Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Church Guidance 1: How to Assist Undocumented Immigrants


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Church Guidance: How to Assist Undocumented Immigrants Legally

As an immigration attorney, I am often approached by pastors who want to know how they can help undocumented immigrants. To some, this might seem like an easy question, but the truth is that pastors have to help immigrants carefully and strategically in order to protect their churches, their families, and themselves.

The purpose of this guide is to inform church leaders and activists about the types of assistance the law allows churches to give undocumented immigrants. 

Advice For Immigrant Church-Members

In the event that the U.S. House of Representatives passes a comprehensive immigration reform bill, here are two steps that immigrant congregants can take to ensure they will be eligible for proposed immigration benefits:

1) Start gathering evidence that proves WHEN you entered the United States.

Not every immigrant will be able to benefit from immigration reform. As of today, immigrants will have to prove that (A) they came into the U.S. before December 31, 2011, and (B) they have not left the United states since then. Therefore, they should start gathering documents like: lease agreements, pay stubs, school enrollment records, and utility bills. The government relies on such documents to determine eligibility.

2) If you have a criminal record, discuss that record with an immigration attorney.

People with certain criminal convictions will not be able to benefit from immigration reform. Therefore, you should speak with an expert who can tell you if you would be eligible and how to best resolve any outstanding legal issues. 


1) Don't employ immigrants who are not authorized to work in the US.

When it comes to employment laws, churches are treated like every other US employer: they can be fined by the government for hiring unauthorized immigrants.

Churches should have all new employees fill out an I-9 Employment Eligibility form. The form lists the required documents an employee should present to the church to demonstrate that they are authorized to work.

2) Never try to hide an immigrant from the authorities or interfere with a government investigation.

Church members can be arrested and charged with a number of crimes for hiding an immigrant, or interfering with an investigation. If you believe an immigrant needs immediate help,  it would be best to contact an attorney who will have the authority to intervene on the immigrant's behalf.

3) Refrain from providing transportation to undocumented immigrants within 200 miles of a US border.

Many people envision the US border ending at a very discrete boundary. However, for immigration purposes, the government considers the entire area within 200 miles of that boundary to encompass "the border." Because church members certainly don't want government officials to mistake them for smugglers, they should refrain from transporting undocumented immigrants within the 200 mile border (even if you would otherwise be permitted to transport immigrants in your state).


*The guidance below applies to churches in all states except: Alabama, Arizona, Georgia, Indiana, South Carolina, and Utah. If your church is located in one of these six states, contact an immigration attorney to discuss how additional immigration laws in your state may effect your ministry's immigrant outreach initiatives.

Given the potential for immigration reform, many churches today are considering implementing immigration outreaches for the first time. Accordingly, below are answers to some basic and frequently asked questions:

1) Is it safe to let undocumented immigrants into our church facility?

Yes, you are certainly allowed to let undocumented immigrants into your church. In addition, there is no law preventing them from becoming a regular part of your church community. The only restriction is that the church is not permitted to hire undocumented immigrants. 

2) Can I feed an undocumented immigrant if they are hungry?

Yes, you are allowed to give food to undocumented immigrants just as you would to any others in need. If, however, you are starting a large-scale meal program for immigrants, discuss the scope of the program with an immigration attorney to ensure that certain legal protections are in place.

3) Can I give clothes to an undocumented immigrant?

Yes, you can give clothes to undocumented immigrants just as you would to any others in need.

4) Are we allowed to give rides to undocumented immigrants?

Yes, you can give rides to people you suspect are undocumented; however, you should be careful where you are taking them. Whereas it would generally be permissible to give them a ride: (1) to a church service, (2) to their jobs, (3) to a lawyers office, (4) to the hospital if someone is sick, or (5) to a free seminar for immigrants at a social services center; it would be more dangerous to drive them long distances, especially across state lines. If you are considering such a trip, contact an immigration attorney for specific guidance.  

In addition, church members and staff should follow these three guidelines when providing transportation:
  • never take any financial compensation for providing transportation;
  • never attempt to conceal the immigrants before, during, or after the transportation; and
  • refrain from transporting complete strangers.
Following the above steps will help church members avoid any inference of illegal activity.
5) Can we provide shelter to undocumented immigrants in the homes of church members?

Churches should not house immigrants inside the homes of church members. Doing so would put the church staff or members at risk for being arrested and charged with one or more crimes - such as "harboring." 

Accordingly, in order to both (A) assist the immigrants, and (B) continue to protect the church and its members, immigrants should be referred to local organizations that can assist them. Churches can help immigrants safely and effectively by providing them with the names and contact information of various immigrant service providers. 

Using the church facility as a "Sanctuary" for immigrants will be discussed in a later edition of this Church Guidance series, as will other methods churches can use to advocate for and legally assist immigrants.


Every local church can serve the immigrants in their congregation and community. Be confident that you are not breaking any laws by giving them food, clothing, and allowing them into your church facility and church community. Your church is also permitted to help immigrants get the social, legal, and medical care that they need.

Subsequent editions of this Church Guide will cover more active ways in which churches can intervene on behalf of immigrants. For example, one edition will discuss how churches can help immigrants who are currently in deportation proceedings, and another edition will cover the legal aspects of using your church facility to provide "Sanctuary" to immigrants.

If you need legal advice about a specific immigration program at your church, or you would like to schedule a consultation for someone in your community, you can visit my website at, e-mail me at, or call my office to schedule a meeting with me at (786)908-8612.
*The above is for general informational purposes only. Organizations and individuals should consult with an attorney to verify that their specific actions will comply with the laws in their geographical area. Receipt of this guide does not constitute an attorney-client relationship. This document is an attorney advertisement and is not in response to any pending legal matter. 

Copyright © Sutton & Associates of Miami, 2013, All rights reserved.

Our mailing address is:
Sutton & Associates of Miami
14 NE First Avenue
2nd Floor
Miami, FL. 33132

Wednesday, July 10, 2013


July 8, Miami, Fl.The immigration law firm of Sutton & Associates has moved its central office to downtown Miami. 

According to owner Joshoa Sutton, the move will provide greater access for clients, many of whom are from the downtown area. "I'll miss North Miami Beach," Sutton says, "the business community and government officials there were very welcoming to our firm. Thankfully, we are being well received downtown too."

The firm's move comes at an opportune time given the likelihood of an overhaul of the US immigration system. After the US Senate passed an immigration bill last month, the bill is currently being discussed in the House. While there is resistance by a faction of Republican Congressmen, many Republican heavyweights are encouraging reform - including non other than former President George W. Bush

For questions for Mr. Sutton, or to schedule an appointment with an immigration attorney, call (786)908-8612 or e-mail

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Senators Formally File
Immigration Bill
By Mike Pearson and Ben Brumfield, CNN
updated 8:18 AM EDT, Wed April 17, 2013

(CNN) -- A bipartisan group of senators formally filed legislation early Wednesday calling for border security as the cornerstone of immigration reform.
The bill also would prevent undocumented immigrants from reaching full legal resident status until after the government takes steps to keep unauthorized workers from getting jobs in the United States, according to a summary released before the bill was filed.
The measure drafted by the "Gang of Eight" senators says "high risk border sectors" -- those with at least 30,000 illegal crossings a year -- must be sealed off before most undocumented immigrants could start their journey to legal residency.
It makes exceptions for law-abiding immigrants who arrived in the United States as children and completed high school. It also exempts some farm workers, according to the summary.
Conservative senators have insisted on border security as a condition for the legislation. Some Democrats, whose party controls the chamber, have agreed.
Quota-based border security
The bipartisan bill lays down strict criteria for the creation of a secure border. It calls for $3 billion to beef up border security, which includes fortifying fences, staffing up patrols and acquiring surveillance technology from the Department of Defense -- including drones and drone pilots, according to the summary.
It also requires constant surveillance of high-risk border areas and demands that border officers turn back at least 90% of those who attempt illegal border crossings each year.
The path to legal residency? Border security
Only undocumented immigrants who arrived in the United States before December 31, 2011 would be eligible for legal residency, according to the bill summary. They also can't have any felony convictions in U.S. or foreign courts.
But smaller offenses can also block residency. The bill would block applicants with more than three misdemeanor convictions, including for offenses such as reckless driving, trespassing or vandalism.
Voting illegally also triggers ineligibility and authorities can turn back applicants if they have certain infectious diseases or questionable "morality," according to the summary.
Time and money
The bill would also require undocumented immigrants to pay a penalty of up to $500 for having come to the United States illegally and also pay any back taxes before receiving temporary approval to stay.
But that approval -- call registered provisional immigrant status -- opens up most U.S. jobs and allows the applicant to travel outside the country and return legally.
The status lasts for six years and can be extended for an additional $500 fee, if the applicant has not gotten into any trouble with the law.
After 10 years as provisional residents, immigrants could become lawful permanent residents by following the same guidelines as immigrants who enter the country legally. That process includes a $1,000 fee.
Blue card for ag workers
The proposal also calls for issuing agricultural workers a new type of legal status card: a blue card.
Agricultural workers who are currently in the country illegally would be allowed to apply for the card if they have worked in the U.S. agriculture industry for at least 100 days in the two years prior to December 31, 2012.
Applicants must also pay a $400 fee, show they have paid their taxes and have not committed a crime.
The bill caps the blue cards at about 112,000 for the first five years.
Blue card holders would be eligible for permanent legal residency in five years, half the time of other adult immigrants in the country illegally, according to the summary.
The proposal would also set minimum wages across several categories of agricultural workers.
Members of the Republican-led House of Representatives are working on their own immigration overhaul plan, which also includes border security measures.

Thursday, April 4, 2013



April 4, Miami, Fl. – The immigration law firm of Sutton & Associates has established new partnerships with US Embassies around the globe. From London to Beijing, Bangalore, South Africa, and Tokyo; Sutton & Associates is now designated as a Featured US Exporter (FUSE) by the US government.

The FUSE program, a major initiative of the Department of Commerce, helps US companies advertise and expand their services overseas. As a part of the program, the Sutton & Associates website has been listed in the commercial services portal at each embassy and translated into the official language of each city.

Joshoa Sutton, the firm’s managing attorney, reports that “within 48 hours of my Japanese website going live, I started to get emails and phone calls from Japanese citizens wanting visas to come work in the US.” Such access to international markets is particularly important given the potential for immigration reform in the US.

One of the major debates about immigration reform has centered around whether to increase the number of visas available to high-skilled workers. Proponents for increasing the number of visas available for these workers argue that many of these workers become entrepreneurs and create jobs for US citizens. Over the last few decades, the majority of these workers have come from East Asia, India, and Northern Europe – suggesting that Sutton & Associates will be in a prime position to assist these foreign born workers when immigration reform is finalized.

For questions for Mr. Sutton, or to schedule an appointment with an immigration attorney, call (786)908-8612 or e-mail

Wednesday, February 13, 2013



Feb 4 - Miami's newest immigration law firm is called Sutton & Associates of Miami. The firm opened its doors today under the leadership of Joshoa Sutton, an attorney with multiple graduate degrees from Georgia State University and the famed University of Chicago.

The law firm couldn't have opened its doors at a better time. For the past few months, the White House and Congress have been debating about how to overhaul the country's immigration system. Government reforms could provide pathways toward citizenship and other legal statuses to millions of immigrants currently living in the United States.

Concerning the prospects of immigration reform, Sutton had this to say: "I believe that immigration reform will take place soon. The political conditions are right for it, and the citizens of America are demanding it from Congress at a level never before seen in US history."

For questions for Mr. Sutton, or to schedule an appointment with an immigration attorney, call (786)908-8612 or e-mail