Five Things You Should Know About Immigration Law – Safiya Byars


Spark Plug Radio Show

Spark Plug: Welcome to People You Need to Know on Spark Plug Radio. I’m your host, Spark Plug, publisher of People You Need to Know Magazine in metro Atlanta, where we celebrate the brilliance of women in business. At People You Need to Know Magazine, we lead the way in helping women grow their business by promoting them in our magazine, in our newspaper, and online. In addition, we give our clients world-class recognition at business expos and numerous women’s events throughout metro Atlanta. Our show today is brought to you by our official corporate sponsor: Staples.

In this segment, we’re going to be talking about the Five Things You Should Know About Immigration Law. My guest today is a native of Kingston, Jamaica. She is the principal and owner of a full-service law firm. They strive to help individuals, small business owners, community organizations, and families with all of their legal needs. Her law firm is committed to providing quality and efficient legal services that are customized to meet their clients’ short and long-term goals. We are honored to have on the phone today, an attorney who routinely represents individuals before the Atlanta Immigration Court and the Board of Immigration Appeals – Attorney Safiya Byars … welcome to Spark Plug Radio!

Safiya Byars: Thank you, Spark Plug.

Spark Plug: How are you today?

Safiya Byars: I am wonderful. How are you?

Spark Plug: Fantastic, and I’m trying to get better. Are you ready to talk about the Five Things You Should Know About Immigration Law?

Safiya Byars: Certainly.

Spark Plug: Well, let’s get right into it, okay?

Safiya Byars: Yes.

Spark Plug: Well, first and foremost, what options are available to individuals who wish to come to the United States to start a business or invest in a business?

Safiya Byars: For some time now, the U.S. government has provided an Investor Visa program, and that’s a wonderful program, because it allows non-citizens to come to the U.S., and they’re able to invest in a business or to create their entire business in the U.S. That also allows them to create U.S. jobs. It’s a wonderful program. There are some requirements as to the investment. Usually we’re looking at $500,000-1,000,000, depending on the location that they’re going to be, and as long as they can prove that that income and that investment will be at risk, and that they’re creating jobs for American citizens, that’s a wonderful option for people to come to the U.S.

Spark Plug: Alright. Well, tell us, attorney Byars, what is the best advice that you can give to a married couple who intend to apply for permanent residence for the non-citizen spouse?

Safiya Byars: The best advice would be to first have a conversation with your spouse or your proposed spouse about the immigration process. A lot of times, the U.S. citizen does not have any experience with immigration laws, because they’ve never had to deal with immigration law. And so, it’s important that both parties – the citizen and the non-citizen – understand what the process is, so that they can create a game plan before they get married, or if they are already married, to go ahead and create a game plan so that they can get legal status for the non-citizen, and keep the family together.

My best advice to do that is to come and see me. A lot of clients that we get in, we get them after they’ve applied or they’ve gotten an adverse decision — a negative decision. With immigration, the best thing is not to rely on family or acquaintances. If you don’t know, you need to come in and seek advice from a professional. We’ve met couples who are engaged and sort of outlined the process for them, so that when they get married, it’s basically a straightforward process. It’s a streamlined process, and they don’t have to worry about having the issue of getting denials.

The second issue with marriage petitions is, if you get a denial, immigration could deem that marriage to be a fraudulent marriage. And if that non-citizen is placed in deportation proceedings, we have a second obstacle. A lot of times, immigration will deny a marriage petition and deem it to be marriage fraud, not because they see positive evidence of fraud, but really, they see lack of evidence that the couple is really a couple. Sometimes, couples simply don’t have that documentation, because they’re newlyweds. And you don’t want to run that risk. So the first thing is, sit down with your spouse, have a, you know, open discussion about the current status and what needs to be done to acquire a different status or legal status, and second, is to seek legal advice as soon as possible.

Spark Plug: Alright. Well, my next question is, if an individual was placed in removal proceedings, is there any hope that the individual can obtain legal status, or obtain legal status while remaining in the United States?

Safiya Byars: That depends. A lot of times, people who are not familiar with the Immigration Court see it as a death sentence, and in some cases, it is for someone’s case. But the Immigration Court is there first to do a thorough review of that person’s petition or that person’s status. Then the court’s job is to figure out with the client – with the non-citizen – is there any status that they can apply for. So, removal proceedings are of course not the most pleasant experience. But you can obtain status.

The first thing to do is to 1: not ignore the fact that you’re in removal proceedings. Individuals may end up in removal proceedings because they’ve applied for a petition, it was denied, or they don’t have any status to begin with — and that’s going to end up in removal. But just because you’re in removal proceedings, doesn’t mean that you should give up or that you should ignore that you’re in removal, because the court can order you deported without you actually appearing in court. In Immigration Court, the court will review any denied petitions that the person has had, so if they applied for something and it was denied, they can actually have that reviewed in court, and the court can sometimes overturn Immigration’s decision and grant an approval.

The second option is if we have couples who are married but never applied for the process, they can actually do so in court. The standard of proof is, of course, going to be higher, because now they’re before the court. However, you can apply for permanent residence through your spouse or family member in court, and the court will review that and make a decision. The final application, which is the one that we process frequently, is for individuals who are in the U.S. without any legal status – they didn’t come to the U.S. in legal status or they’ve fallen out of status. As long as we can prove that that individual has resided continuously in the U.S. for ten years, they have U.S. citizen children or a spouse, or permanent resident children or spouse, they’ve paid their taxes, and most importantly, they can demonstrate to the court that, if they were to be deported, their family – which are the U.S. citizens or the permanent residents – would suffer extreme and unusual hardship – the court actually does have the ability to grant permanent residence to those individuals.

Spark Plug: Alright. Well, let’s change gears here for a second. If a non-citizen is facing a criminal charge, or he or she has already been convicted, is it still recommendable to seek advice from an immigration attorney?

Safiya Byars: Exactly. That is 100 percent correct. For criminal cases, if someone has a pending criminal case, most times they’re either with a private counsel or they’re with a public defender, they need to make sure that their criminal attorney knows what the immigration consequences would be. Immigration law is a completely separate area from criminal law and so, some attorneys, unfortunately, don’t have the knowledge of both. So if you have a pending criminal case, if you have a public defender, the best advice would be to check with your public defender to find out what the criminal – the immigration consequences would be. If they don’t know, your best option is to at least have a consultation with an immigration attorney, and let that attorney know what charges you’re facing. They can tell you if it’s going to have an effect on you later on or not.

With the criminal cases that we get, the definitive issue is really not, whether or not the person would be convicted. If the facts of the case are overwhelming, and that person is going to get a conviction, there’s really nothing that we can do about that issue. However, Immigration does not look at the conviction, per se. In some cases, they do, or if you’re convicted of a certain crime, you’re deportable. But in some circumstances, what they’re looking at is what you were actually sentenced to.

I’ll give you an example. In Georgia, a theft charge is usually a misdemeanor charge, and when you get that charge, and you’re convicted, it’s usually 12 months confinement, and you spend it on probation if you have no prior criminal history. For Immigration, that 12-month theft offense, which is a misdemeanor, has now become an aggravated felony charge, simply because there’s a 12-month confinement sentencing on the sentencing sheet. If we got that client in the office, we could not prevent the conviction, but we could negotiate with the prosecutor to have that conviction be 11 months, or 11 months and 10 days. So … that person would still have a conviction on the state charge, but now, they’re no longer considered to be an aggravated felony – aggravated felon for immigration purposes, and they’re no longer deportable. So that’s where an immigration attorney can come in, and we’ve done that on a number of cases where we’ve been called in to work with the criminal attorney to negotiate with the prosecutor. If someone has already been convicted of a criminal offense, you still need to come in and find out what the immigration consequences are, so that you can make the appropriate plans. If you have a conviction that’s going to trigger deportation, you probably don’t want to travel. You probably should try to seek post-conviction relief with a criminal attorney, and we can set up arrangements for that. And post-conviction simply means that we can go back and see if there’s anything that was done at the court level that would allow us to re-open that criminal conviction and have it either dismissed or reduced to the point where it would not have any immigration consequence.

Spark Plug: Well, Attorney Byars, due to the enactment of Georgia’s HB87 on July 1st of this year, are there any solutions that will enable farmers or employers to retain their employees?

Safiya Byars: Yes and no. HB87 is simply a reflection of the already-existing federal laws, so it doesn’t really bring a lot of new issues to the table. It does, however, deputize local police officers to make judgment calls as to who has status and who doesn’t. With local employers who have farmers or who have seasonal laborers, what they will need to do is apply for those temporary work visas. Those work visas are available, and that’s usually for agricultural and also for seasonal workers. So if you have seasonal – if you have a certain time of year where you just, you know, you need to either pick strawberries or whatever, – you have a hospitality industry and you have a spike in customers, there are temporary work visas available, and there are temporary agricultural visas available. Those are currently available. The best thing to do is to come in, consult with us and figure out how we can assist the current, existing employees with their status.

Spark Plug: Well, before we bring this interview to a close, I know you covered a myriad of different topics, are there any words you’d like to share with our listening audience about immigration law?

Safiya Byars: Certainly. Immigration law is complex, but it’s also very interesting, and there are some wonderful benefits that are out there for people. I think a lot of times, people become intimidated by immigration because of the complexity, and of course, because it’s always in the news. It’s a very combative topic, at times. But the best thing to do is to come in and speak with us. We always give a thorough and complete analysis for clients. If we cannot help you with your immediate need, we definitely will plan out for you a long-term process. And the other issue is, if there’s any, any possibility that you could qualify for the status that you’re seeking or if there’s a gray area in the law that could give you benefits, we are very aggressive for our clients, and we will fight. If there is a scintilla of hope for our clients, we will take that fight for our clients. And we do that because we are a law firm of immigrants. We’ve been through the process, personally. I came to the U.S. as an international student, and had to go through that process and the permanent residence process. So we understand – we understand that it’s essential for your families that you have legal status, and if you’re an employer, it’s essential for your business and essential for your employees to have status.

Spark Plug: Okay. And finally, how can our listeners connect with you?

Safiya Byars: Our office is located at 160 Clairemont Avenue, Suite 200 in Decatur, Georgia. Our zip code is 30030. Our telephone numbers are 678-954-5809 or they can reach me directly at 404-992-6506. And please feel free to visit our website. That’s

Spark Plug: Alright. Attorney Safiya Byars, managing partner of the Law Office of Safiya Byars … thanks for spending some of your most valuable time with us today.

Safiya Byars: Thank you, Spark Plug. It was a pleasure.

Spark Plug: Alright. You’ve been listening to People You Need to Know on Spark Plug Radio – the radio station connecting you to the women who are doing great things in metro Atlanta and beyond. And don’t forget to support a woman business owner today, because I believe, when women succeed, the nation prospers. To listen to even more People You Need to Know, just Google Spark Plug Radio, or visit our website at, and be sure to follow us on Twitter and become a fan on Facebook at PYNTK. I want to take a moment to thank our executive producer, Ms. Jacqueline Benjamin-Thomas for doing another A-1 job. So until next time, always remember that you can add a spark to whatever you do, and thanks for tuning in.

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