Friday Apr 8, 2016
I am writing this article to clear up rumors and bad information being given out all across the country.
By now, students affected by the University of Northern New Jersey (UNNJ) are in all different stages. Some have been contacted or visited by ICE agents and some have not. Some have been given notices to visit the immigration office in their location. Some have received SEVP notices stating that they committed fraud and have 2 options, either be reinstated or leave the country. And some have received a notice to appear (NTA) in immigration court.
Our office’s message has been clear to those being affected by the UNNJ government. Please be calm and contact a lawyer for your choices. If you are meeting with an ICE officer, you do not need to answer questions that will incriminate you in any way. If you say anything relating to fraud to an ICE officer, it may be used against you so be careful. Saying nothing is better than lying to an ICE officer. You have the right to remain silent. Alternatively, you have the right to obtain a lawyer to meet with an ICE agent. Do not be scared, it is now unlikely that you will be detained. Instead, you will be processed by ICE and issued an NTA. Remember, you are not the target of the investigation- those that are being criminally prosecuted are the true targets of the investigation.
Do not leave the country immediately unless you have an emergency. If you are being alleged with fraud then coming back to the country will not be easy. A better option could be to appear in immigration court after you receive an NTA. This is especially true if the NTA itself alleges fraud. You can at least deny the fraud allegation on official record or if you have another form of relief, you can try and find another method of staying in the country.
Those who are lucky enough to have an option to immediately change to a different status should do so. That includes marriage to a spouse in H1-B status and converting to H4 status or similarly, marriage to an F1 student and changing to F2 status. Of course there is no guarantee of success but there is no harm in trying because if you do not succeed, you are right back in the same position you started (you can only improve your situation).
On the other hand, those students who have been issued an SEVP notice AND who can get a school to issue another I-20 should try to reinstate their status immediately. Students have 5 months beginning on April 4, 2016 to reinstate their status. That may be difficult for those whose last status on F1 or CPT was with UNNJ because new students may reject a student who is currently out of status. However, those who transferred to another school should contact their school immediately to ask for a new I-20. Then they should find a lawyer to process their reinstatement application. Again, this is worth a try because if you do not succeed, you are right back in the position you started.
Do not miss any immigration court hearings if you are issued an NTA. As of now, no NTAs that we know of have a court date yet. Another notice will be issued with a court date. If you change addresses you must fill out EOIR form 33 and serve it to both immigration court and the Department of Homeland Security. You also must fill out form AR-11 to inform USCIS. If you miss a court date, there will be a deportation order issued against you (called an in absentia order). There are solutions in that situation but you will make your lawyer’s job very difficult.
Your ultimate goal in immigration court is to clear your name of any association of fraud because fraud can affect your immigration file forever, whether changing status, adjusting to greencard status, or applying to become a citizen. The allegations on the NTA are only charges against you which you can deny. Additionally, you do not accrue unlawful status until you are deemed by ICE to have been a non-immigrant status violator. In other words, until a judge deems you removable, you do not accrue unlawful presence. That is why we advise our clients to stay in the country if they do not have an emergency.
Finally, if you have the ability to move to New York, then move here. Your court location depends on your physical residence. New York immigration court boasts one of the friendliest places to attend court in all of America and roughly ½ to 2/3 of the judges are compassionate people. Additionally, the second circuit court of appeals has one of if not the most immigrant friendly laws in all the United States if you have to appeal your case.
One final piece of advise- tell your lawyer the truth or he cannot help you.
Additional information from the New York Times article New Jersey University Was Fake, but Visa Fraud Arrests Are Real
*This article does not create an attorney client relationship. You should ask an attorney for legal advice before taking any actions in this article.