Q. I signed an affidavit of support for my stepdaughter when she applied for her green card, U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services form I-864. Now she says she is going to sue me for financial support. How can I defend myself?
Name withheld, Annandale, Va.
A. Courts tend to enforce these affidavits, though lawsuits are rare. Try arranging a settlement with your stepdaughter.
The I-864 affidavit of support is a legally binding document between you, your stepdaughter, and the federal government. It requires you to support her at 125% of the federal poverty level — the level above which individuals are no longer eligible for certain public benefits. If your stepdaughter has income from work or investments, that amount is deducted from the amount you are required to provide her.
Prior to the immigration reforms in 1996, the law considered affidavits of support in family immigration cases to create only a moral obligation. Now, the obligation is legally binding until the sponsored permanent resident becomes a U.S. citizen; has acquired forty quarters of coverage under the Social Security Act, usually through work; loses permanent resident status; he or she dies or the sponsor dies.
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Q. Are you available to do phone consultations?
A. Sorry, but I no longer do individual consultations by phone or in person. Try sending me your questions and I will try to answer them in this column.
With immigrants settling throughout the nation, you can find good immigration advice almost anywhere. Many not-for-profit agencies and private attorneys offer video and phone consultations.
Free low-cost immigration law services are available for you and other immigrants who cannot afford a private attorney. Try the website of Immigration Advocates Network at immigrationlawhelp.org. There, you can find lists of agencies in your area with information about the types of cases they handle.
If you are looking to hire an attorney, try your local bar association’s legal referral panel. Many of these panels screen lawyers to ensure they are knowledgeable in their specialty. Typically, they charge only a minimal fee for the first consultation. Find a national list of local panels at americanbar.org/groups/legal_services, or try the American Immigration Lawyers Association’s Immigration Lawyer Search at ailalawyer.com.
Allan Wernick is an attorney and senior legal adviser to City University of New York’s Citizenship Now! project. Email questions and comments @allanwernick.com. Follow him on Twitter: @awernick