Document yourself

If you are an undocumented immigrant….
If you are in the U.S. on a visa but are not an immigrant…
If you are a legal permanent resident…

You should keep proof of what you’ve been doing your whole life, but especially in the U.S. When I say your “whole life,” I’m not kidding.

WHY?

Immigration law, or executive orders and policies, sometimes change, and when they do change in ways that benefit immigrants or non-U.S. citizens in the U.S., they usually benefit people who have been here the longest, or who have been here under certain conditions.

For instance, in 1986 Congress enacted some changes granting a form of “amnesty” to people who had been performing agricultural work, but these people had to prove that they had been in the U.S. and working. And in 2012, President Obama signed an Executive Order providing for “deferred action” (not removing/deporting) certain young people who had come to the U.S. before they reached the age of 16, were under 31, had been in the U.S. since June 15, 2007, were in school or had completed high school or a G.E.D., and had not been convicted of serious crimes or more than two misdemeanors.

If you are put in removal (deportation) proceedings, either because you are undocumented or because you are in the U.S. as a legal permanent resident who has been convicted of a crime, you might be able to apply for cancellation of removal. One of the criteria for applying is that you have lived in the U.S. for a certain number of years.

But it’s hard to prove you’ve been living somewhere for years when you’ve been trying to keep a low profile and have people NOT notice you! It’s especially hard to do if you have been living with other people, in places where your name is not on the lease or mortgage, and you’ve been conducting most of your business in cash because you don’t have a Social Security number.

No one knows the future, but you can prepare now by keeping records of where you’ve lived and what you have been doing.

HOW?

How do you prove that you have lived in the U.S. since a certain date?  This should be an easy task if you’ve been in school the whole time you’ve lived in the United States.  If you’ve been out of school for a while, proving your continuous residence may be difficult.

One strategy is to organize your materials chronologically, so that it is easy to see what time periods you can prove you were in the U.S., and where you still need proof. Here’s a guide: continuous residence worksheet

Think of “records” broadly. What tracks and traces have you left; what clues are there that you’ve been in the world?

Family
Birth certificates of your parents, children, spouses, and siblings
Marriage certificates
Divorce certificates (if you’ve been married more than once)
Adoption records

School records
grades, dates, attendance, campuses
Notes from teachers, especially dated
Programs from school events
Photographs – especially class photographs
Counselors’ notes
Portfolio
Language survey
Clubs, sports, music, year books (students often don’t have, but don’t think of asking school), competitions
UIL
Affidavits from teachers, other school personnel
Internal notes
Financial aid records – if a grant/scholarship to participate in a field trip
Afterschool care
Look at your calendars: did you meet with the student or her parents on particular days? Say so
Mentor programs

Medical records
Vaccination records – may need to connect the dots where there are only stamps or initials for clinic
Emergency rooms/clinics – broken legs, high fevers, rashes

Summer programs: parks and recreation

Library card?
Borrowed and returned a musical instrument?
Band camp, or any extramurals that kids prepare for during July or August

Community and specifically religious communityrecords from churches, synagogues, mosques, temples
Affidavit from clergy (on letterhead)
Newsletters or programs mentioning your name
Certificates of life-cycle events/sacraments
Participation in religious education/Sunday school/summer programs
Any kind of service/volunteer activity/club or grouping
Any records that show you’ve been a soccer coast, band mom, PTA member, library or literacy volunteer, volunteer at any public or community organization or service

Law enforcement records
Police records, juvenile court, child protective services
Family violence – could get some kind of general statement without needing to get into detail?
Have you ever been mentioned in a police report as a witness, or have you ever testified in a case?
Traffic tickets
Truancy

Financial records
Pay stubs
Taxes
Send money home via money order? Western Union?
Bank account, even if now closed
Cell phone
Cable bill

Affidavits from people who are in the U.S. legally, especially U.S. citizens and people with Legal Permanent Residence status
Sometimes affidavits need to be in a certain form, so ask
It is best to attach copy of driver’s license or other government-issued ID
Affidavits work well in combination with photographs
– The “best” or strongest affidavits are ones from official government or well-established institutions (school counselors, teachers, coaches)
Examples: aaffidavits from mentors, teaching assistants, student teachers
School administrators and staff – main office (sign in/sign out), janitorial staff, cafeteria workers and crossing guards
– Next best are letters from people writing on business letterhead (cashier or manager at grocery store?)
Examples: an employer, or the owner of a business you’ve patronized for many years, a hairdresser, your landlord or the manager at your apartment complex
– Least effective, but still worth gathering, are affidavits from ndividual people writing without letterhead
Affidavits from parents, siblings, extended family with whom student lives or used to live, and who received and paid bills, or whose names were on a lease.

Social media
Facebook (check to make sure you want to share this information with immigration officials!) or other people’s Facebook pages if they document the person’s presence, connect the dots with affidavits


Other tips about documenting yourself with the immigration court or USCIS

Make copies. Never send originals through the mail. You can BRING the originals with you so that a USCIS official or a judge can review the original, but don’t give your original birth certificate or any other crucial document away to anyone (even your lawyer). Bring copies.

DO NOT highlight anything on the USCIS forms or write in any spaces anything other than what the form requests.

DO HIGHLIGHT, in yellow, dates, and names on copies of documents.

DO not use “white out”/correctional fluid on USCIS or court documents.

When you do send applications or petitions or pleadings by mail, send them by certified U.S. mail and request a return receipt . These services costs a little more money, but you then have proof of mailing and proof of receipt.