigration files from USCIS through a form G-639.

Updating addresses

While address requirements may seem like a minor issue for those who have been forced to evacuate, immigration authorities will generally hold people responsible for receiving documents sent to the most current address they have on file. Therefore, failing to update an address can have disastrous effects for those with pending immigration cases. Also, non-citizens are required to update USCIS within ten days of moving, and can use the form AR-11.

Those in removal proceedings must notify the immigration court within five days of moving, through the Form EOIR-33. This address change is especially important because the immigration court will order respondents deported if they fail to attend a hearing. The court will send hearing notices to the most recent address they have on file, and people who do not update their address can therefore be ordered deported for missing a hearing that was held without their knowledge.

For those with immigration cases pending before other agencies, including citizens who have filed visa petitions, it is a good idea to also send a change of address notice to the office which has their file because information on AR-11s is not always connected to every application before the agency.

Non-citizens with reporting requirements to ICE are usually required to maintain a current address, but it will depend on the circumstances of their cases, so please review any paperwork you have from ICE. If you have lost your documents with your ICE requirements, you can call the San Francisco office at 415 844-5512. To be clear, we only recommend calling the local ICE office if you are certain you have reporting requirements, are certain you are otherwise in compliance with any instructions from them, and have lost your paperwork. In other situations, reaching out to ICE can be very risky, and should only be done after discussion with an attorney.

Missed appointments

Missing USCIS, ICE, or immigration court appointments can have disastrous consequences. USCIS will often deny applications if people fail to attend interviews, and ICE can detain and revoke orders of supervision for those who miss interviews with them. Generally, however, people can contact the agency to explain why the appointment was missed and request it be rescheduled. While every case is different, often agencies will excuse a failure to attend an interview, but it is important to ask for rescheduling promptly. (Note- failing to comply with an interview for a deportation or voluntary departure order can have serious consequences, and be more complicated to resolve. While it is important to act quickly, people in this situation should consult with an attorney first.)

If you missed a USCIS appointment, such as a biometrics intake or interview, please contact USCIS quickly to request a new date. If you have the appointment notice, it will include instructions on how to request a rescheduling. If you have lost all of your paperwork, you can either make an in-person appointment at the local office through a system called "InfoPass", or call 1 800-375-5283.

As discussed above, non-citizens in removal proceedings will be ordered deported in their absence if they fail to attend a hearing. It may, however, be possible to reopen a deportation order by demonstrating the failure to attend was due to "extraordinary circumstances". If you missed a hearing due to the fires, you may be able to argue it was due to "extraordinary circumstances". Please note, that motions to reopen must generally be filed within 90 days of the judge's order.

For those with upcoming immigration court hearings who have been displaced or otherwise harmed by the fire, it may be possible to request your hearing be postponed. If the court has not given you a hearing date, however, you should make every effort to attend the hearing, even if it is very difficult.

Free consultation for those harmed by the fires

As explained above, some people harmed by the fires should consult with an experienced immigration attorney. Therefore, until the end of November, we are offering free consultations to address immigration issues resulting from the fires. Depending on the situation, we may also reduce our legal fee for work on those cases. While it may be difficult for some displaced by the fires to come to Oakland, we offer appointments by phone and video-conference as well. Those seeking a free consultation should be sure to say that they are calling about an issue related to the fires.

Bean + Lloyd, LLP is an immigration law firm in Oakland, California

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