Every day Immigration Equality answers immigration questions from lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender immigrants and their families. We also provide support for immigration attorneys throughout the United States. Below are some of the most frequently asked questions. Please read through these first, and if you don’t see the answer, then email us.

Travel

Is it safe for me to travel inside the U.S.? What about outside the U.S.?

Do not make travel plans if you believe your immigration status might be in danger. Please note that most airports in the U.S. are considered to be border crossings. For that reason, it may be dangerous for you to go to an airport as an undocumented individual even if you’re taking a domestic flight. Interstate trains and buses are also sometimes raided by immigration officials. Please reach out to us well in advance of any planned travel so you are certain of the risks.

Criminal Convictions

I am a lawful permanent resident and I was convicted of a crime in 1991. I’ve already been back to my country of origin twice without any problems. Someone told me that it’s not safe for me to travel abroad, is this true?

One of the harshest consequences of changes to the Immigration law in 1996 was to apply some of the strictest provisions retroactively. This means that anyone who has any criminal convictions, even long ago, should speak with an experienced immigration attorney before doing anything which would lead to a review of their immigration record. Actions which can trigger review (and possible removal proceedings), include:

  • international travel
  • any application with USCIS such as applying for naturalization or applying to replace a “green card”
  • any contact with the police (arrests, traffic stops)
  • any contact with border patrols within 100 miles of the U.S. border.

Any foreign national who has criminal convictions, is strongly advised to consult with a qualified immigration attorney to determine what effect the conviction(s) may have on their immigration status here.

Illegal Re-Entry

My partner has been ordered removed from the U.S. The last time he came to the U.S., he crossed the border without a visa or inspection, he has told me he will come back again this way, but I’m worried that crossing the border has become more dangerous. Is that true?

The border has become increasingly fortified over the past few years. The U.S. government has hired more people to patrol the border and is using more sophisticated tools to locate border-crossers. Additionally, the U.S. federal government has vastly expanded criminal prosecutions for illegal re-entry. This is now the most commonly prosecuted federal crime — the federal government is prosecuting more people for re-entering the U.S. after being previously removed than it is for drugs or weapons charges. Thus, if your partner is caught re-entering, he may well be sentenced to federal prison before again being removed by immigration officials.

Taxes

I am in the U.S. without legal status and am working under the table. Should I file taxes? How would I do so? Are there any risks involved?

It is difficult to answer this question with any certainty. Of course, it is not legal to work in the U.S. without being authorized to do so, but, of course, millions of “undocumented” foreign nationals do work here every day. Generally, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) wants everyone who is working to file their taxes. It is illegal to work and not file taxes (in most circumstances), so it is better to break only one law (by working illegally) than to break two laws (by working illegally and not paying taxes.) Also, if the opportunity ever arises in the future for you to legalize your status, it is a point in your favor that you’ve been paying taxes, whereas failing to pay taxes can sometimes count against you in immigration applications.

Likewise, some recent proposals for immigration reform claim that they will reward those who have been in the U.S., working and paying taxes. That being said, it may not be possible for you to pay taxes at this point. Without work authorization, a foreign national cannot obtain a social security number. While some foreign nationals without legal status have been able to obtain tax payer ID numbers from IRS, often applications for a tax payer ID number are sent back to the applicant requesting information about lawful immigration status and denied if proof of status is not provided. Furthermore, in this era of increasing enforcement and increasing communication between agency computers, paying taxes with a tax payer ID number may raise a red flag about immigration status, and it’s possible that IRS could share this information with Immigration.

The safest answer (though least practical) would be for you to save the amount of money you believe you owe in taxes each year, and set it aside. If an opportunity arises in the future for you to legalize your status, go to a tax expert and file your taxes late. You may have to pay a penalty for filing late, but at least you will have filed.