Whenever a person applies for future or new immigration benefits, it is very important to retain documents concerning their past immigration history and filings. This is because when applying for any immigration benefit, whether a petition, application, etc., whatever they may have filed in the past will be a part of their record and could have a bearing on their eligibility.
Many people have consulted with me about a petition or denial they have received. When I ask for a copy for review, many say they no longer have it, either because it was lost or stolen, they moved and displaced it, termites ate the papers, lahar from Mount Pinatubo covered the papers, there was a typhoon or flood that washed away the files or they were so upset that they tore up and burned the documents and threw the ashes in the Pasig River.
Without your immigration history, it is more difficult to evaluate your situation or determine the best course of action. It is like a doctor trying to diagnose a patient’s ailments without x-rays or a medical history.
Some of the more critical documents in assessing/evaluating a person’s immigration options include:
• Documents concerning your manner of entry into the US. How did you enter the US? Did you present a visa, such as a visitor visa? Did you sneak across the border? Many immigration benefits are available only if you can prove you were “inspected” at the port of entry by an immigration officer. Therefore, make sure to keep your passport with your entry visa in a safe place.
Even if you entered the US under an assumed name, make sure to keep the passport with the entry visa. While you may have committed fraud, the assumed name on your passport would still be evidence that you were inspected, and there could be a chance for you to be able to obtain a green card in the US with a fraud waiver, assuming you have an approved petition and current priority date.
• Petitions. If you want to know if you have any chances or options based on a petition filed for you, it is important to retain a copy of the approval notice for that petition. Without documentary proof that a petition has been filed for you, you cannot file anything on the basis of that petition. Also be aware that if you were petitioned long ago and the priority date became current, the National Visa Center (NVC) usually gives you a one-year deadline to apply for your visa, after which time your case could be terminated and the petition is destroyed. So, make sure to stay on top of the status of your petition.
• Denials. If you received a denial, you need to keep a copy of it in order to determine if there is anything that can be done to overcome the reason for that denial. Was it because you did not submit enough proof? Did you commit fraud but are eligible for a fraud waiver? Maybe the US Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) made a mistake in denying your case. But without a copy of the denial, your options cannot be properly evaluated. Also, there are deadlines for seeking a motion to reopen or reconsider or filing an appeal. So, you need to act fast whenever you receive a denial.
• Other immigration filings. In some cases, people apply for immigration benefits to which they are not entitled, such as asylum with a made-up story of persecution, amnesty by claiming they entered the US back in the 1980s, etc. These records may also have a bearing on future filings, and you have to be prepared to explain any inconsistencies between your past filings and any new filings.
If you no longer have your records, there may still be ways to obtain your immigration file from the Department of Homeland Security (DHS). However, it is obviously far easier and faster if you just simply keep your immigration records in a safe place so you can present them to an attorney who can better evaluate your case, status and immigration options.
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