Immigration Alert! Failure to Inform INS Promptly of Change of Address May Land You in Removal Proceedings (Updated)
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution for July 10, 2002 reported that a national of Palestine, Thar Abdeljaber, who is now a legal resident with a legal resident wife and two U.S. citizen and two legal resident children, has been placed in removal proceedings for one and only one reason: failure to inform the INS promptly of a change of address. Don't let this happen to you!
This is just another example of post 9/11 extremism on the part of the INS, always with the rationale of protecting us from terrorism. The immigrant, stopped for speeding, had drawn circles on a map to remind himself of which towns had flea markets, and the FBI, in its current mind set, imagined that he might have been planning to attack airports near those towns. Although the immigrant's identity has been known to the INS since 1998, and his activities as a provider of electronic goods at flea markets are entirely innocent, the INS trial attorney told the immigration judge on July 9 that the government had concerns about his "identity and activities." Perhaps Franz Kafka should be writing this article.
Immigrants reading this article must draw the right conclusion from it, and make sure to inform the INS within ten days of any change of address. And this rule applies to immigrants with green cards, as well as virtually all others.
Take a look at the Form AR-11 Alien's Change of Address Card, which you can download from the INS web site at www.ins.usdoj.gov The card explains that "Failure to report is punishable by fine or imprisonment and/or deportation." Let's get oriented by taking a look at the statute, The Immigration and Nationality Act (INA), Section 265 "Notices of Changes of Address." "(a) Each alien required to be registered under this title who is within the United States shall notify the Attorney General [the INS] in writing of each change of address and new address within ten days from the date of such change." Section 266, "Penalties," provides that "any alien who fails to give written notice.shall be taken into custody and removed.unless such alien establishes .that such failure was reasonably excusable or was not willful."
Is every single immigrant "required to be registered," and therefore required to inform the INS of a change of address? Section 221, "Issuance of Visas," explains that every alien who applies for a visa is required to register, with the exception of nonimmigrants in the categories A (ambassador) and G (representative of foreign government at the UN). This means that virtually every alien must inform the INS of a change of address.
The reason that most immigrants have not thought about this provision of law is that until 9/11 the INS would not have dreamed of using it unless it was part and parcel of a more serious charge of immigration violation. Indeed, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution report noted that "the INS' own guidelines say failure to report an address change 'shall normally not serve as the sole basis for deportation.'"
Yet here it is, in our present environment, "serving as the sole basis for deportation." Mr. Abdeljaber's lawyer, Charles Kuck, is aghast: "They couldn't get anything on this guy. They want to get rid of him because he's a Palestinian. Let's focus our attention on getting rid of immigrant criminals, but not changing your address? That's silly." Jeanne Butterfield, the executive director of the American Immmigration Lawyers Association, had this to say: "They're using the immigration laws to go after people they don 't have any basis to go after under the criminal laws. I think it's appalling."
It is appalling, but it is what is going on these days in the perilous world of immigration. Readers, be advised!
The INS has not been entirely consistent lately in letting aliens and their lawyers know what the law requires. First, there was the 3/14/02 report on teleconference posted on AILA InfoNet, Doc. No. 02032034: "INS has confirmed that the requirement [of INA Section 265] applies to all nonimmigrants in the U.S. If a nonimmigrant has an application pending with the Service, he or she should advise the office where it is pending of the address change using the preferred method of that office. If no case is pending, the nonimmigrant should use Form AR-11. All permanent residents must notify INS of changes of address using Form AR-11. This obligation continues until the person becomes a U.S. citizen."
The INS later changed course on what is required of nonimmigrants. As of mid-July the INS stated that nonimmigrants must do two different things: give notice to thc appropriate INS office if a petition/application is pending, and also mail the Form AR-11. See AILA InfoNet, Doc. No. 02071544 (July 15, 2002).
Judging from my email, the chief source of uncertainty and anxiety arises from nonimmigrants and legal residents alike who have never filed a Form AR-11, assuming that their various pending or completed petitions/applications made their presence known to the INS, and that that was enough. They are now, as one correspondent put it, "real scared," and wondering whether the late report of a past address change will trigger removal proceedings.
What tardy legal residents and nonimmigrants need now is a reassurance from Commissioner Ziglar that a late report of change of address will not, in and of itself, lead to the commencement of removal proceedings against them.
Mr. Commissioner, let us hear from you!
About The Author
Carl R. Baldwin graduated from Columbia University Law School in 1980, and became a member of the New York State Bar a year later. He worked for three years with the New York City Law Department, and then entered solo practice in immigration law, which he has continued to the present. His work with clients has included asylum applications, deportation defense, visa processing, adjustment of status, and naturalization. He has also worked to implement special laws, such as the 1986 "amnesty" (The Immigration Reform and Control Act), and the 1998 Haitian reform act (The Haitian Refugee Immigration Fairness Act). Mr. Baldwin is the author of Immigration News Monthly. He can be reached by e-mail at Carl.Baldwin@worldnet.att.net.
He has written a book on immigration law, called "Immigration Questions and Answers," Allworth Press, 2002. The book, which contains essential background information about how the immigration law works, can be ordered online from Allsworth Press at: www.allworth.com/Pages/SC_BL.htm.
The opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily reflect the opinion of ILW.COM.