Welcome to Modern Family Matters, a podcast hosted by Steve Altishin, our Director of Client Partnerships here at Landerholm Family Law. We are devoted to exploring topics within the realm of family law that matter most to you. Our discussions will cover a wide range of both legal and personal issues that accompany family law matters. We strongly believe that life events such as marriages, divorces, re-marriages, births, adoptions, children, growing up, growing older, illnesses and deaths do not dissolve a family. Rather, they provide the opportunity to reconfigure and strengthened family dynamics in healthy and positive ways. With expertise from qualified attorneys and professional guests, we hope that our podcasts will help provide answers, clarity, and guidance for the better tomorrow for you and your family. Without further ado, your host, Steve Altishin.
Steve Altishin 1:12
Hi everyone, it's Steve Altishin. Thanks for joining us for another broadcast of Modern Family Matters. Today we're going to talk about DACA, the DREAMers, and how current federal immigration practices are affecting a wide range of family law issues. For our discussion today we have two attorneys here to help. We have Lewis Landerholm, the founding partner here at Landerholm Family Law. Lewis, how are you doing today?
Lewis Landerholm 1:37
Good. How are you Steve?
Steve Altishin 1:38
I'm doing well. We also have Otis Landerholm. Otis Landerholm is the founding partner at Landerholm Immigration Law in Oakland, California. Is that right Otis?
Otis Landerholm 1:49
That's right, Steve. It's great to be here.
Steve Altishin 1:52
So before we start in, let's sort of hit the elephant in the room: two Landerholms, two law firms. So, what's the deal, Otis? How did this come to be?
Otis Landerholm 2:06
Yeah, it's like, do we know each other Lewis? Sometimes I laugh and sometimes I complain that I was beat up in my childhood by Lewis on the other end here.
Steve Altishin 2:23
I like it. Well, hopefully no beat ups today.
Otis Landerholm 2:28
He'll have to play it easy on me. I'll just say I was always proud, and I looked up to Lewis. He was a great older brother. Lewis, you're a great older brother. If I haven't told you before, I'm telling you now.
Steve Altishin 2:45
I like it.
Lewis Landerholm 2:46
Thanks. We had to toughen you up a little bit.
Steve Altishin 2:50
There you go. Well, let's start with DACA. It's an acronym. A lot of people think they know what it is. A lot of people aren't sure they know what it is. So Otis, can you kind of give us a rundown of what DACA is, and maybe what DACA isn't?
Otis Landerholm 3:06
Yeah, you know, and thank you so much for inviting me to participate in this and to have this conversation. DACA is confusing. And there are immigration practitioners, there are people that are policymakers, that don't quite fully understand what it's about. But what DACA stands for is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals. And so what it basically does is, if you imagine a child who's entered the United States, lawfully or unlawfully, but who is basically in the shadows but has grown up here, and they've known the United States to be their home, they don't have immigration documents. And so lots of these kids grow up, their parents maybe brought them when they were quite young. And they don't have much in the way of a future. No eligibility to apply for citizenship. No eligibility to get a green card. They're kind of stuck, even though they've gone to our schools, grown up here. There's 800,000 kids in this situation. And so in 2012, the Obama administration passed a government program to give these kids not a green card, not a permanent status, but just a "deferred action", which is basically saying, "Hey, we're not going to deport you. We're going to give you a work card, a work permit, and we're going to give you the ability to apply for a social security number". It's renewable for two years at a time and in exchange for that the immigrant, the child who has gone through this process and who now is, you know, up to 31 years old on the date that they started taking the cases, those kids then had to come forward with their information, show their address history, show their family history, have no criminal history whatsoever. And then, if they met the eligibility criteria, they could get this document.
Steve Altishin 5:24
So, are these kids you're talking about the kids that we hear called the DREAMers?
Otis Landerholm 5:30
And how did they come to be called the dreamers? Because again, I think that's another acronym from a bill that didn't go anywhere.
Otis Landerholm 5:42
Congress has tried. Several members of Congress have introduced an act called the DREAM Act. It was first introduced in 2001. Later in 2007, later again in 2010, 11 and 12. And most recently, actually, in 2017, it's been introduced. But every time that it's hit Congress, it has not made it all the way through. And you might tell from current politics that immigration is a tough issue to pass anything through Congress, and Congress is very divided. But really, it is Congress's failure to pass the DREAM Act, which would have provided a permanent solution for this group of kids. Their failure to pass the DREAM Act is what led the Obama administration to say, "Hey, what can we do about this?" And they ended up passing DACA, which, again, is not a law. It's just a government program that originally was passed for two years. And then they ended up making it renewable. But yeah, that's all it is.
Steve Altishin 6:52
So DACA, of course, has been in the news these last couple of weeks. Right? What now? A couple of years ago, President Trump, by another executive order, tried to disband the DACA program.
Otis Landerholm 7:06
Steve Altishin 7:06
And it was challenged. And I believe the Supreme Court last week or two weeks ago, ruled that it can still go on. They didn't necessarily say it would go on forever, but it could still go on for now. So, what is the kind of future of the DREAMers and DACA? And what do you foresee, at least in the near future, that's going to be happening?
Lewis Landerholm 7:34
Yeah. Thanks, Steve. So, on June 18 of this year, the Supreme Court in DHS vs. the Region's to the University of California Supreme Court case about the DACA program, said that the way that Trump terminated the DACA program was "arbitrary and capricious". It's legal words, but therefore it violated the Administrative Procedures Act, the APA. But they did not say that Trump can't terminate the DACA program. They just said that the way it was terminated when he made the announcement in the executive order in 2017, didn't comply with federal law. And so, in fact, USCIS--which is the agency that adjudicates DACA cases, all your green card cases they go through USCIS--issued a statement two days after the fact saying that they thought that the Supreme Court decision was meaningless, saying that Trump could turn around tomorrow and issue a termination of the program. And so practitioners like myself, and many of us throughout the country, are very apprehensive about DACA's future. And really, we think that people that have DACA, you know, it's not a permanent status. And if you don't have a lawyer already, you want to get one and you want to see what options you might have that are more permanent, that aren't just relying on this Deferred Action Program.
Steve Altishin 9:15
It's like the sword of Damocles over these people. They're just waiting for it to fall and this is not the right way to go. So you mentioned green cards. And that brings another whole area where I think there's a lot of confusion. DACA eligible people aren't people with green cards. Could you kind of fill us in and talk about the differences between DACA and some of the more traditional residence requirements and statuses that we have?
Unknown Speaker 9:49
Good, good. Absolutely. So when I explain immigration law, like the whole thing, what do we immigration lawyers even do? It can be broken down into basically five things. Alright? The first are what we call visas. You know, sometimes people need a visa to enter a new country, right? The second thing that we do are green cards, like what you brought up. Family-based, or there are other types of green card categories. The third is asylum, and then US citizenship, and then removal defense/deportation offense. That's basically all that immigration law talks about. Green cards, and just to be clear, DACA is not any of that. It's not a law. It's like nothing. Alright? It really is people will have the short end of the stick if they have DACA. I mean, it's better than being undocumented but just barely. Green cards, like you mentioned, are 1,000 times better. They're 1,000 times better. Why? Because they're permanent. They give you the right to work any job you want to in the United States. They give you the ability to apply for citizenship after five years. It's like if you've got a green card, like, you know, we have one or two phone calls. So I run a law firm in the Bay Area, we get one or two phone calls, maybe a month, about people trying to apply for DACA. But we have people lining up out of our office trying to get a green card. A green card is worth something. If you've got a green card, you want to fight for it, right? Because it's like a real legal benefit that allows you to travel in and out of the US, allows you to work freely in the US, and gives you the right to take advantage of US law.
Steve Altishin 11:39
Wow. You know, you hear this term "the path to citizenship" and it gets conflated with DACA, but that really isn't DACA. There's no path to citizenship through DACA, and that's why you need something like the DREAM Act.
Otis Landerholm 11:55
Yes, that's right. That's exactly it. That's the frustration, that DACA provides zero path to anything.
Steve Altishin 12:04
Right. So, one thing, going back a little bit, you talked about the age of the DACA folks, and they're now getting to be in their 30s. Which kind of leads us into the second part of our discussion, which is immigration status, immigration law in general, and family law, and how they interact and affect each other, not always in very good ways. And what I would like to explore on that is, we'll start with maybe marriage. I know that, like you said, a green card is not, or it can be, dependent on getting married.
Otis Landerholm 13:02
That's right. But DACA doesn't have that green card. So again, DACA and marriage don't necessarily mix.
Can you elaborate a little bit on that?
Otis Landerholm 13:13
I love it. Perfect. So DACA is not a family-based immigration benefit, right? Green cards, though, can be. So here's the scenario: one of these kids on DACA now gets married. What do they do? Say they get married to somebody who's a US citizen. Okay, great. A US citizen has the right to file what we call an immigration petition for a foreign national spouse, for a spouse regardless of where they are, and regardless of where they come from. Now the question is: can the spouse use that petition? Can the spouse use that to apply for their own green card? Lots of people do. And so if there's a kid who's on DACA and marries a US citizen, sometimes, not all the time, but sometimes they can use that marriage to then get a green card.
Steve Altishin 14:15
Well, Lewis that kind of brings in marriage, especially if a marriage is really based just on trying to get a green card and then divorced. Do you see this in your practice, when people come in who are in this situation and either have green cards or are undocumented, and they're trying to figure out what to do?
Lewis Landerholm 14:39
Yeah, we see it all the time. We see it in a couple of different ways, and I've got a couple questions for Otis also that I think our clients would be interested in. So the first piece is the folks who come on a conditional green card. Their green card is conditioned on being married. And then, inevitably, something happens and they want to get divorced, either party. What happens with the green card is a question that always comes up. Also, in that green card there is a requirement that they be supported by somebody here in the US. So, I guess Otis, if you could talk a little bit about what that looks like and how the system treats those renewals, or that issue, with green cards.
Yeah, thank you. So, if a person comes into the United States, or has a conditional Green Card where it's conditional on their marriage, and now they start to go through a divorce, it can cause a serious problem for their immigration case. The first thing, you know, we're lawyers. So the first thing to advise is if you're in that process, you want to get an immigration lawyer who can help you through your immigration case, just like you're gonna want a good family attorney who can help you with your divorce process. The way it works, though, is that often immigration will interview you. They'll interview your spouse, they'll ask about the marriage. They'll ask about what happened to the marriage. They want to determine that that marriage wasn't entered into solely for immigration purposes. Because if it was, it's called a "sham" marriage and it makes a person deportable. They'll cancel that green card, they'll kick you out. So if you're going through that process, you want to prepare the request to remove your conditions very carefully. You want to prepare it with the best evidence you can possibly put together so that you maximize your chances of removing the conditions and then getting on with your green card.
The second question that you asked is more about the "sponsorship" requirement. And the sponsorship requirement is a requirement for going through the Green Card process. You've got to show that there's enough money there where you're not going to rely on the government for subsistence. So in other words, you've got to show that you're not going to be, the legal term is a "public charge", on the welfare system, food stamps, etc. So yeah, you've got to show there's enough money. And people do need sponsors that have immigration papers and who are willing to sign and kind of vouch for the intending immigrant so that they're putting their finances at stake too, and saying, "Yo, we are in agreement that this person will not become dependent on the state for any reason".
So for those folks who already have this green card, they've got a conditional green card. It's already been granted. They're through the process. And then they want to get a divorce, and say their sponsor is either their spouse or a family member who then no longer wants to be required to sponsor this person. You know, are there any ramifications when a divorce is filed?
Good. The sponsorship requirement will go on. The sponsorship agreement actually goes through a divorce. And so, for example, when you sign on the dotted line for sponsorship, you're saying you're going to sponsor that immigrant for up to 10 years, or until that immigrant becomes a US citizen. All right. And a divorce settlement, or an arrangement in state court, cannot undo it because of the supremacy clause. Federal laws trump the state law divorce proceeding, and so the immigration issue can be a serious thing. You don't want to overlook it. And that's actually the importance of working with a great family law attorney, a divorce attorney on your case who gets this stuff, because they want to really analyze how the sponsorship issues in your case will affect you going forward.
That makes sense, and that's why we refer people to go to the immigration attorneys because they need to know, this stuff's complicated. And you don't want to end up in removal proceedings by messing it up and doing something that you don't want to.
Otis Landerholm 19:33
So, Lewis, if I may, I have a question for you.
Lewis Landerholm 19:36
Otis Landerholm 19:37
From your perspective, how does the immigration issue come up in a divorce process, like in the court process, for example?
Lewis Landerholm 19:48
So a number of different ways. The first is obviously the easiest one. If you have undocumented litigants and parties, then it dramatically impacts how we handle them as attorneys. We obviously know that, while state courts are not supposed to take into consideration immigration status, inevitably that's a public record. Those are public documents. It is something that most immigrants who are undocumented don't want to go to court, you know? It is their right to fight for their case, it's their right to go to court and not have a circuit court judge, least here in Oregon, take that into consideration. But the concern would be to avail yourself to the courts and to the system. And that's a scary thing for a lot of people. So we typically handle those out of court. The majority of the time we're trying to negotiate to be able to walk that line. From a custody standpoint, it's obviously something that can affect the case. Say you've got one party who is a citizen and one party who is undocumented. The party who's a citizen is inevitably going to be in court. And if there's a custody determination, say, "this person may or may not be in the country for any given amount of time, how can we give custody custody of kids to a person who may potentially get deported?" So, there are a lot of issues. It's something that is irrelevant, technically, in the case itself, but it inevitably comes into play, and it does impact the case, especially on the kid side. Not as much on the asset side. The asset side can be worked out a little bit more simply, as non citizens can own property in the US so that part's easier. But on the kids side of things, it definitely creates complexity.
That's really awesome that you're able to help a client from like a human perspective. If they're afraid to go into a courtroom, you're able to help them out and do as much as possible to settle stuff, get stuff done that really still protects their interests, but do as much as possible outside of the family court. So that's just like another reason to have a lawyer who can give them good advice through the process. So anyway, I'm happy to hear that you're able to do that for people.
Yeah, we do it as much as we can. Obviously the other side has to get on board with that. But you know, typically, that makes sense for both the parties in general.
Steve Altishin 22:33
Well, you guys were talking about children. And obviously in a divorce husband and wife have their issues. But what can happen to children if, let's say, an undocumented parent, or maybe they're both undocumented, get a divorce and end up leaving the country. Having to leave. What's the deal with the children? Do they get some sort of special status? Or are they just out there fending for themselves?
Otis Landerholm 23:08
Yeah, those are some of the saddest cases. We've seen it in our office where parents get deported and then the children come into our office asking how they can help them to come back. Right? But we've seen it where, after a deportation, sometimes the children will go with the parents back to their home country. Or sometimes after a deportation, they will have a family member, an uncle or an aunt or something, here in the US who will apply through the family courts for a guardianship so that they have a new custodian, a legal guardian, here in the US that can take care of the legal essentials for the child's well-being. But yeah, those are sad cases.
Steve Altishin 23:55
Wow. You talked about the monetary, or the financial promise, of the sponsor. If the sponsor can't do it anymore, they lose their ability to do it through whatever, or refuse, can that be a trigger to have the person deported?
Otis Landerholm 24:21
Not specifically. However, there's two things that come to my mind right there. The first is if the person ends up becoming what they call a "public charge", like say they need welfare, say they need some social benefit, then what the sponsorship requirement means is that the government is going to come after the sponsor and say, "Hey, you owe us money. You signed on the line saying you were going to support this person, and you didn't because now they're on welfare. And so you've got to reimburse us." That's to the amount of whatever public benefit, so Section 8 housing, welfare food stamps, whatever that benefit value was, the sponsor is going to have to reimburse it. And if the sponsor can't, then they're gonna have to deal with the IRS. They're gonna have to deal with liens on their property, bank accounts, assets. I mean, they're going to be collected against
Steve Altishin 25:23
And they don't generally then turn around and go after the sponsored person?
Otis Landerholm 25:28
No, it's not like a criminal issue, or it doesn't cause deportation, per se.
Steve Altishin 25:34
So Lewis, can you fill us in a little bit on, if you do have undocumented or green card immigrants coming in to have, let's say, a divorce. Are you able to help them on all of those issues that can come into play? Temporaries for child support, visitation, parenting time, all of those things. Are you able to work with them on all of those issues that really are needed?
Lewis Landerholm 26:06
Oh, absolutely. Everything is available in the circuit courts. The circuit courts do not ask for immigration status, or at least they're not supposed to ask for immigration status in family law cases and some criminal cases. There are circumstances where you do have to say whether you're a citizen or not, but that is not something that has to be discussed or talked about in a circuit court case. So you can absolutely use the courts for custody, support, all of the above. It's obviously a little more complicated with, well typically for garnishments and for those types of things there's not always wages and W-2's to be able to get support, or get child support. So there are obviously more complicated factors with cases like that, but everything's available under the law in the US, at least in Oregon.
Steve Altishin 27:05
In dealing with clients, I mean obviously there can be some clients who are either non-English speaking or not fluent in English. How are you able to help those guys?
Lewis Landerholm 27:19
So we have a Spanish team on staff. So we have Spanish-speaking attorneys who work in both our Oregon locations and Vancouver, as well as our Spanish-speaking support staff throughout the ranks of the firm, so that we can represent the Spanish-speaking community. We don't have any other languages on staff, but our Spanish speaking clients, we're able to take care of them. And Otis I believe you also, do you just have Spanish-speaking, or do you have additional languages for clients that you help with?
Otis Landerholm 27:58
Yeah, so I speak Spanish and I speak Mandarin Chinese. And we do have clients from all over, so in-staff everyone on my team speaks English and Spanish-- attorneys, paralegals, every single person on my team does. And we have interpreters that are really great that we can get in touch with just on a moment's notice on the phone. It's very frequent that we'll be speaking with clients that speak Arabic, or that speak Thai, or that speak Mongolian or other languages. And so, yeah, we love it actually, it's part of part of the fun of doing immigration law.
Lewis Landerholm 28:43
I should say, we work with translators as well. So even though we don't have them on staff, it's something that we do all the time.
Steve Altishin 28:54
I should just throw in, we have a pretty good list of folks who can deal with non-English speaking clients in financial and housing and, you know, we were talking about a guy who does ITIN loans, which people were able to buy houses even though they don't have a social security number. So it's kind of cool to do all that. Which kind of dovetails into the last thing I wanted to talk about, which was the legal and practical issues of access compounded by fear of the unknown until there is a DREAM Act, or there is just any kind of appropriate immigration policy. But until then, it's gonna be hard just convincing people not to be worried because the history of how they've been treated isn't the greatest.
Otis Landerholm 30:04
Steve Altishin 30:05
What do you see? Otis, do you see that as a problem? Just people who are afraid to connect with the legal system?
Otis Landerholm 30:14
Absolutely. You know, right now there are 11 million people who are undocumented in the United States, a huge number. Right? And 800,000, as I mentioned earlier, are on DACA right now. And it's a huge problem, and it's not going away. And it's not just the Trump administration, it's federal government, period. Congress. It's the whole thing. I want our leadership to take this issue seriously from a, you know, these are these are human beings involved. And lawful, unlawful, whatever the debate is, they are a part of our community.
And for people that are in that situation: if you're going through a divorce, if you're going through life changes, if you're going to have a new birth in your family, if you're going to need a will because someone's facing the end of their life, don't be afraid to assert your rights as a contribution to our community, even if our community isn't giving you a "document". Even though you don't have a "document", you still do have rights. And it's important that people know that and understand that and talk to lawyers that get this stuff and can help you to exert your rights, because you have them.
So don't be afraid to fight your child custody case. Don't be afraid to fight to file for divorce if you're in a relationship that's not working for you. Don't be afraid to do what you need to do. And certainly talk to an immigration lawyer who can have your back going through any process, and see what options are available to you there. But really my message for people is, Congress and the law and stuff, it will get its act together someday. But in the meantime, you've got to live your life here and now. Don't back down from living your life. If you need a divorce, go get one. If you need to fight for your kids, fight for your kids. Because as far as we know, this whole thing called life, you only got one shot. So take advantage of it.
Steve Altishin 32:45
I love it, that's terrific advice. Lewis, you got any last words?
Lewis Landerholm 32:53
No, that was better than what I would say anyway, so I'll stick with that.
Steve Altishin 32:57
Brother to Brother. I love it. I'll just throw in that I used to work for a company that did preschool for migrants in Oregon. And you talked about the economic boom, every summer 350,000 migrants work in Oregon, and create a huge boom to the economy. So it's got to be able to deal with everybody in country. And with that, I just really want to thank you Otis, that is wonderful. Thank you Otis, this was a terrific, terrific Facebook Live. I really hope people who have any questions, feel free to send them to me, Steve Altishin, and it's Steve@landerholmlaw.com. Just shoot me a question and I'll try to get it to one of these guys and maybe we can get you answered. Also if there's anyone out there who would like to be a guest, send me an email. Or anyone who has a suggestion for another topic another day, send me an email. So again, I hope everybody is really learned a lot about this. It's confusing, but I think these guys made it a lot clearer. And with that, guys, thanks a lot. Thank you, people, for tuning in, and everyone, until next time. Stay safe. Stay healthy. Enjoy the Fourth. Thanks and bye.
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