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U.S. Naturalization vs. Canada Citizenship Laws: American Immigration Reform Pros and Cons; Is the Canadian System the Best?

First Posted: Mar 17, 2014 02:38 PM EDT
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Immigration Reform rally

Photo : Wikimedia Commons/Arasmus Photo

Last year, the United States Senate passed an immigration reform bill which was seen as a step in the right direction as well as a sign that an effective immigration system could be put in place in the United States. There has been some back slide since then, most notably when House Republicans led by Speaker John Boehner released a notice of Immigration Reform Principles, which laid out stipulations for stronger border security, and other measures which had to be met before allowing any reform to move forward.

One of the requirements stated by Boehner is that President Obama must "earn back trust" before the GOP would be willing to sign off on any future immigration bill. Activists have suggested that this is just a stalling tactic since President Obama has been quite tough on undocumented immigrants with over 2 million Federal government deportations since he took office. A recent report found out that last year's government shutdown ended up delaying over 37,000 cases for immigrants waiting for green cards or the chance to seek asylum.

In the face of these immigration reform woes, there are lawyers within communities who are making a name for themselves by doing quality work as advocates for the disenfranchised voices. These people are usually characterized by their selfless nature and compassion for immigrants and their loved ones.

A. Renée Pobjecky is a nationally known immigration lawyer who has spoken at national conferences of immigration law groups as well as traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby members of Congress on immigration issues.

She gives a rundown of her typical immigration cases. She has represented Brazilian ballerinas seeking visas provided to foreign citizens with extraordinary abilities in the arts. She also has represented foreigners who seek entry through a program that offers permanent resident status, or green cards, to high-level investors.

Those are rare cases, however, and most of her work involves hardship waivers for unauthorized immigrants who have a spouse or parent who is a U.S. citizen or permanent resident. Those immigrants are eligible to receive permanent resident status, or "green cards", by demonstrating that their removal from the country would cause extreme hardship for the relative who is living here.

Pobjecky says that most of her clients are Latinos and predominantly from Mexico, although she has represented people from the Caribbean and Europe as well. To help with communication, she will always include either an employee fluent in Spanish or a professional translator when meeting with clients.

Being an established immigration lawyer, Pobjecky will get regular referrals from groups involved with migrant workers. One of her most fulfilling cases came through a referral by a migrant advocate for Polk County public schools.

Alex Uribe was brought to the United States from Mexico at age 7 by his father and later abandoned. Pobjecky, working for free, launched an application for Special Immigrant Juveniles Status for Uribe, who was at that time a high school student living with an uncle in Haines City.

The judge approved the application on the final business day before Uribe's 18th birthday, when he would no longer have been eligible for the status. Uribe received his green card in 2011.

"Not only did she do me a favor for my status but she encouraged me to do better in school," says Uribe, who is now a student at Polk State College. "There's no morning I wake up when I don't think of her. ... I always carry her in my life, and I always will."

Pobjecky has said that deportation cases are more emotionally draining than waiver cases. When representing illegal residents who have citizen relatives, lawyers can file repeated claims, and even if the client has to leave the country there is still the prospect of being allowed to return. On the other hand, in deportation cases the lawyer only has one shot to persuade the judge.

"I don't take many deportation cases," Pobjecky said. "I just become too emotionally involved. I stop sleeping. ... I don't know how criminal attorneys do it."

Now that there are so many people who need such immigration services, the market for lawyers and attorneys has grown so that there is more money to be made. That attracts thieves and con artists who play the role of an inspiring lawyer only to take advantage of their victims. Fortunately, these criminals are most often caught but it proves how important it is for immigrants seeking legal status to know just whom they are asking for help.

Just last week, CBS reported that a man was behind bars for posing as an immigration lawyer in Florida. The 38 year old man, whose bond is set at $690,000, stole about $100,000 from various victims and faces charges of grand theft, fraud, and misrepresenting himself as qualified to practice law. A number of people who had fallen victim to the scam later filed complaints to the Florida Bar about the man, leading to an investigation where it was discovered that he was not in fact licensed to practice law in the State of Florida.

The man, who according to his arrest warrant "unlawfully misrepresented himself as an attorney in order to engage in theft by deception against aliens in Florida and engaged in extortionary tactics by demanding additional fees while threatening victims with violence and/or deportation," was arrested by Florida Highway Patrol as he was attempting to leave for his home country of Brazil.

In another such case, an immigration lawyer is facing felony theft charges and a suspension of her license after Boulder County prosecutors said she scammed seven immigrant families out of $41,320 by offering to obtain visas and work permits and then dropping out of contact without ever delivering the documents.

The lawyer, who was fluent in Spanish, refused to provide the families who could not read English with a copy of their contracts in Spanish. After meeting in person, she would tell the families she could help them secure the documents and then lay out a payment plan for them.

Families told investigators how they made cash payments to receptionists at her two offices but rarely got receipts for their payments or saw the lawyer, who ignored their phone calls and stopped showing up to court even after the payments had been completed.

On the other hand, immigration and naturalization into Canada has become more streamlined and fast tracked. It could surpass the United States as the top choice for citizenship for many immigrants from countries around the world. Over 19,200 people from 193 countries have already become Canadian citizens in ceremonies taking place in Canada just this year, marking an almost 100 percent increase since last year.

The Canadian system has become more efficient and the backlog of citizenship applications is decreasing, largely due to positive and effective government reforms. The government's proposed changes to the Strengthening Canadian Citizenship Act will reduce wait times by streamlining the process for citizenship, bringing the average processing time for citizenship applications down to under one year. Here are some facts about Canadian naturalization:

  •  Last year, 128,936 people were granted citizenship
  •  Canada currently has the highest sustained levels of immigration in its history -- an average of 257,000 newcomers each year. The demand for citizenship has increased by 30 percent.
  •  Canada has the highest rate of naturalization in the world: 85 percent of eligible permanent residents become citizens.
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